Thursday, May 30, 2013

Two Kinds

Yesterday I left a teaser in my post. Today I intend to address it.

I am a novelist. I wrote my first very bad novel at 19; I wrote a better one at 22, and an even better one when I was 25. I wrote my first good one at 34. All these novels took a long time to write, and were written and rewritten many times. What I'm saying is that writing a novel takes commitment.

So does gaming. Not the sort of commitment of making a lot of maps or sketching out undergrround lairs or even producing a monster generating excel file. Those things are interesting and they take time, but they're not the sort of commitment I'm talking about. This may sound a little stupid to some of you, but what I'm talking about is love.

It was only recently that I wrote a different post about running one campaign, and I still feel I came short of the mark. There, I talked about developing rules ... but since I've been talking about detachment, I want to address the idea of loving the world you've made, and why you should.

It makes the world better.

There are two kinds of love. There's the love where you grip the thing so tightly that you strangle or smother it to death - where you, and you alone, are allowed to gain anything from that love. Its a common sort of love among young people. Its the love you have for someone you fear you'll lose, someone whose special and without whom you cannot imagine yourself living without. To make sure you'll never have to, you take steps to keep that love trapped in your Cleveland basement; you beat that love stupid so it understands it can't leave. You keep it in chains.

Then there is the other love, the one that leaves you humbled. You never imagine that you can control it. You dream that perhaps you'll be able to influence it, and if you're patient and giving and kind, hopefully that which you love will love you back. This is the sort of love that doesn't give you what you need ... its that which makes you a better person than you are, because you must change in order to measure up. When you wake in the morning, and see the person beside you whose life you've chosen to share, your single overriding thought is what do you have to do today to make this thing better. Really, to make yourself better.

Both kinds of love take commitment. The first takes a willingness to be uncompromisingly selfish and disturbingly inhuman. The second takes the willingness to admit you're not in control, you'll never be in control, and whatever the outcome, you're fine with it.

In the first, you act like a monster because you're afraid, and you don't want to be. In the second, you accept that fear is the operating principle. You put your children on a plane so they can live three thousand miles away and you accept that this is what you need to do, no matter how it makes you feel. You watch your partner put on their uniform, their baton and their gun every morning and kiss them as they walk out the door. You help them in and out of the bathtub, and on and off the toilet, for as long as you have to, because they need you and those are the circumstances. You question the bizarre, frustrating difficulty of it all, but you fight to beat yourself into the person who can do those things.

Very well. So whose world is it?

Dear gentle reader, what applies to one part of your life applies to everything. When you say you love your world, when you give over hundreds, thousands of hours of your life to it, the depth and reach of that love does not diminish because others think your decision to dedicate your life to a game is silly. Perhaps you should have 'loved' something else; perhaps you should be in Bolivia removing worms from children's feet, or patiently measuring the fluid in test tubes towards a cure for breast cancer. Maybe you should have taken more schooling and forced yourself to have greater skills that would let you do things for which other people would have more respect. Maybe. But the long and the short of it is that you love this ... this infantile, childish, moronic game. This escapist framework, that hardly contributes anything to the betterment of anyone.

Sadly, you haven't much choice about it, not if you really love the thing. Maybe others can put it down and walk away and find NASCAR more interesting ... but not you. You're the guy who fell in love with the fat chick in high school, whose smile fills you with warmth and happiness, but whom everyone else looks at and thinks, why is he with her? You're the woman who fell for the alcoholic. You didn't get to fall in love with politics, religion or quantum physics. You fell in love with D&D.

Well, how are you going to love it? Are you going to be the monster that grips the players throats, making them dance to your tune, or are you going to sacrifice yourself to the fear that they may do shit you're not ready for? I read a lot of fear on the boards and elsewhere, and I wonder what precisely is the motivating factor at those tables.

I would personally feel ill-used by a DM who announced every couple of months that the character I was running in the previous campaign is now null and void because that DM decided he or she would rather run a Traveller campaign now. I'd feel jerked around by a DM who looked at their world regularly and thought, "Fuck it, I don't like this," and suddenly proclaimed that clerics were no more, that no adventure was going to take place in a city, or that we were moving to, from, or back to some other gaming system that he or she just bought books for.

It must all seem over-dramatized to a lot of the gentle readers that I choose to couch such decisions in this frame of reference ... but you know, I slept and lived with some tremendously selfish bitches in my life, who at one time said they loved me and later changed their mind. I've counseled a lot of others who have slept and lived with bastards who did or said the same to them. The world is full of some really tremendously offensive people, who in a normal light seem as honest and forthright as anyone else. I don't think it does any good to soft-soap the reality, particularly with arguments that begin with, "Well, I'm not really hurting anyone because this is a game that doesn't matter anyway."

Offering the opinion that something "doesn't matter," though seeming to spend a helluva a lot of time and money at that thing, reminds me of all the men and women I've known over the years who dumped jobs and partners like yesterday's garbage. I guess for some people, no, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what your players want, or what they're doing, or the plans they're making ... because your world isn't working for YOU, so fuck it.

Here's what I suggest. Make your world work for your players. And if your world isn't "working" for you, question whether or not anything ever really will. Chances are, you're the sort of person whose really just getting a lot out of jerking people around.

If that's true, try this: change.


Quinten Alflen said...

I recognize myself in this, about one or two years ago.

The exact situation as you describe, dropping a campaign to run an entirely different system (Traveller, of all things) because I got bored with what we were doing.

It went on for about a year in which I (and by extension, my group) would switch systems every month or two because I couldn't find something that "felt right".

Until the day the games I was running started feeling like a chore, it wasn't even fun anymore.

After running as a player for some months I went back to work on the campaign world I had been working on for a little over a year now, but had never run before.

I got a lot of inspiration from a friend of mine who ran a medieval 'earth-like' world, and your blog, Alexis.

Nowadays my players are having a blast. And my world is slowly growing and coming to life, in no small part because of what I've read and learned on the Tao of D&D.

And it gives me great joy at the end of every gaming night, to hear my players say they are already looking forward to next week.

Quincy Jones said...

Criminy. Makes me think of Lincoln: “If you want to test a man's character, give him power.”

I've known a few DMs that I considered “bad”, but it mostly stemmed from incompetence, not joy of “jerking people around”. They seemed to be genuine, sincere, considerate people, despite running abysmally poor games (railroading, inconsistent, little to no prep, system changing, etc.).

Is there really that strong a correlation between DMs running terrible games being terrible people and having terrible lives?