Friday, September 5, 2014

Phat Enough to Try

The title for this post comes from the gangsta slang version of Google that a friend linked.

Yep.  Link to Jon Stewart, top centre.

Continuing on with yesterday's thoughts about players being Volun-told, certainly many players don't see any benefit to their being elected as DM  As I said already, they only see the work.  They only see the stress associated with failure.  In fact, there's nothing self-evidently positive about DMing, which has given rise to the myth that it's something only a few can ever like - and that only a few can ever be good at.  In other words, DMs are born, not made.

If that's the case, then there ought to be something intrinsic about my liking for it, that others do not possess - nay, that others cannot possess, unless they too were somehow damaged in the womb.  To guess at what that is, I ought to begin with what makes me yearn to DM.

Let's go back, way back.  Way before I was fifteen and began to play (this Sep. 6th will be my 35th anniversary) - because obviously the predisposition must have been there.  In my case, I can argue that I was 'bent' to be a DM even before the game had come into existence, as I was ten years old in 1974.

Looking for clues, I'd have to say that my groove (this was the 70s) began with telling jokes. Sadly, I don't remember the first joke I ever repeated, but I'd be willing to bet that it got a laugh.  Most jokes that kids tell each other do - from other kids.

The earliest joke I can remember inventing happened two years before the invention of D&D; I was eight.  I was just a little kid sitting by a campfire with my dad and a bunch of his work friends who had come up to visit the cabin we had out by Sylvan Lake.  At some point, I don't remember, one of them must have used the word 'prostitute,' because I remember turning and asking, "Dad, what's a prostitute?"

And my father, wanting not to lie to his eight-year-old son in front of his friends, and not being the sort to deny me curiosity, answered, "Well, it's a woman who sells her body."

That didn't actually make any sense to me, and I asked, "One piece at a time?"

I remember there was a great deal of laughter - which again, I did not understand.  I did not actually understand that joke that I'd invented until years after D&D was invented.  I did understand, however, that things I said had an effect on people . . . and that I liked that effect very much.

I don't believe that's something I feel uniquely.  I think most of us get a kick out of making people laugh or changing someone's mind.  I think that's universal enough that it has caused facebook and twitter to explode as social media, since all those things do is to allow us to use an ersatz method to get others to approve of our having found something they haven't seen yet.  Look at this; wow, that's cool; good feelings gained.

It is really just a large scale game of show-and-tell, which I always liked as a kid.  I was always bringing things to school that I wasn't supposed to (sometimes these things were 'borrowed' from home) in order to get a certain wow factor from my friends and others.  We get status through this wow factor, status that translates to people liking us because we are cool.

This can go bad places.  For me personally, in those pre-internet days I was always reading something, often something strange, so I was ahead of the curve where it came to finding shit that was plain unusual (a string of 13th century woodcuts that I found in grade 7, showing the ways witches were executed and disemboweled comes to mind; those were different).  By the time I'd hit my teens, the reading I'd done was hitting a critical mass and I was gaining a lot of prestige by simply making shit up.  I'd decided to be a writer at 12, so I was writing furiously by fifteen, filling up a hundred pages a month with made-up shit - and that was having a great effect on people, even if the writing was beyond awful.  We were kids.  Everyone's writing is beyond awful.

Stumbling into D&D, I had already been built for it, no question.  Invent a world, show that world to players?  Old hat.  It was just another way of working by myself, then showing and telling.  Is that because I was somehow built to show and tell better than others?  Was I a born DM?

Nonsense.  I had simply had a particular background that encouraged my expressing myself openly. Like the difference between my father answering my question about prostitution as opposed to another father who would have cuffed his kid and told him to shut up.  My father never explained what a 'piece' was - he laughed along with his friends, but all he said to me was "That's right," leaving me to spend the next years figuring it out (Playboy would eventually explain it).

The reason why elected DMs don't see the positivity in DMing comes from their having had a long history of showing people things that either received a 'meh' or an insult.  They never learned to glean any pleasure in thinking up something new and expressing that aloud.  Their efforts were suppressed. They were never given a chance.

Now, today, faced with the prospect of having to show their world and tell about it, they're not phat enough to feel the confidence that's needed.  The confidence that I had at eight, that allowed me to feel safe about asking my father the definition of a word that didn't previously exist in my world.  It is all about how safe any of us feel.  If we don't feel safe, we're not going to stick out heads out, are we? We're going to huddle and keep our heads down and not ask the question, not follow the question up when the answer doesn't work, and not go digging for the real answer to why others reacted the way they did.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a group of players deciding that Jeremy is going to be DM. The error, I think, is that the players think that this is the whole of their responsibility.  They've shoved the matter off on Jeremy and now they think they're done.

They're not.  The players who join together to push Jeremy into the role must understand that they're next responsibility is to ensure that Jeremy feels safe in that role.  It's up to then to repeat, as often as necessary, that there isn't going to be any judgement of Jeremy's skills; that no one's going to demand that Jeremy be great right off.  That everyone here understands and supports every moment of Jeremy's learning curve, that they're by his side and that they're ready to goddamn help if that's what it takes.

That's what it will take.  If the players want Jeremy to be phat enough to try, those same players have got to be phat enough to back his play.