Monday, August 26, 2013

Those Who Love the Game

Well, it was a very interesting weekend, full of sound and fury, signifying very little. Much of the abuse I received on other sites drew me to think of the lives that very famous people have, where the degree of hate and clever abuse reaches a profound level. We don't have to be famous ourselves to recognize it; have a look at the hundreds of sites dedicated to the pure hatred of Star Trek Into Darkness. That's some intense shit.

Even a little success guarantees a degree of abuse, mockery and hatred. Somerset Maugham wrote, "The Philistines have long since discarded the rack and stake as a means of suppressing the opinions they feared: they've discovered a much more deadly weapon of destruction - the wisecrack." This he wrote 70 years ago, heralding the present age of trolls and the ridiculous, who turn discomfort at the D&D table into a crime most heinous, to further their (unknown) agendas.

A few things I feel I must convey. People at my table are made uncomfortable. They are made uncomfortable the way a horror movie makes the audience feel uncomfortable; or the way a viewer is made uncomfortable when a gunman in a film drops the muzzle of a pistol to a child's head; or the way a depicted rapist opens and closes his hands in the darkness, watching a lone woman walk from the night-time grocery across the dim parking lot. Discomfort is my trade. I am an artist.

There's very little drama in presenting things that are comfortable. Players don't receive much emotional reward if they haven't been set back on their heels or if their hearts aren't pounding furiously in concern for their safety. It's a poor critic who can't understand why an audience must feel their adrenaline rising, or why they must be compelled to wince or reel in shock when some favored character is killed, or some place is burnt to the ground, or the occupants murdered blithely.

I am an artist. I can't be constrained by an audience that claims political sanctuary the first moment things get a little rough. I can't tone my content down to PG because someone at the table hasn't yet comprehended in that in the world - in a medieval/renaissance world, to boot - people are raped and people are murdered, that cities topple, that cannibalism and bestiality are rampant, and that in most of the world all this happens right in front of children. Where it comes to managing my world, where all these things happen, and more - because they did happen, they have happened, they are happening - I won't turn a blind eye. I won't compromise for the sake of a single player's weak heart. That player has no business at my table. In the larger sense, that player has no business being in the world, a world where unimaginable atrocities go unchecked because of people living in spastic comfort and contrived innocence fail to rise to the challenge of ending them. That is why we have psychologists. To heal such people. That's why its understood that people who cannot or will not deal with reality are 'damaged,' or ill, or otherwise in need of help. Everyone thinks they deserve pity. No one believes they are right about their delusions.

My players, at least, recognize that living in my world means girdling on a sword and warming up a spell or two, in order to right some wrongs. It's fantasy, but it's eyes-wide-open fantasy, practiced by people who in their ordinary, daily lives, will stand up and face a crisis bravely and unafraid. I don't have spineless people at my table. I don't need to worry about my players, or their reaction to the horrors I present, because they're adults. They're strong enough to smash back whatever ball I hurl at them. They've reconciled their consciences with the evils of the world and they refuse to pander to the fear of them.

Critics will say this isn't any fun. Critics will wonder what would be the point of a game with such horrors in it. My players don't have to wonder. They're jaded, they've played a variety of 'fun' games and they've come to the conclusion that 'fun' has its emotional limitations. What my players are is SATISFIED. They are spiritually and emotionally rocked by the world I provide, causing them to shout out at random times during a session, unable to contain themselves, that "I AM FUCKING LOVING THIS!" The reader can find numerous examples on my online blog, anytime the tension gets thick.

Players return again and again to my campaign because this is what they want. They don't want protection. They don't want warning. All they want is to feel that when the shit starts to get deep, it isn't random. That there is some sort of rarefied, unpredictable logic to the nightmare as it unfolds. So it carries with it the whiff of believability, so it can be adventured into with the whole heart.

For those who can't understand this, I am sad for you. For those who have players at their tables who wouldn't accept this, I am sad for you. For those who must qualify every statement with a warning, or who feel their players would be 'creeped out,' or that they need you to otherwise hold their delicate little hands for them and reassure them that all their nightmares won't come true, I am ungodly sad for you. It must be awful having to run a world where no one plays in it but tiny child-minded infants. Or perhaps you are one yourself, in which case, your Mommy probably shouldn't be allowing you to play freely on the internet. You need a Net Nanny.

For those of you with stiff chins and ass-sticks, who proudly claim to be adults while asserting that no game of yours would EVER include such clearly unacceptable content, I am sad for you. You've received an education, you've seen a thousand films, you've suffered the indignation of serving people (everybody serves somebody), you've had bad things happen to you and all you've done is learn to live in fear. And to force others to live life on your terms, tempered by your inadequacies and your need to discriminate between what is real and what is false. I'm sad for you. Mostly because you have no conception of why anyone would be sad for you. As you feel your ire rise while reading this, and as your righteous indignation rushes for the right words to justify your existence, try to remember that the world - the actual world, the one you're living in - doesn't care about your anger. It doesn't care about your sense of right and wrong. It is smashing all the icons of propriety you can construct, gleefully, unilaterally ... and inevitably. As you live this little closed existence you insist upon, the forces are in motion that will calmly rip that world asunder and deprive you of your certainty.

Because that is the way it always happens.

I write this post for those players and dungeonmasters who can't understand why that game has to be fashioned in such juvenile strokes. I write for those who want more, who want darker, who want to play with the whole range of human emotions, who recognize that in a world of nothing but sweetness, things cease to have any taste at all. I write for that small cadre of grown-ups who are still playing this game after thirty years, who have turned their backs on the community but not upon the desire to learn more and more about the angles and possibilities of the game. I write for the open mind, the free spirit, the philosophically bent designer who has long since come to recognize with age that a minute of satisfaction is more emotionally gratifying than a month of fun. I write for the silent and diligent gamers who no longer have the energy to deal with trolls, who watch my energy with smiling faces.

I expect fools to be made uncomfortable. I expect them to cry foul. I expect them to argue every decision, debate every reality, refute every principle and decry every injustice as the cold hand of harsh reality drags them into the grave with the rest of us. They're free to quibble. Their quibbling has no influence on me and mine, because I do not DM for the quibblers.

I DM for my players. I DM for those who love the game.

The rest do not count.


Anonymous said...

Very much on point (and I hope you'll understand) - what is your critical opinion regarding Miley Cyrus' performance at the VMAs?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Had to dig it up and watch it.

It's abundantly evident that she's giving the audience what it wants; it's very easy to see how it would NOT be giving her non-audience what they want, which would be a 21-year-old behaving in a completely different fashion.

I am reminded of the coals they dragged Madonna over thirty years ago, when they accused her of playing up to the shock-value of her performance in order to get attention. As it became more and more clear that this woman who ultimately became very rich and very able was much smarter than both her critics and her fans, this rhetoric of her being the greatest PR manipulator in existence hit a fever pitch ... until mid-nineties it just disappeared. The 'public' that had invented that story grew old and ceased to influence the dialogue.

So it goes. Miley will no doubt be vilified in the same fashion ... and if she lasts (who knows if she will, who would ever have guessed Madonna would be the Diva she is now?), eventually she'll outlast the critics.

In context, that is how it always is with critics. How long has the homosexual community been fighting its battle against the clearly failed agenda of its critics? And yet that agenda, rotten as it is through and through, will yet be cast against the homosexual community for the next generation or so, at least - because failure is not a reality for those people. They only know that they're 'uncomfortable.' That's all the real argument they need. Having it, they build ridiculous castles of bullshit to justify themselves, never realizing how ridiculous they sound.

Matt Judge said...

Here here! Most of the games I run are "beer & pretzels" but I've always felt that even in that context I ought to be able to present some pretty dark stuff, so long as I don't meander into the puerile. I mean after all, the folks I play with routinely watch TV and movies with extremely dark themes as light entertainment, so why can't our game casually stroll into the same territory? I think secretly everyone wants to go there, but they don't want to be accountable for it, which you'd have to be when the experience is interactive.

It sounds like the game you run is pretty serious from the get-go, so I don't mean to muddy the waters relating my pick-up games to yours. But I feel like the same could be said in either case: people have weird hang-ups.

One caveat, if I ever DM for kids I'd give a serious thought to reigning it in.

Alexis Smolensk said...

One caveat, if I ever DM for kids I'd give a serious thought to reigning it in.

So would I. In a heartbeat. But so long as I don't have any kids at my table ...

You mean it in good spirits, Matt, I certainly understand that. As an aside, however, why is it that when a couple gets together in bed, they don't feel the need to turn to each other and say, "You know, if there were kids were in the room right now, I'd want to tone this down."

Zavi said...

This is one of the most inspiring posts I have ever found on the DnD blogs, and a phenomenon I have tried to explain many times.
When you can truly depict depravity that exists in life, a fictional world becomes a beautiful thing. A world where the players can have a real true impact in righting the world gives a feeling of fulfillment, excitement, and can even inspire them to act toward that end in the real world.

Lukas said...

Alexis, I feel like I need to take the bullet on this one and use that line. Just so it has been done.

YagamiFire said...

A world without true evil has no need for true heroes.

Excellent post.