• Kinky Consent: Emotional and Physical Negotiation in Freeform Games

    by  • October 8, 2015 • Essays • 1 Comment

    originslarp

    A typical physical larp space at a convention

    I’m a pretty kinky ladybot, as you may have read in my other essays/games maybe a billion times. I find a lot of parallels between gaming spaces and kink spaces. I’m gonna go at it again here in some observations I’ve made about boundaries, consent, and rules in freeform/LARP games.

    There’s already a lot of smart rules that gamers utilize while playing these games. I’m going to discuss them a little below, but mostly I want to talk about flow and missing steps. What are the things that arise despite these safety nets being in place? Are they cultural, mechanical, or something else? If you’re writing a freeform/LARP game (especially in the Golden Cobra challenge currently running that involves empathy and touch as two of its design elements), I’d love to see these things addressed in the design.

    Before Game

    Games will often go over rules for contact or emotional safety before a game begins. The type of touching that’s allowed in the game can really vary, from no touching to Ars Amandi techniques that are metaphors for sex. The “Cut” and “Brake” techniques are code words for slowing stuff down or trying another way without breaking character (and echoes of I Will Not Abandon You and the X-card are in these techniques). It’s been adopted in many freeform games to say “the door is always there if you need to leave, no explanation needed, but please let an organizer know that you’re going and OK.”

    I think that laying out this fabulous spread of rules is spectacular. I think what’s missing is the concept of “explicit verbal consent” that you see in kink communities. Sometimes, you can propose an idea to someone, and they go along because they think that’s what you want, more than what they want. There’s lots of non-verbal cues here, which you can’t trust. What you can often trust is getting someone’s explicit permission in the moment. Like, if you’re about to do something intense, or physical, pause out of character and ask permission “hey, is it ok if I pretend to punch you without actually touching you?” Even if it seems ok, getting the explicit consent in the moment makes it more ok. I feel like this is a step in the right direction toward being able to gain people’s consent a little easier. Consent is obviously way more complicated than this, and go google “consent and kink” or “consent and queer” to find a billion different opinions and nuances to how this works in different settings.

    Also I think there should be some kind of discussion about checking-in. I think often, especially in immersive games (where you don’t want to break character in a scene to have an out of character discussion) there’s this pressure to be emotionally true to the situation and the character. To be immersed in those feelings instead of reality. This is INCREDIBLY similar to being in domspace/subspace/roleplayspace essentially in kink, because if you’re really into a scene you’ll take it seriously and not break your subspace head to say anything that might apply to reality, right? NOPE. Safety, emotional and physical, is essential in these scenes, and its the same in games. Players need to feel safe breaking character or breaking scene to check-in with each other.

    During the Game

    During the game, you’re supposed to utilize all these tools during play, right? We all know that in games, though, rules get broken all the time. Most of the time not even intentionally, just from lack of practice, memory, or comfort. Often in a table top game, its easy to model the use of rules as the person who’s facilitating that game, because most likely you are playing too, so you’re engaging with the rules just like everyone else. In a freeform/LARP game however, often the facilitator is watching, organizing scenes, or passively interacting with the players. How do you model the safety rules during the game?

    I find that the lack of modelling rules means they don’t get used, or they get misused unintentionally, or boundaries get pushed. It’s easy for people to say “let’s have touching just be on the hands and arms” in the beginning of the game, but then maybe accidentally cuddle with someone in a scene, or wrap an arm around a waist. It’s part of the nature of live action that it feels more like acting. Acting has more touching than most gaming. How do you get around this? I think if other players or the facilitator saw this happening and reinforced the touching rules at that moment, regardless of interrupting the scene, it would really strengthen those boundaries. Who knows why people might want or not want to be touched in certain areas? The important thing is to remember to enforce it, and respect it.

    fairytale

    People playing a fairytale larp where most space is negotiated around sitting at a table

    I think its often hard to spot when someone is emotionally ok in a game too. Sometimes people play really sad games to feel those sad emotions, and what might appear to be troubling someone on the outside might be really fun on the inside. Akin to the screeches of pain you hear at any kink party… those people are having a blast! As an observer, though, how can you tell? Again, I think this is a good time for a check-in. If I was in a kink scene with someone and I couldn’t read them, or had the slightest doubt something was wrong, I would break scene and ask if they were ok. I think utilizing this check-in during the freeform/LARP would work wonders for not only maintaining emotional safety for the players, but also keeping people from relying so heavily on the “there’s the door” rule. Maybe they just need to voice something, and then they’re ready to keep going.

    After Game

    There’s this thing in kink that’s called “aftercare”. After a scene, the people involved will talk, lounge around, cuddle, or do whatever it takes to transition back into the real world from their intense feelings. Sometimes in this space, dommes need reassurance that they’re good people despite doing “terrible” things to someone else, or subs need to cry to let out some intense bottled up emotions. The freeform/LARP equivalent is the debrief. Where usually there’s a good thing and a bad thing said about the game, and then usually some kind of ritual to let the game go.

    I think debriefing in big groups is actually much harder than in smaller ones. How can everyone share all their emotions in such a big group with such a small amount of time? How can we validate each other and those feelings without waiting for it to get to our turn? How is the debrief run, are the questions the right ones to get at what people were feeling during that game, or just a script that was written that might not at all echo how the game played out? I think a bit more detail in how to run the debrief would go a long way, with some support on doing it for big groups vs small groups, and also some instruction on how to listen and validate.

     

    Are you a kinkster and gamer with some thoughts on how this stuff could crossover more? What other techniques from gaming or kink could inform the other? Think I overlooked something? I look forward to reading your comments below, or to continue the discussion on G+ or twitter.

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    Game player, wanderer, cyborg, and designer of enameled jewelry. Check out my jewelry at Anima Metals and for sale at Anima Metals on Etsy and on facebook at Anima Metals Facebook Page

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