Thursday, February 6, 2014

But Sadly, Can't Be Fixed

Zooggy and I are chattering back and forth on this post about internal party railroading - which I continue to contend needs another name, but I'll let Zooggy define it in part:

"... When I talk about railroading, I'm talking about forced decision making, not necessarily specifying the subsequent events. From that, it should be easy to conceive of a party railroading a player. (As an example, another highly touted DM technique, illusionism, i.e. the art of putting the prepped encounter under the party's feet, regardless of what they decide to do, as if it had always been there, is also a form of forced decision making. The only difference is that illusionism is covert, whereas railroading is overt)"

There is more comment, and more writing in general on the subject, so I recommend reading all that Zooggy has to write on the subject.

One thing about situations like the above, and the whole range of what Zooggy calls railroading, "illusionism" and "Nurembergism," is that while we like to talk about these things, and refer to bad examples we've encountered, at some point the conversation begins to boil down to something like, "Hey, did you know there are bad people in the world?"

Just now I'm writing a section of my advanced role-play book about the importance of having authority at the table in order to properly run a game in which setting limits on the players will often make players unhappy. And the temptation is to put down a whole section which would amount to nothing more than, "Hey, stop being a dick."

The problem is, people are. And they're not likely to stop when asked. The case above, of the one fellow at the table who is everyone's bitch boy, including the DM's I presume, is a case in point. Here we clearly have a situation where one individual is lacking in self-respect, and a host of other individuals are lacking in personal responsibility. No matter what the game is, the only resolution is going to be the one individual taking steps to stop being exploited, and a series of bad events happening to the others that cause them to re-evaluate their moral compass.

The only question I feel needs to be answered here is this - is such behavior individualistic, or is it systemic? Is there something inherent about roleplaying games that offers entitlement to people who just want to be dicks?

Allow me an example. Not all that long ago, I was playing a regular game of ball hockey in a local gymnasium with about a dozen friends (plus a few joiners who would show up inconsistently). These were friendly games, with no fixed teams, with talented girls and untalented guys that played along together with the reverse. There was no strong sense of competition or counting of points (which would have run something like 45 to 40 for most of the games we played. There were some incidents, including some involving me, as I tend to get too aggressive when my blood is up, but apologies were made and on the whole, these were good games.

One fellow was clearly a far better player that the rest of us. He was in his late twenties, had played in some decent amateur leagues at the peak of his youth and had spectacular puck/ball handling skills. He was the sort of fellow who, when I used to play defense in hockey, I would have knocked off his ass because there was little chance of taking the puck from him. But we were meaning to play with light contact, so his play was undeniably devastating - coupled with deadly aim when firing at the net. It wasn't until my son-in-law began playing (he plays competitive hockey too) that a balance was established; my son-in-law is a goalie.

Now this fellow - we'll call him Dave - could play in a friendly, easy going manner, or he could be a dick, depending on the night. When he was a dick, he would deliberately 'play' with others, handling the ball and doing nothing with it except to show off, until it took three or four people to take it away from him nicely. (Like I say, there's a way to deal with that sort of shit unnicely). It was an unfortunate thing, particularly as Dave liked to be smug about it, and slip into that old jock patter like, "Oh, you want this? Come and get it then. Whoops! Wow, you don't want this very much, do you?" And so on.

In sports, there are children who quickly recognize they're better at the game than others, and who use that to press their 'superiority.' It's only natural, and within reason it's not that hard to overlook. And Dave was a decent fellow most of the time, so we took it goodnaturedly.

Dave had friends, however, who were also of the 'jock' variety. And as things always do, the ball hockey nights began to change as more and more of Dave's friends began to show up to games. Certain things were noticed. Suddenly the girls were frozen out - Dave's friends ignored them, refused to pass to them, or ganged up and shoved the girls off the floor. And naturally I, in my forties, wasn't exactly embraced by these twenty-something guys ... hell, I just can't keep up any more. That's a fact. It wasn't long before there were twenty people coming around to ball hockey nights, with a court not big enough to let us all play all the time, and a lot of us who had been there from the beginning were watching the game and not playing it.


So, is being a dick systemic in sports, or not? On the one hand, it's really easy to argue that it IS. Virtually everyone who isn't a star athelete can recall experiences like the one above, where a good game was ruined by an assorted group of guys (I've never seen this with women, but presumedly it happens) who are just assholes, plain and simple. At the same time, though, virtually everyone can remember playing sports where that doesn't happen. Everyone is mature, no one is particularly better than everyone else, the reason for people being there seems to be less competitive and so on. It's possible to play sports without dicks. On that basis, its fair to argue that dickishness is NOT inherent in sports play. It's just really, really common.

No, the situation is really not helped by high school football coaches, or patterns of behavior supported in university competition, or the money involved in national sports that encourages parents to freak out at games when their four-year-old is tripped by another four-year-old. It is really easy to see how the climate surrounding sports, in which children grow up, does absolutely nothing towards encouraging decent, respectful play. There is a meaningful number of dicks who do not play, but radically influence the game. And not only in this culture. The condition is so pervasive among virtually all peoples in the world that again we have to ask, what is it about sport that produces dicks?

Then again, people just are.

The whole dick thing is not limited to sport. It exists in business, art, parental abuse of children ... heck, even in the realm of paleontological science. People are fucking nasty. There's no getting away from it.

Are people who play D&D worthy of being hit - and soon - by a truck? Oh yes. Many would point to me where this is concerned, yes? Of course yes. There's nothing wrong with the role-play game, or the game structure, and there is only a passing usefulness in recording the number of instances where this shit goes on. I shout on this blog to stop it; to boot players who participate in it; and to recognize that it goes on, and that fingers should be pointed when it is seen. But I don't think that any of the actual assholes who read this blog are going to change their behavior. The best we can do is isolate them. Isolate them, tag and bag them, and try and help the next generation to see what the shit they did that they shouldn't have done.

It's the only strategy we have.

P.S. Are you following the combat on the other blog?