Playing with Eros: Consent, Calibration and Safety for Erotic & Sex Roleplay

Playing with Eros: Consent, Calibration and Safety for Erotic & Sex Roleplay

A version of this article was originally published by Pelgrane Press, in the Honey & Hot Wax anthology edited by Lucian Kahn and Sharang Biswas.

Safe. Consensual. Pleasurable. Fun.

These are the hallmarks of a great sexual experience, whether it’s with a long-time partner, at a kink club or sex party, or a fun first-time with someone you’ve just met. All erotic encounters, games or not, must follow these principles. Erotic games are meant to be played by consenting adults who approach sexual play with openness, honesty, and clarity. This candor begins with, continues with, and ends with safety and calibration tools and mechanics that set the stage and create the erotic playground. The tools and principles outlined here will help you prepare for, play, and debrief from erotic games so everyone involved has a safe, consensual, pleasurable, and fun experience.

Communicating with co-players establishes the edges or frame of the playground. This is true whether the roleplay is erotic or not. These established boundaries co-created by the players do not restrict as much as they permit play within them. Knowing the rules, norms, and guidelines for play opens possibilities and allows people to play together more safely and collaboratively.

Whether the erotic game you decide to play involves players having sex with each other or not, the principles and mechanics in this article are important to ensure that all participants feel safe, empowered, and able to gain as much as possible from their play experience.

So, let’s outline ways to be safe, to encourage others to explore and collaborate through play, and to allow players to control and calibrate their own experiences.

The Four C’s of Safe Experiences

When you’ve decided to participate in an erotic game, approach it knowing that you are taking custody not only of your own experience, but also that of others. This attitude helps you get into the right mindset to play according to the four C’s:

  • Consent
  • Communication
  • Calibration
  • Checking-In

Playing an erotic game with others requires trust. Trust is established by consent, communication, calibration, and checking-in. When these four principles are present, players trust each other and feel safe. When they feel safe and supported, they will take risks associated with play, leading to new, exciting, and empowering experiences. Again, this is true for all collaborative roleplay experiences, but doubly so for erotic games that have additional vulnerability and possibility for intense bleed.

The First “C”: Consent

Consent is the foundation for play. Calibration, communication, and checking in are tools that lead to mutual consent. Without consent, there is no play.

Players of erotic games must understand what consent means and operate within a shared set of baseline expectations and behavior. At a basic level, consent means that each individual gets to decide what happens to them and has control over their body and person at all times, even when they cede physical control to another character as part of the experience.

Beyond the basic conception of consent, there are important aspects that create a mutual understanding between participants. Before you begin any erotic game, ensure that the following principles of consent are heard, understood, and agreed upon by all participants.

1. Able to consent. Everyone playing an erotic game needs to be an adult and able to give consent. A person who is drunk, high, passed out, or being forced or pressured cannot consent..

2. Consent is sexy. Asking for consent and deciding for yourself what you want are parts of erotic play. Your partner or co-participants are working with you to create a mutually enjoyable experience. Luxuriating in the tension and driving that experience together is part of the eroticism.

a. Being asked for consent is both hot and immersive. Your partner wants to please you. You get to accept or deny, you get to guide. Learning what someone else wants is a turn-on. When the purpose of play is erotic, this process is completely part of the immersion and not outside of the story.

b. Being told no is a measure of respect and trust, in yourself, in your co-participants, in the organizers, in the experience.

3. Consent is verbal or otherwise actively given. There is no assumed consent. An absence of a no is not consent. Ask before taking a step and wait until the other participant either says yes or gives an agreed-upon sign indicating positive consent before proceeding. If you receive a no or a negative sign, stop immediately. If you do not receive an answer, wait until you do before continuing.

4. Consent is enthusiastic. Enthusiastic consent means you really want to do or try something,
not you just went along with it because others did or because you failed to speak up. Yes means yes. No means no. Maybe, I don’t know, or I’m not sure, are not enthusiastic, and also mean no. Again, a person cannot consent when they are pressured by others, psychologically triggered by fear or trauma, or influenced by drugs or alcohol.

5. Consent is informed and specific. Agreeing to play the game does not create blanket consent to anything that can happen during it. Consent must be incremental, clearly defined and understood by all parties. Participants must know what they are consenting to in order for consent to be informed. That requires transparency of several types: between organizers and participants and between individual participants engaged in erotic play together. New content requires re-affirmed consent between participants.

6. Consent is continual. Every stage of every activity at every minute of an erotic roleplay experience is opt-in. A participant may, at any time, for any reason, without any explanation or consequence, withdraw consent and opt out. An erotic game’s design must include a specific tool for opting out, which must be taught to participants, practiced, and honored at all times. A yes can turn into a no at any time. No participant is obligated to continue something just because they said yes initially.

7. Consent is required. When consent is withdrawn, the activity stops. Immediately. There is no “but what about…” There is no pressure to continue. There is no delayed stop so you can finish. Avoid “but whataboutism.” There must be no retribution for withdrawing or denying consent, either within the game or among its players. There is no discussion or demand for an explanation. Without consent, erotic play can not and does not happen.

Opting Out: The Door is Always Open

Erotic games must use Opt-In/Opt-Out Design and take appropriate measures at signup, pre-game, and during the experience to ensure that participants both understand it and know how to play within it. This design is necessary to ensure that players are able to use the most basic levels of consent. Ensure your participants understand the following as part of designing for consent:

While games are meant to be engaging, sometimes they don’t turn out the way you had hoped. You are under no obligation to finish a game just because you started it. You, the players, are more important than the game. Your safety, comfort, and consent come first.

You must consent to begin as well as to continue an experience. If, at any time during play, you lose your desire to play, wish to be somewhere else, or want to discontinue playing – for whatever reason – you may exit the game.

This principle is called “the door is always open”. It means that any player can leave at any time, no questions asked. No one should feel they must stay or continue in order not to “ruin” the game for others. If you no longer wish to play, you may leave. The door is always open.

Remember that no one should question, demand an explanation from, belittle or shame a person for exercising the “door is always open” rule. Doing so disrespects their consent, boundaries, and autonomy. Instead, praise them for taking care of themselves and not doing something that made them uncomfortable or that they would regret. People are more important than games.

The Second “C”: Communication

Erotic play requires open and constant communication between the participants, not just characters. In some erotic games, this kind of meta-communication is built into the design seamlessly so that as characters negotiate, so too can the players, but it is very important to understand the difference between what the character would do and what the player consents to do. To get to this understanding, the players must communicate clearly so that the story they want to tell with their characters can advance while respecting the boundaries and wishes of the players portraying the characters.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

You cannot consent to something you don’t expect or understand. Communication helps us reach understanding. Explaining needs and desires and setting boundaries and limits with each other helps all parties involved. You must reflect and consider your needs and limits, you must articulate them to another, and you must listen to learn and acknowledge another’s desires and boundaries.

Defining Communication in Erotic Games

Here is a guideline for good communication between participants in erotic games:

1. Specific: While flirting and innuendo can be a fun part of erotic play (such as in Clio Yun-Su Davis’s Pass the Sugar, Please, (2020)), when it comes to consent and communication between players, don’t be coy or oblique. Use plain and precise language so everyone understands what they are agreeing to. “May I touch your [insert specific body part here]” is much better than “May I touch you?” or “Are you okay with physical contact?”

2. Honest: Tell the truth about your desires and boundaries. Your partner(s) cannot consider your desires or respect your limits if you are not honest. Plus, they will be less likely to trust you if you fail to disclose important likes and limits. Purposeful omission is a form of untruth. Be forthright.

3. Frequent: More communication is better than less. Mind-reading is not a thing. Continue to communicate as the game progresses and its landscape changes. Breaking character is okay and even sometimes necessary to communicate clearly and set up purposeful and pleasurable play.

4. Transparent: Withheld secrets can make communication disingenuous, and trying to play out secret desires can break consent. Be clear and do not obfuscate. Set expectations for content and behavior with your co-participants, then meet them.

Communication during erotic play improves the experience. Sexy or dirty talk can be a turn-on, and the act of communication itself is a form of play. Communication can be eroticized and playful while still being specific, honest, frequent, and transparent.

What to Communicate for Erotic Play

Make sure you communicate the following aspects before and during erotic play.

• Boundaries. You must set what you are willing to say, describe, role-play, and do. Be specific. For example, if the game allows players to physically engage in actual erotic acts, a specific boundary might be, “I’m fine with touching or flicking my nipples, but do not bite or pinch them.” More commonly, if a game uses simulation for erotic acts, a specific boundary could be, “I’m fine with narrative description of foreplay, but if our characters choose to escalate to sexual penetration, let’s fade to black and resume play agreeing that the sex occurred.” Another example is “I’m fine with using ars amandi for simulated sex, but I’d like it to be gentle and slow, never forceful or rough.”

Importantly, remember that boundaries may (and often do!) shift as a result of play. The decision to move a boundary (by making it more open or closed) belongs to the person whose boundary it is and not another. Setting and moving a boundary requires communication, followed by consent.

  • Pleasure. It’s important to let your partner(s) know when something feels good and you are enjoying it! Affirmation validates your partner and encourages additional pleasurable interactions. Some games encourage this during play, while others suggest you save it for the end. Either way, don’t forget!
  • Discomfort. Conversely, you must communicate when something doesn’t feel good and you’re not having fun. That way, others know to stop! Communicating discomfort also applies to changing directions or moving to new scenes. If the ideas proposed by others are discomfiting, it’s your job to speak up so that boundaries and intentions can be aligned.
  • Escalation. Participants need to communicate when they are interested in play becoming harder, faster, deeper, stronger, louder, or more intense. Communicating this desire does not require other players to escalate, however. It invites them to escalate, if they consent and are comfortable.
  • De-escalation. If things are getting too intense, loud, or fast, you need to communicate that you’d like them to slow down, get less intense, quieter, or softer. In contrast to communicating escalation, which is opt-in for others, a request to de-escalate must be honored by co-participants.
  • Desires. It’s important to communicate what you want to see, feel, experience, or play. Tell others your hopes for the story, your ideas to enhance play, or what would be your ideal scenario. If you don’t express these to your playmates, they won’t be able to help you achieve them.
  • Needs. Needs are different from desires. These are considerations that must be met so that you can participate. Examples include needing a specific amount of light in a room, having a fear of spiders, not having your hands bound, etc. Accommodations for disabilities also come under this category. Another important distinction: desires are negotiable. Needs are not.
  • Hard stops. When you’ve reached a boundary or a limit, you need to communicate “no more” swiftly, clearly, and succinctly.

There are tools and techniques you can use in erotic games to communicate these elements during play. The techniques fall into two categories: safety tools to communicate hard stops and calibration tools to control the intensity of the experience. But first, let’s discuss calibration and why it’s a fundamental principle of erotic roleplay design.

The Third “C” of Erotic Roleplay: Calibration

When you are engaged in erotic play, it is important that you calibrate the experience to your and your partners’ liking. Calibration is “fine-tuning” the experience to make it more enjoyable, pleasurable, or fulfilling. Untuned brakes still will stop a car, but properly calibrated brakes do the job much better and more safely.

Calibration techniques optimize play. You use calibration techniques to communicate some of the elements we identified above, such as ways to escalate and de-escalate the intensity of play. Here are a few techniques you can use.

Red-Yellow-Green or “Stoplight” System

A common consent system used in the kink community is “Red-Yellow-Green,” also known as the Stoplight System. This is a basic calibration technique that lets you succinctly tell a partner what level of play you prefer. It is easily understood because the colors align with what we have already internalized from stoplights:

  • Red: Stop. No more.
  • Yellow: Caution. Go slow. Be careful. You’re approaching my limit. Slow down and be prepared to stop.
  • Green: Go. Keep going. It’s safe to proceed.

To use the Stoplight System in an erotic game, simply say the color twice to indicate your level of preference. Saying it twice (e.g., “red, red”) is important for emphasis and so that other participants will notice. It’s too easy for a single “red” to sound like an inadvertent grunt or to be mistaken for something else.

For example, if your co-player’s character is stroking your thigh and raises their hand as if to smack, you can say, “green, green” to indicate they may proceed. After several slaps, you can say, “yellow, yellow” to let them know you’re approaching your limit. They should cool things down a bit. They raise their hand to slap again and you say, “red, red.” Your partner stops immediately.

Since you, the player own the body representing the character, your physical and emotional comfort matters. Erotic roleplay participants should understand that the answers given in the Stoplight System are from the player, and should be respected. The system allows you to remain in character while communicating as the player.

Photo from Pixabay on Pexels

Photo from Pixabay on Pexels

Although the Stoplight System is simple and easy to understand, it isn’t always elegant, nuanced or clear. “Green, green” means continue, but what if you want not only continuation, but intensification? How do you communicate that to a partner? There are a few other techniques you can use to become more precise with calibration.

Escalation Mechanics to Increase Intensity

An escalation mechanic is when you use a phrase or a gesture to indicate to your partner(s) that you would like to dial the intensity up. You use an escalation mechanic to calibrate play between individual players or small groups, so that you can create the experience you prefer.

Much like a good safeword, an escalation phrase should be memorable and not likely to come up in regular conversation. The phrase is a cue: it signals to your partner(s) that you would like more, if they are willing. Some examples are:

  • “To the moon” – Saying “to the moon” or incorporating that phrase into a sentence (“I would love to go to the moon”) is a declaration of a desire for escalation.
  • “In the midnight hour” – This escalation phrase is a nod to Billy Idol’s hit song, ‘Rebel Yell,’ which includes the line, “In the midnight hour, she cried more, more, more.” Saying “in the midnight hour” indicates you are bidding for more, more, more.
  • A phrase indicated in a specific game. A phrase for an individual role-play scenario has the advantage of being immersive and atmospheric, but has the disadvantage of needing to learn a new phrase each game. For example, Jonaya Kemper’s erotic game Feeding Lucy suggests the escalation phrase “I think I may be falling” to bid for increased intensity.

De-escalation Mechanics to Decrease Intensity

Sometimes, you’d like play to continue, but you need it to slow down or become less intense. You can communicate this desire subtly without interrupting play in a jarring way by using a de-escalation phrase. Some examples are:

  • “Largo” – This is a word borrowed from music, where it indicates to the musician, “go slowly, with care.” It’s not a common spoken word, so saying it is noticeable. When a partner says “largo” they are asking that you back off the intensity or dial it down. Get softer, quieter, slower, less intense.
  • “Dial it down” – This is a self-explanatory phrase to mean not just volume, but overall intensity.
  • A phrase indicated in a specific game. As with an escalation phrase, using something specific for an individual role-play scenario is immersive and atmospheric, but may be forgotten. Kemper’s Feeding Lucy (2020) suggests “This world is hazy.”

Whatever de-escalation mechanic you choose, it’s important to realize that using it is a request. If someone says “largo,” it is your responsibility to lower the intensity. While escalation cues are invitations and do not have to be answered with increased intensity, de-escalation cues require others to decrease volume, speed, strength or intensity.

The Fourth “C”: Checking In

When we participate in erotic play, it’s important to check in with your co-players to be sure they are comfortable and enjoying themselves throughout the game. As we stated above, players are consenting adults, and with safety and calibration tools available, we should trust them to control their experience and make the best decisions for their well-being.

That said, a fourth “c” – Checking In – is good practice in erotic play to ensure that your co-players are doing fine. Check-ins ask a fellow player to do a quick self-assessment to determine if they are ok, not ok, or unsure. The act of self-assessing can be forgotten during play, so a check-in reminds someone to determine their needs and calibrate if necessary.

Checking in with co-players also demonstrates that you care about them, reiterating that people are more important than the game. Showing care and concern for others helps build trust. Check-ins are win-wins all around.

The OK Check-In Mechanic

To check in on another player, an easy, unobtrusive, and quick way to do so is to use the OK Check-In mechanic.

A player holds their hand out with the forefingers meeting the thumb in the shape of a circle or the sign language gesture for “o.” They establish eye contact with another player while holding the sign. This is a question. It asks, “are you okay?”

The other player assesses their well-being and then responds in one of three ways:

  • Thumbs-Up, meaning everything is good.
  • Thumbs-Down, meaning “I am not okay.”
  • Wavering flat hand, meaning, “I’m not sure” or “Kind of.”

Any player who gives a thumbs down or a wavy hand should be encouraged to recalibrate or consider pausing play.

Who Should Use Consent, Calibration and Safety Tools in Erotic Games

The type of erotic game, its duration, and the number of players can alter the number and type of specific tools and techniques used, but the basic principles of consent, communication, calibration, and checking-in do not change.

Each game designer and organizer should consider the 4 C’s and design workshops, meta-techniques, and player care systems that work best for their game. The examples given here can be used if they make sense for a specific erotic game, or they can be adapted or added to other original tools that together create a bespoke system designed to make erotic roleplaying games safe, consensual, pleasurable and fun. Whatever tools and techniques you include, all players must agree to use them and do so during the experience.

If you’re playing only with someone you know well, such as a long-time partner or polycule, you may have already established trust and comfort together. Your discussions about consent, establishing communication norms, calibration techniques, and reviewing check-ins can be truncated, but never omitted.

However, when the roleplaying game consists of a larger group beyond your specific partners or playmates, you will need to participate in the steps to build trust with new participants and between all players. Other participants do not know you or your relationship with your partner, and see you skipping steps in the consent, communication, and calibration process and tend to feel less safe around you as a player.

Not using the agreed-upon techniques allows others to conclude that you are disregarding the norms and expectations, and undermine participant trust. In larger erotic games, you must use the safety and calibration tools to communicate with and establish consent with every player – even those you already know or are comfortable with – in order to maintain community trust.

Safety Tools to Communicate Hard Stops

Now that we’ve discussed the principles of safety, calibration, and consent design in erotic role-playing games, it’s time to move to some practical tools that designers can use or adapt to ensure the experiences are safe, consensual, pleasurable, and fun. As mentioned, these tools fall into two categories: safety and calibration. We’ll take the safety tools first.

Safety tools are agreed-upon rules and symbols to stop the game if it becomes unsafe for someone. They are “fail-safes” for when something goes wrong, and they function to halt gameplay until safe conditions can be re-established.

Reasons to stop a game with a safety tool:

  • Physical safety: A broken glass, tipped candle, prop failure, or any other incident that could
    harm someone physically. This includes physical pain, such as from too-tight or prolonged use of rope or restraints.
  • Emotional safety: A situation has emerged that triggered a trauma response or made
    participants uncomfortable to the degree that they need a hard stop. It is important to understand that physical safety and emotional safety are equally important and valid. Any single player who notices or experiences a need for a safety stop is empowered – and encouraged – to use it. Even if you disagree that a safety stop was warranted, you must stop. Do not question the relevance or validity of a safety stop called by someone else.

Here are three safety tools you can use to communicate hard stops.

Safety Tool #1: “Cut”

“Cut” (or Kutt in the original Norwegian, where the tool has been employed as an emergency or personal safeword in Norwegian and Nordic larps since the mid-1990s) is a word that is vocalized loudly by any player and stops all gameplay immediately. It is especially useful for group situations. Think of it like a movie scene. If the director calls “cut” then the scene stops and everyone waits for further direction. If a player calls “cut” at any time during play, you should:

  • • Immediately stop whatever you are doing or saying.
  • • Repeat the word “cut” loudly to amplify it and ensure others heard (in larger rooms
    especially).
  • • Freeze in place until the situation can be assessed and the issues addressed. Once safety is re-established, play may resume.

Using this tool necessitates that you don’t use the word “cut” too much within the game itself, as this can lead to confusion.

Safety Tool #2: An Individual Safeword

You must establish a safeword for each participant to use during erotic play. This word is not used to pause an entire group scene, but to indicate opting out of further play with a specific partner, co-participant or small group. It does not indicate an emergency or urgency as “cut” would, but indicates a personal limit and hard stop. Verbalizing the safeword means that you want all interactions to pause, and to re-calibrate the intensity or direction. It is to be respected immediately.

What makes a good safeword? Safewords should be:

  • Easy to remember.
  • Not used in another context.
  • Short and easy to pronounce. Two syllables are better than one for recognition.

Participants should agree upon a safeword to use at the start of a game or erotic scenario. Everyone playing must be aware of the safeword and be willing to use it and respect it. The safeword does not have to be the same for every scenario, but it needs to be one that is known and established within the group. Creating a safeword should be part of all pre-play preparations.

An example of a safeword to use during play is “cheesecake.” It’s short, pronounceable, and not likely to be uttered in casual conversation. A partner saying “cheesecake” means “stop, I’m at my limit.” When you hear the safeword, stop right away.

Note: Since games such as Pass the Sugar, Please (Davis, 2020) uses tea and cakes during play, it is possible that “cheesecake” may be a word used in the regular course of role-play. In this case, choose another safeword, such as “toothpaste,” that won’t come up in conversation.

Safety Tool #3: A Tap-Out

Sometimes we cannot access our voice to say the safeword. This could be because of physical restrictions such as gags or tape, or due to protocols such as a game rule to remain silent. It could also be because whatever is happening is so intense that you cannot speak or use cognitive recall to form words. In these cases, you need a gesture to “tap-out” or signal that you want to stop the experience.

A common tap-out, originating in larp with Participation Design Agency’s Inside Hamlet in 2015, is to tap twice with your hand or foot to indicate stop – a double tap. Two taps indicates intention (vs. a possible accidental single tap) and will break through the fog of immersion to be noticed by others. You can double-tap on someone else’s body, or on the floor, bed, wall or furniture. If your hands are bound, you can double tap with your feet.

If both hands and feet are bound and you are gagged or otherwise unable to speak, you can make a nasal buzzing noise twice to indicate stop. This will sound like the “wrong answer” buzzer from a game show and get your partner’s attention so they know it’s time to stop and check-in.

Practice tapping-out or using your stop signal before you play so everyone is used to doing it and seeing or hearing others do it.

De-roling, Debriefing & Decompression

After playing an erotic experience, you should allocate time to de-role, debrief, and decompress. These techniques are integral to play and will enhance the experience by helping you to process it, share it, organize it, and learn from it. What each participant needs for aftercare will differ, but every player needs some time and techniques to return to the real world after role-play, especially a vulnerable, sensitive, and intimate one.

People talking sitting around a fountain at night

Photo by lcarissimi from Pixabay.

Post-play activities should be designed and accounted for in your erotic game’s run time. What each game needs depends on its length, number of participants, and intensity, but all erotic games should make space for de-roling, debriefing, and decompression, whether as an individual or as a group. As with all parts of an erotic play experience, post-play activities are opt-in/opt-out.

The three main parts of post-play are:

De-roling: Take a moment to set aside your role and reaffirm your day-to-day identity. Take off a nametag, accessory, or item of clothing that belonged to the character and set it aside. Reintroduce yourself to your co-players by stating your name and something you like or dislike. Remember who you are. Recognize others for who they are. You may consider using the phrase, “I was [name of character]. I am [your name].” to reinforce the separation. This is especially important if you played a role that controlled others, so that they can see you outside of that role and that you can recognize that those behaviors may not be part of your daily identity. It’s also important if you explored an aspect of sexuality that is beyond your primary.

Debriefing: Talking about the experience with others who also participated can help you identify how you feel about it as well as what kind of support you may need now that it is over, if any. Some questions to ask and answer may include:

  • What was your most intense part of the experience?
  • What surprised you in the experience?
  • Was there any portion that worried you or that you thought could be better?
  • What was fun about the experience?
  • What do you want to take with you from this experience? What do you want to leave behind?

Immediately after an experience is not a time to criticize it or be critical to others. However, it may be important to clear the air with another player if there was a moment of confusion or a boundary had to be asserted.

Decompression: This is the relaxing and fun part. After erotic play, you need some time to take care of your body’s needs, and “come down” from the experience. Just as you wouldn’t run a marathon after surfacing from a deep scuba dive, you need some time to decompress before beginning another activity. Some sample ways to decompress:

  • Hugs or cuddle piles. Non-sensual touch and shared closeness are comforting for some people.
  • Walks. Some people may prefer to be alone, or have some physical space.
  • Blankets and pillows. Curling up with soft things feels good to some people.
  • Water and snacks. After an intense experience, hydration is key. Chocolate or energy snacks
    are also helpful to decompress.
  • Music. Some people find that listening to music helps them relax and shift gears.
  • Watch other media. Some find that watching a movie or show together after an intense play
    experience helps their mind reset and provides something else to give attention to.

As with all things related to erotic play, each participant must consent to participate in post-play activities, and communication, calibration, and checking-in continues throughout. Although all players need to transition from a role-play experience back to real life, each participant has their own needs and decompresses at their own pace. Establishing a debrief buddy may be a good way to ensure that each participant has someone they can turn to if they choose not to participate in group debriefing activities or need aftercare beyond the runtime of the larp.

The Social Contract of Play – and Those Who Break It

We must acknowledge that no amount of safety and calibration tools will protect you from people who refuse to follow them. Sadly, there are always going to be rulebreakers, lawbreakers, and people who do not respect others, but you don’t have to play with them. In fact, you should not.

Games create a social contract among the participants. Through this contract, everyone agrees to uphold certain premises, rules, and standards of behavior. A person who refuses to “sign” the contract, states that such a contract isn’t necessary, or who disregards or breaches it breaks the trust of co-participants and is unsafe to play with.

This goes for all games and social experiences, but it especially applies to intimate, erotic ones such as in the Honey & Hot Wax anthology, or Nordic larps such as Pan or Baphomet by Participation Design Agency, Disgraceful Proposals by Kimera Artist Collective, among others. .

To protect other players, yourself, and your community, you must lay out the rules of expected behavior openly and hold participants accountable for meeting them. Every time. Even when it is awkward. Even when it is someone you know or care about. No exceptions.

If someone behaves in an unsafe manner, they should not play these games. That means not including them before the game begins or dismissing them if the game is in progress. If they cannot follow the social contract, they cannot play.

That said, the rulebreakers and bad actors are the exception. The vast majority of players of erotic games are looking forward to using the alibi of role-play and the game scenario to discover new pleasures and to enjoy themselves with others. They want to play safely and consensually. Because here’s an important principle about role-play:

Consensual, calibrated experiences are much more intense than ones where you have to guess.

In Summary

Erotic roleplaying games are valid, creative, diverse, innovative, and fun. They offer opportunities to explore aspects of sexuality, fetishes, consensual touch, and sensual pleasure through a variety of fictional scenarios.

You may also have alternative safety tools that your role-playing culture uses. With forethought and an eye towards consent, calibration, and communication, feel free to adapt these tools to fit your game.

However, before organizing or participating in any erotic games, go through this quick checklist to ensure your experience is safe, consensual, pleasurable, and fun.

  • Everyone approaches the game and each other with curiosity and trust.
  • Everyone understands the definition of consent and agrees to abide by it.
  • Everyone has stated their known boundaries and needs prior to play beginning.
  • Everyone knows that the door is always open and they may leave at any time.
  • Drinking water and bathroom facilities are available and everyone knows where they are.
  • You have discussed and practiced “Cut” to stop play.
  • You have agreed upon a safeword and a tap-out mechanic. Everyone knows how to use them and what to do when they hear or see them.
  • You have established a de-escalation mechanic or agreed to use the Stoplight System. Everyone understands what to do to use them. Note: an escalation mechanic is optional. Either agree on one to use or agree not to use one.
  • You understand the OK Check-In and agree to check in on others.
  • You have plans, space, and time for aftercare: decompression, de-roling, and debriefing.
  • Everyone agrees that players are more important than games and will act according to
    that principle.
  • You all agree that if someone breaks the rules or disregards a boundary, they will be asked to
    leave.
  • You are ready to explore and enjoy each other and the scenario with safe, pleasurable, consensual fun!

Ludography

Davis, Clio Yun-Su. “Pass the Sugar, Please”. In Honey & Hot Wax: An Erotic Games Anthology, Sharang Biswas & Lucian Kahn, eds. Pelgrane Press, 2020.

Kemper, Jonaya. “Feeding Lucy”, In Honey & Hot Wax: An Erotic Games Anthology, Sharang Biswas & Lucian Kahn, eds. Pelgrane Press, 2020.

Koljonen, Johanna, Pedersen, Bjarke and Participation Design Agency, Inside Hamlet, 2015, 2017, 2018, Denmark.

Pedersen, Bjarke and Participation Design Agency, Baphomet, 2015, 2018, 2019. Denmark.

Udby, Linda and Pedersen, Bjarke. Pan, 2013, Denmark. 2015, Norway.

Resources

“Alibi,” Nordic Larp Wiki, https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Alibi

“Bleed,” Nordic Larp Wiki, https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Bleed

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. “Returning to the Real World,” Dec. 2014. https://nordiclarp.org/2014/12/08/debrief-returning-to-the-real-world/

Brown, Maury Elizabeth. “Creating a Culture of Trust through Safety and Calibration Larp Mechanics.” https://nordiclarp.org/2016/09/09/creating-culture-trust-safety-calibration-larp-mechanics/

Brown, Maury Elizabeth. “Post Play Activities for Larp: Methods and Challenges.” in Analog Game Studies, Vol. VII, Issue II, June 2018. https://analoggamestudies.org/2018/06/post-play-activities-for-larp-methods-and-challenges/

Brown, Maury “Safety and Calibration Design Tools and Their Uses”, Jan. 24, 2018. https://nordiclarp.org/2018/01/24/safety-calibration-design-tools-uses/

“Check-In” https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Check-in

Koljonen, Johanna. “Toolkit: The Tap Out.” Sept. 11, 2016. https://participationsafety.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/toolkit-the-tap-out/

Koljonen, Johanna. 2020. “Larp Safety Design Fundamentals.” Japanese Journal of Analog Role-Playing Game Studies, 1: 3e-19e. DOI: 10.14989/jarps_1_03e

“Kutt,” Nordic Larp Wiki, https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Kutt

“Tap Out,” Nordic Larp Wiki, https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Tap_out

Torner, Evan. “Transparency in Larp,” In Larp Design: Creating Role-play Experiences, Eds. Johanna Koljonen, Jaakko Stenros, Anne Serup Grove, Aina D. Skjønsfjell and Elin Nilsen. Knutepunkt 2019. https://www.dropbox.com/s/on261i8tq93p466/2019%20–%20Transparency%20in%20Larp.pdf

Cover photo: Image by kalhh from Pixabay

Content editing: Elina Gouliou

Authors

Maury Brown is a storyteller, larp producer, game designer, and scholar who consults with educational institutions and companies about interactive storytelling experiences. She is known for her scholarly and practical work designing safety and calibration techniques for larp and participatory experiences and for helping larp communities improve their accessibility and inclusion. She wrote and produced several multi-day destination Nordic-style experiences, including New World Magischola, Immerton, and Beat Generation, and believes in the power of roleplay to empower individuals and transform societal norms.
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