Start here, with Meguey Baker’s post on No One Gets Hurt v. I Will Not Abandon You.
The social contract of your gaming is important. I’m getting more and more to the point where I think I need to lay out my social contract expectations explicitly before getting into a game…
See…I realized recently that I went into a game first assuming it was going to be a No One Gets Hurt game. And it may have been an NGH game, it may be that I did not communicate appropriately that something was a hard line for me. But because the social contract wasn’t up front, I ended up getting incredibly triggered by something that happened in the game to the point where my hands were shaking and I was arguing with my fiance because I needed to get control again. (Note: It’s not healthy that the fastest way I have to feel in control is to pick an inconsequential fight with someone. I should probably take that up with my therapist, Dr. Google.)
The thing that happened to me was never presented as being an option until it occurred. Because of that, I didn’t even have an option to consider whether or not it was a limit. (And this isn’t something that is indicated by the source material. It’s not like PC death, where almost every game talks about what level of likelihood that has of ocurring in the game. Or even something like, “You will have to confront how your PC deals with killing someone,” as is implicitly promised by WoD. The thing that happened to me was neither explicit nor implicit in the setting material, and it wasn’t until it happened to me that I was told it was a pretty much guaranteed consequence in this world.) And so, because the general feeling I got from the game was that it was NGH or possibly To The Pain (no, seriously, if I’ve lost you, go read the Meguey entry, and I PROMISE this will make more sense…), when this was sprung on me, I felt betrayed and angry as well as triggered and hurt.
The worst part of it though is that I lost faith in the idea that the person running the game would hold to any sort of social contract with me. Because I have in the past disucussed my preference not to address this topic through my gaming…I would not have entered a game where it was on the table through my play. Instead of having that option for myself, to choose to make myself Safe through avoiding play, I was thrust into a situation I found conflictful, and when I attempted to bring that up, I was immediately shut down.
Okay, so this all sounds like me complaining about a specific game, but I’m bringing it around to a point I promise. And that point is: I think more games should promote discussion of the social contract as a part of the world building process. I don’t think there’s enough of this explicitly at the table (in part because I think that until relatively recently, games didn’t expect you to need a social contract…you were just there to roll dice and talk about swinging a sword). Unfortunately for the games, a bunch of us are now applying deeper principles to them and we need design support (as the linked entry mentions) to be able to handle this in a way that doesn’t destroy trust in GMs. Or players.
It’s important that all the people entering into a game together understand that gaming is something that has the potential to bring up some pretty deep stuff. I like to say that “gaming is a serious occupation,” when I try to explain to people both why I am interested in it and why I am hesitant to approach it with people I don’t know are sympatico with me. I’ve come to the opinion that those of us who game together need to make sure we’re on the same page, or at least a way to flag the play when we’re not, so that we can discuss it, instead of making the situation more divisive.