Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More Drama

Ah, there has been a bit of drama, and the drance has appeared everywhere, buzzing about and sucking gluttonously at all the shit that's dropped in the last twenty-four hours.

This morning my wife and I agreed that Drance, for me, is my own personal Paul Lazzaro.  Some of you might not understand what I mean; some of you might recognize the name, but in the time since High School you've forgotten all about Slaughterhouse Five.  I have a quote from the movie, not the book - the movie is a fair simplification of Vonnegut's vision, and will serve to make the point here:

Billy Pilgrim (speaking to a crowd): "You see in Tralfamador, where I presently dwell, life has no beginning, no middle, and no end.  For example, many years ago a certain man promised to have me killed.  He's an old man now, living not far from here.  He's read all the publicity associated with my appearance.  He's insane.  And tonight he'll keep his promise."  (murmurs through the crowd)  "If you protest, if you think that death is a terrible thing, then you've not understood what I have said."  (Lazzaro appears on a high balcony with a rifle)  "You see, it's time for you to go home - to your lives and your children.  It's time for me to be dead for a little while.  And then live again.  I give you the Tralfamadorian greeting:  Hello.  Farewell.  Hello.  Farewell.  Eternally connected, eternally embracing.  Hello.  Farewell."  (Lazzaro shoots Billy; the crowd screams)

Somehow, I see that scene playing out in about thirty years.

The internet is a strange place.  It is full of people who you'd cross the street before thinking about walking right by them.  It is full of people who stink on busses for lack of deodorant, and who scream crazily at coffee shop vendors over a few cents change, and who regularly cut pedestrians off at traffic lights.  And these people step onto the net, and create a nick for themselves, and try to pass as ordinary, worthy citizens.  It is their chance, so they reason, to be finally accepted and respected as worthy persons, which they perceive themselves to be ... but as it is in their lives, they've done nothing on the internet to earn that worthiness - nothing at all, except to create a nick.  For all they can see, that nick is a license to sit in a balcony and shoot at the people for whom the crowd has come.

If the only evidence I gave of my person on the internet was slapping around people and screaming at the mob, I would very rightly be despised.  But what the mob cannot understand - what the mob will never understand - is that I have done more on this blog these past three years than scream at people.  I have written funny; I have written clever; I have written a ton of carefully backed arguments.  I have run a campaign that is a mass of labor and creativity.  I have given more evidence of my value than the mere nick I have chosen.  If there are those out there who cannot, or will not, understand why it is that people continue to defend me, or read me, or link to me, let them remember that I have not just spent my time eating the shit that drama creates.

Listen, Dungeon Masters, and those of you who are youngest.  You will always find yourself in a position where some player has taken something you've said so much to heart that they are now screaming at you in your dining room to 'get fucked,' while you are screaming at them to 'get out.'  After it happens, you're going to feel the shakes of adrenaline.  You're going to question yourself and your players, wondering if you are a good DM or not.  You're not going to have a clear idea of why the whole stupid drama played out at all.  You said something, then they said something, and then suddenly the drama was full-blown.  And ten minutes after it was over, you'll wish it hadn't happened, whatever it was that did happen.

If you'll give me a moment, I'll explain it.  It is called real life.  You, the DM, have gotten off your job on a Friday night, or you have just spent all day Saturday fighting crowds at the mall or weeds in the back yard, or shovelling snow for the fourth time from your damn huge driveway.  You're exhausted, you're pressed for time, you want to run your world more than anything and you're downing coffee and other caffeine drinks to keep going.  Your players, too, they've had their rough days, and they're doing likewise.  And all of you, jacked up on drinks and concentrating your whole attention on this one fucking night being the only goddamn decent five hours in your otherwise shitty week, are under pressure.  You're under a lot of pressure - more than you know.

And foolishly, you've hinged all that pressure, and all that energy you've poured into your bodies chemically, on die rolls.  It's what you've chosen to do.  And when those rolls don't go right - and inevitably, they won't - those hinges are going to strain and tear ... and this is going to be made worse when the tear happens in just such a way that you're reminded of your real life, or the DM or a player reminds you of someone or something that you have to deal with unhappily in your real life.

The reminder doesn't have to be conscious.  The human mind is chock full of unconscious triggers.  There's a thousand moments of stress that we all deal with and handle, that we don't want to deal with and handle when we're having 'fun' around a table throwing dice.  But that moment comes, and our minds do start to deal with it, and all of the sudden we're screaming mad - and we don't know why.

After the fact.  After the moment.  Then we know.  We can sit down and piece it out and realize we did this for those reasons and that for these reasons and suddenly it all seems really stupid and unimportant.  We have a moment of comprehension that only we ourselves truly grasp.

Sometimes, these moments end friendships that never needed to end.  Sometimes, we can pick up the pieces and fix it.  Now and then, it just takes a handshake.  "Sorry buddy.  That was stupid.  I don't know why I was being such an idiot."

But then, there's the internet.  The wonderful, marvelous, I-wouldn't-want-to-live without it internet.  The internet and its built-in fan base, screaming just because it needs to scream.  It's numerous souls have also had their shitty weeks, only they don't have any five hours to play the game, or dice to roll.  Or the games and the dice they have aren't enough to shed off the fucking misery of their lives.  So they go looking for the flash of anger that others feel, and feed off that anger for all its worth.  They need that anger.  Desperately.  It is their moment to shine - to post comments to perceived compatriots who are just like them, who are 'in the moment' of a misery just like their misery.  And for as long as that misery lasts, the flies will share it with you, and commiserate on your unhappiness, and send you flowers and candy to remind you of just how important and valuable YOU are ... all in the hope that you will say to them the thing they really, really need to hear to make their unproductive lives seem a little more important:

"Thank you guy.  I really needed to hear that."


  1. I think most of us have been in this situation at one time or another. I know I have from both sides of the DM screen, and I sympathize. I have shouted, “Screw you guys!” then taken my ball and gone home, but in the past, it was with friends that I would inevitably see the next day at work or school. That made atonement a simple matter. With the internet, it can be like that friend moved to Timbuktu overnight, the argument never to be resolved. But then again, sometimes they come back to the water-cooler or playground, and things just work out. Thanks for staying.

  2. Like many, I'm a "lurker". I've read your column off and on for a while now. I've perused and traversed many of your arguments, and at the time of reading, come up w/ many an opinion.

    But opinions are like wind, they change direction w/out notice...

    This is an EXCELLENT and very insightful post. Today I'm in violent agreement. Who hasn't "blurted" w/out first taking a deep breath, and thinking things through? I for one am certainly guilty.

    Like the old adage goes: "It is with a word as with an arrow - once loosed it does not return."

    Except in this wonderful case where the internet keeps it eternally spinning, until loss of interest dulls the momentum, and it finally lies in peace.


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