Collective Responsibility for Community Mental Health
I have anxiety. I fight with depression. And I know I’m not alone.
If you’ve spent longer than ten minutes in any gaming community, then you know that there’s a higher than average representation of folks with mental health issues in such spaces. If you’re one of those people, then this game is for you.
To be 100% clear: the collective well-being of the players in this game is a community responsibility. Participating in this game means you accept responsibility for taking a proactive, considerate role in making this space friendly to people with mental health issues (including your own). If you lack the empathy to care about your potential impact on the mental health of people around you just because they’re strangers on the Internet, this is not the game for you.
What That Means in Practice
It means that, in general, if you are communicating with another player in this game, you should assume:
You are probably talking to someone who does not deal well with surprises, being misled, a lack of control over their environment, or decision making without sufficient information.
You are talking to someone who is investing themselves in their writing in a very real way, and that what they’re producing has personal meaning for them; thus they are going to take things related to their creative process personally.
Specific compliments and expressions of enthusiasm are welcome and helpful; mockery, teasing, and bullying or (at the other end of the spectrum) radio silence, are not.
You are free to approach someone and say “I’m having difficulty with/not enjoying this particular thing that involves me because of XYZ reasons; can we brainstorm?” and that other people have a right to approach you the same way.
Unsolicited critiques of other people’s stylistic or story choices do not have a place here. If someone asks for critiques, by all means, given them – respectfully and thoughtfully. If they don’t, then keep your opinions to yourself. You don’t have to love everyone’s writing or characters, but you don’t have to rain on their parade either.
In general, I expect people to stop before they do something and think about how it (and the way in which you do it) might make the other person feel, even if you yourself would not have the same reaction. What are the worst and best-case scenarios? What might help mitigate the possibility of a worst-case scenario? Once you’ve done that, feel free to take action.
You are playing a Philodox in a Werewolf: the Apocalypse game. A character has done something which you and the other Half Moons have decided is a violation of the Litany, and you are going to levy punishment.
You stop to consider that the player may not realize why what they’ve done would be viewed as a Litany breach, because they weren’t privy to the Philodox debate about it, or maybe they’ve new and not well versed in the genre. You consider that the player may feel targeted OOC if they are hit, seemingly out of nowhere, with a punishment IC.
Prior to making any sort of public announcement or running the punishment rite, you contact the player OOC to discuss the situation with them. You provide the specific behavior the Philodox took issue with and the rationale for deciding to punish them. You give them the opportunity to ask questions and to set limits – i.e. “I’m not comfortable with descriptions of corporal punishment” or “I am not comfortable with roleplaying through any sort of long term humiliation”.
The Flip Side: Being Responsible for Your Own Mental Health
Now that we’ve talked about community responsibility, let’s talk about personal responsibility.
We are all responsible for managing our own feelings and problems. This includes mental health issues.
I can’t stress this enough. Mental health issues are absolutely to be respected and accommodated. However, no one is obligated to tolerate shitty or abusive behavior, and mental health issues are no excuse for engaging in such behavior.
If something in game is triggering your mental health issues, it is YOUR responsibility to be self-aware enough to realize that and to remove yourself from the situation. If you believe that someone is triggering you on purpose, please contact a member of staff immediately. Otherwise, please remember that not everyone–and especially not strangers on the internet–is going to know your triggers, and may therefore trip over them unintentionally. This does not give you the right to vilify them, to lash out, or to treat anyone like garbage. If you’re struggling, a simple “I’m having a difficult time with this and need to pause/take a break/end the scene” will do. You are not obligated to elaborate or to disclose your private mental health information to anyone.
It can be tempting, when we’re upset, to blame other people for our feelings. However, any therapist worth their salt will tell you that “person X made me feel…” is not actually a real thing, and is often a way of avoiding taking ownership of your emotions. Obviously, there are ways in which taking this philosophy to an extreme becomes gaslighting, for which there will be a zero-tolerance policy in this game, but I’m not talking specifically about those.
If you are hurt by something another player has said or done, it’s important to focus on the behavior and why it’s problematic. Set boundaries, but do not play the blame game. “Action X triggered these particular insecurities, which is really upsetting to me” is a real thing, and something I want the game as a whole to have tools to both express and confront.
Addressing and Responding to Mental Health Issues
Something has set off my mental health issues. What do I do?
Take a deep breath. Politely remove yourself from the situation. Run through a mental checklist of self-care items: have you eaten? Hydrated? Slept? Taken your medication? Gotten some fresh air or a change of scenery?
If you have an established action or care plan, enact it. If you would like staff and/or players to be familiar with your action plan, please PM me.
Resist the urge to assign motive or vilify anyone involved in the inciting incident, and do not make any significant decisions until you are calm and stable again.
If necessary, take a day or two away from game to reorient yourself. Talk the situation over with someone you trust.
When you are calm, spend some time analyzing the situation, your feelings about it, and what could be done to rectify the situation or prevent it from happening again.
Communicate with staff and the people involved in the inciting incident to convey your needs, if any, and suggestions for preventing future problems.
Another player seems to be experiencing mental health issues. What do I do?
Check in with them. “Hey, it seemed like you might be upset about XYZ thing; I wanted to see if you were ok” is a great way to start.
Encourage them to engage in self-care and to step away from the situation causing the problem. If staff can be helpful in resolving it, offer to help them collect their thoughts or requests for assistance before sending them to a moderator.
Remind them that what they are experiencing is real and valid, but also temporary. Remind them that they have the power to determine when and how to handle a given situation, and while their mental health issues are making that hard, that does not mean those issues get to have the final say about the outcome of the current situation.
Ask if there is someone the other player can or should confide in–a therapist, a parent, a partner, a best friend. Encourage them to do. If there isn’t anyone, encourage them to take some time to decompress and perhaps get their thoughts and feelings down on paper instead.If you feel comfortable and qualified to do so, you can offer to be an ear. Establish whether the person just needs to vent and be validated or wants input/feedback/advice. Make sure to state any boundaries of your own clearly at the beginning of the conversation. If you need to take a break at any point, let the person know.
Know your own limits, do not burn yourself out providing emotional support that is beyond your capacity to give. You have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can assist others.
If you have serious concerns about another player, their impact on the community, and especially their physical safety, contact Roaring Dandelion ASAP.
Huge thanks to Jill Helding for this exceptional write up!