I’m taking the day off and finding myself in a downtown cafe with unscrubbed contract laborers and crews taking an hour in the morning to drop out between jobs. Feels like going home; spent a lot of hours in the 80s and some of the 90s chewing fat in places like this in the morning, between a dirty job we started at seven AM and a dirty job we were due to start at noon. I can remember months at a time without my hands being clean and being none-too-worried about details like laundry; it’s no surprise to me the number of authors who spent time down and out – intentional or otherwise – in order to get in touch with the daily core of work. Once you’ve separated yourself from the antiseptic office environment, there’s perspective there.
Quite a few of those in the office I can think of would be uncomfortable here; these morlocks are in their way scary. There’s no fear of swear words here; there’s no office protocol for employee intercommunication. Body language is aggressive; opinion-giving, more so. These guys live and breathe in a ‘team’ that would turn a human resources engagement officer green. They don’t give a shit about rules and there is a very clear idea they have about right and wrong. ‘Wrong’ is something that injures and kills people. ‘Wrong’ is someone too fucking stupid to know that. There is no grey area.
My natural misanthropy drove me into these circles, when I was too volatile and bent on truth-telling to willingly lie in order to get the kind of job that would challenge my intellect. What I cherished was freedom; to be able to speak as I liked, to openly argue as I liked ... and challenge be damned. I was busy challenging myself on my own time, as I still do. All I needed from work was money and an environment that did not encourage me to wretch from saccharine falsehoods.
Now, of course, I work in the big rock saccharine mountain; I nod my head with the other elohim and appreciate the cleanliness of the office, its soft physical effort and its lack of spontaneous injury. I lope around the office halls and conceal my natural misanthropy with good-natured sarcasm and all the generosity I can muster. I’ve learned the corporate environment can be made palatable by aggressively buying strangers coffee and lunch ... putting cracks in their false faces. It can be as satisfying to see surprise and incomprehension as it can be to see fear and revolt.
The workers are gone now. I’ve eaten an early lunch and so have they – they’ll eat again around two, when they stop in some other grease joint. It’s 11:20 and I’m the only one in the place. I’m in the area called Kensington, which is short on office towers, so the lunch when it starts won’t be a hurried press of well-dressed cretins between business meetings, it will be pre-shift brats and college students chewing up the time before working in the service industry. They’ll be yups living on their – sorry to say this – husband’s income, organizing for their charity work or their hard day’s shopping. And they’ll be the unemployed.
Going on a bit too long with this sight-seeing. I’m imagining what a party of adventurers would really be like, should you chance to meet them on the road between Ecalpemos and Erehwon. I don’t mean the perception that many effete soft-bellied computer strokers keep in their wishbooks, but the actual real people, with hard hands for their weapons and sinews made harder with marching, killing and burying the dead. Unsympathetic, I would imagine. Not long on consideration or kind words. Scary.
Hollywood – and I’m watching Firefly of late, for the first time ever – always depicts tough guys as a bunch of good old boys out to have a good time, fightin’ and fussin’, and cussin’ out women. Firefly is not covering any new ground there ... it’s as phony as anything like this I’ve seen, though it probably won the season’s trophy for the longest idiot ball yardage carried that year. “That’s right, we’re workin’ stiffs – we fight hard and we play hard!”
The only guys I see who play hard like this are the fuckwits at the office who pour their 80K incomes into the local bars – fuckwits who don’t work harder than jabbing down phone buttons while waiting for noobs to buy heaps of products for their venture capital businesses, or rubes in third world countries with lusty government contracts. These ‘hardworking’ fuckwits usually manage to hold their shit together for about two years before their daily incompetence finally catches up with them – whereupon they take their high-school football playing Nathan Fillion looks on down the street to the next human resources manager to pound their pud over.
Actual hardworking laborers are too fucking tired at the end of the day to do anything except drink. They do it at the kind of bars that don’t encourage the sort of people who have energy. If a fight ever broke out in one of these places, it wouldn’t be the funny Hollywood free-for-all you see, it would be seven guys breaking your arms and then your skull as you were dropped in the alley out back. The owner *might* call an ambulance.
Drinking is a sustained, practiced art that is done quietly, interrupted by a few acceptable statements about what is wrong with the government, employment, women, sports and – not so much – television. There’s no musician in the corner singing some story that causes one of the denizens to get teary eyed. Bards in bars are fantasy fodder ... I am guessing that if your fighter really had just watched his buddy slaughtered by orcs, his last desire upon returning to town would be hearing Fredrick the Flatulent singing another tale of Finkle Fingers and the Fat Fish. Fredrick, doubtlessly, would find himself at the cleric’s shelling out for a cure serious wounds to get his frets flushed.
It’s not pretty, but bloody slaughter rarely lends itself to bouts of weepiness; bitter hatred of the observed comfort of others is more the norm. It’s hard to imagine, however, that our adventurers might adventure not out of a sweet tooth for treasure, but from a measured hatred they’d naturally hold for things like family, home, community or faith. Grim the Warrior may have coin to spend; he may have willingly saved the local village and returned the princess to her father ... but that doesn’t make Grim a NICE GUY. If he were a nice guy, then why the fuck don’t he get married and raise kids? Why don’t he see that life on the road’s no kind of life for a gentleman? What’s wrong with him?
Players run their characters like game show contestants waiting to be paid off in magic items and Monte-Christoesque chests because most players ARE soft-bellied. For them, ‘hard’ means a Japanese-style game show ... embarrassing and messy and lasting five minutes of screen time. Grinding, brutal employment for year after year is quite beyond their capacity to identify; so when you need a TV Show’s captain to be ‘tough,’ don’t think scarred, experienced, mean old Ahab, think asshole high-school quarterback. Think the kind of prick only a MacDonald’s store manager can be. Not gritty and heartless with purpose, but a doof that shoots from the hip and smugly claims that most of the time he hits. You know, like a Goldman-Sachs banker.
The lack of character in the character is reflective of the lack of character in the player. Joss Whedon writes his characters in their flat, high-school interpretation because the last time Whedon had a hard time in life WAS high school; and he’s adored by high school minded fanboys because the hardest time they’ve had in their whole lives was high school. So they relate.
Roleplaying, whatever its appeal, has its limitation. Cry if you will for a more immersive game ... but don’t look to the designer. You must immerse yourself in real life before you have any hope of doing it in a game.