being the mental and scholastic wanderings of Collie Collier
Copyright © 1994 B. A. "Collie" Collier
The pain of the mind is worse than the pain of the body.
Wow, last finals paper written, printed, and turned in - I don't know if I can stand all this after-quarter free time! Hmm, and I don't have much time to get this zine in... so let me do some commentary and some back-checking of previously written stuff... Got it! I'll use a TWH zine that never saw print! Here goes...
I had an interesting point brought up recently. Basically I was asked where I would draw the line as far as torturing the players went. By torturing, I don't mean those moral problems which cause Dana Erlandsen's comment in The Wild Hunt, "I came, I saw, my character suffered, but I had a grand time." What I mean is when a subject comes up that makes the player acutely uncomfortable. As far as I can tell, this is what is happening when the player suddenly gets very quiet, looks uncomfortable, and doesn't seem to want to role-play anymore.
The game which caused this discussion had a nasty thing happen to a PC. Having very unpleasant experiences happen to the PC is acceptable, as long as the player doesn't find it painful. This was obviously an unpleasant experience for the player as well. I found myself feeling bad for the player.
As an example of something nasty happening to a PC that didn't bother the player, I played in one game where my PC felt everyone she loved was or would be harmed in some way by her loving them. Therefore, in order to protect her current lovers, she simply refused to relate to them anymore. Had they let her, she would have quietly walked away to live in hidden, solitary retirement for the rest of her life. She was broken out of this apathy by a former lover coming to see her and forgive her for the emotional damage she'd caused him.
This was a very difficult role for me to play. I felt strongly for the character. She was in anguish over her perceived emotional damage and pain to those most dear to her. Yet the game is one I remember with great fondness, and I believe the character, like steel, was stronger for the emotional tempering caused by this incident.
This is an example of the GM pushing buttons which don't hurt the player. The pain is all on the part of the character, and the player has a wonderful chance to act out the PC's strong emotional turmoil. This can be an exhilarating chance to really fly in your adopted persona. It is when the player is hurting that role-play becomes a problem. I quote from Peaceable Demeanor #1 in The Wild Hunt:
I remember one incident where someone's PC unwillingly "played cabin boy" to a bunch of NPC pirates. I was offended by this, but my PC was not present, in-game, at the time and no one else was objecting, including the player involved. I decided not to speak up, but to tell the GM later, in private, how uncomfortable I felt. At that time I found out from him that I was the fourth person to say something about the situation, including the player of the assaulted PC.
When the GM later discussed this issue with the group he only said that I, the only female, had found it offensive. He announced that because I 'bitched' it simply had not happened. He subsequently became exaggeratedly and patronizingly apologetic to me whenever anything even vaguely sexual came up in the game.
In terms of body language, several players expressed their discomfort during the game by turning away from the GM, leaving the room on one pretext or another, or (as in my case) looking both repulsed and incredulous. In terms of spoken language, the immediate dismay with the GM's actions was not as easily perceivable, but there were some quiet mutterings, a disgusted "eeeeww," and finally dead silence. Obviously, the GM in this case was not, at the time, sensitive to people's feelings at his arbitrarily raping one of the PCs in the game.
Later actions showed the GM to not only not understand either the problem or the reasons for its being, but also to attempt to place blame for the existence of the problem on one of the players. To me, this is an example of the GM accidentally torturing one of the players, then trying to blame all the bad feelings caused by his actions on another player.
So, now we have our problem before us. How does it get resolved? For ease of writing while addressing this subject, I am going to make an assumption: the GM is female; the player is male.
There are a couple of variations on this theme. One possibility is that the GM is aware something is wrong, but is not sure what. This situation can easily occur when the GM has pressed an emotional button for the player where the "button" per se isn't something which causes her emotional turmoil. In other words, the player is hurting; the GM isn't. For example, if the player believes sex before marriage is not only wrong but evil, and the GM doesn't, presenting his PC with an aggressive and sexually interested NPC who is definitely against marriage will cause a possibly painful conflict.
Perhaps the GM can't figure out how to fix the problem, and is simply trying to bull through the situation as quickly as possible. This won't work. Using the above example, it is the subject of sex before marriage which has affected the player. If the GM rushes on through the game the problem hasn't been addressed, and she may unwittingly trip that button again. Ignoring discomfort won't cause it to go away. Things can only get worse.
Alternatively, the GM hasn't a clue. She doesn't notice the growing discomfort of the player. This means not only that the problem exists, but also that it can repeatedly rise again. The GM won't be bothered, but the player may become so uncomfortable that he leaves the game. Unfortunately she won't have any idea why he left. Bad feelings and/or rumors may arise on both sides of the issue. They are usually based on misunderstanding; usually they are wrong.
The saddest example is when the GM knows of the problem and just doesn't care. This can happen, for example, if she wishes to have the player leave her game, but is too cowardly to ask. So she tries to drive him out by making life miserable for his PC.
Of course, players can easily and unintentionally add to the confusion of our poor GM. For example, it may be another player who is causing the first player to feel tortured. This can occur, using the above example, when the sexually aggressive character is a PC rather than an NPC. Our affected player will become equally uncomfortable regardless of who is initiating the problem.
Also, any player who becomes uncomfortable but doesn't know exactly why isn't going to be able to tell the GM what the matter is. It's not that they don't want to stop the problem; they just have difficulty articulating their dilemma. Unless they get help in discovering the exact subject of their concern, it won't be resolved. Having a miserable player is not an enjoyable experience for either the GM or the players.
Often, the dilemma causing the discomfort is something the player has trouble talking about. He'd love to get the taboo theme permanently pulled from the game. However, it bothers him so much to talk about it that he'd rather just ignore it. The GM knows only that sometimes he freezes up and refuses to role-play.
Worse yet, he may be so non-confrontational he will sit in misery while proclaiming with a fixed smile that everything is fine. He doesn't want to get the annoying subject out in the open, where he'll have to talk about it in front of all those people. Like the previous type of player, he'll suffer in silence. Again, if anyone is affected by his misery, the game ceases to be fun.
Finally, a player may say he wants to game out a certain type of encounter or experience. He is trying to come to terms with the dangerous (to him) subject by playing it through under controlled conditions. He may be telling the truth; sometimes this works. Don't try to force this.
A variant on this is the player who is like someone loudly proclaiming they've "...gained a little weight; don't you think so?" They don't care what the truth is - what they really want is for you to answer in the negative. This type of player doesn't really want to play out the affecting situation. However, he is trying to seem unaffected by it, or possibly even rather daring, by talking about (or around) it. He doesn't really want the GM to play the situation out. He is often hard to distinguish from the previous type.
All these situations have simple solutions. The difficulty lies in actually putting them into practice. If it isn't handled it will simply get bigger and harder to deal with later. However, unless the game is stopped, it will have to be dealt with. Often it can become something which dogs the player, turning up in future games. The problem must be communicated; let people talk about some way around it or a way to resolve it. The amount of good feelings engendered by clearing up something hanging over a group can be a surprise. It becomes both a release of and relief from tension.
All the people in the game have the responsibility of making sure the game is fun. If there is a problem, the affected player should politely let the GM know. Even if he isn't sure exactly why he is uncomfortable, bringing out his discomfort will enable the subject to be discussed. Unless it is discussed, it is unlikely to go away.
If you are the GM or another player, and know the affected player is unlikely to talk, feel free to try to help. It is perfectly acceptable to call a "bath-room break" and gently try to get the player to talk about the situation. If he is so uncomfortable that he refuses to do so, try getting him to allow you (instead of him) to bring up the subject of his discomfort within the game, so that it can be discussed. Another alternative is to help set up a private meeting between him and the GM. If this is also not acceptable, offer to get the conversational ball rolling on the subject by bringing it up while only you, he, and the GM are present.
As always, the GM has lots of options. Change the situational parameters, and often the problem is solved. Very few stories are so set in concrete that a small change in someone's actions or attitudes will destroy everything which has gone before. Remember, the affected player is very uncomfortable. Even if you aren't uncomfortable with the problem subject, try to take it easy on his feelings. Be flexible: the game isn't going anywhere fun while one person is miserable.
Comments on Interregnum #24.
Last Updated: Tues Mar 24 1998