Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Habits of Children

Last night, I searched vainly for my copy of Frank L. Baum's The Wizard of Oz, intending to read it for the first time in what must be 20 years, just so I'd be quicker on the draw when someone asks me to spontaneously to compare Dorothy with Luke Skywalker ... and realized I'd have to buy a new copy, since I've clearly given my old copy away to someone.  I tend to do that with books.

And then perdustin took a big poke at me this morning on his blog, and pushed me into having to say something on the subject right here and now, for which I really wasn't prepared.  I launched into a comment that wasn't very nice (when am I?) and was pleased and astounded to get back a lucid, rational reply.  I have new respect for perdustin; I shall have to quit riding the guy.

But I did intend to buy a copy of The Wizard of Oz today.  I'm not reading much of any importance right now anyway, just literary commentary on the 20th century novel.  Reading Baum's work again would be a better use of my time.

I don't know how many of the people who read this blog and find my opinion somewhat calcified understand that my opinion is changing all the time.  I don't mean it's flopping around like Mitt Romney campaign schedule, I mean that I am acquiring new information on a constant basis, which is then being applied to old information I have previously acquired, in order to form new opinions.  They do not simply spawn from nothing.

Someone in the comments field - unpublished - called me a solipsist the other day ... which is a convenient non-argument to make whenever you don't have an actual argument.  You can call any liberal artist, anytime, under most conditions, a solipsist.  All rational arguments, by their very nature, "sound" rational.  You can't argue that what someone says must be solipsism because it sounds rational.  You must ALSO prove why it isn't.

I see a lot of the first kind of argument - the name calling, "you must be wrong because you must be" argument, but lord I dearly love the actual intellectual cut down.  Tedankhamen had a brilliant point to make yesterday in the comments section.  He really made his point solidly.  Unfortunately for the naysayers, however, that point wasn't contradicting me.

Sorry, I'm waffling a bit here ... I'm getting around to pointing out that in the midst of the comments and the general discussion, I made a kind of connection with why this whole hero thing is such a tender subject with regards to the gentle readers.  I 'clued in,' as it were.

Following up on a comment of my own, I had said: "... one of the things about becoming an adult, and therefore a learned person, is the realization that the heroes you were taught about when you were a little child was just a lot of bullshit."

And some five minutes after I wrote that, I realized myself that a lot of players of this game want to be the bullshit heroes of their childhood stories, because they're desperate to relive their childhoods.  This is like a revelation for me.  You see, it isn't an attitude I share.  I don't consider the times I was a child to be the best of times.  I don't consider literature for children to be the height of literature.  I mean, The Wizard of Oz is a great book, it's clearly genius, but it isn't Anna-fucking-Karenina.  It doesn't touch the fascination I have for Thucydides' History of the Pelopponesian War.  It just doesn't measure up to the really heavy, brilliant stuff, sorry.  And while I suppose playing on the level of The Wizard of Oz might be fun and all, it's kind of simple-simon compared to playing on the level of Dafoe's Moll Flanders.

Because you see, being an adult and having money and the power to remake my world how I wish is about a billion times more satisfying than playing tag in my parent's backyard.  Oh, sure, tag was fun, it was a riot and all, but the reason I don't play tag now is because - well - it just doesn't measure up.  It isn't that I'm old and jaded and too tired to play tag.  It isn't that I'm so sour inside that I can't remember what it was like to be bright-eyed like a child.  It's because the real satisfying things of the great big world kind of kicked the ordinary playtimes of childhood right out on their motherfucking asses.

Playtime, and the hero-worship of playtime, isn't complicated enough for me.  It isn't living up to the hype.  The real challenge is a world where the only heroes are deluded, fucked-up people who don't know they're not heroes - just like Cervantes' Don Quixote.  That was, after all, the point of the book:  that to be a hero, you have to be so fucking far out to lunch that you think windmills are dragons, and you think peasants are princesses.  Like Quixote, this will make you famous far and wide, but you'll never be famous for what you think you're famous for - which won't matter, since you have the brain of a sponge.

But sorry, for me windmills are windmills, and how much more amazing is a windmill than a dragon, anyway?  Have you ever built a windmill?  Do you have a tenth of a conception of just how mindbogglingly terrific they are?  Probably not.  Too busy pretending they're dragons, I suppose.

So I will be forever at odds with many of my readers in my perception of D&D, because I see it as a game that enables adults to be adults, and others see it as a game that enables adults to be children.

Which, I suppose, explains why so many people are ashamed to speak of playing the game in public, or why so many people who have watched players play are a little ashamed to find themselves at tables with squabbling children.  Perhaps the game shouldn't become all that popular ... we have enough infantile habits around as it is.

Oh well.  Here's a Gahan Wilson cartoon:


JDJarvis said...

When I was a kid I was a afraid of a whole bunch of crap (mean dogs, stepping on broken glass, mean people, strangers, bullies, getting lost,etc...). As an adult I'm afraid of a whole bunch of different crap (failing a child, giving in to my dark-side, not living up to my potential, having that receptionist I talk to everyday realize I don't know what her name is...). RPGs easily let me master the childish fears but leaves the adult ones alone...unless of course my fellow gamers and I have the gumption to kick the crap out of those grown-up fears while playing RPGs.

Oh yeah, kids, candy is dandy and as an adult I get to eat all the candy I can buy and no one (but my wife) can stop me and yet I sometimes pass up on it for weeks at a time. That childish indulgence just isn't a constant thrill or a nagging desire like it was when i was a kid.

We grow older, we learn more, our priorities change.

Adam Thornton said...

If'n you see this--I realize it's not timely--all fourteen of the Baum Oz books are public domain now and available from Project Gutenberg in a wide variety of formats.

Brady said...

"...because I see it as a game that enables adults to be adults, and others see it as a game that enables adults to be children."

To a lot of people it's a game that allows children to be adults. Just considering the demographic of most of the people who play D&D right now.

Alexis said...

I am a firm supporter of children having the opportunity to be adults. It was one of my favorite things when I was a child.