Friday, January 18, 2013

DM Like a Human Being

I don't know what to think of people who play this game, this D&D game, with no interest in portraying any sort of 'realism.'  I don't know why they keep using that word.  I don't think it means what they think it means.

It's a good thing that as we get older, we find ourselves in less and less situations where we have to put up with bullshit.  I don't think most of us are really aware of how much complete crap we had to eat in school, or from coaches for teams we played on, or tutors of piano or violin.  It is as though when we were children, at the age of five someone came and gave us a spoon, pointed to a large heap of steaming shit with a sign on top saying 'CHILDHOOD' and said, "All right, come on, get eating."

And now we say these things to ourselves, and we say these things to our children.

One of my favorites has to be, "Never Assume.  When you assume, you make an Ass of U and Me!"  Oh, to be 12 again, and have some fart tell me this, just so I can stand up and say, "Um, sir?  Does that mean I shouldn't assume that I'll be alive in five minutes?  Um, sir?  Since I can't assume that my house will still be there for me to go home to, I think I'd better get leaving now, just to be sure.  Um, sir?  I seem to be healthy, but I don't want to assume anything.  I'm just going to run to the hospital now."

Philosophy is not something we teach our children.  If it was, that would only make it harder for us to fill them up with shit.

Along the same lines, there are people in fantasy roleplaying who will tell you they don't play 'realism' ... which they think is the opposite of 'fantasy.'  Naturally, these people are full of shit, and they are extending the spoon to you, expecting you to dig in.  That's because Realism is NOT the opposite of Fantasy.  It is the opposite of Idealism.  From Wikipedia:

"Idealism is a term with several related meanings. It comes via idea from the Greek idein (ἰδεῖν), meaning "to see". The term entered the English language by 1796. In ordinary use, as when speaking of Woodrow Wilson's political idealism, it generally suggests the priority of ideals, principles, values, and goals over concrete realities. Idealists are understood to represent the world as it might or should be, unlike pragmatists, who focus on the world as it presently is. In the arts, similarly, idealism affirms imagination and attempts to realize a mental conception of beauty, a standard of perfection, in opposition to aesthetic naturalism and realism."

Now tell me ... what does that have to do with 'fantasy?'  Precisely nothing, obviously.  It has even less to do with a game that has concrete rules that define possible actions, determined by a concrete die that results in a physical universe, outside pure thought.

In a moment of desperation, people will seize upon any word that sounds like something that's the opposite of what they want, and slapdash the use of that word into their arguments.  "Realism" sounds like the real world, which of course is terrible and unpleasant and full of limitations.  Thus, Real = "BAD."  Fantasy = "GOOD."

This is just the worst sort of math.  Well, it isn't math at all.  But people think it is.

I'm not quite clear on what's wrong with all this 'real' life.  Real life gives me opportunities to think, to take pleasure in the company of others, to create magnificent artworks and designs with my mind, to communicate those designs, to argue passionately, to believe passionately, to be astounded, to be thrilled and so on.  All the 'fantasy' I will ever have or experience is fantasy that is accomplished with my REAL mind in the REAL world ... so what the fuck is bad about it?  I mean, you can get all caught up with the fact that you don't have a perfect body and you have trouble getting laid, or that people are slaughtering each other with guns, or that your government doesn't give a shit about you - which it doesn't, by the way - but all that doesn't make 'fantasy' something that takes place outside of your present reality.  You just don't have the kind of power it takes to make reality stop happening.

Yes, of course you can seek an escapist ideology for your gaming ... but the problem with believing that escapism alone is enough to make it interesting is all the inconvenient biology that is still going on while you're pretending its not.  The real you is still getting hungry and thirty.  Your sexual parts are still dead to the world or alive according to their own hormonal priorities.  YOUR PLAYERS ARE STILL SUBJECT TO BOREDOM.  If you want your world to be at all interesting, you have to apply it to the biological necessities of your player's real bodies.  You're not somehow exempt from that.

And sadly for you, if your world is SO different from the real world - that is, if your world just tosses out ideas like logic, morality, familiar social structure or economics as unpleasant or unnecessary, you're creating a huge obstacle for your world's success.  Your PLAYERS, whatever their intellectual interests might be, are nevertheless habitually designed to cope with a real world.  They can't help themselves.  They respond to real things every day.  They react to given intellectual stimuli and social expectations in a way that is quite beyond their choice.  They've been raised on a particular variety of shit, which they've been eating with spoons since grade school, and as shitty as it might be, they're used to the goddamned taste.  Just cause you want to now feed them a different sort of shit doesn't mean they're going to gobble it up.

I suppose if you're seriously bent on making your world stick to the wall - as shit does - then you can work night and day to overcome this obstacle ... but for the love of little green puppies, why the fuck make yourself work that hard?  Why not take advantage of the present packaged shit bars your players are already programmed to respond to and use those to create tension and drama?  Why insist on your particular brand?  Why beat yourself up changing the product, when there's still so many ways left to cook the one we're born and raised with?

Fantasy, yes, but not fantasy in a way that denies reality.  The two aren't opposites!  They're twins, and they work together just fine.  Don't throw out one for the other!  Mix them, you stupid, bloody idiots!

Get this ridiculous notion out of your head that you're such a magic creationist that you can build ALL the concepts of human interaction from scratch.  You're not playing with Kaswellians from the planet Kaswell.  You're playing with humans from the Planet Earth.

You are a human from Planet Earth.  Try liking it for a change.


joe said...

You bring a tear of joy to this pessimist's eye.

Good rules for a game should be an interpretation of a fantastic reality. Or a mundane one. When the rules no longer endeavor to make sense, you're playing a board game where things happen arbitrarily to satisfy game design.

Matthew Gusler said...

I think people may be mixing up the word realism with realistic. Which is not something I would judge them for, the words sound similar enough.

Regardless of that, realism is a very broad word with many interpretations. Wikipedia defines literary realism as, "the faithful representation of reality." The dictionary defines it as, "the tendency to view or represent things as they really are. "

The core of fantasy role play is playing in a world where anything is possible, anything can be created and anything goes. That being said, I can certainly understand how folks could interpret fantasy role play as the opposite of "the faithful representation of reality."

I'm a big supporter of game theory and exploring the psychology of the game but telling people HOW they should play just seems like... feeding them spoon-fulls of shit.

Alexis said...

Yes, that's right. I told you how to play. I told you how to think. Just like every other authority in the world on any other subject, from golf swings to nuclear disarmament.

Welcome to the dialectic.

Anonymous said...

Damn you Socrates. Damn you to hell! ;)