Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Two Philosophies

During the aforementioned podcast from the Lurkers' post, beginning at 59:45, Chad and Carl get into a disagreement about whether or not the DM is a player.  I have made my position on this matter known before, but let's have a look at the discussion as it is discussed on the podcast.

Chad takes the position that because the DM "plays" a character, because the DM provides all the other voices, this makes the DM a player.  Carl is put on the spot, asserts that he's completely opposed to this idea, but yet he's forced to admit he hasn't got the argument he needs.  That's as far as the discourse goes.

So, if I step in.

There is an excellent moment where Chad emphasizes the "character" aspect of "non-player character" to say that, because he plays a character, the DM is a player.  This is a remarkable moment of disassociation, because the right answer is, "Yes, a non-player character." But we shouldn't fault Chad here.  He's a victim of language, as are so many participants of role-playing games.

Over the decades, a severe disconnect has occurred in the development of games by independent DMs, creating largely isolated games throughout the world.  This is the mistaken belief that "playing" is a adjective that modifies the word "role" and not the word "game."  In turn, this has caused tens of thousands of participants to believe that an RPG is a "game" in which persons "play" a "role" ~ rather than the adjective "role-playing" that describes a specific kind of game.

The problem derives from the dual use of the word "play" in both aspects.  We play games.  We play roles.   The word itself is a derivation of a West Saxon word, plega, meaning quick motion, recreation, exercise or any brisk activity.  The last was employed most often in terms of "swordplay," meaning to fight one another as training (though now swordplay is often used to describe the real thing).

The use of plaga was employed for a lot of purposes, as it still is today.  Children play, we play with words, we have sexual play, we play with ourselves, an object that is free and unimpeded has a lot of play, we play instruments and so on.  The idea of "play" as taking part in a game dates from 1200; to "play" in a dramatic performance originates just a century later, so both meanings have a great deal of history and it is up to context to sort them out.

When we look at the manner in which a game functions, we see that there are challenges, options, obstacles and ultimately payoffs in making a choice or being lucky with a die.  I've written extensively about D&D and game theory so I don't want to revisit that just now.  I will take a moment and emphasize two particular conditions that we associate with "games": the possibility of both winning and losing and the fundamentals of a payoff, or a reward that is received for making the right choices.

These do not strictly apply to all games, but they certainly apply to D&D.  Characters can die.  Characters can make the wrong or the right choice.  Characters can be rewarded.  The concept of the RPG as a "game" inherently evolved from these basic principles.

When an individual declares that RPGs are about "Playing a Character," they have restructured the game completely.  Now, we have no necessity to "make the right choice" since all choices that are made by a character are either a) decipherable as appropriate in the player's opinion or b) measurably permissible in that the player's character is entitled to grow, adapt, change or otherwise progress in whatever way the player desires.

There are no wrong ways to play a character's motivation or a character's belief system.  All ways, by definition of the player's personal volition, are "right."  Therefore, all rewards are not given because the player made the right decision as opposed to a wrong decision, but because the player is entitled to a reward for having taken the time to play the character openly in a public forum.  I participated, and therefore I deserve to be rewarded.

Here we have an unconscious head-to-head between two theories of RPG participation, divided between those who believe that RPGs are games, with the structure and accountability of games, or that RPGs are a form of personal expression, with the permissiveness and social affirmation that comes from expressing oneself as a person.

Both are legitimate means through which participants obtain validation and "fun."  But they are absolutely not compatible.

Before letting anyone participate in your game, you should be absolutely clear about the philosophy to which they ascribe.  It is quite clear that there are far, far, far more Chads in the world than Carls . . . and there are reasons for that, which I choose not to go into at this time.