Thursday, September 18, 2014

Plenty of Reasons

I still get views for this post, the fifth post I wrote for this blog.  True, it is the post that set the standard for this blog - it trashes the old mindset about seeking adventures and proposes a completely different sort of player investment from the typical module template.  It directly outlines how there endless adventure opportunities for people who are prepared to be entrepreneurs instead of looters.

I remember feeling at the time that it was a hopeless argument, that it would - and did - fall on deaf ears.  It didn't.  As I say, I still get views.  But it didn't change the vista of the game either, which is a bit funny.  All writers dream of writing an essay that will make everyone think differently.  Pure nonsense, of course.  That's not how change happens.

Take the I Have a Dream Speech by Martin Luther King.  People speak of it now as though it changed the way people thought about black people and white people in America.  Ferguson, recently, proved that very little has actually changed, but laying that aside . . . by the time King had given that speech in 1963, Montgomery had happened, the SCLC had been formed, Birmingham had gone down and King and his followers had been fighting that fight for at least nine years.  The speech delivered on the steps of Washington was not his first reference to his dream, either.  The march on Washington was simply the next logical step in a long struggle that still goes on - and the people who cheered when they heard that speech already believed before the speech was given.  No one's mind was changed.

Not even mine.  I wasn't raised a racist, so when I hear the phrase, "Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children," I continue to be stupefied that this insane idiocy continues year after year, when it is so plain that one human being is one human being, period.  I never needed to be convinced.

I feel continuously confused by many things like this.  Yesterday, I read the following on the Site That Shall Not Be Linked (from Scott who gave a pleasant, positive review on How to Run here):

"We have very different ideas about the necessity of taking games seriously - not saying that taking them seriously is silly or 'I could do that if I tried but I don't want to!', I have no idea if I could or not.  I just don't think a lack of rigor renders the pursuit a farce."

I look at that and find myself immeasurably baffled.  On the level of the Dream Speech.  And yes, I'm using my writer superpowers to draw a connection between the ignorance of people in facing the question of race with the ignorance of people in facing the question about taking things seriously. Because I don't see any difference.  After all, it isn't as if the mustard post doesn't make the point plain as day.

The reason that I feel this way is because I have played a number of games without rigor, and every one of them turned out to be a farce.  I see utter, unmitigated shit posted by the WOTC as representations of game play and I think, this is a farce.  I see the embarrassment in the faces of people who ask me, "What is your book about," the same disdain and unpleasantness that people associate with the words, "I am a born again Christian."  I am ashamed of the culture that has sprung from the game I love, and I have plenty of reasons to be.  Beginning with the sentiment among the participants who argue, "No, no I will not take this game seriously.  And you can't make me."

I concede that for the rest of my life, no matter what happens, the world at large will not respect this game.  Later generations may receive approval eventually for the game's attention to detail, the artistic measure in the game's creation, for the encouragement of life skills in the fields of research, drama, design, human resource management, therapy or team building, but I know that my generation - apart from those who play - will never think of this game as anything other than juvenile nonsense. Not because it is, but because the vast number of participants were first isolated, then exploited, then finally encouraged to behave like 14-year-old children.  Who now argue vehemently that expecting them to act as anything except children is robbing them of 'fun.'

I quit playing because I could not find a game that met my expectations.  I wanted to live out the fantasies, to take my intellect and conquer worlds through guile, risk and planning, to accumulate wealth, power, status, each of which were a means to transforming the world to suit me.  This is, after all, what I do in real life.  Only, in role-playing, I was hoping to do with with swords and massive amounts of strength and power, where the limitation wasn't my bank account but my imagination.  I wanted to shake the pillars of heaven.

What I got were mealy, tired, dull as dishwater conventional DMs with narrow minds who felt threatened by my imagination, who put up nonsense machinations to ensure that, one more time, we were going to walk out to the same fucking dungeon and walk through the same fucking empty rooms until reaching the same fucking mindless fucking monsters that would leave us the same fucking treasure that we could spend on the same fucking trinkets in the same fucking town on the same fucking borderland.

Yeah.  Real.  Fucking.  Fun.

What's wrong with the frivolous game?  It is summed up in this portion of the comment from Algol on my PPK's post a few days ago:

"When we get higher level it always feels logical for me to use the massive wealth I have to create armies. Surely a group of 200 men at arms would be a better investment for combat effectiveness than personal magic items? Or take command of the city guard or any other way to increase power other than increasing the numbers on my sheet. Yet it's always a fear of large combats that makes everyone shoot down this suggestion immediately when I bring it up."

That is just sad.  I read that and I just think, fuck people, you know?  Fuck the people in this hobby, with their thumb on top of imagination, keeping it down.  Miserable bastards and their lack of will or commitment or rigor, who can’t be bothered to try.

There are plenty of reasons to be ashamed.  This is just one of them.


Jomo Rising said...

Now, with a mind that is open, this stuff breaks my heart.

Scott Driver said...

I don't remember fine specifics but you've talked about playing (I think) hockey recreationally. The game wasn't high level and the folks you played with were at or near your level.

Ex-jocks with a higher degree of skill, experience, aggression, physicality, or whatever started in and took over. Y'all had less "fun" and eventually stopped.

Did the "lack of rigor" make playing less "fun" to the point that it wasn't worthwhile? You enjoyed it and some of you might have been really good if it were a big priority. But it wasn't.

Your game was *shallower* than theirs. It was "fun" but it wasn't a life priority for you.

People who are very good at something sometimes can't see how anyone would do it *without* it being a priority. Jocks can't believe bookworms are satisfied with walking and a few pushups; bookworms can't believe jocks like Game of Thrones.

My job is exhausting but I like it and am demonstrably very good at it and a few other things. Those are priorities to me. I'm not demonstrably good at RPGs and they aren't a high priority.

I'm not implying that if RPGs *were* a priority, I'd be great at them "but I just don't want to," or that trying for anything deeper than beer/pretzels isn't in the spirit of the game. I'd like to be better at RPGs.

The facts are: RPGs aren't central to my life, I don't think I'm good at them, I like them, and I'm not willing to make the sacrifices that are probably necessary to try to get really good.

You seem like aself-reflective guy. I don't know if you're equating centrality or high priority with something being worthwhile. I'm trying not to make shady presumptions.

Do you draw a distinction that makes "rigor" a predicate for value in one thing but not the other? I suspect you could find one in about five minutes if you looked for one but I don't know if you have.

Here's the stab I'd take at a distinction:

Competitive sports are zero-sum games; success is binary. Someone wins, someone loses. Even team games are PvP. Playing with the elite player won't make the recreational player better unless the elite guy holds back to an insulting degree.

Role-playing games are not zero-sum. Playing with a great player does significantly increase the chance that the "worse" player will move closer to their ceiling even with a huge difference in skill.

Assuming you're a great DM, and knowing that I'm not, playing in your game would tend to make me better. If I'm coddled in the interest of making me better or helping me enjoy the game, it's not obvious and degrading and I'll obliviously improve.

But "rigor" (in the blurry Taleb-style sense) and high priority placed on playing a "deep" game aren't by themselves predicates for judging the shallower game's worth except as a matter of personal preference.

My wrap-up:

Your hockey was shallow, it was low level, and it was the "settling for fun" that you seem to disdain. I don't think this is an indefensible interpretation of your writing. Your hockey was worth the time but you didn't deem it important enough to you to work at it as a craft. It wasn't something that anyone but a total dick should sneer at.

You've reached a different conclusion re gaming. You're good at it and think less of settling for fun. Almost not worth doing.


Alexis Smolensk said...


I'll lay the ground work for this argument with a post I wrote in January,about kayaking.

My position on 'settling for fun' is based upon the fact that while yes, many, many participants could play the game on the basis that you suggest (very cogently argued, I add), we still have to acknowledge that the game is not a SINGLE person activity.

Were I an expert kayaker, it would be greatly disappointing for me not to spend my free weekend at my much-loved white water course because I was forced to instead spend that time with a group of neophytes at a sleepy pond on the prairie (both choices being available to people who live where I live). It would be particularly galling to ask the kayaker to listen to advice and arguments about the principles of kayaking and the possibilities of kayaking as espoused by a bunch that would kayak casually. We could reasonably expect the kayaker not to be impressed.

Now, if the kayaker were to write a book intended to teach the neophyte how to kayak, we would expect the kayaker to express the joy of kayaking in the sentiments that you, Scott, express in your reply. Kayaking is fun! Kayaking is a good time! Kayaking is a great way to get fit.

However, if the kayaker were to write a book for EXPERTS, an advanced guide, so to speak, would we not expect the kayaker to approach the entire proposition from the point of view of people who are utterly unlike you? People who do view it as a priority?

Let's face it, an Advanced Guide that catered to the casual participant wouldn't really be an advanced guide, would it?

So when you say that we've arrived at a different position re gaming, I have to agree. You're casual. I'm not. (cont)

Alexis Smolensk said...

And since I'm not casual, if I am ever forced to sit at a table with a bunch of casual players, being asked to play at their level, I am quite certain that I will be BORED out of my mind. Oh, I might be able to paddle about a bit, fill up my time, enjoy the scenery and such, but I'm not going to be participating in the pursuit I love to the DEGREE I am normally pleased to pursue it at.

More than that, I just can't see our different approaches to the game as merely 'different.' We're not just different. You are a dabbler. I am a fanatic. My game is nothing like your game. People cry and panic at the table in my game. Occasionally, people freak out and fights start. My players NEVER say they don't have time to play. MY players LIE to work and their families in order to make it to my game. They tell their closest friends, "NO, I have to play that night!"

These are not dabblers.

I firmly believe that there are MANY, MANY people who would kill or die to run or play in a game like mine - only they don't know HOW. Or they can't find such a game. All they can find are games run by dabblers, and they are bored to shit by such games.

The most criminal part of this, the part having nothing to do with you or me, is that the so-called professionals at this game play like your sort, and not like my sort! Why? Because they don't want to scare off customers. Because after 30 years of owning the company, they don't know what my sort of game is or how my sort of game runs.

Surely, you see how this post isn't about the way you play. It is about how you represent the way you play as just another way to play - but it isn't. It's your way, but it isn't THE way. THE way is to sink yourself, your life, your spirit and your blood into the game and make it the most brilliant thing possible for those who want to play at the highest level imaginable.

We doing that recognize that yes, there are people like you who just want to paddle about . . . but your kind have had the mic on that subject for long enough. It's time for other voices to take the stage and move this game forward.

Issara Booncharoen said...

I admit to having read up on the linked post a month ago to remind myself what I'm aiming for. I'm still a long way away. The players are accepting and generous with their praise, the best so far being that the game is "strangely compelling" and I managed to run a combat with around a hundred participants rolling dice quickly and apparently without anyone getting bored (I stole the idea from the origonal plan for your mass combat).

Despite all that I'm still not communicating the mission statement well enough. I tell them the story's in their hands, I'm just responsable for providing consequences, suitable obstacles for actions and random stuff which might or might not be important. And then we lean to heavy on the random stuff and end up following those out to their conclusions. I warn them I'm having an off day for DMing and they bite back and tell me they expect to take what they're given in terms of quality of DMing.

It's almost like they find the things I'm trying to do acceptable, but why I'm doing it is completely inrelevant to them. It's a pity, because experience shows me that pointing at your blog and telling people to start from the begining (as I generally found what you write to be at least enlightening) is equally inneffective.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I suggest you relax on the use of randomness - let it happen, don't think of it as the 'wrong' route; think of it as a platform for building up the player's commitment to your campaign. It will take them time to PRACTICE in the making of stories . . . don't feel bad about spoonfeeding them for a bit, giving them an NPC's motivations rather than their own, if they need a crutch. Once they get used to the concept (they're clearly not), they'll get the idea.

"Strangely compelling" indicates that you're hitting them on an unexpected level; the biting back is indicative that they're growing in their dependency on what you're offering.

You're making a big change; let that change happen at its own pace. Everyone (not just you) has to gain callouses and work those muscles before they can kayak in the rough water.

Scott Driver said...

Thanks for what I'm hoping is clarification on my end.

I now think you're *not* saying that casual play is prima facie inferior to higher level play.

I *think* you're saying that shallow play is inherently inferior for depth and potential and doesn't reflect the ceiling of the hobby or raise it in a meaningful sense, and that willful yahooism and lack of effort are perverse things to be proud of. I don't see how any functional gamer would disagree with that if they put it into words, so that's an easy co-sign. *I'm* (currently) happy with settling for fun in RPGs but that'd be an odd thing to be proud of.

Genuflection to dipshits whose primary distinction is having been a nerdy 30 year old Wisconsiner in 1974 is self-evidently stupid and I can't think of a single one of my friends who'd be able to pick any of those people out of a lineup.

(Clarification from my end: I don't raise the possibility of miscommunication as a shield against criticism ... if you think I'm full of shit, I'm not a dodger. When trying for intelligent discussion I'm always concerned with clarity as efficient, not conciliatory.)

Alexis Smolensk said...

On the contrary, Scott, I want to raise my hands in the air and shout, MESSAGE RECEIVED!! WOOT!!

Algol said...

I'm not even a fanatic about my games, I'm just bored of the same games running the same way every time. I'm not even sick of the dungeon crawl, I'd just like a dungeoncrawl which takes the concept of a dungeoncrawl seriously, puts depth into it.

I'm glad with my current campaign, the players dislike the system so I'll drop it but I gradually introduced elements of a more serious game. Hex wilderness exploration, enemies and fights being appropriate for where they are rather than every fight being appropriate difficulty for the party, more free and open design etc. It's a breath of fresh air for them but too much at once makes them lost. It's taking time for me to learn how to run such a game, two players quit and another joined when he heard "That gm doesn't babysit you, he will kill your character if you mess up." A lack of defined plot was disastrous at first but providing a large pool of npc contracts for them to choose from seems to be a good compromise for them.

It's key that point you made about gradually introducing those elements. Because not only are players going to have to adapt to an advanced style of play but I am as well. These are uncharted waters for me and I'm only now becoming an intermediate skill GM I feel. I plan on having this hobby for the rest of my life and it'll likely take another 20 years for me to become an advanced GM. So I don't have to run a perfect game now but gradual improvement and learning is what will get me there.