Hold Up, Someone Is Playing the Game Wrong and They Must Be Stopped!
Before the reformatting of my computer happened I disappeared down a rabbit hole of pseudo-intellectualism that wrapped itself up in a self-righteous cloak of quoted text to protect each of the combatants within a cocoon of ignorance masquerading as brilliance. There were two sides of this debate. On this side you found a loud and protracted mewling chorus of voices screaming out, "GYGAX SAID THIS AND THUS IT WAS WRITTEN IN STONE AND SHALL NEVER BE CHANGED!" Arrayed against them were a slew of flagellating warriors mindlessly repeating the chants of their forefathers, "YOU KILL THE ORC AS A STAND IN FOR THE BLACK! YOU SLIGHT THE WOMAN IN YOUR STATISTICAL ABILITIES TO PROTECT YOUR BOYS CLUB FROM THEIR COOTIES! THE OLD WAYS MUST BE COMPLETELY ABANDONED AND CAST INTO THE DUST OF TIME TO BE FORGOTTEN!"
There was no progress made by either side and reading through the morass of mindless grandstanding and infantile attempts to score points with cutting words across the infinite void of the internet it became clear to me that no one had any real interest in finding a middle ground between the two sides. In spite of more than a dozen calls for changes in tone and for a real exchange of ideas neither of those things was actually the goal of the people foaming at the mouth in that kerfuffle. They were there to be seen and heard not to change hearts and minds.
By the time I had finished reading through the thread I was out of wine and disgusted with the whole affair. Oh, don't get me wrong, there were some real moments of hilarity in there like when one of the Gygaxian faithful started flailing about telling everyone who would listen that the only way they were getting his D&D books was by prying them from his cold, dead hands. Then there was the lady with an ambiguous user name like 247Jonesn4Scotch who started screaming that they were all "mansplaining" to her because of their sexism!
Good stuff, good stuff.
Anyway this evening I was reading through James P. Carse's Finite and Infinite Games when I saw a line that reminded me of this little rabbit hole I had been down. The ". . . [r]ules are not valid because . . . God pronounced them through Moses . . . They are valid only if and when players freely play by them . . ." (Carse 10). In other words just because you find a rule written down it doesn't mean that you have to use it. You don't like that women have lower stats than men in the early versions of Dungeons & Dragons; and if you don't then you don't have to use the rule. Role-playing games aren't holy scriptures written in stone with Enforcers standing at the door of every Hobby Shop watching to ensure that each nerd picks up their books with trembling hands and a whispered prayer to the designer that they might play the game correctly.
Hell, Gary himself once wrote these rules ". . . are guidelines to follow in designing your own fantastic-medieval campaign. They provide the framework around which you will build a game of simplicity or tremendous complexity — your time and imagination are about the only limiting factors . . ." (Gygax 4). He was telling you all the way back in 1974 that you could absolutely modify the hell out of this shit because role-playing games are like a living language that morphs to fit the needs of those involved. That's the whole reason why there are people actively involved in DIY projects on the web and in your local gaming communities right now. They looked at their favorite games - RIFTS, Dungeons & Dragons, Savage Lands, GURPS, FATE, Star Wars d6 - and decided that it wasn't meeting their needs. Then they went out and made something that did. They made Carcosa, Iron Kingdoms, Red & Pleasant Land, Microlite 74, and a million other games that have helped change what we think of when we say we're playing a role-playing game. So to argue that we have to play the game as it was written always mystifies me.
Don't get me wrong, the other side of this debate was completely full of shit too.
Look if in your games you want to explore what it's like to sexually molested or to deal with racism because you've never experienced either of them than more power to you. It's not my idea of a good time, but to each his own; because there's plenty of room for all of us to have fun in our own ways. BUT that isn't what happens. Instead I get some half crazed jack waggon coming along every so often who wants to tell me that the reason I like killing orcs is because they're a stand-in for my repressed bigotry. Never mind that I have close friends across all racial, and most of the sexual, lines and involved them heavily in my games when they showed an interest OR that I've got family who fit into those categories. No, I kill orcs so I must be a bigot.
I get it, I really do. You've got issues with people of color, women, transgendered folk, and queers so it's impossible for you to imagine that anyone else could not work out their issues in the game because that's what you do. The thing is that not everyone is like you. I can like killing imaginary creatures simply because it's fun and not because I'm a closeted bigot. So seriously, stop projecting your own issues on everyone else and enjoy the game.
Carse, James P. Finite and Infinite Games. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986. 10
Gygax, Gary and Dave Arneson. Dungeons & Dragons Vol 1: Men and Magic. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1974. 4