Some interesting discussions have emerged these days about the possibility that characters in a role-playing game are raped. Let's clarify.
On the occasion of International day for the elimination of violence against women, Women, Dice & Data (DD&D) published the testimony of a role player.
This testimony is part of the many collections over the long term study of DD&D on discrimination in the world of role play. The study was presented during the Modena Play 2019 (we talked about it Thu!).
Let's talk briefly about the DD&D investigation, contextualizing the testimony. Then we address the issues that emerged from the comments on this testimony, to understand why the episode told was serious.
DD&D's study on discrimination in the Italian role-playing world: a very brief introduction
DD&D research is freely available at this link. It involved, in addition to Claudia Pandolfi (who started the investigation!), the anthropology student Robert Lazzaroni, the doctor of psychology Aurelio Castro, the contract professor in Statistical Sciences Francis Giovinazzi and myself Seeker G, PhD student in linguistics.
The investigation revealed that although the cases of discrimination (gender, but also homo-transphobic, racist, empowered or income-based) are not common in the part of the community involved, however those who suffer the most are women and non-binary people. Fortunately, the cases of heavy harassment are few, but several others have emerged toxic behavior quite common. In fact, several women have been treated by their party men as eternal amateurs. Others, however, have seen their skills constantly questioned, unlike their male companions, being systematically excluded from making important decisions.
The survey was carried out through a multiple-choice questionnaire, with the possibility, at the end, of leaving one written witness relating to an episode of discrimination that has been witnessed or suffered. The testimony reported by DD&D on November 25 is part of this category. We report it in the context of the post published on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
DD&D testimony on the harassment and rape attempts suffered by a player character
When, just two years ago, we began to receive the first testimonies in response to our survey on gender discrimination in the Italian GDR community, we were amazed at how often terms such as "rape", "harassment" appeared in those stories, "Sexual jokes", "vulgar names". Often towards the character. Sometimes accompanied by the phrase "and have a laugh!".
We share only one of the almost 200 stories received from people of the female, male and non-binary gender, because even if it were only this would already be one episode too many.
In the boundless realm of the imagination, with infinite fantastic worlds available, we still choose to stage the most disgusting part of reality, that part considered amusing, goliardic by any *; that part suffered almost daily by others.
This too is gender-based violence.
«Harassment" to the character ", to no end. I had to give up a character I loved, and a very interesting session, because it was “too good” and with this excuse the other players (one in particular) bothered me. From sexist jokes to "die roll to touch his ass" to real sexual assaults to the unconscious or unconscious character. To the sound of "it's a joke, have a laugh", not caring if the joke made me uncomfortable. This is then to leave me behind or to exclude myself from important things, or not to give me confidence because it is considered not up to understanding things. I killed the character at the earliest opportunity and pulled myself out. "
[Female person, between 31 and 50 years old]
Other evidence of discrimination emerged from the DD&D survey
To better contextualize the testimony seen above, we report other cases told during the research.
Two players will certainly play female PGs, on which the party boys can fantasize in an unpleasant way!
[Woman, between 20 and 30 years old (Answer 4032)]
We were two girls and four other boys. The situation was extremely unpleasant because the climate was very macho and the boys laughed at each other and made jokes about our characters (mine and my friend), imagining them in lesbian-porn scenes - all this without even realizing that I had created a man character, because even in this case everything we said was ignored.
The climate was so toxic that I felt the need to create a man character because I was sure that in the course of the game someone would try to rape my character or make advances in any way, and it was a situation that I had no desire to roll over. Thank goodness that evening we only prepared the ballots.
I was added to a chat to coordinate upcoming "plays" which was actually just a place to share bad memes about how slutty women were. I left them a message explaining that their behavior was extremely offensive and left the group (later learning that they kept talking about me as the frigid bitch who can't take jokes).
Obviously the party girl will play a woman caster!
[Woman, between 31 and 50 years old (Answer 170)]
I was teased because I didn't want to play a female character and / or a caster ("but what does a girl know about how to play a barbarian!").
In a tournament the master decided that since I was the only girl in the group, the only female character he had prepared had to play it myself, without giving me the possibility to choose (which instead was granted to my teammates)
We pick up the party woman and, if we fail, let's insult her!
[Woman, between 31 and 50 years old (Answer 3935)]
In some cases, some players interacted (even through their characters) with my character in ways they did not allow themselves, with the other players, often trying to tow me (in the larp it was easy to get to the groping attempt) and when not they succeeded, externalizing sexist and / or homophobic statements (the women are all sluts, you are a shitty lesbian, even if my character was not, etc) completely out of context and / or background of their characters.
Fortunately, there have been isolated cases.
Why does rape in the RPG, like the one reported by DD&D, not be done?
This word would be enough to close the question, but let me go deeper into the concept.
In role-playing games you can easily deal with heavy issues, rough, macabre or in any case very serious. Whether it's because players are faced with racially-based genocide in D&D, or because some character in Vampiri takes its power games too far, heavy issues can come into play.
However, there is an abysmal difference between a group of players who consciously choose to deal with heavy issues, and a part of the party that makes a person who does not want to experience them undergo these issues. In this sense, it is the fact that the player does not agree (= does not give her consent!) In making her character suffer this harassment that makes the episode serious.
Dealing with rape and other strong issues at the table: consensus, clarity and security mechanics
Rape and harassment may be present in a role-playing session, but there are conditions that must be met. First, it is critical that know with certainty that people at the table have no problem playing these issues. If even just one person doesn't like to see rape scenes in game, then rape scenes aren't played. It happened in our live streaming campaign in Coriolis, told in MADAR Diary: it was enough that a single player was not comfortable with the theme, and our Yari did not include it.
Of course, this means that the players at the table must have the correctness and maturity to say right away what their limits are. However, it is also the master's duty to ask the preliminary question “Which themes do you prefer not to touch?”. This preliminary question would belong to the famous one session zero, that is the preliminary session in which the characters are made and the campaign is discussed.
However, it is also true that sometimes people at the table do not know for sure what their limits are on certain issues. It is in these cases that the X Card, that is the security mechanism that allows you to close a scene played so as not to touch a certain topic. Similarly, however, the presence of the X Card at the table can be a safety net for players who want to explore the strong themes. In fact, knowing that they can pull out when they want, many gamblers dare more, when there is the X Card at the table, like Jason Carl told us, one of the fathers of Vampires: The Masquerade, at Modena Play.
For a more in-depth discussion of emotional security in role-playing games, see the results of the Genderplay II Edition.
Are strong issues mandatory?
Having gods limits with regard to the strong issues that can be faced, it is not a symptom of weakness or immaturity, nor does it mean that we are people with "problems". Everyone among us has had bad experiences that we would rather not relive, but the fact that we have to work on ourselves to overcome our traumas doesn't mean we can't role-play.
Furthermore, avoiding certain strong themes that make us uncomfortable does not mean, as some say, “playing only the Teletubbies”. A campaign can safely be adult and satisfying even without rape. Just like a book, it can deal with profound, adult and very human issues without inserting rape. Brandon Sanderson e George RR Martinfor example, they both talk about humanity and heavy issues, but they do it in two very different ways, both very valid.
Taking care of the well-being of the people who play with us makes us people capable of living within a society, not snowflakes who need to be protected.
Rape of your character: how to react?
Regarding the testimony reported by DD&D, many and many have commented on the choice of the player in question to leave the group and have her character die.
For many people, in fact, this reaction would not be appropriate, and it would have been better to refer to the characters of the other players. Although these comments arise from the natural inclination to put yourself in someone else's shoes and imagine how we would have reacted, in reality such a reaction is neither always feasible for everyone, nor the best answer.
A matter of peer pressure
Indeed, in the context of the role-playing game the influence of the peer pressure, or the social pressure created by the expectations of the other people at the table. When everyone around us, including players and masters, seems to think that harassment of our character is lawful and fun, it is not easy to strongly oppose. In fact, there is the fear of breaking the goliardic atmosphere at the table, thus becoming the spoilsport stickler who "can't laugh". To feel accepted in a group and not to unleash discontent, many and many, especially among the younger ones, accept this kind of disrespect.
Each of us must learn to be respected, or to keep toxic people away, but it is still a difficult personal path. Rather than blaming people for suffering the peer pressuretherefore it is much more useful work as a community to encourage anyone to point out when something at the game table bothers you.
Face other players' behavior by retaliating within the game?
In this case, moreover, we are faced with attitudes that have no root in the character and history of the characters, but in the nature of the players. If, after due discussion in session zero, it was agreed that certain PCs are evil, sexist and prone to harass the women of the party, we would be in a very different situation.
Here, in fact, the harassment on the character of the player does not seem to originate from the alignment of the other PCs. On the contrary, they are the result of the choices of the players. Therefore, this is not the kind of behavior that can be addressed in game, but it has to be solved out of the game, talking to the players themselves. Killing their characters in their sleep will be neither a remedy nor a lesson. Only by explaining to real people that these behaviors are annoying can a solution be reached: either they stop, or the player leaves.
"Role play is fiction!" it only goes up to a certain point
The fact that role playing is basically fiction allows everyone to have great freedoms and to do things that in real life would be impossible. However, one should not forget that role-playing is played by people with their own background and personality, such that certain scenes experienced in the game can annoy not the character, but the person himself.
This event is quite common e it is not based on the fact that the gambling person cannot distinguish reality from fiction. In role-playing we put part of our life experiences and our thoughts, so it is normal that, once this link has been traced, something can go back.
The problem of bleeding
One of the most common cases is that of bleeding, of which we have spoken Thu. The bleeding happens when what happens to our character exudes fiction and is absorbed by us as people. Some issues, speeches or attitudes with which our character comes into contact, in fact, can be particularly sensitive for us, which therefore we are personally affected by these events. Thus, the distance between what happens to us and what happens to the character is shortened and we ourselves experience anger, pain or fear, not our character.
Similarly, even players who enjoy harassing other people's PCs, regardless of their characters' personalities, are not exactly playing with detachment. Because if their characters aren't evil, but still harass the adventurers, then these attitudes are caused by the players. Maybe they are pouring out their frustrations, their drives and their (true) consideration of women? Hard to say, but I wouldn't rule it out.
But this makes us understand that no, not everything that happens in the role-playing game is "just fiction". That's why you need to be careful, especially when it comes to sensitive issues like rape.
Security and respect do not equate to moralism, censorship or politically correct
Having said all this, it should be clear that paying attention to how and why rape is staged in an RPG is a matter of civilization.
The post by Donne, Dadi & Dati, in fact, is an invitation to remember that the world of role-playing games is not a happy paradise, where sexism does not exist. Furthermore, it is an invitation to remember that this sexism does not exist only in the form of harassment of the player, but that it can manifest itself in many forms.
As we Seekers said in this post, sexism and gender-based violence are a pyramid of behavior. These range from joking commentary based on stereotypes ("Of course you are a druid elf, like all girls!") To nasty in-game actions ("So your elf prostitutes herself to make us more money?"). Not addressing even these “lower” steps of the pyramid, or simply calling them “being an asshole”, removing the focus from what causes the attitude, ie gender, does not help.
Be careful how you react to these testimonials
As we said yesterday, it is easy to condemn sexism when it comes to killed or beaten women, or rape in real life. But it is more difficult to condemn it when it concerns something that closely concerns us or behaviors that, in some ways, we consider not very serious. This is why it is important to react to these testimonies by not raising our shields and saying "WE don't do that!" or "Violence is always wrong, but don't be moralistic sjw who censor our plays!".
I will quote our post on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
In our community, each and every one of us must make an examination of conscience, so as to try to understand which of these steps he has taken. Understanding our internalized machismo (yes, even in women themselves) is the first step in changing our attitude first, then the atmosphere at the table.
Life is not a game in which a mistake made ten years ago must mark us forever: there must always be room for improvement, for change, for redemption. And none of us can claim to have always been a beautiful person.
Self-analysis. Admission (at least with ourselves) of one's mistakes. We start from these first steps, and then we continue, continuing to ask ourselves, continuing to ask ourselves if we are really doing the right thing. Continuing to listen to women, non-straight women, non-cisgender women, non-white women, non-able women, non-wealthy women, non-thin women. Learning little by little the complexity of discrimination, without ever resting on our laurels.
Because that of equality is a continuous path, not a status that is reached and in which one remains.