The (Unfortunate) Myth of The X-Card

“by Faithtoken under CC BY 3.0”

Roughly two minutes into my second (ever) game of Warhammer 40K, another player decided to have his character pull out a space gun and shoot mine in the face…

Twenty minutes later, the GM decided to mention, rather casually, ‘x-card’s’ were fully operation at his table. Thank goodness for that!

If you’re not familiar with the term, an ‘x-card‘ is a concept that can be summed up as follows:

Everyone at a gaming table gets a card with an X on it. If something happens that makes somebody uncomfortable, for any reason, they hold up the card, and the group moves on. End of discussion.

Simple enough, right? Sure.

It’s a concept I first encountered years ago, around the time when safe spaces and the like were beginning to pop up on the radar of acceptable lingo at the gaming table. It’s one of the principal memes I was aware of through my own short-lived public gaming group, but one I never encountered in practice.

However, I did actually have the good fortune to meet one of the principal (primary?) architects of this idea, who, during that meeting, mildly berated me for some choice words I had about a convention catering to minorities. This meeting oddly enough, came about because of another post on this very blog concerning that convention. That post expressed (perhaps rather harshly) disappointment at the conventions attempts at inclusivity.

Anywho, I relate these experiences concerning the x-card, and the encounter with one of is principal eponymous creators to demonstrate my familiarity with the concept, and how they may have seemed a valid solution to my 40K experience. However, as nice an idea as it appears, I feel the x-card is a little counterproductive, and in all honesty, detrimental to those who use it.

Before I get to my argument, I think I should explain my 40K experience in a bit more detail: context is always a good thing.

So my second (ever) game of Warhammer 40K (by Fantasy Flight) was a PUG with random players signing up through an online gaming website. The other gamers had all played with one-another before, so I was the ‘newb‘ (strike the first?)

The GM at the first game was one of the other players in this second game. He was definitely a welcoming figure in the first game, creating a character with myself and another player and taking it easy on the rules. This individual was however, the player in question who ultimately ended up shooting mine in the face, less than two minutes into the second game. Strange huh?

To be fair, the individual was playing a leader-esque class whose persona was a berating ‘drill-sergeant’-like character that was largely in keeping with the campaign world. As soon as my character and another character showed up at the platoon, this ‘drill-sergeant’ player berated us both. I, playing a haughty cadet, responded in kind (strike the second?), at which point, I suppose lacking a respectable response, he proceeded to take out his blaster and shoot me- missing. He declared this, made his roll, and announced that he missed, all before the GM could say anything. Eager to test out my brawler build, I said I would respond with a charge. Unfortunately, the GM said “No”, and that immediately a higher ranking officer decided to drag the ‘drill-sergeant’ character away for scolding, denying me a response (and kind of a voice as regards to my own agency and defense?)

About five minutes after this incident, heavy into our mission, the drill-sergeant player decided to announce our squads presence to an enemy outpost we were stealthily attempting to breach, causing two other players to attempt to grapple and subdue him. Unfortunately their rolls didn’t succeed. (Scenes like this continued for much of the rest of the game)

[Incidentally, prior to the game starting, the drill-sergeant, out-of-character, was having an intense debate with another player about the drill-sergeant players’ support of the current United States President’s travel ban concerning members of a certain religion. Despite having a member-of-that-religion’s brother-in-law (and perhaps ‘one-of-his-best-friends’?) the drill-sergeant player was in adamant support of the ban, as well as several other policies of the current siting President of the United States]

Alrighty, context giving. Up next, argument context!

I enjoy gamers, and gaming culture. Their (our) tendencies towards obsessive knowledge accumulation, improvisation and clearly delineated hierarchies (or classes) appear at once contradictory and wholly normal when put in the context of gaming in general. For example, gamers can vehemently defend their particular stance on say, the different advantages between fighters and paladins (or the space marine, gumshoe, investigator, etc. equivalent). Conversely however, gamers also seem wholly accepting of the fluidity of actual, real-world cultures, paradigms and persons. For instance, every gamer probably has a great deal of appreciation for a certain cultural genre far removed from their own life experiences (Anime, Medieval European, Feudal Japan, Native American, Western, etc)

So it’s always a big disappointment when folks with so much creativity, imagination and openness decide to play belligerent, domineering and out-right hostile characters. To be clear, I am not immune to playing such a character, however, I do try to ensure that my engagement at a table is comparable to other players’ engagement. That is to say, I do not try to dominate a table with my character simply because that is ‘what-my-character-would-do-in-the-game’ (read: old-school Lawful Good Paladin). Because that’s really what an RPG is: a game.

RPGs are social games you play with others. Therein lies, to my mind, the actual enjoyment of the hobby itself: The interactions with your fellow players.

And here lies the crux of why I think the x-card fails: how do you hold up an x-card when its a fellow gamer who is causing you to feel uncomfortable?

RPGs facilitate and promote interaction. These interaction’s can veer wildly off-course and into less-than-savory territory. And to be honest, these tangents are a good thing. However, the onus of getting out of these proverbial weeds should be on everyone at the table, not the person who feels the most (and I hesitate to use this word) victimized. I do not believe it should be the responsibility of a single person to point out that they feel uncomfortable through an interaction-killing device, that may only point at the symptom, not the actual problem. I do believe the onus should be on everyone at the table to simply be aware of what is happening right in front of them, the causes and to, as a group acknowledge what is going on.

I mention this because, getting shot in the face, was only the beginning during the Warhammer game, of what led to be a problematic session. If I had held up an ‘x-card’ on any number of occasions (or anyone else had) during that game, the problem would have remained. The only real difference, would have been to single myself (or someone else) out as a person who couldn’t ‘handle’ a little conflict. I also understand that in a perfect world, the GM would have stepped in and mitigated the situation promptly. But then again, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need x-card’s either, would we?



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