Lines, Veils & Fuckery
At Fastaval 2016, I ran Mo Holkar’s scenario ‘Heroes’, about a group of young East Berliners in the 1970’s who are planning to escape across the Berlin Wall, and about a group of guards at the Wall. Very nice game, fine play experience.
The game involved a good deal of player improvisation and some potentially quite heavy subjects, so, reasonably enough, there were some safety mechanics. One of them was “anonymous lines and veils” — very briefly, players had the option, at the outset of the game, to exclude some subjects from the game (lines) or say that they could be there, but not directly on stage as it were (veils). The players wrote them down on forms and gave them to the facilitator, who then compiled and presented a complete list where you couldn’t tell who had said what (anonymous). Very typically, and as an example of something that multiple players wrote, veil on sex. That is, we were OK with sex being a thing in the lives of our stressed-out, freedom-hungering young people, but we’d steer around seeing it direcly. If we hadn’t veiled sex, that would have meant that we could have been a lot more up front about it.
So far, so good. Lines and veils are a somewhat popular thing in the progressive end of the anglo-american rp & larp design scene, as it makes room for people to play even if they have issues that they don’t want to or have the energy to handle, without limiting them to superficial and harmless games in order to avoid running into ugly things like homophobia, rape, dead children or what have you. Not my favourite safety procedure, but it clearly comes with a positive and inclusive agenda which I applaud and support. So I was surprised to learn that the concept could be subverted into being anything but including.
One of the players veiled “homo stuff”.
That caught me off guard, as the scenario quite strongly assumes that the player characters aren’t necessarily straight or for that matter comfortable in their assigned gender — though to be fair, this might not have been broadcast nearly as strongly in advance to the players as it was to the facilitator. Several players had (as previously mentioned) veiled sex, so I twisted the general veiling of “homo stuff” into “homoerotics” that sorta-kinda fell under the general veiling of sex. It so happened by chance that we ended up with a very elegant situation where everyone wanted to sleep with people who’d rather sleep with other people and everyone tumbled around being sexually frustrated, so actual sex never really came up, not even under the veil, neither hetero nor otherwise. We established that two female characters had previously tried to get it on, but it hadn’t really been a success.
In the concrete situation I don’t THINK that much harm came of it. One of the players might have been not straight and felt excluded or otherwise uncomfortable, but I don’t think so and I looked pretty hard. I also don’t think that there was any conscious intent to exclude behing this veiling. A lot of Fastaval games had quite prominent queer elements (yay!) and I also in one other context heard some slight grumbling that this was all well and good, but could we have just a little break now, please? Hetero-privileged backlash, absolutely, but in a fairly mild form as these things go.
One thing that struck me, though, was that even if noone was out to make trouble here, and (hopefully/I think) nothing very bad happened as it turned out, it COULD have been used in a pretty ugly way if someone had felt like it. What if someone simply submitted “homosexuality” as a line, thus excluding gayness and gay people from being something that existed in the game? Then the facilitator would have to choose between administering the safety rules of the game in a clearly and nastily excluding way, or breaking the rules of the game, “proving” that evil Social Justice Warriors are evil and hypocritical.
If I found myself in THAT situation, I’d probably pick door number two and say, “folks, this is no good — I’m a player too and I’m really not comfortable playing a game with such clearly excluding elements. But it is a ticklish matter. It goes to show that we should be careful with the rules that we design, as they might be used for ends that we hadn’t imagined. It also goes to show that we can’t use rules to disclaim responsibility for our part in the game. Or, we could, but it would be bullshit.
NOTE: Dette indlæg lægger sig direkte i forlængelse af en meget engelsk-sproget diskussion. Det er ikke fordi plan B sådan generelt er skiftet til engelsk.