As everyone has been gearing up for GenCon, I have been piggybacking on the creative social subconscious juices and have been working on finalizing the PDF for one of my games, Social Observance. In tweaking, reading, re-reading, and other editing, I’ve begun to think about all of the aspects of gaming that us veteran gamers tend to assume are common practice. It’s hard to gauge how well-known some of these aspects are short of shouting into the role playing aether and hoping for a reply.

Well, aether, here I go.

Lines and Veils
There has been a lot of talk in role playing communities over the past few years about lines and veils. Coined by Ron Edwards in his game Sex and Sorcery, lines and veils are our personal and group boundaries when role playing- what we are and aren’t comfortable in sharing and exploring with those around us in a role playing setting. There are some levels of sexuality, intimacy, violence, and even phobias that certain individuals are (rightfully so, in their respects) uncomfortable approaching. Each person in each group is different, and knowing where those boundaries lie can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. In every game I’ve played, it has been very clearly asked of the other players if there are any hot topics to stay away from. This is especially crucial in convention gaming, as many of the people you may be sitting down to play with are not people that you know particularly well, or at all. I’ve had people mention rape, politics, seagulls en mass, and many other things as role playing venues they would rather avoid. It comes second nature to me to bring this up before game play, and I’ve certainly seen the idea of lines and veils written out in many other games. You can see some good conversation about lines and veils in this thread at The Forge. Has it been long enough so that lines and veils are common practice? Personally, I still kept a clause in my game to remind players to talk about their comfort levels before play.

Is it just me, or does it seem like common sense to take turns? I’m talking about each player getting a portion of the spotlight. I tend to see turn-based scene framing as a basic GM skill; GMing 101: Juggling your Characters. Even though traditionally the grunt of making sure that all of the characters get equal scenes has fallen to the GM, you see the idea of sharing screen time a lot in GM-less games (look at Annalise, for example, or Fiasco, or Mist-Robed Gate). Every player gets a chance to rock the lime light and make their character (and hopefully the other characters) look interesting. Some people can be a bit shy about this, which can be curbed in a fun and simple way in Fiasco as a choice to either frame your scene or have someone else frame it. Annalise allows for role playing virgins and those less gung-ho individuals to participate without being put directly on the spot as well, with its “choose your scene narrator” bit. But I digress. The point is that, in all of the games I play, unless it’s specifically pointed out that the turns are to progress in a less-than-standard way (look at GM turns and Player Turns in Mouse Guard), it’s assumed that scenes will go back and forth from person to person, or at least from one couple-people group to another couple-people group. Still, when a friend of mine was looking over my game for me, he mentioned that I had not noted that each player receive a turn per stage. Another tweak to the PDF for me…

Legal Liability
Social Observance isn’t a typical role-playing game. It’s not something that can be played in your mom’s basement. This game requires players to actually observe the people around them, and imagine the hidden lives of those in their community. This involves a certain amount of people-watching. In creating this game, I had hardly thought of the potential for legal lines to be blurred. I’m now faced with the awkward position of deciding whether or not to include a sort of liability clause, in which I spell out that if anyone were to, say, get arrested for stalking or disrupting the public, or other such things, that I’m not in fact liable just because they were playing my game. It sounds ridiculous, but long has the heated debate of video games and violence been raging. Do violent video games promote or cause violence? From what I gather, there is no real proof that playing a violent game leads to violence (rather, violent people do and are drawn to violent things). I could assume from this that just because a game promotes watching people that it does not cause social disruption or stalking behaviors or the like. People choose to follow courses of action on their own volition. But still, it makes me wonder where the lines are and just how grayed they can be. To be on the safe side, I’ve put a couple of notations into my game to remind players to be respectful of their surroundings and to avoid legal fallout. That’s definitely not a fun way to end a game.

Do I expect answers to my questions? Not necessarily. I think common knowledge and guidelines within the gaming community tend to be rather fluid and as such there are no hard and defined answers.