Friday, August 21, 2015

Universally Good

A big thanks to those of you who helped tweet or share my troubles on facebook; every legal redress of wrongs done is a stressful thing and any support is always appreciated.  I've taken down the post from my blog but the matter remains on my twitter feed, for those who don't know what I'm talking about right now.

Moving onto other things.  For those who have a problem with sexuality, spoilers.

A few days ago, I stumbled across a post I hadn't read from seven months ago, written at the time I was on a tear about player-vs-player.  And on that subject - that of Spazalicious' post - I want to proceed carefully.  I believe that the argument made there is legitimate and worth examining.

The crux of the argument is a familiar one that has been argued before: that PvP can be, at a given table, consensual.  I've never argued that it could not be.  Many things are consensual.  It is reasonable to argue that if every player at a given table agrees to the player-vs-player formula, then it ought to be legitimately pursued.

To press the point home, Spazalicious urges the reader to "take a lesson from the BDSM community:"

"Obtain consent from all persons involved, always ask if your partner is okay, and have a safe word for if [sic] things get too intense for 'stop' to make sense in context."

For those who may not know, a significant part of the BDSM community - that part that is most concerned with winning acceptance from the general public that does not practice BDSM - has promoted something for several decades known as "Safe, Sane and Consensual."  The guidance offered by this policy (SSC) is to discourage harm between participants and to encourage the best possible mental health for those involved.  By talking over what sexual practices are desired, it is sincerely hoped that participants will not find themselves regretting their actions and that the greatest possible empathy will be shared by all.

Unfortunately for some in the BDSM community, a strict adherence to SSC denies many of the desired activities that are part of BDSM.  These activities cannot be reasonably described as 'safe,' simply because they are not.  It is further argued that many completely accepted social pursuits - such as mountain climbing, hang-gliding, white-water rafting and hunting - are also fundamentally unsafe, even though efforts are made to make these as safe as possible.  Still, the best way for a mountain climber to remain safe is to not climb mountains.  This, however, does not work for the climber.

As such, some in the BDSM community have opted for a position known as "Risk-aware consensual kink," or RACK.  In this philosophy, it is desired that both or all partners are aware that the proposed activity is dangerous, that everyone is of sound mind and that elements of SSC - such as the use of a safe word - may be legitimately set aside in preference to an experience that is less concerned with safety and more concerned with sexual gratification.

What, then, does this have to do with D&D and role-playing?

Spazalicious is expressing the philosophy - as it is promoted in the BDSM community - that consensuality trumps all other concerns.  Yes, it isn't safe.  Yes, people get hurt.  But everyone agrees - so everything is okay, nyet?

If the reader ever gets an opportunity to speak with a member of a Search & Rescue team - and better yet, has the opportunity to get a few drinks into said member - then do not fail to ask about the 'consensuality' of people who get themselves into life and death situations while mountain climbing or white-water rafting.  Get ready for a rant - a potentially furious rant if said member has ever lost a friend or relative while trying to rescue a 'risk-aware' mountain-climber, hiker, winter skiier or any of the other truly dangerous pursuits that people jump into with a minimum of preparation or real awareness.  Because people are stupid.  People think they are self-aware and prepared to get consensual with the mountain and forest, but it is exactly this kind of thinking that gets perfectly aware people killed while trying to pull a citizen out of trouble.

The reader might, if the reader knows people at a hospital, have an opportunity to meet someone who can tell at least one story about a BDSM participant who was flayed or beaten to within an inch of their death, on the argument made by the top (dominant, dominatrix, etc.) in the situation who says, "But he didn't use his safe word!"  Because it is reasoned by many in the BDSM community that people, in the midst of being tortured, are consciously self-aware enough to even remember that they have a safe-word.  Human beings, made up of chemicals that flood tissue in the most potentially dangerous soup imaginable, simply aren't that reliable.  The BDSM community likes to pretend that humans are reliable, because it helps sell their practices to non-participants . . . those same non-participants who are just aching for a reason to shut down BDSM clubs, to end the careers of a very vocal and protective Professional Dominant community and to encourage everyone, everywhere, to recognize that BDSM is, in Spazalicious' words, "universally evil."

I don't feel that it is, myself.  But BDSM isn't a very good argument for the magical legitimacy of personal consensuality.  The so-called community is more divisive, troll-ridden and predatory than any group of people that has ever existed - except probably the military.  Fact is, participants in that community just don't care.  They're not participating for the glory of social acceptance - they have other motives.  Social acceptance is simply the veneer that has been lacquered over the top by a small number of voices who recognize that acting as leaders in a beleaguered and largely misunderstood community gains them a small amount of personal power.  It is these leaders who have invented terms like SSC and RACK in order to sustain the pretense of that power.  Most participants, however, simply act as they will.

The key error in Spazalicious' thinking - and it is an error that we all make, continuously, since more than a century of brain-function research and psychological investigation has failed to make an impact - is that we are in control of our desires.  This isn't so.  We would like it to be so, we're very certain that it is so, since it very much seems to be the case.  It is very easy to delude ourselves - since it is an unreliable brain affected by hormone-evolved brain chemistry that we use to convince ourselves.

Sorry, however.  I have no actual way to determine, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all the people at my table who consensually agree to play PvP are actually consensually doing so.  Some will agree because the group agrees.  Some will agree because their sexual partner at the table agrees or because their siblings agree.  Some will agree because they lack information or experience about other ways to play.  Some will agree because they are habitually predatory because of other activities that have shaped their thinking.  Some will agree because it seems that the authority figure at the table, the DM, seems to want it.

None, however, can be absolutely certain to agree on a strictly consensual basis.  Because humans are prejudiced, naive, easily swayed, confused, anxious to agree in order to win approval and on the whole, stupid.

The best solution for this uncertainty is to seek forms of game play that do not promote unnecessary conflict and stress.  Because it is universally recognized that a lack of negative conflict and stress is the best way to ensure that everyone has a good time.  PvP may not be "universally evil" - but it is dead certain that a lack of PvP is "universally good."


Ozymandias said...

Story time! (Bear with me here, there's a point to this...)

I'm in the military and I recently went through an obstacle course where I was unable to overcome one obstacle. It's called the Jacob's Ladder. (Be careful with a Google search; the results might be NSFW.) It's a ladder made from railroad ties that gets more difficult to climb as you go higher (because the rungs are spaced further apart near the top). I discovered, as I sat at the second highest rung, that I have a terrifying fear of falling. It got so bad that I started to experience muscle fatigue from tensing my legs so hard. In the end, though I tried to climb it twice, I had to come down the way I came (because I knew that way was safe!).

Try as I did, I could not overcome the raw power of fear. And here's the correlation: I knew, full well, what was going on. I was aware of my emotions, my actions, my situation, and everything around me; I was keenly aware of the consequences for failing and I was aware that I only had to lift my leg a few inches and I could be over the top... yet I couldn't do it.

"Human beings, made up of chemicals that flood tissue in the most potentially dangerous soup imaginable, simply aren't that reliable."

Sometimes, no amount of higher-level, cognitive functionality will keep your mind (and your body) from responding with raw, animal instinct. And generally, that's reason enough to avoid PvP in a game.

JB said...

@ Alexis:

Yep. Nicely done.

Spazalicious Chaos said...

Well argued. All your points are spot on, and I agree that neither BDSM or PvP are good in any sense, but sometimes that's the fun of it. I will still allow PvP at my table, but I give my vow to not even bring it up should I find myself at yours, regardless of my place.

Thank you.

Andre S said...

(part one) One of my first PvP experiences took place in a live tabletop game... I knowingly and willingly ran what could be called a " Good " aligned character (if we use D&D terms) in a Vampire game knowing everyone else there was running an "Evil " vamp... I tried to be evil I really did but I just didn't have it in me :P ... sure enough my PC got killed off by the other PC's at the end of the campaign but I came out of it having a good time and still enjoyed the experience .. I had to reassure the GM I was totally okay with my PC being killed off by the other players when the GM became distressed :P .. I gamed with the same players for years afterwards too, who took pains along with the GM to run the next campaign with everyone all " Good " aligned so my PC wouldn't get killed off again... and they took that upon themselves without me even having to say a word (in the end very nice group of people believe it or not ;) ) ... HOWEVER, I would never, ever in a million years attack someone else's PC for "lethal" damage...

The reason for this is that... strange as this sounds I can take "losing", long as I was able to run my character in an immersive way that let me plumb the depths of my PC's personality... if I think it adds to the game I will, knowingly and willingly, let my PC "lose" say a non-lethal combat, and have fun with it to boot... but, at the risk of trying to say I think I'm better than everyone else, I'm not, really :P .. I do NOT recommend this strategy to anyone else. Our PC's are our beloved creations, ones we invest a lot of ourselves in as Alexis so correctly pointed out..the natural reaction in 99 percent of the players I've found is to bare your claws and fangs and retaliate if a PC threatens your beloved creation - it's an attack from an unexpected source, your ally, the one who's supposed to "have your back"....

I've also done online gaming with players too.... which is very much like playing the lottery, I've met some wonderful players I definitely plan on inviting back when I get my campaign up and running and others.. well, not so much.. In one such instance of online gaming I was GM'ing... one player decided his PC ( " PC # 1 " ) was going to attack PC # 2 for lethal damage, which took me by surprise (case of mistaken identity when the PC's first met based on how the players had written up their PC's backgrounds but still.. I was thinking worst case scenario non-lethal damage fistfight followed by a " Oh you're NOT the bad guy" sort of revelation, not a lethal attack!) ... PC #3 jumps in to grapple PC #1 , to try and stop him in a non-lethal damage fashion, and PC #1 decides to go ahead and attack PC #3 for lethal damage... the player of PC #1 turned out to be one of those players who seems to be a nice enough guy in real life when you first chatted with him but, whether he's consciously aware of it or not, puts his needs before all the other players, to the point where it damages the campaign...

Andre S said...

(part two) I DO agree one hundred and ten percent with everything Alexis has said as far as PvP... in every instance (other than the one described above where my PC was attacked.. and, where I would argue, I had it coming) I've observed it damages the campaign. I know where Alexis is coming from.. the player who decides just for yuks and fun he's going to attack someone else's beloved creation then indignantly maintains that it's perfectly acceptable because it's " What my character would do in that situation"... if you game long enough with someone I think you get a feel for how much sensitivity that player has in real life towards the feelings of other players.. and all the hard work the GM put into the campaign for that matter too. Over the many years I've done the online-gaming thing I've had the pleasure of meeting several players whom I feel DO have that all-important level of sensitivity, players who I definitely plan on inviting back once I finally get my campaign up and running.

It's going to be a long time before I have my own home brewed campaign up and running and even when it is , even with years of work and preparation on my part, it will be a pale shadow at best of Alexis's campaign... I have, no joke, read Alexis's posts and descriptions with jaw dropped in admiration..... a campaign world so incredibly detailed and complete, that involves such utter freedom of movement on the player's part, that entire sections of it sit there unexplored... but written up anyways just in case the players ventured into that area ! You sir, (Alexis) are the standard to which the rest of us can only hope to measure up to some day... it would be flat out impossible for me to write up a world even close to Alexis's own, my time management skills suck to the point where I just can't do it, but I think his players are very, very lucky people :) ...

Nonetheless, even if I do end up with my "wish list" of players years later .. as much as it might annoy the players, the moment I see conflict between PC's I plan on intervening, personally, as a GM on the forum I'll have up and running for my campaign.. I will touch base with the conflicting players and make sure no one's upset in real life.. I will warn the players that while it's easy to say " No, I'm cool with it " because one doesn't want to be perceived as "unreasonable" , that if someone DOES have a problem with it, just sitting on your feelings won't work.. sooner or later it will flare up and derail the campaign as a whole (I will at that point become rather blunt about all the work I've put into said campaign :P ) ...

Quite honestly too, as a player my best role playing experiences have come out of relationships.. friendships on a deep level.. with other player characters.... that, to me, is hands down the best part of the game right there, RP'ing with your fellow players in a deep "emotional" sort of way ... the one PC you're always arguing with , sure that can be fun too... but even in that situation I'd much prefer a love-hate relationship where you care for that PC deep down inside and you get REALLY upset if that PC becomes seriously injured or - even worse - killed.

Sorry for the lengthy post I have been accused (correctly) of being able to cast the "wall of text" spell at will :P .. when I get passionate about something I tend to get verbose about it....

Alexis Smolensk said...

Nothing wrong with words on this blog. Thank you Andre.