Safety Tools and Consent Mechanics: Learning Consent from RPGs

Curator's Note

Though it’s often discussed in a sexual context, consent is also important in roleplaying games. While roleplaying games are fictional, players often experience “bleed,” a phenomenon where a character’s emotions “bleed over” into the player’s real-world emotions. Players might be affected by intense emotions, not only from romantic roleplaying, but also confrontation, or horror scenarios – so in these cases, explicit conversation about consent is necessary to avoid emotional harms. Since the 1990s, LARPing groups around the world have been developing “consent mechanics” to help players communicate about both in-game and out-of-game consent.

LARPs provide unique challenges for communicating about consent: When a player’s boundaries differ from a character’s boundaries, how do we make sure both get respected? When you're roleplaying in a fictional storyworld, how do you check for consent without breaking immersion? How do you manage consent in an unplanned narrative game where unexpected situations often come up? To answer these questions, LARPing communities have developed a variety of tools, chronicled above.

Here are some key takeaways about consent from LARP consent mechanics:

Consent isn’t just about actions, but about situations – some LARP consent mechanics, such as Lines and Veils or Script Change, don’t just help players negotiate what actions they’re okay with but also what situations or topics they’re comfortable encountering.

Consent needs to be easy to revoke – Many consent mechanics, including the X-card, Ok Check-in, Cut and Brake, or Tap Out mechanics are designed to make it easy for players to check-in for or revoke consent as the situation changes.

Needing to explain can be a barrier – Designers of many LARP consent tools stress the importance of not requiring players who use the consent mechanic to provide reasons – they’ve found that this can prevent players from using the mechanics when they need them.

Consent tools need to be situation specific – Different LARPS require different consent mechanics. For instance, a verbal tool won’t work well in a game in a loud space. By calling these tools “mechanics,” LARP designers signal that consent tools must be built into each game as fundamentally as the game's own rules.

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