When we game in person, it is usually straightforward to adopt safety tools in play: placing a T-Card at the centre of the table, reading through a safety checklist together at session 0, et cetera. When gaming online, though, reading the room and having these mechanisms in place might take a little forethought.
For more info on game safety tools, look up this resource that we’ve got compiled on our Google Drive: http://geas.org.uk/tools
You can find a copy of the Geas T-Card here: http://geas.org.uk/tcard
We at Geas want everyone to be safe and have fun when playing their games. This is more so the case now, as games have moved on-line. These are some tips for GMs running games on-line on how to ensure game safety even in these changed environments. We hope you find this useful!
Adapt What We Already Do
Game safety on-line isn’t really anything new: we don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but we just have to adapt what we already do to be suitable for on-line spaces. The most important thing for all safety tools is to ensure that players have a method that everyone has agreed in advance where people can talk openly about issues they might have with the content or table dynamics, as well as a mechanism through which they can pause the game if they need to.
Some of the simplest solutions would be having things like T-Cards printed out that players can just hold up to the camera if they want to pause the game. Or you don’t even need T-Cards printed: what I say to my players is to just hold their hand up or say ‘Time Out’.
Of course, hand signals or printed T-Cards would require video to work. Which leads me to my next point.
Think about the Format or Platform You are Using
The extent to which you can read a room will depend heavily on the format of your game. If your game is audio only, or if somebody has their video off, you will not be able to see players and read their expressions. You will not be able to see players holding up hand signals or T-Cards.
Even if your game uses video, if you have a screen share or map screen running on Zoom or something, it may minimise the video call and you might not see players if they have any difficulty.
When you implement a safety tool in game, make sure you do so in a space that you will be constantly monitoring.
The Chat Feature is Your Best Friend
All video conferencing platforms normally come with a chat feature. Speak to your players and agree on a code for everyone to follow, something like saying ‘Time Out’ in the chat.
Another benefit is that players can even send the GM a private message. That way, the GM can respond privately to the player and pause the game themselves, thereby giving players a layer of privacy at the table if they have any issues.
Again, like before, remember to monitor the chat frequently. I even go as far as to set up a group chat separately and leave my phone on my desk, so if anyone messages the chat my phone buzzes and I can see the message no matter what I have on my computer screen.
What Else can the Conferencing App Do?
Some video conferencing apps give you react emojis you can use in a call. Like Zoom, for example, gives you tick or cross reacts, as well as a hand raise function. These features can be adapted into safety tools as well. Have a chat with your players and agree on a protocol to follow. If someone wants to hit the T-Card, for example, they could ‘raise their hand’ in Zoom or hit the cross react.
Think about Breaks and Accessibility
Playing games on-line can be difficult for people with particular sensory or attention needs. Some people may struggle with reading faces or communicating with an absence of many kinds of non-verbal cues, and some people might find it difficult to concentrate on a screen for extended periods of time. Be mindful that players may have such similar needs to different degrees, and think about how to accommodate these needs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and you will have to work it out on individually within a group. Use the methods we talked about above to initiate this conversation with your players and see what the group can do together to make everyone feel included.
Also, Zoom Fatigue is a thing. The vibe in an on-line game is much more focussed and intense. This is why it might be a good idea to plan and schedule breaks for each session. Breaks are important for accessibility and to make sure everyone is on top of their game, and not tired or exhausted.
Breaks also gives the GM an opportunity to check in with players and see how everyone is keeping.
Talk about this in session 0
The most important thing, however, is everyone being on the same page. This is something that comes naturally in real space because we have a physical T-Card on the table and everyone understands what it means. While playing on-line, we don’t have a physical object that everyone can see. This is why we need to discuss this issue openly and agree on what systems the table will follow for game safety.
Also, safety tools like this are for difficult situations in games when things go wrong. It might also help to prevent such situations from arising in the first place by talking in advance and in more detail about the themes and content everyone is comfortable with.
It can also help to check in with everyone before, during, and after each session to see how everyone is keeping, and whether or not the tools you’ve all agreed to are working.
In sum, all of this boils down to these basic points:
- Create a space to talk about issues openly
- Think about the various on-line channels of communication you need to adapt this to
- Use the chat feature a lot!
- Check in with your players regularly to see how things are going.
At the end of the day, game safety is all about common sense, empathy and open conversation. We hope that by thinking through and adopting these measures, players and GMs will find ways of keeping themselves save when gaming on-line.
Equality and Wellbeing Officer