Monday, December 25, 2017

Want and Happiness

I guess I have one more example about the context of happiness and want.  First, let me introduce this short film ~ which ought to be seen by anyone interested in adventure and changing the world.

I hate to spoil it a little, but I'm going to quote from it, a section about six minutes in.
"Villages in this region were few and far between, and I knew well what they were like.  Four or five of them were scattered over the slopes of these highlands, each one at the very end of a cart track, among copses of white oaks.  They were inhabited by charcoal burners.  The living was poor and families, huddled together in a climate very harsh both in summer and winter found their struggle for survival made more bitter by their isolation.  There was no relief.  The constant longing to escape became a crazy ambition.  Endlessly the men carted their charcoal to town, then returned home.  Even the most stable characters crack under the constant grind.  The women seethed with resentment.  There was rivalry in everything: the sale of charcoal and the church pew; they were rivals in virtue and rivals in vice; and the battle royale between vice and virtue raged incessantly. And always, there was the wind, the ever-present wind, constantly grating on the nerves.  There were epidemics of suicide and many cases of madness, nearly always ending in murder."

It took some time to be reminded of this piece, and to find it.  Here is an excellent example of unhappiness springing from want: want of a moment's peace, want of something else to think about, want of the material wealth to escape this awful place and existence.

The same film also offers the comparison:
"Everything was different.  Even the air itself.  Instead of the harsh, dry winds of the past, there was a gentle breeze, full of fragrance.  From the mountaintops came a sound like rushing water.  It was the wind, rustling through the forest.  And then, even more astonishing, I heard another sound of water.  I saw that they had built a fountain, one that was splashing merrily and decided what I found most touching; someone had planted a linden tree, the perfect symbol of rebirth.  Moreover, Vergons showed signs of the kind of labour that only hope can inspire.  So hope had been restored.  Ruins had been cleared, and crumbling walls torn down.  The new houses, freshly roughcast, stood in kitchen gardens where flowers and vegetables grew in orderly confusion: roses and cabbages, snapdragons and leeks, celery and anemones.  It had become a place where one would want to live."
"Lazarus had emerged from the tomb.  On the lower slopes of the mountain I could see small fields of young barley and rye, and down in the narrow valleys, the meadows were green.  It has taken only eight years since then for the whole countryside to glow with health and prosperity.  Where I had seen ruins in 1913, there now stand clean, freshly plastered farmhouses, evidence of happy, comfortable lives.  Dry springs fed by snows and rains, now conserved by the forest, have begun to flow again.  In the maple groves, each farm has its fountain, brimming over onto carpets of fresh mint.  Bit by bit the villages have been rebuilt.  People have come to settle from down in the plains where land is expensive.  They have brought youth, life and the spirit of adventure.  On the roads, one meets people glowing with health, and boys and girls laughing as they enjoy their rustic pleasures."

Yes, perhaps I let the quotes run on a bit long, but it is to make a point.  There is a separation between want and happiness, one that is directly evident to the senses ~ one that ought to translate into the game. We tend far too much to paint the whole world with one brush.  Every town has the same tavern, the same inn, the same harsh lifestyle, the same criminal element, the same necessities and lack thereof, the same outlook, the same expectation.

The world is more complicated than that!  And changing it doesn't mean replacing one harsh reality with two opposite realities, either.  It means measuring scale between the two extremes that is meaningful to the party seeking to right wrongs and preserve the good that they find.  It does not mean we turn every adventure into an opportunity to destroy happiness before the very eyes of the party, but that we show evidence that happiness is possible and encourage parties to make it happen for themselves.

If, perchance, our imaginations will let us.


Baron Opal said...

This frames the problem well. Once you have a scale to measure with, then you determine how bad is bad. Once you have that, then you can determine problems, and then possible solutions.

Maliloki said...

Very interesting and insightful. Looking forward to see how these ideas get turned into useful game mechanics rather than just interesting things to remember when running a world.

Tim said...

What a beautiful short film. It very nicely demonstrates the want-happiness scale across a relatively flat ignorance-culture scale. One might perhaps draw a connection across the two, where increases in happiness provide a capacity for greater culture towards the end of the story, as the newly-repopulated villages experience a cultural renaissance of sorts.
There's also the comparison with the diplomatic delegation in 1935, which one might argue has a higher "cultural score" (denoted by the presence of government officials and technical experts) but lacks the organization to actually direct that practice towards anything more practical than protecting the forest, which we could maybe ascribe to want -- the interpersonal conflicts and personal ambitions of the delegation's members prevent them from coordinating to actually produce anything of value.