As Inigo Montoya so fondly stated, “Let us sum up.” Last time, we broached the (as some might consider) complex topic of creating safe spaces within our games and community for all players. How do you build your community safely? How do you design the RPG to ensure that it will not cause inadvertent harm? How do you provide clear guidance to those using your system to do so respectfully and safely?
I’d suggested a 7-point list under the moniker “Safety By Design” for a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG) community, which included:
Design The Space To Be Safe
The Welcome Measure
Put Up Troll Repellents
Listen And Lead By Example
Make The Hard Decisions
Use MER – Check In
I shared my thoughts on points 1-3 last time, so we’ll wrap up today with the remainder. We last left off gearing up to ward off trolls, so let’s get back to it.
Put Up Troll Repellents
This could be a two-edged sword and was something that we at BSG stumbled over somewhat recently. I am not sure how efficient this tool would be in different settings, and I am very open to learning from the broader community their thoughts about it.
We originally announced Renegade Legion in late 2020. We were loud and open about building a diverse and inclusive setting and community. This immediately set some old guards off, and they shunned us as “SJW woke lefties.” That was fine by us. They never sought to enter our community and have done little more than dropping the occasional snarky comment from the sidelines ever since. But they are not in the community disrupting it.
It has also cost us, followers, over time. This is fine. We don’t want people opposed to diversity, inclusion, and mutual respect as part of our community.
However, in being so open about our aims, we risked drawing down lateral violence on those who want to be part of our community. We have not seen or heard of it yet, but it remains a real risk. However, the small community we have built has been polite, good fun, and tolerant so far.
Listen and Lead By Example
As the designer, owner, team, or lead of the RPG, you set the tone of the community through every action you take.
You are the face of the RPG. You are the tone-setter, the example that everyone else will follow.
If you have a small RPG, that’s a small audience, but if you have thousands or more fans, followers, and players, then you start to have a real influence on people’s lives.
You need to call out and deal with behavior in the community you have created that does not meet the community’s rules, and when you make mistakes, own them. Learn from them and share what you have learned.
You could build the safest place you could conceive of and still mess up. You are human, after all. Therefore, it is essential to lead and learn, and you do that by listening carefully to your community.
Your community will be a great barometer in determining if the space is safe. Check-in with the community. Regularly ask for feedback and ideas. This is important as communities evolve, so a static system that served well initially may need to change over time to best serve the community as a safe space.
Make the Hard Decisions
Despite your every effort, bad actors may still get into your community. Also, frictions within the community itself or unpleasant people could be part of the different communities that make up your community. People can mean to one another for a host of reasons in the digital space. Even with all the safety features in place, you can still have instances of actual or potential harm arise.
You must make the call to jettison members of the community who are causing harm to others early. Your responsibility is to community safety. If you do not act according to the rules and standards you have set, the system will quickly fall apart.
This can be exceptionally hard if you are a conflict-averse person. Still, it is infinitely better to deal with the problem early than later, when it has festered and become so much worse.
Use MER – Check In
What is MER, you ask? Monitoring, Reporting, and Evaluation. Essentially, checking in.
Once you have built your space and your community is active, you need to monitor how it functions. Are the rules and standards working in the way envisioned? Has the community responded well? Have instances of harm been limited or eliminated?
You can collect many metrics, numbers of reports, speed of addressing complaints, what actions were taken, etc. It is a good thing to record those and more. In documenting that information, you can review it regularly to track trends and changes and see if you are meeting your goals.
It is also important to share such information with the community and work with them to address any identified issues. A well-informed community can help you keep the space safe and enjoyable for all.
As you can see, creating the community around your RPG can be daunting when the consequences of your actions early on are thought through. If you do X, how will it affect the lives of A, B, and C? However, early work is vitally important in thinking about the sort of community you want, and in this case, a safe community for all members.
Don’t play catch up later. Don’t grow and then find it all too complicated or expensive. Build it in from the get-go and put the safety and well-being of your customers, fans, and at times friends, at the top of what you are doing.
Safe spaces where diversity, inclusiveness, and mutual respect are the foundation are the best places. There needs to be more of them.
To finish, this is what I have learned, one part of a much larger and very complex puzzle. Others will have their own lessons, and please share them in the comments below. The more information we share on this topic, there will be more safe spaces for those who love TTRPGs.