Saturday, July 9, 2016

24 Petards to Be Roasted Upon (or, How to Be a Player)

I have been looking for something like this for a long time.  I came across it Wednesday.  It is a book, called Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, written by Martin Seligman and edited by Christopher Peterson.  The core of the book is something that reads like ability stats for a player character . . . except that, in actuality, they're ability stats for the person who IS the player.

Specifically, Seligman is talking about strength of character.  Towards this ideal, he puts together a list of six core virtues that are in turn made up of 24 "character strengths" - which Seligman proposes are measurable.  I won't even try to explain this; I'll steal what Wikipedia says:

"Each of the twenty-four character traits is defined behaviorally, with psychometric evidence demonstrating that it can be reliably measured. The book shows that 'empirically minded humanists can measure character strengths and virtues in a rigorous scientific manner.' "

Once upon a time, I wrote a essay (later part of a book) called How to Play a Character.  I could take Seligman's work and quite probably write a completely different book, How to Be a Player.

The six core virtues, plus the character strengths inherent in each, are as follows:

  • Wisdom & knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective.
  • Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality.
  • Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence.
  • Justice; citizenship, fairness, leadership.
  • Temperance: forgiveness & mercy, humility/modesty, prudence, self-regulation.
  • Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality.


The whole provides a spectacular framework for the mind and the interrelationship of persons, without showing dependence on things such as status, physical prowess, personal glory or charisma. I personally feel the choice of strengths is a game-changer for what matters in terms of defining success not by measuring ourselves against others, but by measuring ourselves against our happiness and what others take from us.  But please don't imagine that I fully understand it, because I don't.  It would take months and months to understand it - but from what I've read so far, there's no question in my mind that what we want from players and DMs has been quantified - for the first time that I have seen.  The book is 12 years old, so none of this is new - but the internet is a big place and it is only by chance that I found it.

I want to look a little more closely at the strengths that Seligman describes and discuss their relationship to a player at a gaming table.  This seems like a good exercise for me and might help to explain why I'm excited about Seligman's book.  As I go through it, I'll put Seligman's words in italics (using only his emphasis, where applicable), then comment afterwards.

Creativity [originality, ingenuity]:  Thinking in novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it.

Basically, do different things.  That's a thousand times harder to do than say - and some people are naturally gifted towards this kind of thing.  Here's the point: if we assign the standard D&D 3-18 score to this character strength, or ability stat, then we have to acknowledge that most people will fit into the 10-11 range, some will have a creativity of 7 or 8 and some people will be damn brilliant creators with 18 points.  And just as it is stupid for a mage with a 7 strength to gird on a weapon and wade into combat, the thing to do here is to admit that our creativity may not be our strength.

That doesn't mean that a player with a low creativity isn't occasionally going to have a stellar moment.  Now and then, even someone with a 4 dexterity gets lucky with the die and pulls of a successful dex check.  It's only that an 18 creativity is more reliably creative.  The key here is not to try to pull the whole load for yourself.  The mage relies on the fighter to dig in and handle the strength stuff, right?  So where it comes to gaming, we shouldn't hesitate to ask the creative player for help - and take advice.  We can pick and choose from what we see; we can put in our own ideas, while stealing from people more eloquent or original than ourselves . . . the only thing we shouldn't do is try to pull the whole cart ourselves.  We will have other strengths - like a mage, we do things other than hacking and slashing.  We have to approach our playing style the same way.

But no, we won't be able to change our 'class' easily.  We can - but it will take more than a sheet of paper and dice.  It will take effort and commitment and years.  In the meantime, we need to apply our energy in the places where we excel.

Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]:  Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.

Again, some are going to be high in this trait and others won't be.  Personally, I have no idea why anyone with a low rating in this trait would be playing D&D at all . . . but social pressure, habit and sheer stubbornness make people do all kinds of things.  I don't have any advice on how to make an incurious person more curious; this particular problem has baffled me all my life, as a solution might be able to end social diseases like trash television, organized religion and professional sports (anyone want to get together to play baseball this afternoon, I'm totally there).

Those who are at least mildly curious might at least see the value in curiosity, and recognize that cats must be killed regularly for the good of the species.  If at all possible, we should strain ourselves to play a little higher up the curiosity scale from the points we possess - and to encourage others to do so.  Moreover, it would be better if the community overall embraced the idea that doing things the same old way is anathema to the experience of playing, the thrill of finding new angles on methods of play and the importance of not letting the game become stale just because once upon a time it was played in a particular way.  Clearly, those who advocate for simpler, shallower and traditional games have a very, very low curiosity rating: around a 9, I would guess.  It's hard to imagine anyone with a curiosity less than 9 even playing the game.

Open-mindedness [judgment, critical thinking]:  Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one's mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.

This is something we're all doing, all the time, and something that enables the kind of curiosity I'm promoting to happen.  The only thing is, a great many of us are not doing this well.  We're deliberately weighing some evidence in preference to other evidence, such as our personal experience with 5e being more important than anyone else's experience with 5e.  We're very rarely able to change our minds in the light of evidence, such as those who claim role-playing is dying despite the proliferation of comic-cons, fan expos and so on where role-playing is always a highly promoted feature.  We're jumping to conclusions, such as arguing that alignment is necessary for a good game.  We're not examining things from all sides; we only see things from our side.  We're not thinking things through: we're grasping at the first visceral response we have when we hear or see something and flying headlong into it as the solution for our campaign: only to find, again and again, that it wasn't.

We need to step back and not search for simple answers, immediate solutions, supposed agents that will solve all our gaming problems or supposing that we have any means of judging the popularity or value of something without hard evidence.  We need to move ahead slowly, diligently, with our eyes and minds open, ready for an answer that will fit ALL the evidence, not just that we cherry pick because it suits the weather.

Love of learning:  Mastering new skills, topics and bodies of knowledge, whether on one's own or formally; obviously related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows.

Here's the thing with Seligman's emphasis: it isn't enough that we keep reading and investing ourselves in more and more knowledge - we have to move away from our comfort zones.  We must read things about which we know nothing; we must read books and talk to strangers about things of which we know nothing - and then push our boundaries further by examining WHY things we don't like are liked by others, and strain ourselves to the utmost to embrace that like and make it part of ourselves.

Our capacity for doing this, particularly on the internet, is nigh impossible.  We are culturally minded, programmed, resistant to change, hateful of things we do not like immediately and we're both dismissive and disgusted with persons who do not recognize our personal right to be just as gawddamned ignorant as we want to be.  Still, love of learning is the acquisition of knowledge and knowledge is power.  And as much as we hate it, we know that being in a room with people who know something we don't know sucks.  That's the emotion we need to latch onto, as we break out of our small box and tentatively dare to listen quietly to a Katy Perry song (five or six times) or watch golf seriously.  Then, not fear the consequence.

Perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people.

Well, this is what I'm trying to do right now.  This is why I have readers.  This is why I'm trying to teach D&D classes and make a wiki and argue endlessly about things that I know bother people.  This is why I can't seem to contain myself to just D&D or just role-playing . . . and why I'm still at it, because I know that there still are others trying to make sense of the world and looking for a voice that can help answer that question.

The key of this trait is that it is proactive.  Listening or watching something is passive; jumping forward to express one's opinion is active - and it is a risk.  We will get spanked, we will encounter resistance, we will contend with apathy and mockery.  But as I depend on thousands of others in my life who were proactive enough to write books, make music, preach poetry, teach university classes, make documentaries and reach my consciousness in a hundred ways, I'm trying to do my small part in doing the same: and as I do, I learn better ways to do, I stretch myself and take greater chances and gain greater knowledge in how to convey what I believe and how better to understand what I believe as well.

Bravery [valor]: not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on conviction even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it.


I find the key word in the above is 'shrinking' - as a DM, for so many years, I have seen players struggle with the game most of all because they do shrink from speaking their mind or standing up to bullies.  They worry that they will make a wrong decision or that whatever they do, it will somehow come back to bite them.  More and more these days, it seems to be a meme that experienced players are damaged or some other such thing by their previous experiences with DMs who behaved badly.  I hear this again and again.  I find it an enormous pity.

I don't want to rant, but I am finding it hard to go through this list and not concentrate on the negative aspects of NOT having these traits.  The positivity of the traits, for me, speak for themselves.  Who would argue that it isn't good to be brave or to love learning?  Yet in each case, as I continue, I can remember conversations online that seem to say exactly that.  I want brave players, players who correct me when I make mistakes, players who speak up for what they want to do in the game or who feel that the game has been made to suit their personal needs.  I always encourage players to speak up and I hope the same goes on in every game - and when there is someone who hasn't got a bravery of 13+, I hope that there is another player there to stand up for them.

Persistence [perseverence, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; "getting it out the door;" taking pleasure in completing tasks.

Aha, well, here's my whole approach in a nutshell.  I wrote in How to Run expressly about the pleasure of working and the value to be had there.  I encouraged with all my might for DMs to let go of the need to rebuild their campaigns from scratch year after year and just work on one world, period.  Persistence is all over the map where it comes to participants of the game: particularly with DMs, but with players too.  Unlike curiosity, where those without it are unlikely to play the game, there are plenty of DMs and players that have a persistence stats of 3 or 4.

It's a complicated game.  Players need to give it more than one night of play before quitting - but we don't live in a world where this can be explained.  At best, we can try to make they see how coming back for a second or a third session will help them feel more connected and involved.  That first session, like a first day at work, is a wash.  I know the player might not come back; but I try to make them feel safe and involved.  I try to encourage them to look to the future and not the present.  And whenever I can, I try to be as consistent a DM as I can be.  (Just now, with my life the way is it, that's been a joke; but I still hope to make this long dearth of gaming up to my players when things are sorted out for me).

Integrity [authenticity, honesty]: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one's feelings and actions.

Once again, will anyone argue that integrity isn't a good thing?  Yet when we are faced with players who use the premise of character-invention as a pretense for acting out like children or abusive assholes, what are we to think about their integrity stat?  A 7?  A 6?  Certainly not the 15 or 16 we'd prefer.  Granted, most people are not honest all the time, but I think we could agree on there being an agreement at our tables that the participants reserve the abusive character trait for the character and keep it wholly and completely out of the player's mouth.

But this is a problem with a 'role-playing' game, isn't it?  People take the stand that they want to play a role . . . and since they want to immerse themselves in the role, they want to speak as the character and act as the character to the nth degree.  Yet there's something about the choices certain players make about what sort of characters they want to immerse themselves into - and just exactly why they are so terrifically fascinated with revenge and murder fantasies or motivations surrounding theft and selfishness.

For any number of people to play a personalized, imaginative game together for any length of time, integrity must be more important than game.  This is why there have always been rules of conduct surrounding all inter-human games and relationships.  D&D is not special in this regard.  Those who cannot learn to play well with others do not deserve to play at all . . . and I find it strange that so many will argue that this isn't the case.

Vitality [zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated.

And we certainly want these players at our tables.  Two or three vital players can be enough to drive forward a campaign regardless of who else might be playing - yet please, let us acknowledge that however much we want it, not everyone has a vitality of 17.  We are not all blessed with explosive energy.  The trial for most of us comes from not having the sufficient vitality today, because we're under stress, we're short on sleep or we haven't come up with a plan for the game like we'd hoped we'd have.  Sometimes it is simply a lack of faith in ourselves or some circumstance that seems a little hard to play out because we haven't that much experience with how a royal court or a naval vessel actually functions.

We should see, however, how training comes into this.  Like a cyclist or a songstress, we train and train each day to improve ourselves, our scope, our comprehension and our willingness to dig in and try, conditioning ourselves with knowledge, bravery, persistence and creative techniques, until we're ready to perform.  Vitality, like any other trait, can be trained into us.  We can become more vital by acting to improve everything about ourselves, from our health and behaviour to our comprehension and empathy with others.  We feel more like doing things when we're comfortable with things; and the act of playing or DMing is a steadily growing process of training ourselves to get better at a game we love.

Love:  Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people.

There's nothing in this that will get a bigger belly laugh from a troll than the mention of love.  It is as though I should somehow be ashamed for saying that I love my players; that I do more than run them as a DM, I share with them, I feel pain with them, I understand their frustration and I am concerned about their experience in my world.  I want them to feel cared for - and there is nothing I find more reviling than the notion that I shouldn't feel this way about others I have spent hundreds of hours running in my game.

I do more as a DM than merely open the door and let the player in.  There is a commitment here: a recognition that I have adopted a responsibility for someone else's time spent, to ensure that it is treated with empathy and not disdain.  For those who would twist that concern into a joke I can feel only pity.  I find it highly probable that most role-playing games are formed of people who feel a love for one another like members of a family; unspoken, no doubt, because we've been taught by so much in this culture to fear exposing ourselves by confessing to any feeling for anyone that isn't wrapped up in a wedding and children - but that love is there, nonetheless.  Mark this and believe it: campaigns that last and last do so because that love is there, whether it is acknowledged or not.

Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, "niceness"]: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.

I have written from time to time about my willingness to be cold and insensitive in my writing; that without making people uncomfortable, there is no reason for them to change.  I have, to this point, already written a number of things that could easily not be considered kind.  I won't make an argument that my own kindness rating is extraordinary.  Yet I will say that the time this takes to write out a post like this, to bring to light the aspects of playing that we need to have at our tables, is a sacrifice.  This is as it may be; I feel that I am ready to do favors for others and to do good deeds as I am able.  I am here to help.  I take care of my players.

They, in turn, take care of me.  They have been coming forward for months and helping me sustain myself as best they can.  All people, everywhere, have to take care of one another to make life tolerable - it is no different at the gaming table.  Practices in role-playing that don't have kindness and consideration at their core don't belong.  The lack of these things will destroy any game - and all too often I find with strangers that there is no motivation whatsoever for consideration.  This is made even worse by philosophies like creating a character backstory, encouraging players with axes to grind to find a tacit approval for their failure to consider other the other players in what sort of backstory they're bound to write.

Social Intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick.

On the surface, this sounds like the perspective argument I made earlier.  There is a world of difference, however, between understanding another person's perception of the world and knowing how to deal with it appropriately - that is to say, positively.  Role-playing games have a reputation for drawing in people without a lot of positivity.  I'll say from my recent experiences with certain gaming clubs, the reputation is deserved; and I'll say from my recent experiences with individuals at gaming conventions that the reputation is very definitely not deserved.

The fact is that certain cultures promote certain behaviours - and those with poor attitudes or belief systems will drift into places where those things are tolerated, most commonly as a default.  The remainder will always hold people accountable for their behavior.  We are responsible, before going anywhere or doing anything, to acquire a maturity where it comes to speaking with other people - it is easy to go balls out to the wall on a blog, but in person the rules are different (this is a large part of the reason why people find me very different in person than they expected from my writings).  In person, we all have to give of ourselves if we want people to trust us or consider us worth their investment.  It's easier to do this and be sincere than most realize - sincerity comes from recognizing that our opinions mean nothing; it is our actions that count.

Citizenship [social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork]: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one's share.

Please read this carefully.  Citizenship is more than paying attention to one's country or one's heritage.  It is addressing the problems of the world not only as individuals but as a group.  We are so caught up with what is best for us personally or our families, personally, that there is little room for seeing the bigger picture of my neighbor, my co-worker, the guy standing in line ahead of me, as all going through the same shit that I'm going through.  We've even come so far as to make feeling concern for the other fellow as a sign of degradation and perversion, as an opportunity for diminishing the argument that everyone here, right now, is suffering in some way and that everyone deserves to have that suffering reduced - which is made worse by the simple fact that we have the means of reducing it but we don't, for reasons.

Once again, I don't want to get lost in a big rant here.  I would be happy if four or five players at a table would just see the game in exactly these terms: we're in this together.  We're better if we pull together and we stop concerning ourselves with which one of us can kill more orcs or produce more hit points damage on demand.  As evidenced in the source material for this post, this isn't just something that matters to me, this is an expression of the general mental health of everyone.  Those with a low citizenship stat are killing this game, one table at a time; the rest of us must pull together and make it clear that games are played together, not individually.

Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.

This means that every new player has a right to get on board the campaign and be given an opportunity to master the game.  It declares that DM fiat, randomly generated and randomly applied, has no place in the game.  It means that your dearest friends are not somehow more deserving of godmodding than other people sitting at the table.

But it also speaks of justice.  Justice includes a fair assessment of another person's skills and behaviors and a reasonable restriction on those things.  It means that a person can be asked not to play.  It means that some people shouldn't be invited in the first place, not based on prejudice but based on the same principles that ought to apply to everyone: their willingness to be polite, to not act out, to respect others, to play the same game that others do and so on.  Everyone being held to this standard is justice and fair.  Bias happens when something only applies to some people and not others.  I see there's often a mistake made here, where it is presumed that some are more deserving of 'justice' because they have self-identified as needing more than what the average boy-bear or girl-bear needs.

Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time maintain good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.

There I am as the DM, right?  Readying the game, pulling the game together, ensuring that the participants get along, taking responsibility for the event.  Yet more than this, everyone is a leader.  We lead by example, by addressing issues in ourselves before demanding these things from others.  I have struggled with every one of these character strengths, long before encountering this list.  I have had my bad times, had my failings, made my mistakes, screwed up, driven good people away from my games and behaved badly.

But it isn't about what we've done; we've all done wrong.  No person can pretend to have treated everyone fairly or well - and whatever we wish different about our pasts, we will live with those errors and bad judgments for the rest of our lives (if we have the capacity to be self-aware).  What matters is that we learn from those choices and not make them again.  We step up in future when before we shirked.  We dig in and do it right, as best we can, learning as we go.  We accept our limitations and ask for help in changing ourselves for the better of others, the ones we have the capacity to hurt.  Leading is doing this without being asked, without being threatened.  Leadership is doing it before others do, because we're brave enough or intelligent enough or kind enough to take that burden onto ourselves.

Forgiveness and mercy:  Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.

And here we come to my lowest stat: I must have something like a 5 or 6 here.  I'm not forgiving.  I'm rarely merciful.  I feel ire at those who have done wrong and who will not change; and I am completely irrational where it comes to another person's shortcomings.  I will usually give people a second chance but after that, wow, am I ever ready to close the damned door forever.  My one saving grace is that I won't hunt the person down and destroy them . . . though when I was a child I often had fantasies about that.

This past year and a half I have been struggling to loosen up on all of this.  It isn't done overnight.  The tendency to drift into anger and impatience is always there with me and throughout this post I have found myself constantly doubting the value or reason behind it.  I did not invent these character strengths; I feel just as much at the mercy of their ethical inflexibility as the next fellow.  As I write through, I'm self-examining and finding again and again a tendency to go roaring off on some tyrannical position that I know isn't the right thing to do.  Here's the point, however: we are all weak in some capacity.  Forgiveness is my particular weakness.  Addressing it is perhaps the hardest thing I've ever had to do - and it has been forty years of consciously addressing it, since my childhood.  We should not feel bad if we have encountered our own demons through this exercise, however; we have demons. It's good to fight them.

Humility/Modesty: Letting one's accomplishments speak for themselves; not seeking the spotlight; not regarding oneself as more special than one is.

I'm fine with this one at the gaming table, where I get that the whole game can't be about me.  But outside gaming - and particularly with my writing - I tend to see the inter-personal realm as an arena without rules.  That is more than evident from this blog, where my anger and willingness to seek the spotlight and regard myself as special makes every post possible and draws attention.  My daughter and I like to see this as the "dance, monkey, dance" equation.  The monkey has to dance stupidly to get the attention - and once the stupid stops, so the attention goes away.

I'm in a quandary here: I don't become a writer, my lifelong dream, without a spotlight and without other people thinking of me as special.  Modesty brings obscurity and obscurity does not sell books.  Yet I understand the premise here: acting all special tromps on other people's dreams and wishes, wrecking their opportunities to enjoy the spotlight and feel special themselves.  So there is a balance that must be struck.

In D&D and in jazz, there are times when each participant deserves a solo, a moment where all the attention is on them.  This shouldn't translate into a whole game or even a whole evening, but most everyone wants the chance to shine - and those who don't want it should be pulled out into the sunlight occasionally to show them that it won't cook their flesh and destroy them.  So while we're basking in the pleasure of our own accomplishments, we should realize there is a time to stop talking about them - to let other people talk.  Hard as that may be for someone like me, who has a humility stat of probably 8.

Prudence: Being careful about one's choices; not taking undue risks, not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.

We all suck at this, don't we?  Oops, sorry, don't mean to haphazardly assume that everyone feels regretful of saying things we shouldn't have said.  I'm sure I shouldn't have written that.

Still, I do feel I'm getting a handle on this one, from two angles. One, I am saying less, recent posts about my personal life notwithstanding.  And two, I'm much clearer on the term 'regret.'  There is the sort of regret we feel where we know we've caused someone pain - and there is the regret we feel when afterwards it is thrown in our faces and we are ashamed.  Blogging on the internet has taught me to just not give a damn about the second one.  I don't feel ashamed when I'm forthcoming.  It isn't that I don't care what others think - it is that I'm dead sure that those who would see it as a bad thing are also those who want me to feel shame for daring to share.

I am always distrustful of those who use shame as a tactic to win battles.  I can understand evidence, even truth that hurts and makes us re-evaluate our ideals.  When I see shame in operation at a gaming table - where someone fails to make use of a skill or rolls a bad die, only to be vilified for it - my blood boils.  It is a completely visceral reaction.  It was trained into me by others who sought to make me ashamed for my intelligence, my proclivities, my interests (including D&D) and so on.  Game and be proud.  Make a mistake, kill a whole party and be proud.  We're all just doing our best.

I hate to redefine prudence like this, if that's what I'm doing.  I'm not sure if this was Seligman's intention or not; he defines prudence as 'common sense' and I have never found anything sensible in this world to be common.  Perhaps this is proof that my prudence stat is as low as my other temperance stats.  Perhaps as low as 3, since I cannot see another way of looking at prudence except to know what you're getting into and be ready for it.

Self-regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one's appetites and emotions.

Yes, I probably have a low stat is this one, too.  I'm often reactive, often off the chain, often grossly involved in my appetites and emotions.  It must feel very different to wake up in the morning and not be caught in a tempest of passion, like I often am.  My only real experience with this is that I'm slowing down with age.  We couldn't call that "self"-control, however, could we?  More like actuarial control.

Still, I will argue that self-regulation is a good thing.  Every time I've been able to get on top of myself and steer me in a rational direction has proven a good step forward.  Doing it more often would be of terrific benefit for me - so yes, I will argue that we would all do a lot better if we could up our stats in this regard.  I am probably never in better self-control than when I am a DM or a player, as I am consciously aware of what I'm doing there.  Perhaps this is why I find DMing so exhausting - it is the act of shutting myself down over and over.  Just a guess, though.

We have all played with players who did not display self-control, or who could not in the least way.  It is exhausting for everyone.

Appreciation of beauty and excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

Here I find myself again on comfortable ground.  I fell in love with most things along these lines early in life and I continue to immerse myself in every opportunity to enable aesthetics to elevate my perspective.  I don't know how much I can say about it here that will be useful to the role-playing genre, except to argue that DMs ought to go the extra length to make their worlds more attractive; players ought to go the extra length to make their characters more pleasing.  Images, odes, dimension, fertility of imagination and so on - whatever can be embellished about the character, from the way they look to the small, seemingly incidental interests they have or the things they do.  I have always seen that some players devote themselves to these details while others just don't care - and while the adornment can be purposeless if it is not somehow applied to game play, the resistance against adornment is a form of self-denial, suggesting that players would rather not give dimension to their characters as this makes them somehow more disposable.

Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.

For some, to give thanks is to acknowledge dependence - a circumstance which they cannot bear.  Of late, I have much reason to thank my readers: they have sustained me and supported me and there is not enough gratitude I can show them.  Sometimes, this gratitude is embarrassing, I grant that: but at the same time, I agree with Seligman that it is necessary.  Without gratitude there is no union, no meeting of individuals on a common playing field.  Because of the help I've received, I don't feel I've gotten here alone - and the acknowledgement of that is gratitude.

I think that most tables - certainly the players of mine - have a sort of mutual gratitude that exists between them, even if it isn't said.  Someone's character nearly dies and another player swoops in, grabs their body and takes it to safety; they bind the character's wounds and protect it.  After the battle, healing is cast and the beneficial powers of the party are shared - and although I don't hear a 'thank-you' spoken by the players (once in a while, perhaps), there is an inherent bonding that the players recognize.  They will do it in return, when the moment calls for it.  Often, as well, a party will show their gratitude for letting the most successful character in a battle choose first from the treasure.  These are forms of appreciation, even if they don't fit the standard motif.

Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]:  Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.

Where it comes to players quitting the campaign or DMs quitting the game completely, it is hope that is lacking.  It is the certainty that this game isn't going to get better, that there's no way to make it better, that the skills don't exist to make it better . . . and without that expectation, the campaign crashes and burns.  DMs start games with plenty of hope - but without a frame to sustain that hope, without an understanding of how the game can expand and work more successfully, there is no future.

I've tried endlessly on this blog to point out new pathways of thinking, new possible games, new ways to look at adventure and DMing, new kinds of ways to look at playing and managing players - and always I run up against people who say the game should be "this" or that a given aspect doesn't have a place because the game isn't "that."  Such boundaries to game play - the idea that the game should be anything - are the killer of hope.  Hope can't be found in rules and restrictions.  Hope can only be found when its firmly believed that nothing can stand in the way of a game - or a world - that offers the opportunity to break rules and try something new.

Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.

In case anyone thought that D&D shouldn't be fun, I beg to differ.  D&D is fun.  I contend only that it is "all" about fun, because it isn't.  I've never run a game where laughing, teasing, smiling, a smart remark, a pun or a joke wasn't part of the standard evening's entertainment - and I have never, ever, reprimanded someone for bringing hilarity to the table.

I have shut down people who have tried to use the game as a personal apparatus for their sense of superiority or whimsy, who derailed the game again and again to talk about themselves or tell long leading stories to set up one of their punchlines.  But it is easy in such situations to see that the game is fun only for the person telling the story; not for those listening.  Like everything else, the humor inherent in the game must be shared; it must be a moment where everyone is laughing, where the weirdness or coincidence of the game has sparked its own story, made its own joke.

In game, I am the straight man.  I don't tell the jokes - but through my gaming and my presentation, supported by the strangeness of the die and the bizarre circumstances in which the players find their characters, humor happens spontaneously.  Spontaneous humor is always the best, always better than someone who 'remembers a joke' or takes it upon themselves to be the party's clown, making a snark about everything, throwing endless shit at a wall and hoping something sticks.  Adults, I think, can tell the difference.

Spirituality [religiousness, faith, purpose]:  Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose anjd meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort.

Save me from people who believes that spirituality has anything to do with a given religion.  It is much more universal than that.  We make up our minds about what to believe, what a game should be, how players should act, what our goals should be, where the game should be going, what rewards are justified and how to improve the experience from game to game through the joined discourse that binds our individual thoughts into a mutually held faith.  That's not religion, but it is a contract, one we retain for ourselves.  It is up to us, not a god, to decide how we will act with one another and what we will consider important; and it is up to us to revisit those decisions daily, whenever any of us feel that something should be changed.

Spirituality is a sacred duty to preservation of ourselves, unlike religion, which is the preservation of another group of individuals who are now all long dead.  Religion tries to calcify spirituality, to make us believe that if it worked for those people long ago, it will work for us.  I feel the steady death of religion is found in the speed with which our life experiences are changing, forcing us to find a present spirituality that will have meaning in the now, not the then.

Conclusion

I'm not happy with this work.  It's too long, too preachy, too full of obvious sentiment to be considered original work.  I only hope it helps to quantify the places towards which we should put our efforts in learning to be better players and better DMs.

I hope that from this people can see that the secret to being a good player is to be a good human being - and that the converse is equally true.  We can teach people how to play D&D; with time, they can become very good players.  But if a person isn't much of a person, in the greater scheme of things, then there's no reason to want them around long enough to test them out as players.  All we can say to them is, "Go off and change.  Come back afterwards and we'll take it from there."

3 comments:

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Even though you call this flawed, I still think it was a hell of a read.

You talk about how good human beings can be come good players, and good players must be good human beings. I think it's also possible for people to become good people by becoming good players -- which means that both bad D&D habits and bad personal habits deserve a second chance and slow but firm retraining, when a new player comes to the table. The selfish or narcissistic person might be able to gain open-mindedness or integrity by "practicing" those behaviors as part of successful gameplay.

Having written this, I remember reading about how role-playing is used in psychiatry or therapy to help people remove or modify behaviors, phobias, etc. So there's some basis for this. (Obviously I don't claim that joining a D&D group is a substitute for any needed professional attention.)

Thoughts?

Ozymandias said...

Necro-post!

Have you seen this article? I know I've read it before but I can't recall if you ever commented on it on your blog...

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes, I've read it. I didn't like it much.

Was just about to sit down to your podcast appearance, sir.