Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I’m taking the day off and finding myself in a downtown cafe with unscrubbed contract laborers and crews taking an hour in the morning to drop out between jobs. Feels like going home; spent a lot of hours in the 80s and some of the 90s chewing fat in places like this in the morning, between a dirty job we started at seven AM and a dirty job we were due to start at noon. I can remember months at a time without my hands being clean and being none-too-worried about details like laundry; it’s no surprise to me the number of authors who spent time down and out – intentional or otherwise – in order to get in touch with the daily core of work. Once you’ve separated yourself from the antiseptic office environment, there’s perspective there.

Quite a few of those in the office I can think of would be uncomfortable here; these morlocks are in their way scary. There’s no fear of swear words here; there’s no office protocol for employee intercommunication. Body language is aggressive; opinion-giving, more so. These guys live and breathe in a ‘team’ that would turn a human resources engagement officer green. They don’t give a shit about rules and there is a very clear idea they have about right and wrong. ‘Wrong’ is something that injures and kills people. ‘Wrong’ is someone too fucking stupid to know that. There is no grey area.

My natural misanthropy drove me into these circles, when I was too volatile and bent on truth-telling to willingly lie in order to get the kind of job that would challenge my intellect. What I cherished was freedom; to be able to speak as I liked, to openly argue as I liked ... and challenge be damned. I was busy challenging myself on my own time, as I still do. All I needed from work was money and an environment that did not encourage me to wretch from saccharine falsehoods.

Now, of course, I work in the big rock saccharine mountain; I nod my head with the other elohim and appreciate the cleanliness of the office, its soft physical effort and its lack of spontaneous injury. I lope around the office halls and conceal my natural misanthropy with good-natured sarcasm and all the generosity I can muster. I’ve learned the corporate environment can be made palatable by aggressively buying strangers coffee and lunch ... putting cracks in their false faces. It can be as satisfying to see surprise and incomprehension as it can be to see fear and revolt.

The workers are gone now. I’ve eaten an early lunch and so have they – they’ll eat again around two, when they stop in some other grease joint. It’s 11:20 and I’m the only one in the place. I’m in the area called Kensington, which is short on office towers, so the lunch when it starts won’t be a hurried press of well-dressed cretins between business meetings, it will be pre-shift brats and college students chewing up the time before working in the service industry. They’ll be yups living on their – sorry to say this – husband’s income, organizing for their charity work or their hard day’s shopping. And they’ll be the unemployed.

Going on a bit too long with this sight-seeing. I’m imagining what a party of adventurers would really be like, should you chance to meet them on the road between Ecalpemos and Erehwon. I don’t mean the perception that many effete soft-bellied computer strokers keep in their wishbooks, but the actual real people, with hard hands for their weapons and sinews made harder with marching, killing and burying the dead. Unsympathetic, I would imagine. Not long on consideration or kind words. Scary.

Hollywood – and I’m watching Firefly of late, for the first time ever – always depicts tough guys as a bunch of good old boys out to have a good time, fightin’ and fussin’, and cussin’ out women. Firefly is not covering any new ground there ... it’s as phony as anything like this I’ve seen, though it probably won the season’s trophy for the longest idiot ball yardage carried that year. “That’s right, we’re workin’ stiffs – we fight hard and we play hard!”

The only guys I see who play hard like this are the fuckwits at the office who pour their 80K incomes into the local bars – fuckwits who don’t work harder than jabbing down phone buttons while waiting for noobs to buy heaps of products for their venture capital businesses, or rubes in third world countries with lusty government contracts. These ‘hardworking’ fuckwits usually manage to hold their shit together for about two years before their daily incompetence finally catches up with them – whereupon they take their high-school football playing Nathan Fillion looks on down the street to the next human resources manager to pound their pud over.

Actual hardworking laborers are too fucking tired at the end of the day to do anything except drink. They do it at the kind of bars that don’t encourage the sort of people who have energy. If a fight ever broke out in one of these places, it wouldn’t be the funny Hollywood free-for-all you see, it would be seven guys breaking your arms and then your skull as you were dropped in the alley out back. The owner *might* call an ambulance.

Drinking is a sustained, practiced art that is done quietly, interrupted by a few acceptable statements about what is wrong with the government, employment, women, sports and – not so much – television. There’s no musician in the corner singing some story that causes one of the denizens to get teary eyed. Bards in bars are fantasy fodder ... I am guessing that if your fighter really had just watched his buddy slaughtered by orcs, his last desire upon returning to town would be hearing Fredrick the Flatulent singing another tale of Finkle Fingers and the Fat Fish. Fredrick, doubtlessly, would find himself at the cleric’s shelling out for a cure serious wounds to get his frets flushed.

It’s not pretty, but bloody slaughter rarely lends itself to bouts of weepiness; bitter hatred of the observed comfort of others is more the norm. It’s hard to imagine, however, that our adventurers might adventure not out of a sweet tooth for treasure, but from a measured hatred they’d naturally hold for things like family, home, community or faith. Grim the Warrior may have coin to spend; he may have willingly saved the local village and returned the princess to her father ... but that doesn’t make Grim a NICE GUY. If he were a nice guy, then why the fuck don’t he get married and raise kids? Why don’t he see that life on the road’s no kind of life for a gentleman? What’s wrong with him?

Players run their characters like game show contestants waiting to be paid off in magic items and Monte-Christoesque chests because most players ARE soft-bellied. For them, ‘hard’ means a Japanese-style game show ... embarrassing and messy and lasting five minutes of screen time. Grinding, brutal employment for year after year is quite beyond their capacity to identify; so when you need a TV Show’s captain to be ‘tough,’ don’t think scarred, experienced, mean old Ahab, think asshole high-school quarterback. Think the kind of prick only a MacDonald’s store manager can be. Not gritty and heartless with purpose, but a doof that shoots from the hip and smugly claims that most of the time he hits. You know, like a Goldman-Sachs banker.

The lack of character in the character is reflective of the lack of character in the player. Joss Whedon writes his characters in their flat, high-school interpretation because the last time Whedon had a hard time in life WAS high school; and he’s adored by high school minded fanboys because the hardest time they’ve had in their whole lives was high school. So they relate.

Roleplaying, whatever its appeal, has its limitation. Cry if you will for a more immersive game ... but don’t look to the designer. You must immerse yourself in real life before you have any hope of doing it in a game.


scottsz said...

Cry if you will for a more immersive game ... but don’t look to the designer. You must immerse yourself in real life before you have any hope of doing it in a game.

Spot on. A clean kill.

Well done.

JDJarvis said...

plenty of folks are immersed in real life and it's often sad an boring, the chief antagonist in most people's lives is their own selves. Going to a bar and drinking isn't immersion in life it's avoiding it. The best lesson to be learned from bar-crawling is to stay the heck out of bars they are designed to pump money out of your wallet.If you want to be immersed in real life you build yourself a life. I recall two younger yahoos starting up with a buddy and i in a pool-hall I put them off with something like this "oh tough guys? Your what 21, 22 and think your bad asses who can't bleed and you will not be spitting out your teeth, your young and you have nothing to lose, my friend and I have homes, kids, careers, something to lose, just stop and think how hard we are going to fight, it's going to cost us afterwards and we are going to make it cost a lot for you because of that."..the yahoos left. Who is fighting the harder fight, the person with a winning plan or the idiot throwing themselves against a wall?

Alexis said...


You may have missed the point.

There is a difference between bar 'hopping' and drinking heavily because you have a mean, miserable, dangerous, non-intellectual job. And however you feel about the people who have those blue collar jobs is irrelevant; 'character' is not subject to moral judgments. 'Character,' which is what I pitched for, discribes a perspective on the world that - however "boring" - is potentially more truthful than the soft-cushioned, denial-ridden worlds I view from my office tower.

I have seen both these worlds up close and personal, and I can tell you that what I see among people with homes, kids, careers and so on is terrified subjection because they have something to lose, not fighting spirit. Look how the whole middle class rolled over and took it straight up the ass, rather than fight for their schools, their right to privacy or their dignity. Take a flight lately? Negotiate with a bank lately, or a credit card company? Your breed ain't fightin', its crying in its kitchen begging, "Please, please massa, don't take away my pop tarts and my gas subsidy, I promise to pay a hundred dollars for a football game, I promise massa!"

Fight? The middle class is barely qualified to get its pants down properly from the bent-over position.

I wasn't saying that "fighting" defines character. What I said was that the hard working class, the sort that is regularly killed and injured on their jobs, fights to kill. The spoiled infant class, the office worker, doesn't fight at all, except in Hollywood movies, and then the fights are "funny" and "clever." The spoiled infant class has a hand so soft from credit card use that a punch would break it.

So go cry to your infant class about how tough you've got it. I used to work daily in an environment where it was 115 degrees, with fire, with boiling fat and oil, on greasy, slippery floors, around angry, frustrated people, while serving a plate of food every ninety seconds for one quarter of the money I'm making now punching buttons in the right order.

Don't confuse "spoiled rotten" with "winning plan."

JDJarvis said...

Not everyone in the middle started there. Not everyone in a bar drinking themselves into deeper stupidity and poverty is tough or of any character worth noting.

My perspective might be skewed as someone from the low-end that worked his way on up. There are people of strength and character in all social strata and occupations. No one group has a lock on true nobility. I'll put my money on a man with a plan any day of the week.

I'll agree floundering in the middle isn't any distinction of skill or character.

The two yahoos in the bar were likely foolish middle class boys who never lost anything in their lives and were chased off by my monologue because I made them consider the cost of their stupidity and lack of character.

Alexis said...

Fair enough, and I won't go postal again.

But my POINT, JD, was that your D&D characters aren't going to be those middle class effete characters that turn up in shows like Firefly. They're going to be the mean bastards aboard the Pequod, and their captain isn't going to be a dumbass squill like Nathan Fillion, but a cold-hearted dangerous man like Ahab. The player characters may be steeped in the richness of middleclass strata, but their hardbitten, orc-slaughterin' puppets won't be!

Giacomo said...

My sister-in-law has a favorite saying: "Movies lie." I would expand that observation to stay that TV shows lie; novels lie; games lie -- all stories lie.

There's certainly no shortage of things in this world to be outraged or bitter about. But roughly 30 years ago, my big brother handed down the GM's ruling that my druid was NOT allowed to heal the broken bones of the abused orc slaves of the hill giant chief. He declared it would be an alignment violation. Don't ask me to defend his reasoning. I just know that was the first and last time I ever allowed myself to be bullied into pretending I was willfully and needlessly ignoring the suffering of NPCs in an RPG. From that moment on, I have only ever role-played larger-than-life heroes.

I'm afraid I would give up the hobby entirely before I'd ever play a PC that you would consider palatable. And I really don't care if that makes my characters lies, because the whole game is a lie already. Just like I'd rather watch 100 hours of Nathan Fillion as portrayed in Firefly than five minutes of Nathan Fillion as you tell me he should be. It's not for a moment because I think he's realistic, it's because I find the lie of him to be an entertaining one.

You have a right not to be entertained, but I can't see that as any sort of moral high ground.

Anonymous said...

Serendipitously, I am trying again to read Moby Dick. This time I am old enough to be engaged, not confused or bored.

I disagree that dealing in death -must- make men entirely nasty. Hard heartedness can be selective. I have worked with SEALs and Marines who were quite decent men - outside the context of their work.

Personally I imagine adventurers as being much like gangsters. They most likely have regular molls, but their lives are focused on death, not on family.