2009-05-07 : Roleplaying Sinner, Repent!

This is for Marco especially, but if you too want to talk about what things in roleplaying and rpg design are sins, and what things aren't, this is the thread for you.

Here's me:

1. Oh come on, it's just roleplaying. There are (a) things that bother me, (b) things I think are a waste of time, and (c) things I don't enjoy but that's just me, none of which are really, y'know, sins. Likewise, (d) things I think are worthwhile and (e) things I aspire to, but they aren't virtuous in any absolute way. It's kind of fun and funny to use hyped-up language, but do keep perspective.

2. I do consider some business practices to be sins. Overwhelmingly, though, the money in roleplaying is so small and so disposable that eh, whatever.

If you want to see me decry sin for real, ask me about Prop 8 or Massachusetts' "universal health care" measure.

3. A game's fictional content by itself doesn't bother me, ever. Its fictional content PLUS how its players relate to it can bother me. For instance, in Poison'd, like in name-a-horror-movie, the characters do horrific things to one another and commit terrible sins. That doesn't bother me, it doesn't matter how horrific. I don't presume any subject matter out-of-bounds.

More inside, in a little bit.

1. On 2009-05-07, Seth Ben-Ezra said:

In a totally different thread, I'd love to hear you wax eloquent about Massachusetts' universal health care measure. Professional interest, don'tcha know....


2. On 2009-05-07, Marco said:

Well, these are on a different scale than I was thinking (railroading! Illusionism! Deprotagonization! GM-Chrysler—oh, wait different term ...).

But to start with this list before I do my own:

1. Agree. If you're going to spend time doing something, take it seriously and do it well. I don't find the "it's just a game" necessarily bad-wrong but it's not for me either.

2. Business-practices, yeah. But, again, with you it's small. I'm not raging at the splat-book machine. I'm not gonna be revolution-guy against the Corporate RPG-Model.

3. Fictional Content: I dunno about 'a sin'—but I find RaHoWa to be morally bankrupt. I find FATAL to be infantile and disgusting. I didn't mind the book-of-vile-whatever and I'm not going to set a line in the sand.

There could, I suppose, be a game that had a sophisticated take on racism (in a way that you'd play a racist of some sort in a manner that wasn't objectionable)—but I cannot think of one and I would not think highly of a game that tried (the whole orc-genocide thing is missing the point as, I think, was wonderfully pointed out on Story Games not long ago when a guy decrying racism in D&D was interested in Wild West games ... uh ... ok). Having reviewed this, I realized I found Gran Torino to be a sophisticated take on a racist hero. If you aren't anywhere near that standard of quality, I'd suggest you reconsider your motivations for playing that game.

I don't find kpfs objectionable nor Poison'd. I do think bragging about getting your Id on in a public fora with a we-so-baaad vibe is pretty much, well, like I just described it—but that's the players, not the game or the subject material.

I also think "Let's play Evil D&D and fantasize about kidnapping and raping the princess with a bunch of my (mostly guy) friends" to be objectionable the way that the fiction written by one of the high-school shooters was objectionable: it's bad fiction, it doesn't say anything good about you, and if you don't have the good taste to be embarrassed by it then there's probably something missing in your social skills.

I do believe there can be individual games, however, where those topics are dealt with in a sophisticated manner and while I might differ with a given take on it I don't have the same visceral objection to it (sans the bragging, of course—when you're bragging about it we're back to square one).

I don't have a bright line in the sand for this though so I doubt there's much meat there to object to.

What else have we got?

1. Nullifying Player Input because the GM has an illegitimate agenda (as determined by simple, fairly consistent social conventions). More prosaically: this can be called railroading (or other things like illusionism and 'participationism.')

2. I think intentionally trying to brutalize other players because you 'can' and the rules 'let you' is like always intentionally choosing a restaurant you like that someone in your group of 'friends' hates because you like watching her suffer and it's "your turn to pick"—it's a dick thing to do even if it's "legal."

I'll think of more later—but I think my #1 is most ripe for discussion: is it legitimate for, say, RTD for the GM to shut down a player action for the good of the story?



3. On 2009-05-07, Graham said:

Oh, Prop 8, yes, that sounded like a really good idea.



4. On 2009-05-07, Vincent said:

I know a guy who's a big fan of Twilight. He identifies with the vampire. He wants to have that relationship with a girl, he spends a lot of time looking or wishing for that girl to have a relationship with.

I think it's a terrible relationship.

If he were playing a roleplaying game where he practiced that relationship over and over, uncritically, as wish fulfillment, that would bother me. His fandom of Twilight bothers me for the same reason. I think he'd be better if he got that relationship impulse challenged, not modeled and affirmed.

Some battle-adventure roleplaying bothers me the same way. Like, when my oldest was 10, he got really into the imagery of Warhammer 40K. It's easy to see why: it's designed to appeal to adolescent boys. It's also pretty problematic imagery - as J says it, it's humanity consumed by the machinery of war. Reconciliation between factions is impossible, to seek reconciliation is to betray your own, the highest good aspiration is to kill and die in the service of hierarchy.

I want him to be thinking critically about those things, not celebrating them uncritically by enacting and reenacting them.

So there's some subject matter plus player attitudes that bother me.


5. On 2009-05-07, Robert Bohl said:

I really want to hear about your problem with Mass's health care system.


6. On 2009-05-07, Chris said:

Vincent - I'm with you on the content issue 100%.  It's all about context, which ultimately becomes such a tripping point whenever these discussions come up.

You can address the same subject matter meaningfully, meaninglessly, and/or problematically, and people tend to be unable to identify that it's all about context and not just "you had XYZ in your game therefore it's messed up".


7. On 2009-05-07, Brand Robins said:


Context? We don't need no stinking context!



I'd actually list the inability to comprehend or appreciate (or even see/hear) context as my number 1 RPG sin. That it also happens to be one of my most hated life sins is probably relevant to the reasons why.


8. On 2009-05-08, Mark Woodhouse said:

Hear, hear on the context vs content thing.

The only real sin of RP in my book is harshing on someone else's fun. Playing these games with investment and engagement is going to involve a certain amount of vulnerability - exploiting that for your own jollies is a sin.


9. On 2009-05-08, Chris said:

Things which I do see as "sins", or at least, piss me off as a consumer:

- Bad design which, is clear the person didn't look at much of the competition in the last 20 years
- Not including important pieces of procedures you expect for functional play
- Not including advice on when to, or not to use rules that you expect people to use rarely
- Contradictory rules/advice (primarily shows up when folks are spouting things they've read as mantras)

I've spoken in the past of "Broken Wheels" and pretty much these 3 things make up a good deal of it.  I borderline it to sin, because if you honestly believe your hobby/games result in bitterness and broken friendships?  I've joked before it's like playing chess and getting stabbed.


10. On 2009-05-08, Callan said:

Chris, I bet you'd think a faulty brake cable on a car was a sin as well! Pah!
(context: LOLs!)


11. On 2009-05-08, Marco said:

So in RPGs you see one person pushing an old woman out of the path of a truck and another pushing an old woman into the path of a truck (!) ... and all you see is two people pushing an old woman around?


(Description allegedly attributed to Chompsky—but I couldn't resist it here)



12. On 2009-05-08, Vincent said:

You know how when you're cold and hungry and you stub your toe, it's hard to be philosophical about it? You only stubbed your toe, no biggie, but it's painful all out of proportion, because you're cold and hungry?

I think that most outrage about things to do with roleplaying comes from people being the equivalent of cold and hungry. A game design with stupid holes and inconsistencies is just a poor game design, but if you have a group of friends who'll take that design and turn it into an occasion for social bullying, THAT'S when it hurts.

...And, even if you don't stub your toe, you're still cold and hungry. The best game design in the world won't make you feel any better if your friends are bullies.


13. On 2009-05-08, Chris said:

Hey Vincent,

Try reading some old school advice on how to "deal with problem players".  There's a lot of bullying advice in there.  Now imagine unleashing it on a bunch of 12 year old kids and telling them it will result in fun.  (Not saying kids have no volition/judgment of their own, just saying it's a badly loaded message to an inexperienced population).


14. On 2009-05-08, John Mc said:

I suppose it depends on how strong you consider the word "sin".  Personally, I'm kind-of a binary sort of guy, so it doesn't take much to make something a "sin", but that doesn't mean all sins are a huge deal.

Certain approaches to play are sinful in the sense that they hurt the other players present.  Bullying is the easy example, but it's not the only one.  Sure, most of the time it isn't a big deal, but that doesn't mean it isn't a willfully hurtful act.  I've certainly seen people hurt eachother at the gaming table.  Just like I've seen them do it in a dinner conversation, only the medium is different.

I agree that game content isn't sinful in and of itself.  It requires the player's intentions.

A different approach would be to create a new meaning of "sin" in this context.  Like a 10 Commandment style list of "Game Design Sins".  Those probably wouldn't be actual sins as I use the term, but it could be fun and maybe even useful.  :)


15. On 2009-05-08, Brand Robins said:


I cannot believe I had never heard that quote before. I will remember it forever with love and reverence.


16. On 2009-05-08, Roger said:

I'm more interested in a more positive spin on the question—what things in roleplaying and rpg design are impeccable?


17. On 2009-05-13, Judd said:

1. Lack of meaningful choice in play and even worse, providing the ILLUSION of meaningful choice so that your players feel like they are contributing when they are, in fact, not making meaningful choices at all.  It all goes to the same place, pre-ordained, pawns in the GM's little frustrated not-a-novel.

Like this  See post #42 in particular.

2. Using your game to treat people like shit.  My past three years has been spent exorcising these people from my games and from my life.  I am better off for it.

3. Um...I think that is it for now.


18. On 2009-06-04, Z-Dog said:

I started playing RPGs with my friends. Good times. Then I looked for people to play RPGs with. Bad times. Now I find friends, and, if they're interested, play RPGs with them. Good times again.

If I've ever had a sin, it's valuing the game over the people. Big mistake.


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