Monday, October 14, 2013

Group Sensitivity

Since moving to Seattle WA, I've gotten used to the idea that women play games. I know this seems fairly straight-forward, but I can count on one finger, the number of active female participants I had in any game in NY. In Seattle however, it's a much more common occurrence.

When it comes to Shadowrun, the topic of this blog, I find that to be a great thing. Shadowrun doesn't have to be combat-centric, it doesn't have to conform to a male-driven view of the world. Crime, as we all know, doesn't discriminate. However, I'd never given much thought to the sex of my players, nor to any other factor then if they could roll dice, and follow the rules, and some semblance of table etiquette.

This is why, while reading the Shadowrun 5th Edition core rules, I was pleased to see a significant amount of space given over to Group Rules and Boundaries. Even more surprising was the frank and open nature the designers discussed the need for sensitivity when it comes to racism, sex, violence, and the questionable morality in Shadowrun. While this was always something that was in the back of my mind as a GM, having it spelled out in the core rules was a new experience for me. Quite frankly, it made me sit down and think about things in a more structured sense then I ever had before.

As I'm approaching my upcoming game, with three players who are new to me, and one veteran, I wanted to take a moment and decide how to approach the issues raised above. If a player approaches me with a concern about the content of a run, or the direction a group is taking I feel it's my job, as GM, to address the concerns.

Morality: I love Shadowrun, as it allows me, as the GM, and my players to act out criminal behavior that would get us all arrested in the real world. It's escapism on a level not seen in most other games. In D&D, and Pathfinder, you're the hero, the villagers all know it, you are there to right the wrongs, and slay the bad guys. Games that go in another direction exist, sure, but they are the exception. I like to encourage my players to think outside the usual societal morals. Want to deal with a snitch, killing him is a perfectly viable option. That is if you can get away with it. However, this might not sit well with all players. With that in mind I try to design a run with a number of solutions. With that in mind, I try to encourage quieter behavior. Killing people, and breaking things, while fun is messy and should evoke an appropriate legal response. Frankly, the cops frown on bodies.

Racism: I try to not play the race card. This isn't so much a group dynamic decision, as it is a storytelling decision. I find racism a poor motivator. If I as a GM cannot find a better motivator then racism, I've not done a good job. Now, there are scenarios where race plays a factor. Posers, the Ork Underground, and modified gear come to mind. I have no issue with making it harder for metahumans, specifically Trolls, and Dwarfs, to find gear. This isn't racism, in my mind, this is a game mechanic the player agreed to by taking a troll, or dwarf metatype. With metatype-centric organizations, where racism is already a factor, again I feel that this is a style decision made by the designers, and if it's an issue with the group I simply won't write the organizations into the story.
Note: I feel the need to address real-world racism. If I were to encounter racist attitudes within a gaming group, I would simply disallow the offending player to return. While I know this seems extreme, I cannot help but feel that there's no place for any "ism" in a group I run.

Violence: This is a big one for me. I GM, to tell a story, and violence makes for great storytelling. There are two points addressed in the core rules, how graphic the violence is, and if there are any groups that should be off limits. I tend to not be overtly graphic in my descriptions, unless it's meant to set the tone. I'll gladly describe an ossuary, as a dank pit filled with half cleaned bones. But I won't go into the look of a hit and run victim, unless the players ask for more detail, or there is some detail that is crucial to the advancement of the plot, or story, and in that case I'll reveal only the necessary details. As for groups, or acts, that are off limits, I struggle to draw a clear line in the sand. From a storytelling perspective I'm willing to go anywhere, as long as the group agrees. From an individual perspective, I draw the line at gratuitous abuse. I'll gladly describe an abusive relationship, if it's relevant to the plot, but I won't toss details into the narrative about the child prostitute on the corner, unless it's absolutely critical. I don't view suffering, and violence, to be good narrative flavor. If I have to resort to those tactics, I'm not telling a good story in the first place.

Sexuality: This is another tough one, though murkier then violence. I think sex, and sexuality has a huge part to play in any Shadowrun game. If we look at the trends in our world, and extrapolate out to the Sixth World you can't help but think that sex will simply be everywhere. However, there are limits. Openly describing sex acts, or sexual abuse, in a gaming session is off limits to me. References to abuse, as plot devices, or hooks for a run, sure, but as with violence above if I have to resort to describing sexual abuse, as narrative flavor, I've not done my job. While it will largely depend on the group, and their triggers, I do plan to use sexuality in my game, specifically prostitution, and human trafficking. While these are sensitive topics, I feel they add a significant amount of depth, and emotional investment, into the setting.

These are my initial thoughts, and I'm sure they will change as I gain experience with my current group. As my views adapt, and change, I'll be sure to continue to expand on the thoughts above.

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