Tuesday, December 25, 2018

21st Class: World View

Let's begin by going back and looking at our discussion of objectivity and subjectivity.  You will remember that we described "subjective" knowledge as a set of beliefs gained from the perspective of a single individual ... their "experiential knowledge," we called it.  We described "objective" knowledge as something that was true if it was universally true.  Very well, let's look at this again from the perpective of the players' growing experience about the setting, which we covered in the third lab.

We have a tendency to express our beliefs in black-and-white terms, but we do learn to our discomfort and our credit that beliefs are a complex mixture of grey semi-truths about ourselves, applying in different situations according to our feeling of control, our immediate need, our feelings towards other people and things that have only just happened that trigger us in a multitude of ways.  Still, if we were to categorize our beliefs, we would view those that directly applied to ourselves as the most important.  We can call these first-person beliefs.  Some apply to our values: I love my family, I like to watch violent movies, I enjoy vacationing at the beach, grunge music is garbage and so on.  Our deepest beliefs, however, tend to be ethical: this is how the world works, I need people to treat me like this, I am a good person, I deserve a break once in awhile and such.

One step removed from ourselves are second-person beliefs.  I love my family, so YOU need to respect them, I like violent movies so you should also, everyone should like vacationing at the beach ... and of course, you need to know that the world works like this; if you don't treat me like this, you are a bad person; you don't deserve a break right now if it fucks me, etcetera.  Find enough people who support your second-person beliefs and "I" becomes "we" ~ we enjoy violent movies, we are good people, we deserve a raise in pay.

Finally, there are third-person beliefs, largely disconnected from your personal experience.  The Broncos should have traded that guy, the government has its head up its ass, I would have made the second Iron Man movie differently, Britney Spears' career is over, feminists are screwed up, take your pick.  Third-person beliefs are often completely full of shit because they're third-person; we know almost nothing truly relevant about how the Broncos view their own club or what compromised the making of a movie, or why a singer who sells out stadiums doesn't understand that her career is "over."  Third-person beliefs are fun but mostly based on misinformation.

The composite of all these subjective beliefs is called your "world view."  It is based on your orientation to all the things you believe; if you were the wardrobe designer for the next Britney Spears' tour, your perception would probably be different than if you were a D&D artist painting miniatures in your basement for income.  Your beliefs depend on who and what you're connected with; it is as much a physical perception as it is one of values, emotion and ethics.

Okay.  Let's turn this on its head.

When we present a setting for a role-playing campaign, all of our beliefs about that campaign, our world view of that campaign, become facts.  They become objective truths.

If you find that hard to grasp, consider.  In any setting of our making, if we imagine that the king should have executed his prime minister, that isn't an opinion.  We know why the king should have, we know what the prime minister is planning and we know everything that is going on in their minds that we care to know.  When we have an NPC tell the party, "The prime minister isn't planning on killing the king," we're not guessing.  We know if it's true.  We even know if the NPC believes if it is true.

When we say there are 781 people living in that village over there, we're not estimating.  We're not saying there are "about" that many ... we're saying exactly how many there are.  Oh, we may say to the party, "There are seven or eight hundred people there," but the exact number is right there for us any time we're ready to name one.  And we are never wrong.

There are two things we don't know.  We don't know what the party will do or say; and we don't know anything the dice will decide.  Often, the party will surprise us; but we know if we're suprised and we're free to update our total knowledge accurately at the moment we're surprised ... so this is not much of a challenge to our power.

The dice are different.  The dice are fickle and they will often cause things to happen that fall way out of our expectations.  Every time we invoke the die to make a decision about what's possible, we're not relying upon either objective or subjective belief: we are initiating an experiment ... and as we know, experiments often produce results that are difficult to stomach as knowledge, once they happen.

[This is, incidentally, one of the reasons why fudging is common; having perfect knowledge of everything else, and the ability to update that knowledge on the basis of accepting or discarding something the players might do, is a difficult pill to swallow when the dice subverts our omnipotence.  The temptation to change the die, and retain that omnipotence, is overwhelming.  We will make any excuse that defends that change]

IN THE LARGER SENSE, we need to understant that this shift from subjective to objective truth is something only the DM experiences.  The players do not have the benefit of any of this knowledge.  From their perspective, the "knowledge" the DM relates is just as subjective as any other experience they gain from the world outside the game.  Anything the DM tells them may or may not be true.  The DM has no power to guarantee that any statement that's made will be taken as 100% factual by the players ... which creates a dynamic that can be both astonishing and exasperating, depending on the DM's comprehension of this rare dichotomy.

The sort of person who embraces the DM's chair is the sort that is comfortable with possessing total knowledge in the face of people who don't.  Some DMs will use that disparity to their advantage; others will forego that advantage for the benefit of the players.  Experienced players learn to tell the difference.

DMs uncomfortable with possessing that knowledge, learning they can't truly share it with anyone, will back out of the position in favor of returning to the player's position.  Having the knowledge ~ understanding in part that it should not be shared, that sharing it will often meet with doubt or even apathy and that decisions creating the knowledge will lead to party unhappiness, frustration and even character death, is very uncomfortable for some.  Of course, the demands to create the knowledge have their own toll.

Most of us hardly know ourselves very well; to ask a person who only partly understands their own nature to now make a world for others to judge, resist or resent is simply too much.  We cannot ask people to play god who haven't the stomach for it.  After all, it isn't just creating those second- and third-person truths about the king, the prime minister and the NPC.  The DM takes over the role of creating those first-person opinions as well.

Think this is the way the world works?  As DM, I know how the world works and you're not there yet.  Think you can decide how people will treat you?  As DM, I'll let my invented people decide that.  Think you're a good person?  As DM, I define "good."  This is what "playing god" means.

It is easy to think those things are a judgement on the player by the DM ... and rest assured, many players absolutely take it that way.  Remember, these are the beliefs we have at our core.  When those beliefs are challenged, we don't care if this is a game or not.  It is our responsibility to define elements of the game, such as ethics, values, emotion and such in the same way the players might; otherwise, the game itself will not exist as something the players will want to play.  We can begin to discuss how that works with our next class.


JB said...

Yet another insightful class. Just when my head was already stuck in a Platonic "Allegory of the Cave" Limbo of subjectivity, you give DMs the key to creating our own objective reality.

Several thoughts come immediately to mind, though (with a little thought) I suppose they all come from the same place of ignorant subjective "meaning-making:"

1) How much of my inability to settle on one, single campaign setting for my D&D games is caused by my aversion to accepting my own power as a creator of concrete (fantasy) reality...and being "stuck" in it? Because every time a DM decides to change something in a campaign setting they are, in a way, undermining the "truth" of what they've created, right? At least, that's the subjective judgment I place on having a lack of "staying power" (causing a need to "get it right" the first time).

2) How much of this power (because the ability to create a truly objective reality...even a fantasy one...IS a kind of power)is the reason for the lack of real world theologies and cosmologies (as defined by traditional, real world religions)...and the aversion players (and some DMs) have to adding such in their games? Because I have personally faced push-back (expressed discomfort) from players when I tried to model religions in campaigns that adhered too closely to real world paradigms.

3) RPGs set in "historical" or "contemporary" periods of real world history are still fantasy (of course), but GMs are still imposing an objective truth on a world that we have a huge amount of subjective beliefs and meanings. Does this lead to more conflict at the table when DMs stop focusing on the fantasy elements (the mages/covens of Ars Magica, the super-beings conflict in a comic-based game) and instead focus on the "real world" elements (the Crusades and Catholic Church, real world political conflicts and issues of poverty, etc.)? Does the potential for this conflict lead to a lack of popularity in games that contain large elements of reality compared to games almost entirely fantasy (compare Twilight 2000 to Gamma World, for example)?

Looking forward to the next class, which I think will address some of this.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Merry Christmas, JB.

Since I wasn't planning on directing arguments at these points (though who knows, now they're in my head)

1) Basing an answer on the tone of your blog, I would say all of your inability rests on it. The very notion of grass-is-greener syndrome, in or out of the game, is the doubt any person has of accepting their truths as is in fear that there are other, better, more intense truths out there.

I just recently saw a 1968 Peter Sellers film, not a good one, though I saw it when I was just a teenager and did not see it again until some days ago. It is called I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. Toklas was the writer of a 1954 cookbook that invented the marajuana brownie, and the lover of Gertrude Stein. The movie is about a square, square man who is unhappy with his life and gives it all up to be a hippie, only to learn that another set of values didn't do a thing to make him happy. He merely sacrifices one kind of discomfort for another. Yet this has been a pattern in Western culture since the '60s, since the idea that our truths might be all nonsense and surely there must be something better.

Answer: Know Thyself and you'll stop wanting to change your campaign setting.

2) Since I have no idea what strictures your introduction of real world paradigms required of your players, I can't say why they pushed back. I'm careful not to press players to buy their game religion as a role-playing guideline; I'd rather have Catholic priests in my world that spent time with prostitutes (ala Boccaccio's Decameron), giving them spells just as if they were pious, than bind my players with religious strictures.

3) GMs (DMs) impose truths they recognize, that comforts them. I think the conflict arises out of the DM not being totally clear about what the DM believes; the subjective cannot become objective if the DM continues to be subjective about it. I hope the post above convinces some that to be a DM, we have to embrace the responsibility of saying, "This fantasy concoction of my world is REAL" ... and then present it as such. It think DMs fall down when they're not rigorous enough in their vision. Artists fail in the same way.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Amber said...

I have continued to read the blog and is difficult for me to express myself, but I think you are owed an explanation if only to enable a semi understanding. I don’t plan on attacking or disproving the scope of your work, this is merely for the opportunity of shared communication.
I last said I strongly disagreed with some of your views, and it is still true, but it is also true I agree with them in principle.
It is kind like the dichotomy you just mentioned about objectivity and subjectivity. I wholy agree with the very objective fabric of the groundwork, it’s the subjective application I don’t find attractive for myself. I prefer to sit in between, watching and dreaming.

In the end, knowledge has a price. Completely embrancing what your work offers demands a heavy sacrifice (time, deep mental and physical resources, ethical and estetic). I can’t and won’t afford that kind of payment. I don’t feel like being psychotic or desperate in an activity I chose to make my dreams come true. I already have my physical life for that. I don’t need more deep rooted ruptures, I’m daily way too tired for that. I will take the blue pill knowing and recalling there is a red one. That’s the best I can hope for since this middle road means stealing both from heaven and hell, Stitch it somehow and then become a tailored pony princess.

Farewell master Tao, I hope you find the peace you are looking for.
My peace is accepting and embracing my right to be both happily weak and consciously adrift. Thank you for your time and attention.

Alexis Smolensk said...


As it happens, I am ill again with the cold as I write this, my second time in six weeks. At 54 it is less pleasant than at 22. And as we get older as people, we begin to realize that this is what will get us in the end. This casual thing ... oh, I'm sick again. We realize it won't be a bus, or slipping off a ledge, or a thug with a knife; the thing that will get us in the end is that we will be perfectly fine, then one day we'll get sick. And it will be the sick we don't recover from.

When that day comes for you, as it must for all of us, you have a question to ask yourself. Would you look back, forty years from now, and find the argument you just made satisfying?

JB said...

@ Alexis:

Just regarding #2 in my comment above: I didn't saddle my players with ANY particular strictures (they weren't required to abstain from adventures on the Sabbath, for example, or take Communion before descending into a dungeon, or anything like that). They were just uncomfortable with a setting that adhered too closely to the real world (in this case, a medieval European one)...even though it was still recognizable as a "fantasy world" and had substantial alterations (I mean, their first adventure they were fighting little ewok-things...I don't remember the name...while assaulting a white dragon lair). They just really had difficulty outside the D&D paradigm of multi-god pantheons and laissez-faire religion. It made them decidedly uncomfortable...enough that they felt the need to express as much...though A) they couldn't really articulate WHY they were uncomfortable, and B) these were not particularly religious players (they were all "agnostics," atheists, and lapsed Christian types).

I'm pretty open about my particular beliefs and religious practice, but I don't have problems drawing a line between my fantasy gaming and my life away from the table. I don't THINK I would have an issue if I was running in another DM's campaign (I didn't have an issue in YOUR campaign, for example). But it wasn't any particular behavioral restrictions I added that "weirded them out." Something about their personal meanings got rubbed the wrong way by the setting.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Weird. Though I have encountered that attitude online.

Haven't at my table. There might be a few comments at the beginning, but it was never an issue with the Senex online campaign and it doesn't seem to be one with Juvenis. Considering how much fantasy fiction we watch that steals wholesale from hardline religion (Constantine, End of Days, Rosemary's Baby, Valhalla Rising, VVitch, The Possession, X-Files, Supernatural, etc), you'd think people would just roll with it. We're constantly mining mainstream for adventure thrillers.

Amber said...

(This went longer than I anticipated, so if you would allow me, I willl divide it in order to oversaturate the comment posts’)

I should have known you would have a siren power I wouldn’t able to resist. Truly, your experience outshines mine by far.
I’m not entirely sure if I am misunderstanding, but that last question is not aimed at dungeon and dragons, but at life my itself right? If so, I am compelled to thank you for it.
It is a tricky question indeed, and could be answered in many ways.
Maybe the best answer I can give is a sorta religious one? After all, It could tap into the world view lesson presented in here, but I feel I should warn you that things are going to get weird, if not outright unbelievable (for the record, I am 31, but I wholly agree I mostly failed to overcome the 22 year old mental stretch, sometimes not even the 16 one I’m afraid).

As I said, my whole family is religious, but not the institutional sanctioned type. We don’t go to church, we very rarely give tithe, we simply know the basic bible prayers and passages, we barely acknowledge the pope exists at all and we just celebrate things like Christmas and the first week of the Holy Week. We do strongly believe in the saints’ miracles though, and the material intervention of what we call the “the holy souls (ánimas in Spanish) of purgatory”. I am not sure if all that if that is sanctioned by the institution, specially since we have regular contact with people that have... means to reach the other side, mostly just with our direct dearly departed though.
Anyway, it goes without saying that my family is very keen on the afterlife idea. I feel I shouldn’t to drag this anymore so I will try to summarize it like this: if you do what you can do, the best you can, then you will be fine. ( I am still going to be ánima for a time, earning my full penance by helping others, so the whole do your best thing serves to shorten that time, while traditional sins and human hubris in general lengths it).

So, of course, in a life sense I can’t do that, right? I will be damming myself to eternal darkness (there is no fiery hell in our family, it’s more like a void of blackness and helplessness... maybe that’s scarier?).
In order to avoid that, I need to make a big compromise with my life, as in dedicate all of my resources to do what I can, the best I can. Right now I work in a shool. I really hesitate calling myself a teacher besides you... but I do impart some classes, I also work as a secretary there. it may be not much in the grand scheme of things, but the weekly toll is about 60 to 65 hours per week. Unless an ánima miracle happens again ( I was jobless for 3 years straight and this one came out of the blue, the morning after I made some peace with my direct ancestors for some messy business on my part because my dear mother desperately beseeched the holy ánimas) then this is my life and I have to give it all in good faith. If the miracle happens again, then that means I wasn’t at my best and that means more compromises and responsibilities and well, I will have to double my sacrifices and efforts.

Amber said...


Where does that leaves the game then? You demand a very smart and methodological game right? Thing is... I don’t necessarily need to be smart in my life. Case in point my dear mother. She barely finished high school and has zero training in anything (though, her departed father has communicated that she would have made good lawyer in another time and life) . She is just a good old housewife. Of course she is very wise in a maternal sense since her whole life has been given to her family, so we are very very sure her ánima time will be extremely short ( we often joke about it being no more than 5 minutes). So, she didn’t need be extremely versed in the art of knowledge, she just needed to love her lot in her familiar life, because that’s what she could do and she is being trying her best ever since. Everything else is just a way to find some material relief and relaxation in between struggles and sacrifices. This can take many forms of course, such as soup operas, YouTube cats videos, decorating cakes, you name it.

All in all, she doesn’t have the time or willpower to be smart because her toil is her family, just like I don’t have the same time because mine is the school, but it’s ok since well, I have been reassured countless I don’t have to. It may sound like some kind of distopyan agony, but please remember, we chose to believe in our dearly departed ancestors counsel, because we are extremely convinced that they await for us beyond our ánima time.

Now, this next argument is very hard for me to express. Basically... yes, both my material and ánima family are very against this game.
Do you recall when I agreed with you inner objective groundwork? They revile this game because of that... it can get dangerously real, as in calling otherworldly and not controlable at all dark entities kind of real. Knowledge about reality sure is power. The logic goes like this: if we can call our dearly ancestors for help and counsel, then there a others that call can other entities for harm. Since the game can easily become a superb vessel for all of the human experience, what’s stopping it for it to become a portal between realms?
The more knowledge is poured into the structure the more effective it becomes. As you can see, is the same principle as in the “ do your best, the best you can” parable, but directed at a very insidious and damaging path.

That’s why I don’t to have be that smart, because too much knowledge can lead to a horrible misuse, wich will beget untold real insufferable pain and despairing (we don’t adscribe to the expiation through uncesseary pain dogma, in fact, my dearly departed ancestors totally condemn it), and that can potentially stain me until I reach that black void of no return. So, the more wooden and cookie-cutter it becomes, the less probability that it festers in my ánima.
If I don’t have to be that smart to reach happiness and the perils of knowledge can totally destroy me forever if misused, then sadly (or fortunately?) I have no real incentive to advocate your kind of game.
In that sense, my game can’t and will not go beyond a my little pony soup opera cat video, because those things are not hurting my dearly beloved mother ánima time.

As such, I seem to return to that middle place of the blue and red pills. Yes, I have to take the red pill of consciousness for my earthly life, but only what is strictly necessary because unwarranted stress will tear me apart in the next one . No, I can’t deal what is lurking behind the game because I am forever forbidden to it , so once again I take what is necessary of the blue pill of ignorance in order to protect myself and my cherished family.

Alexis Smolensk said...


With all honestly, let me explain that the only person you ever have to answer to is yourself. I sincerely appreciate what you've said; I want to know my readers.

I assure you I've never demanded anything of anybody not directly related to my life; certainly not a reader. Since you're not the first to claim as much, however, I do think I'll write a post about it ~ but that post will not be an answer to anything you've written here.

I demand very much of ME. I like it. I recognize that when I say that aloud, it sounds like an expectation ... but it is not. The expectation people hear is in themselves, not in me.

Be well, Amber. Keep reading. I'm sure you'll find something of use in me, measured by your own standards.

That's all I ever want of my ideas; that people will use them.

Amber said...

I want to present a formal apology before I begin this comment. I just realized that there are a lot of careless typos in my previous posts. I am terribly sorry for the cringiness you must have endured at the lack of elementary grammar. I was in such hurry because I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish my argument if I got a reply. Since I struggle a little with real-time mental translation, I feared that such an eventuality would irreparably break the flow of my train of thought, so I forgot to check for both basic typos and the Spanish autocorrect shenanigans. I shall strive to be more careful from now on, in order to give you your due respect.

That paragraph of hearing expectation where there is none is very intriguing... and scary. It’s seems to imply that we hear it because we know deep down that we are not doing things right, and they be could so much better because you offer very hard material evidence of it, in lieu with the notion of really fully knowing us... but is it tuned to a radiant angelic symphony or to a dark demonic manthra? I’m not really in a position to judge that though, am I? It kind of shows that my principles are lacking

As such, I must rekindle them by recognizing that wich could harm me, then reject it in the face of temptation and finally hope for some growth from the experience.
I thank you for your offers, but I must decline them. They are far too risky, for they will entice me to things I shouldn’t crave. Your last comment has all but convinced me that this game is truly corrupting and that dangerous people like you, Master, dwell inbetween it’s veils (I apologize if I am crossing a line here, I’m not trying to mock you or denounce you as a madman, I’m simply trying to communicate that our lives perspectives just don’t mesh, and never will).

I will have to abandon it because there will always be that siren lure to your offerings, and now I realize I can’t water it down because I will be always dealing with the same enthralling entity; the game itself. As I said earlier, other entertainings, like video games and such, don’t suffer from this because, even if they continually borrow schemes from this game, they are so very removed from the core DnD experience that the corrupting essence is extremely diluted as to be a non issue.

I wrote this last comment in order to seal my peace of mind, hoping, again, that you could find yours.

Regards, Amber.