2 years ago: Fantasy role-playing games

From this blog, Jan. 26, 2011: Fantasy role-playing games

That bogus abortion/slavery analogy is one that I used to find compelling and reassuring. It was a frequently invoked analogy in the evangelical community. We found it inspiring, but not because we knew much of anything about the actual abolitionists, slave or free. And not because we knew anything much at all, for that matter, about abortion. The inspiration didn’t come from any perceived historical accuracy or from the logic of an argument from analogy.

What was inspiring was being told that we were on the right side of the great moral struggle of our time. That claim didn’t have to be accurate or true or logical. It wasn’t meant to appeal to accuracy or truth or logic. It’s an emotional appeal. It’s the thrill that comes from being told that you are part of a great epic struggle — that even without ever really doing much of anything you will be looked back upon by future generations as a hero.

Just assent to the proposition, cast your reliably partisan votes, attend the occasional photo-op vigil and learn to frown disapprovingly at the designated people. Do these things and you can regard yourself as being Harriet Tubman’s equal in virtue, courage and commitment.

The function of the abortion/slavery analogy, in other words, is fantasy role-playing. It’s a game of make-believe, of dress-up and pretend.

  • St. Jebus

    As someone who engages quite a bit in fantasy role-playing games, I just have to mention that the issue is not so much that they are engaging in this game, but that they don’t have any idea that it is fantasy – they are convinced that it is real. 

  • SergeantHeretic

    St. Jevus that’s the scariest part of it, isn’t it? These alledged people do not realize the game is not real. That’s why they vote in congress in stupid useless counterproductive ways. It’s why they do things that make them and us look like a nation of deluded fools. because they are behaving and if the fantasy role playing game they are trapped in is REAL!

    The movie “Mazes and Monsters” was an unintentional masterpiece of irony i nthat the sorts of people who oppose D&D in the name of battling the evil Satannazis-(Give fred his royalty)- Are the very epitome of TOm Hank’s charecter trapped in a self destructive delusion and determined to take everyone down with them.

  • Dylan

    FWIW, I just referenced this post a few days ago. A friend of mine was shocked by the fact lawmakers in some states were proposing laws to make it illegal to enforce “Obama’s gun bans” (i.e., laws against laws that don’t exist).

    That seems to drive a lot of the rhetoric these days. Fantasy-role-playing a patriot resisting a tyrant is easier than good-faith debate between equals over the effectiveness, cost, and fairness of new restrictions.

  • St. Jebus

    @d22b4441f2adb2903f8b719b70b67901:disqus   Yeah, that is. I mean, I like escaping into a fantasy sometimes – that’s why it’s a fantasy. And I can certainly see the appeal – who doesn’t cast zirself as the hero of their story?

    @Dylan: Yeah. That’s why “hack-and-slash” exists – much easier and fun(for some values of fun) than navigating the diplomatic campaign your DM might have created.

  • Jurgan

    Off-topic, but there’s an ad for Liberty University in the banner here.  Talk about mistargeted advertising.

  • SergeantHeretic

    I remember as a girl-geek in high school whiling away happy hours with my friends playing D&D and Star Frontiers and very early GURPS campaings. It was great fun and actually taught me alot about how to reason and plan and use my head in a crisis situation. Those skills served me very well later i nthe service.

  • Lori

     

    I just have to mention that the issue is not so much that they are
    engaging in this game, but that they don’t have any idea that it is
    fantasy – they are convinced that it is real.  

    Personally I worry less about the fact that they think it’s real than I do about the fact that they keep forcing other people to be NPCs in their game. They’ve created the perfect set-up for themselves. They don’t just get heroism that doesn’t  require any actual sacrifice from them (always the most fun kind of heroism). They also get the power trip that comes from forcing others to sacrifice. A double win.

    This doesn’t just apply to abortion. This exact same dynamic is driving the fight to ‘save natural marriage’. If “natural” marriage needs saving (note that this is assuming facts not in evidence) it’s certainly much easier and more fun to do the saving via bashing a minority group that you don’t like any way than to do the work involved in actually having a good, solid marriage oneself.

    And of course there’s our great national LARP, the Global War on Terror(ism). I’m glad that Obama stopped calling it that. I’d be far more glad if he stopped waging it. I’d be beside myself with joy if those playing the terror LARP would find another hobby so that the rest of us could effectively demand that he stop (assuming that shifting the politics wouldn’t lead to him stopping on his own).

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I understand this metaphor, and it does work to a point. Some people who play fantasy RPGs do so solely in order to pretend they’re big damn heroes. But most of us grow out of that stage, if we were ever in it. We play RPGs in order to explore and create stories in a way that no other medium allows us. We’re often heroes in those stories, but far from always.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    Most of my favorite characters in the games I’ve played have been ones with long arcs of personal growth that led to them being heroic even though they didn’t start out that way.

    In Changeling: the Lost, a game that’s mostly about being trauma survivors trying to build a stable life after escaping magical imprisonment, my character started out as an amoral semi-feral predator.  He’s spent three years of real time learning to care about other people and balance his instincts with self-control.

    In the last D&D game I played in, I built a Paladin inspired by Philip Marlowe, with a little Jules from Pulp Fiction thrown in.  Borderline alcoholic former infantry grunt with a lot of sins on his conscience, he’d been picked out by the God of Justice (whose worship had been outlawed in the theocratic empire whose legions this guy used to serve in) as a fixer-upper project with a lot of potential, and handed a divine mandate to right wrongs and protect the innocent.  So here’s an angry self-medicating guilt-haunted vet with PTSD trying to learn how to be an emissary of hope and justice.  He frequently failed, but he kept trying anyway.

  • HyperSpiral

    Earlier this week, I saw a political cartoon in which a NRA member, standing on a hill the graves of “Nazis,” “Fascism,” “home invaders,” “commies,” and “the British Empire” (seriously, that’s what the graves were labeled) looked indignantly at a protester in a Planned Parenthood with a sign proclaiming “Gns kill people.” She was on a hill covered in tiny crosses, labeled “abortion.”

    Like you’ve written before, the point wasn’t about stopping the supposed deaths caused by abortion, it was to point out how awesome gun owners are. Stopping what is portrayed as a veritable Holocaust is secondary to protecting guns.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    It’s the thrill that comes from being told that you are part of a great epic struggle — that even without ever really doing much of anything you will be looked back upon by future generations as a hero.

    Just assent to the proposition, cast your reliably partisan votes, attend the occasional photo-op vigil and learn to frown disapprovingly at the designated people. Do these things and you can regard yourself as being Harriet Tubman’s equal in virtue, courage and commitment.

    As a gamer, I have always found this idea unsatisfying.  I do not get much of a thrill from somewhere where I have to put in zero effort.  Heck, putting in a certain amount of effort is part of the appeal of games for me.  I like to know that I am challenged, know that I have to learn the system, figure out how to overcome the challenges presented to me and develop a set of skills which apply to them.  

    That is where the fun is.  The idea that I am hailed as a hero for doing… pretty much nothing, feels hollow to me.  The taste of victory turns to ashes in my mouth unless I had to fight for that victory.  

    But then, I am a little masochistic when it comes to difficulty levels.

  • Julian Elson

    Maybe the problem is that there just aren’t enough RPGs which cater to people who want to stand up for traditional gender roles, a strong military, free markets, religion in the public square, and strict enforcement of law and order. For example, in Fallout: New Vegas, I think there’s significantly less content for Legion players compared the NCR, House, and Yes Man. (I mean, the Legion quest line means alienating half of the companions (Arcade Gannon, Boone, Cass, Veronica), with only Raul Tejada and Lily (plus the non-humanoids, ED-E and Rex) really being willing to side with you.)

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Yeah, but the developers rarely expect many players to choose the obviously “evil” option.  Granted, the fact that it allows them to choose that option at all is part of the appeal of the freedom of the game, but on the kind of deadlines the developers are under, it is no surprise that they concentrate more of their time and effort on fleshing out the other options.  

    I recall some advice about this in an official modding guide for Neverwinter Nights.  It pointed out that by allowing evil options, you are putting yourself through a lot of effort to make some content that few players will actually play.  That said, it mentioned that one of NWN’s saving graces in this regard was that it allowed a module to be DMed in real-time over a network, so that evil options could be expanded and fleshed out on the fly as the player chooses them (though having some token structure for these helps keep the game play flowing should they be chosen.)  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667708632 Kenneth Raymond

    Planescape: Torment is another one that has some thoroughly evil Evil stuff you can do, but that stuff is pretty dark and I haven’t heard of many people actually playing through it, much less remaining entertained (as opposed to, say, Renegade Shepard in Mass Effect, who a lot of people seem to find darkly funny). Especially if you’ve come to empathize with your party members at all on Good play-throughs, since the Evil stuff often involves crushing their souls in some way, not just being an asshole.

  • Baby_Raptor

    And then I started mentally comparing the Legion and Conservatives. 

    That…Is really bloody scary. 

  • AnonymousSam

    Indeed, and in the end, it’s harder, too. You get less experience, often can’t get quest rewards (unless you are inconsistently evil) and the incentives to be evil are generally less useful than the incentives to be lawful good. I really liked how the game had bluff/sincere versions of the exact same dialogue.

    I always liked Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic’s good and evil system. Up until the end, you could hide just how evil you were being… but that final choice is a doozy. I thought it was too bad that the developers cut out the third ending, which lets a female character who has developed a romance be persuaded to turn away from the dark side at the last minute.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Aye, quote Lucullus, “Women are physically and intellectually inferior to men. Their role is to bear children and ensure the survival of our species,” and “All who are not Legion are ‘Dissolute.’ They live in squalor, unrestrained by morality, lacking moderation, temper, and self-control. Their very existence is a blight on the common good. Even worse are the Profligates, the subtype of Dissolute one finds this side of the river. They hold themselves to be civilized, when in fact they are corrupt and self-interested. The truth will be made clear to them soon enough.”

    He sounds like a culture-warrior preacher with even less tact than usual.  

    When I found that a company of Legion Frumentarii had depopulated a village, leaving only a single survivor (spared by lottery) behind, I told them that what they did was unacceptable.  Vulpes Inculta, the man in charge, smugly told me that if I felt that way, then I should attack him, because might-makes-right, and if I could beat them then clearly I was right.  

    So I did.  I let them walk away, then shot the Vulpes in the head with a hunting rifle, running away from his frumentarii while dropping small mines behind me.  In their haste to avenge their leader, they walked right into the trap, and I finished the last few of them off with my rifle.  

    I was later told that pissed Caesar off something fierce, and I thought “Good.”

  • Julian Elson

    You had a hunting rifle by the time you got to Nipton? Impressive! I consider myself lucky if I have a cowboy repeater in half-decent condition at that stage of the game!

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I scrounged and grinded like crazy as I went, taking the game as slowly as possible to milk the most gain out of the content I had.  

    Naturally, Repair is one of my tagged skills.  That is entirely too useful.  

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    I’ve just created a Paladin character for a 13th Age game we’re starting next month, and as I’ve never been in a game that had one, much less played one myself, I did something similar: former mercenary with only a vague allegiance to any alignment finds herself in a situation way more evil than she ever expected. So she sends up a “help me save these innocents and I’ll do whatever you want”, which gets answered. Now she’s got to atone for what she’d done before; meanwhile her former allies aren’t happy and the people she’s tasked with helping don’t trust her. 

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Where is KOTOR 3???  That’s all I want to know.  :(

  • Kiba

    A few years back I was playing a Star Wars game*, can’t for the life of me remember the name of it, and depending on your actions you could either go Jedi or Sith. Any way, I was running around some space port somewhere or other becoming progressively angrier because I couldn’t find the NPC I needed…long story short that whole “anger leads to dark side” thing? It’s true. I got eventually got so pissed that I started running around slaughtering everyone I saw and rather quickly waded my way over to the dark side. I will say the dark had it perks…the Force Lightening thing was fun.

    *around the time episode 1 came out if I remember right. 

  • Heartfout

    Just ran into him in my play through. Turns out I was carrying the Legions secret weakness. Dynamite.

    The fight didn’t take long, but finding the body was a bit tricky.

  • J_Enigma23

    I don’t like heroes in gaming for this reason, and I *really* don’t like the notion of heroes in popular culture. Especially epic heroes, like Luke Skywalker, since the whole hero motif is also what’s driving the NRA to “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!” in addition to the whole fantasy role-playing stuff with the right-wingers in general.

  • J_Enigma23

     For clarification, this is the whole “Romantic Cult of the Hero” that drives the right-wing that I’m trashing here, not fantasy role-playing.

  • Launcifer

    Thinking about it, perhaps the only really effective “evil” act I’ve ever encountered in a game, one that made me feel like an absolute bastard, was the one from Fallout 3, where you can convince Moira Brown to give up on her dream of writing a survival guide for the Capital Wasteland. There was something about the fact that it was a largely inconsequential act in the grand scheme of things, but that it had an obvious effect on the character in the game, that gave it genuine punch for me.

  • AnonymousSam

    KOTOR 2 barely happened as it was. There’s a ton of unfinished material in the game. :(

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    The idea that I am hailed as a hero for doing… pretty much nothing, feels hollow to me.

    Yes, exactly. I hate it when games say, “you are awesome and incredibly centrally important!” when… you’re not. I don’t mind not being told I’m incredibly centrally important — I’m here to play a game, not be told the little avatar I created is something she isn’t. My ego gets stroked just fine from playing the game well. Being told my character is so awesome and centrally important leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t like being sucked up to in any form.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Dragon Age 1 and 2 both have things you can do that are incredibly, staggeringly evil. Unfortunately, a whole bunch of people online don’t realize that these things even are evil, because a whole bunch of people like sucking up to the biggest bully in the room, and do not like being told that doing so is evil. 

    I’m talking about siding with Loghain in the first case, and siding with the templars in the second case.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    No KotOR 3 :(. There’s some massively deluded, massively genocidal white guy in ToR who thinks he’s Revan. Which, hell no.

  • Launcifer

    I don’t know if I’d call siding with Loghain evil, actually. It just falls more into the ruthless pragmatism camp for me, even despite the coup d’etat. The Templars in DA2, well, yeah, there you’ve got me – especially with the whole tranquil business. Then again, that’s an interesting one because of how the mages finally end up responding to Meredith. Then again, DA2 remains one of my favourite games, plot-wise, subsequent playings even more so than the first time.

    I guess how I should have put it was that there are plenty of occasions in various games that I’ve played where there are obviously evil or callous acts. They just tend to register differently to me, perhaps because I’m seeing them as part of The Plot rather than as important events in their own right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    To some, it’s no game. In the name of bringing polar opposites together: http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=41587

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Siding with Loghain means siding with a man who did the following:

    *Murdered his best friend’s son. 
    *Murdered his daughter’s husband.
    *Murdered an extremely large chunk of the army of the country he claims to be protecting, during a time when that country really needs that army. (This is the worst so far.)
    *Sold people into slavery and whined that those people were doomed anyway, so what he did wasn’t so bad.
    *Allied with Arl Howe and given him immense amounts of power.
    *Pretended everything he did, he did for his country.

    It’s also not pragmatic — it’s virtually brain-dead. Loghain has betrayed every single person to whom he was supposed to be loyal, claiming it to be in the name of pragmatism, but really in the name of his personal power. Why anyone would think he would make a special exception for them is beyond my ken. Even an evil character who had at least half a brain would choose Alistair: for one thing, Alistair can be controlled.

    As for the way mages end up reacting to Meredith: they are not nearly violent enough for my taste. The templars remove people’s emotions from them; they rape them; they beat them; they lock them alone in rooms with no light or air; they kidnap and imprison them when they are children. And they claim they’re doing it all for the greater good. But it’s not really the templars’ fault, directly — it’s the Chantry’s. The Chantry is completely and utterly irredeemable and I hope in the next game I can burn the one in Orlais down myself.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino
  • Launcifer

    @Invisible Neutrino: Yes, that guy.

    @Liira: I’m pondering possible counter-arguments to what you’ve said. I may or may not trip over anything applicable ;).

  • Rhubarbarian82

    Dark Forces:  Jedi Knight (or Jedi Knight 2, maybe)? I didn’t play either, but I remember one of them having the light side/dark side branching paths.

    The same thing happened to me in Mirror’s Edge; the game gave you an achievement for beating the game without killing anyone and I was doing pretty well. I’m never one for killing people needlessly in videogames, so I’m usually inclined to try that path out. But after so much of the game’s frustrating platforming, something snapped and I just started taking my frustration out on the goons.

  • Beroli

     That’s the one.

    I don’t know what he’s like in the novels* (nor, frankly, do I really care while discussing the game…) but in the game, he’s pretty much thoroughly vile. He uses “the good of Ferelden” as synonymous with “my personal desires,” and so whenever anyone (up to and including the king he’s sworn to obey) goes against what he thinks is best, in his mind, it’s proof that they’re a traitor to Ferelden. Mass murder and regicide? Starting a civil war? Selling Ferelden citizens into a form of slavery even more vile than that practiced in the Orlais he outspokenly considers to be the devil? All perfectly justifiable and correct in the name of the Greater Good, for which the only justification he ever needs is “I want it.”

    *Although I’ve heard that, in the novels, he arranges the death of the inappropriate (read: Orlesian) woman King Maric is in love with first, and so I tend to look with a jaundiced eye on people who claim he isn’t utterly vile in the novels too, just not with the “No, I know firsthand what he does and doesn’t do” jaundiced eye with which I can look on people who make that claim about the game.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Where is KOTOR 3???  That’s all I want to know.  :(

    It is already out, except it is called Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it is an MMO instead of a single player game, much in the manner that the sequel to Warcraft III is World of Warcraft.

    Seriously, same developer as KOTOR, and a lot of the plot threads from them get picked up in the MMO.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    A few years back I was playing a Star Wars game*, can’t for the life of me remember the name of it, and depending on your actions you could either go Jedi or Sith.

    That would almost certainly have been Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight, in which you could go light or dark side depending on your actions (not to be confused with its sequel Jedi Knight 2 which kind of screws up the naming and numbering scheme of the series and does not allow you to fall to the dark side despite allowing you to take the quick and easy path to power and use dark side powers with impunity while driven by vengeance but whatever.)

  • Launcifer

    Same publisher, rather than the same developer. Obsidian developed KOTOR 2 and The Old Republic was done by Bioware.

  • Beroli

     

    It is already out, except…

    …except boy did Ruby’s point go over your head.

  • DavidCheatham

    as opposed to, say, Renegade Shepard in Mass Effect, who a lot of people seem to find darkly funny)
    Renegade Shepard is hilarious, but also not very evil. Renegade Shepard is Dirty Harry. Which ends up deconstructing RPGs in hilarious ways. For those who have not played as renegade: You know that guy who won’t let you pass until you do some bullcrap fetch quest? Or all the evidence you have to collect to prove the guilt of someone? Or all other other pointless things you have to do to so someone will allow you to do something?

    Have you ever noticed you’re a group of heavily armed adventurers and that’s just one guy and you could take him out easily? ;)

    I suspect some of the humor of Renegade Shepard is the relief of countless RPG players who always say ‘Look, you’re armed, just shoot this pointless idiot who is keeping us from SAVING THE WORLD.’ and, for a single shining moment,  Renegade Shepard slams them against a wall and threatens to do just that. (Often times this does not actually work and you still end up having to do the thing, but that’s RPGs for you.)

    Paragon Shepard has some awesome moments too, but they are not as funny.

    All too often RPGs have to come up with odd justifications as to why an evil ‘hero’ would even be playing the game at all. In Mass Effect, you just have a job to do, and you’re going to do it, considering not to do it is not even an option. How you do it, OTOH, is up to you. You slam people who get in your way into walls, you can be so trustworthy that even horrible people will willingly help you, and you can even, confusingly, do _both_, alternating. (Sadly, the dev team didn’t seem to think of that, and there’s no ‘Threaten to just shoot this guy if he hinders you, but promise to solve his problem if he does not’ options that I can find.)

  • vsm

    Whenever video games try to talk up my alter ego, I get uncomfortable. It’s not exactly a rational reaction, but it feels like the game thinks I’m so desperate for validation I’ll take it wherever I can, even if it’s unearned. I don’t like interacting with anything or anyone that has such a low opinion of me.

    It’s one of the reasons I like Persona 3 so much, particularly the original route with the male character*. He’s not the leader of the party outside of battle, he became the chosen one through accident rather than destiny or some superior quality, and the other party members are perfectly happy having character arcs that don’t involve him in any form.

    *The female main character, added for the PSP re-release, can become close friends with everyone in the party. I dislike this.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    You slam people who get in your way into walls, you can be so trustworthy that even horrible people will willingly help you, and you can even, confusingly, do _both_, alternating. (Sadly, the dev team didn’t seem to think of that, and there’s no ‘Threaten to just shoot this guy if he hinders you, but promise to solve his problem if he does not’ options that I can find.)

    That depends on which game in the series you are playing and which quest.  For example, I was quite proud when playing through the Omega DLC quest in Mass Effect 3 that Aria (who prides herself on her ability to read people and manipulate them) ended the quest frustrated because she could not pin down my alignment, seeming to jerk her impression about me around.  When she brought it up and asked me what I really though, I told her (truthfully) that I liked to keep her guessing.  

    Someone has to keep her on her toes.  


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