Each of us are here to dress up and have a good time. The way officers and other players support this is by providing conflict for the characters during the game. Whether it be in the shape of an ally gone wrong, a muscle twirling villain, or an emotional heartbreak coming back from the past, conflict is the medium by which wonderful stories unfold.
When does this go wrong? When does conflict in game stop being healthy and start interfering?
Sometimes the conflict moves from being between characters or characters and the story, and instead starts to become conflict between two members. When this happens, we are no longer dealing with in-character matters, but instead dealing with out-of-character issues, which can be damaging to both players and domains alike.
There are various ways IC to OOC conflicts happen.
Character Conflict – What drives the story?
How would you feel reading a book, finding a beginning where the characters are introduced, and then for the next 300 pages you are introduced to a life filled with no challenges, just simply the protagonist getting everything they want with little effort? Most would find this a boring story and waste of time. Because of this, conflict is introduced to put the protagonist’s goals in jeopardy. This provides for a fulfilling story.
The same is true for the live action game and our characters. It would be easy to get everything we wanted with little effort but just as with the story without conflict, a game without conflict soon becomes one where players become bored. The attendance numbers dwindle and very little happens. Thus, conflict is essential to a healthy game.
Not all conflict can be healthy, however. There are times when an IC situation can become a problem out of character between members. The ability to deal with these within the paradigms of the game is important to the health of both the organization in general, as well as to the players individually. This is one of those times where being an officer has to take priority. The quicker you can react to an escalating situation, the easier it is to handle.
The first step to dealing with the issue is identifying that there is a problem. When a player starts getting visibly upset the Officer needs to talk to them privately.
Then the Officer needs to identify if the concern is player vs. player (PvP) oriented or player vs. ST story (PvE) oriented.
If the situation is PvE, the Officer can attempt to work with the player, keeping in mind the balance of the game and fairness to all pcs involved.
If the situation is PvP, it is more complicated. Make sure it’s clear to the player that there are two stories at work here and insure that the targeting of this story is due to character and not personal reasons. If it is due to personal reasons the issue becomes a conflict of interest.
Identifying Conflicts of Interest
Conflicts of Interest(COIs) is an often talked about and often misunderstood idea. You can read more about MES Conflicts of Interest regarding officer interactions under Officer 154: Conflict of Interest. There are various types of COIs that can affect the game specifically however.
STs with Prominent PCs
Storytellers who also play within their own venues have to do a balancing act. Though they wish to have fun and have their own goals, they also must look to the goals of others. One common unofficial (and sometimes official) rule that storytellers implement is not playing a major officer of the city. Due to the nearly omniscient nature of being the storyteller, it can become difficult for them to keep their own story and their role as storyteller separate. When this line becomes blurred, the Officer start can start to be viewed as “invincible” for other players, This perception is a situation where the line is crossed regarding an in-character and out-of-character matter.
Another type of IC Conflict of Interest that becomes an OOC issue is the “Inigo Montoya” syndrome. For those that have never seen “The Princess Bride,” the character of Inigo was one whose sole driving motivation was to avenge his father’s death. Characters in our game die, it is the nature of the World of Darkness. Sometimes, the player’s next character follows in the dead character’s foot steps, conflicting with the same characters who killed the previous character. When this happens, it has moved from an IC matter to an OOC matter.
Storytellers can help a player attempt to avoid is by having them create new characters that are in no way related to the old character, and thus can not exploit any knowledge ooc known about their “new” adversary and avenge the death of the prior character. There are rules in place that specifically forbid this.
OOC Player Conflict affecting an IC Story
Players have lives that intersect with the lives of others outside the game. Not everyone can be friends. There can be various levels of conflict that happen in our outside lives. Typically this is dealt with through player discussion or mediation but sometimes that doesn’t always end the issues. Soon storytellers can see antagonism between the characters of those players, ones that are illogical if you look at their histories. In this situation, players chose to make an OOC issue an IC issue, which makes the matter an OOC matter, and needs to be addressed.
The best way to handle this is by dividing the players so interactions don’t happen. Help them to keep their stories separate so they do not need to interact with each other.
The players, when stepping into the game, don a “persona” which is a mix of their own personality and one that is created specifically for the game. Though often there are no problems with the conflicts that arise due to the game, sometimes players end up more emotional over the disposition of their characters. This is known as “emotional bleed.” By itself, emotional bleed isn’t always a bad thing, and there are ways of dealing with it in a healthy manner. Other times, however, it can create problems for the group.Remember it it is important to ensure that members are differentiating between real life and game life.
One situation that can arise from the emotional bleed is the idea that players feel “everyone is out to get you.” Players make mistakes with their characters. It is only natural. In the games we play these mistakes are exploited by others in a very cut-throat, back stabbing way. Some players mistaken IC motivations for OOC motivations, and make statements like “how could you do this to me,” or “she’s nothing but a backstabber who isn’t a very good friend, if a friend at all.” This isn’t the truth, as it is the characters with the conflict not the players, but the emotional bleed allows for this perception, and the perception and relationship between the players then needs to be taken care of as an OOC matter.
Though emotional bleed doesn’t always happen, we each need to take steps to try and avoid this OOC issue stemming from IC actions. This is where mediation can come into play.Often just getting the two players to sit down ooc and talk about the situation can fix the problem. You can find more about conflict resolution in Coord 342: How to do Conflict Resolution.
Players have backgrounds, much of which are probably not public knowledge to the members or necessarily officers. The World of Darkness is a darker world than the one we live in and the issues that a player has faced may become plot fodder for an ST unintentionally. It is not always easy for a player to share their background or know ahead of time exactly what is going to cause an issue, especially because they don’t know where a story is going towards.
It is the officers responsibility to work with their players, as much as the player is willing to share, so they can give proper warnings if an issue is going to arise and the player can chose to pursue the plot or remove themselves from the situation. Officers should also take note of situations that do arise when warnings were not issued so that they can issue trigger warnings in the future.
If a player was issued a trigger warning and chose to try to handle the situation and then can not do so and becomes emotionally affected ooc, the presiding officer has the right to remove them from the situation and try to work with them after the fact if possible, for what happens with the character. Real life always comes first in MES.
Dealing with IC to OOC issues
Each of the problems presented have their own methods how they should be dealt with but there are a couple of general rules for all of them.
- Communication is the key.
- Try to ask questions first, and invite players to do the same and thus possibly a negative situation can be avoided.
- Try to keep everyone in the situation remaining calm so a clear discussion can occur.
- Perceived issues of an OOC nature can be dealt with via Conflict resolution. This is detailed in the education document Coord 342, Conflict Resolution
- If there is a concern about an officer having a conflict of interest, it is often best to request a third party examine the situation and make a call. People involved in a Conflict of Interest often have a bias making that call.
- Most importantly: Keep in mind that real life always comes first and don’t be afraid to remind those involved. Player feelings and situations that involve emotional bleed and triggers should not be ignored.
Storytellers and coordinators should pay close attention to the members, especially during times of high stress (both in and out of character), to try to head off or mitigate any OOC feelings. This can typically be dealt with by using reasoned, careful communication with the individuals involved, and providing them support during a time of stress for their characters.