Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Push-Back

Yesterday, a friend of mine made a comment that she was having trouble respecting people past their thirties who hadn't yet found their way into an office vocation.  I understood her point.  Obviously, she was not referring to professionals who did not work in an office.  She obviously would respect cops, health care workers, circus performers and field scientists.  There are ten thousand professions to which she was NOT referring.  Her comment was reserved for those people who are still working in 'grunt' jobs, coming home dirty, being pushed around by bosses and otherwise suffering through those miserable years we were expected to suffer through up until their early 20s.

I must admit, I was still doing hard, gritty labor into my late 30s, with breaks for intellectual pursuits and theatre.  At any rate, "30s" is an ad hoc figure.  It's simply that once you're installed in an office, you begin to gaze upon those hard-working, low-paid positions with something of a jaded point-of-view.  Yes, people become positively rude about it, and buy into their so-called superiority of corporate wealth.  Whatever - most people are loathsome no matter what they make.

Not very long after you find yourself in an office, you begin to notice that there is a certain game that is being played there.  It is the 'push-back' game.  Everyone is playing it.  Basically, the rules of the game are this:

No matter what it is that we are doing, there is some other way to do it according to someone with the authority to make the change.  Those wanting to make the change push to have it happen; those who do not want to make the change, for reasons of technical considerations, or inconvenience, or plain laziness, push back.  To control this push back, people in authority adopt strategies that usually translate into meetings.  To increase the push back, people not in authority adopt strategies that usually translate into passive aggressiveness.

Ground is not given or taken without very much drama - and all of that drama is played out on a level so low as to make the mute option on your mpg player seem uncomfortably loud.  People who cannot play this game on this super-quiet level do not do well, and find themselves shunted aside or disposed of altogether.  Those who can play on said level get promoted - either because they push back well enough to get people in authority in trouble with those in higher authority, or because they are good at negating push-back.

If you are not now in an office as you read this, you really won't get it.  If you ARE in an office - particularly a big office - you not only get it, you're silently grinding your teeth now.  Like you do everyday, all day, along with all your co-workers.

No matter what the change, no matter what the field, people push and people push back.  Most professions outside the office have a power structure that is so overt, push back is usually ineffective.  Outside of work altogether, pushing is typically never successful.  One of the things we like about our freedom - those hours in which we don't work - is that we don't have to take shit from nobody.  And "shit" is defined by whatever we want shit to be.

So changing someone's mind, when you have no authority over them, is virtually impossible.  But still we try.  We believe what we believe and hell, we think it would be a nicer place if others believed it too.

I'm thinking about why I was first resistant to changes in D&D, back during my first five years of play.  Why did I 'push-back' so hard that I am still playing AD&D, albeit my version?  When I moved from the White Box to the DMG and Player's Handbook, there was no hesitation, no resistance.  I adored the DMG the first time I got to crack the binding.  It took my 30 years to rewrite it in my head (I hardly make any reference to it at all, now), but the original structure it proposed was slashing brilliant.

Why, then, did I not just follow through like so many others and adopt all the ideas from later books and editions?  If I was interested in settling down and rewriting the DMG to suit myself, why didn't I just think, "Well, I'll rewrite all this shit too?"

Examining it, I think it was because none of the later ideas addressed elements of the game that were "new."  They seemed to be focused on rehashing the same elements ... weapons, classes, dungeons, abilities, spells and monsters ... from a different light or with a different format.  They were not interested in introducing NEW elements, like trade, scientific development, social structure, styles of play or player tactics.  When I had opened the Dungeon Master's Guide in 1979, I had never seen anything written about random dungeon generation, magic item creation or hirelings.

Such things may have existed prior, but the DMG was my first window into those concepts ... and I grabbed those concepts and ran with them full bore from the first games I started to play.  Like any other player in those first heady years, I wanted MORE.  More and more and more ... but when I rushed down with my low cash supply to rifle through the new books and magazines appearing on the shelves of the local gaming store - like a serial masturbator awaiting the new Penthouse - I was endlessly disappointed.

More spells?  I didn't need them.  More weapons?  Another description of the weapons we already used?  I'd found those in my local university.  More monsters?  They sounded mostly like the old monsters with different art.  We started to make new monsters from the first.  Was there anything in any of these books that we hadn't already conceived of ON OUR OWN?  Disappointingly, no.  Frustratingly, no.  Headbangingly, no.  Finally, when we watched the game begin to splinter in the 80s, shrugging our shoulders and wondering what made this so different from that, we shook our heads slowly in the sad reality that the game was beginning a long, ill-conceived demise.

Of course it was push-back.  We were selfish, previously propagandized droids who had learned to play it our way and we resented that anyone, anywhere, played it differently.  Older and wiser, I have to take the position that if someone wants to play 4e, that's okay.  It is still the same game.  It has as much right to be here as any other game.  15-year-old motivated creators can do as much with it as I did with AD&D ... there's nothing to stop them.

If there is anything to lament - as I get older and wiser - it is that it is the same game.

I don't think any of us believe in 1981 that thirty years later D&D would be so fundamentally unchanged.  We all thought greater ideas and greater tools were out there, waiting to be outlined and rules to be made, that would go farther and deeper into the emotional lust we carried in our hearts for those worlds we wanted to be lost in.  We did not think we would be in our middle age, sitting down at the same tables in the same chairs, rolling the same dice to produce the same results they did all those years ago.  That was because the shock of the game's rush onto the market - and into our lives - blew away any concept of push back.  We were instant smack addicts who had been given our first taste of heroin.  The old world of staid, dull Monopoly was dead and gone in one fell swoop.  We were riding the White Horse and we just wanted to get higher and higher.

We didn't know it wasn't going to get better.

Oh, don't misunderstand me.  D&D is great.   The game is terrific.  I've dedicated my life to this game.  But for most who are playing, it is the same great it was.  It is the same terrific it was.  For all its good graces, it is still - if you will forgive the term - in a rut.  It's in a fucking deep chasm, so deep that most players at the bottom have convinced themselves that the walls are vistas and that the thin ribbon of light way above them is a threat to their comfortable way of doing things.

I am aware that I look at these things differently than most people.  I have always found my greatest pleasures to be those moments in which I've been able to embrace change, with all its brutal, irreconcilable consequences.  Change, I think, can happen for the better.  Push-back derives from the certainty that change always happens for the worse.  It's a philosophical conflict.  I hold my position on the matter.  I expect push-back.  Such is how the game is played.

Let it be known, however, that I'm playing this game for life; and I'm playing it on a level more quietly than your mute button can imagine.  There's more in this article than just an overt, arrogant opinion ... but you're not expected to recognize that.

I'm not talking to you, the gentle reader.  I'm talking to who you might be someday.

2 comments:

Konsumterra said...

I noted when i began office work health insurance and retirement came up alot more while in lower sweaty work people lived for the moment and smoked and drunk more - i like the point that later versions rehashed rather than invented - clearly put

Alexander Osias said...

Incisive observations, eloquently put. It certainly gives me a lot to think about in my own life -- and in my own gaming.