Wednesday, July 9, 2014

It's Not Enough

In answer to the question, "You're really a prick sometimes, you know?" - the answer is "Yes."  I really am a prick.  Sometimes.

I get two main arguments from people:  1) Your ideas aren't believable.  2)  It's not reality, it's a game.

What is particularly funny is that I get both arguments from the same person.  Sometimes, in the same paragraph.

My recent posts on hit points have been attacked because: 1) There are lots of reasons why there would be lots of creatures that have 1 hit point, realistically; and 2) it isn't supposed to be real, it's supposed to be fantasy.

I have come to the conclusion that my critics don't actually know what words mean.  I'm not referring to specific words, mind.  I mean any words.  There is no other conclusion that I can draw.

To the audience listening:  D&D is most certainly a game.  As a game, dice are rolled.  The dice determine things that happen.  The dice are meant to represent the random occurrences in a setting.  The setting is the place where everything lives.  If the creatures living in the setting are meant to be viewed as creatures that actually live, then we must draw the conclusion that there is a logic to what they're doing.

This is a game, but it is a very special game.  It is a game that allows a greater degree of verisimilitude than most games.  Within this particular game, there are many, many pieces.  These pieces are scattered over a setting that includes topographical and political features.  We may assume that when player characters are not actually looking at these pieces, these pieces are doing things.  They're moving about.  They're growing food for themselves.  They're living.  They're real.

Yes, it is a fantasy.  The moving creatures growing food so they can live are make-believe.  We make believe they're busy, keeping themselves from being hungry.  We make believe this because it adds a layer of immersion for the players.  Players like immersion.  Immersion feels . . . purposeful.

On the other hand, there seem to be a set of people who feel somehow that these pieces of the game are doing nothing at all when not actually being looked at by the party.  That's why, when the party meets them, the number of hit points they have don't matter.  Any explanation will do, because this is a fantasy.  It doesn't have to make sense, because this is a fantasy.  The pieces, before being knocked down, like this is an arcade in a midway, don't have to make sense.  They don't have to have purpose.  They don't have to grow food. In fact, their whole purpose in the game is to stand in a hall, with blank eyes and blank faces, waiting for the party to come by.  They don't need a history.  They don't need a reason to be in the hall.  The reason is that they are targets for player characters.  And targets don't need hit points that mean anything but target numbers.  That is because, in this fantasy, nothing anywhere needs any kind of history.  At all.

This sort of fantasy D&D is very boring to me.  I've been in these campaigns, these pop-up monster target campaigns, and they are terribly, awfully dull.  They steal your soul.

Just a couple of days ago I was reading a sad post.  Sad, because I can see how perfectly role-playing has failed this particular fellow.  The post can be read here.

I don't know how he's going to feel about this post, the one I'm writing.  He's commented here a number of times, and since he's stated his age on this blog, and since I believe it bears mentioning in this context, I'm going to say it is less than 20.  The author is a smart, proud, courageous fellow.  He has been willing to slug it out with me, while at the same time not getting personal about it.  I don't think there is animosity here, but I wouldn't say we see eye-to-eye.  I want to get it across to the reader, however, that I respect this fellow. And I don't respect many.

It is this line in particular that hits the mark:  "It's partly because I've started to wonder if there's really a point to D&D."

Think about that statement.  I don't say it is bad or good.  The linked post ends on a good note, I think, talking about the future and making plans, which is always positive.  But there is that line.  And the few points where 'Alonzo' talks about it having the same approximate 'no point' purpose that other activities have.

That is the game failing this man.  That is the philosophy pushed by the online community failing this man. Apparently, me too, since he's read this blog and after a million words I haven't been able to assign a 'point' to D&D in this man's consciousness, either.

'Fantasies' are empty things.  They're blank-eyed non-sentient versions of real things, that you pretend are real because you haven't any alternative.  People who use the game to 'fantasize' are those who have flat out failed at being real.  For whom 'real' is such a negative turn-off that they've chosen fantasy instead.  Anything that challenges that fantasy, anything that smacks even a little bit of the real, that's a sacrilege.  Because this isn't about reality, this is about fantasy; and this isn't about numbers, it is about making up whatever seems more believable as a fantasy.

Believable as a fantasy.  That is, the 'believable' that we want to believe.  That we have to believe.  That we are depending upon believing.  That we cannot allow to be sullied or spoiled by anything that challenges or invades the sanctity of that belief.

'Alonzo' (in quotes, because that is not how he posts here - I'm avoiding that name) is finding his life messed by a little too much reality; the moving he describes.  And in the moving, the fantasy is slipping away.  It isn't grounded in anything he can point to, it just is what it is, a flotsam in the same universe that happens to include fishing, drinking and watching TV.

I can count a lot of people who, with a change in circumstances, quit role-playing and went on to other things.  High school ended.  College ended.  They got married.  They moved out of the country.  They fell into depression and medication.  They drifted away as the game ceased to matter.  They drifted into middle age and began to feel silly playing a child's game.  They looked at the game they were playing, they saw it for an empty, shallow banality, and they turned instead to the empty, shallow banalities that didn't require weekly socialization, weekly arguments about the die roll, weekly passive aggressive games by the snotty faction in the party.  They moved on and away and off to another pastime and quit the game because - from their perspective - there wasn't any point, anyway.

The banality of fantasy.  The bland, myopic, nit-picking uncompromising opinion pushing-and-pumping arguments of undefined fantasy.  The rules are this.  No, they're that.  No, you're both wrong, they work like this.  No, they're supposed to work like that.  No, there are no definite answers.  Definite answers ruin the believability of my fantasy.  Don't give me definite answers, or definite rules, because this is supposed to be a game and there aren't any.  Or, at least, the definite answers that exist aren't your answers, they're mine.

Banality.  What is the point.  Every opinion is treated as exactly the same in the great banal landscape, where every theory about every word of the rules is accorded both respect and apathy.  What's the point, there is no point.  Amen.

I have a lot of respect for Alonzo.  He said the words out loud.  He wrote the words on the internet.  The game has dwindled.  The players seem totally disinterested.  He has no idea if they're sick of the game or not.  He admitted it out loud.  He addressed the problem.  He didn't side-step it.  He wants an answer.  He hasn't made the decision that calling it 'fantasy' is going to solve his situation.

I am addressing the problem too.  Only I'm not thinking of quitting.  I'm not thinking of slapping a happy face over the problem and saying, "There, it's fixed."  Instead, I've set myself the near-impossible task of legitimately fixing the problem.

Which begins with admitting two things:  1) real is better than fantasy; 2) this is a game; as a game it has rules.

Rules are not flimsy.  They're not unclear.  If there's a 'rule' that needs an argument and a philosophy that has to be taken on faith, it's not a 'rule.'  It's masturbation.

Games don't include masturbation.  That's how games work.  We play them with others.  Masturbation, by definition, is done alone.  If you're masturbating, you're not playing a game.

Masturbation is exhausting.  It is soul-destroying.  It separates you from everyone else.  It makes you think that the only pleasure in the world is the pleasure you give to yourself.  And it makes it impossible to conceive of ever giving anything of any kind to anyone else.

This 'fantasy' that you speak of?  This fantasy, this thing that supposedly undermines every supposition made by others, this final argument you drag out and speak in your eternal monotone, this is the result of all the masturbation you've done.

It is all you have.

You'll learn.  It's not enough.

3 comments:

Mark Van Vlack said...

In my opinion, this is one of your finest posts.

Jomo Rising said...

Tired of doing the hard work on your world? Why not just forgo the research and statistics? Your peoples don't need agriculture; Food just falls from the sky. Turn to "fantasy" today! http://io9.com/do-not-take-writing-advice-from-the-worst-muse-1603438929?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Alexis Smolensk said...

Allow me to update that link.

Brilliant.