Finding my equilibrium,
As an additional response to a comment received yesterday, not having to do with my life or my troubles, I'd like to say that I have, at the end of a serious session, sat back and - with the party - considered the significance of what we've created.
Acknowledging that when I say 'significance,' I meaning the word in a very specific way. I don't mean, as the comment suggests, in the ethical way we are intended to view Shakespeare by high school teachers. Yes, obviously Macbeth's tragedy is the subject of greed and collusion, in which a well-respected noble finds himself tempted by more power than he deserves, only to find that he's bitten off more than he can chew and that the fates themselves have it in for him. We are meant, we are told, to view the significance of the play in terms of how we choose to live our lives, recognizing that our time on "the stage," as Macbeth describes, is filled with sound and fury and that we should not put too much stock into it, but recognize that a tale told by an idiot is something that cannot be trusted.
This is not the kind of significance I mean when I say that after an adventure we sit about and think of it. If we understand the origin of the word 'significance,' we find the Old French significantia: "meaning, force, energy." Some games I have played have certainly carried these elements. The monster dies with the last possible roll standing between it and a total-party-kill, the player makes the impossible roll that saves the character's life, a plan comes together so completely that the enemy is destroyed before it has a chance to breathe. These are moments of great significance, producing memories in us that get told again and again - like that time the thief stripped down to loin cloth, covered himself in mud and then, with a dagger, took out the guards at the gate without taking a single point of damage. Or the time when the mage tripped (blew a 17 dexterity check), tumbled down three tiers of the stepped pyramid and took 82 total points of damage, dying. Or was shot. Or found that weapon of the gods. Or some other notable moment that turned the game around.
Are these moments as significant as Shakespeare? Absolutely.
The key is to try and see Macbeth - or any other play of the reader's choice - from down on the ground, as it were. Will the player or DM produce the lofty writing, the soaring eloquence, the stately aphorism that makes clear the literary prescription? No, probably not. But Macbeth - the real Macbeth, not the fellow spouting words on boards for an audience - his thoughts were certainly those of a 'player.' Would a player take the opportunity to kill a king with an eye to seizing the kingdom? Would a player be possessed and terrified by the ghost of a vanquished enemy such as Banquo? Would a player turn to witches to get out of a crisis? Would a player scream at Macduff, "Fuck yes, let's fight!" then lay on forthwith? Yes, damn straight.
And when the player died or lived, how long would the telling last?
The trouble with 'significance' in a role-playing effort is that too often it is created, promoted and celebrated by the DM. Note the other part of the statement with which I started the post: we have considered the significance of what we've created - not the significance of what the guy behind the DM screen has created.
And this, I think, is where Ozymandias is right: because we've been programmed to assume that if there is going to be 'significance' in the game, then it's going to start with the DM shoving it down our throats - as opposed to, for example, 'fun.' Rather than having great fun slaughtering a king in his bed, followed by a deluge of drinking, debauchery and smiting our enemies until there's a land-sweeping battle-royale ending in a do-or-die one-on-one contest (or a series of them, where each player gets his or her moment in the sun), we're stuck with a series of propriety lessons soaked with witches pointing fingers repeating "Bad, bad, bad, bad . . ."
Because most people who put on Shakespeare or think of Shakespeare forget completely that long before it became the stuff with which we torture high school students, Shakespeare was F-U-N fun. The groundlings shouted mockery and abuse from the pit while Lady Macbeth showed off her bloomers and spat at them, as the upper classes tittered with their hands under each others' kirtles and petticoats. Shakespeare was a raucous, drunken, bloody, moiling, sexy farce-driven festival of greed, chivalry and sport, so popular that not only do we remember the plays, we built an entire industry of story-telling around the principles so launched in that century. It's only dry today because we are sermonized to concentrate on the prude lesson that's given and not upon the cold-blooded sound of Macbeth severing the heads from the bodies of Macduff's wife and children. We're reminded about how "senseless" it is - we're not supposed to remember how passionate it is.
When DMs take it into their heads to create significance, they make the mistake of climbing into the pulpit and not the charnal pit. We don't listen at the pulpit to enjoy ourselves, we do it to redeem ourselves from the ecstatic revelry of the night before. The voice on the pulpit talks at us; the crowd we know and love talks with us. We don't play D&D on Sunday morning: we play it on Saturday night.
This is worth remembering.