You're Not That Deep, Kid; No Matter What Your Momma Told You.

Last night I was reading Twitter, as one does, when I ran across one of the role-players in my feed talking about the game he was running. Apparently he was under the impression that the game he was running was actually an expression of radical truth philosophy and that in imposing that philosophy onto his players and world he was teaching them something profound. Unsurprisingly the game imploded a short while later and he was mystified. I started to talk to him about it but his feed was filled with messages from the faithful who were being supportive of him. "You just have to push it harder." "The seeds are planted and you'll see them come to fruition soon." "Your players will get the message soon." It was like looking into an abyss filled with pseudo-philosophers each manipulating the others genitals while moaning, "You're brilliant!"

It's clear that this particular Dungeon Master knew just enough to be dangerous and then fooled himself into believing that he had mastery over not only the session, but the philosophy and his players. I'm not saying that if you're players want a game with a deeper philosophical underpinning that you shouldn't go out and give it to them but when you force it on them things are often going to go off the rails and you shouldn't pretend like you didn't expect them to - Hell, you can't even keep them on the adventure's path what makes you think that you can make them take up a philosophy? Especially one like radical truth! What bothered me so much about that thread was that it was clear that the Dungeon Master hadn't considered the ramifications for not only his campaign but for his friends playing the game. Radical truth isn't a joke. It will fuck up your relationships and if you're not prepared for that consequence than you shouldn't even attempt to bring it into your role-playing games. 

That's not saying that there aren't philosophies that you can go half-cocked with and come out the better for using. Communism and Utilitarianism are two political philosophies that you could easily bring along with just a loose understanding and be just fine implementing. Hell, they may even fall in love with Utilitarianism in your fantasy world since that's the only place that it can actually work. 

Comments

  1. I'd suggest that the problem isn't that the game had an underpinning based onan exploration of a philosophical idea, but that it had as its base a form of quakery. ;) After all, radical honesty draws from a series of self-improvement books, not a serious academia.

    There are plenty of ethics frame words, philosophies and academic theories which can work briliantly as the basis of a RPG campaign. For instance, most DnD campaigns fall squarely into the Great Man theory of history, and their is plenty of fun to be had by playing with that, or subverting it.

    As for ethical frame works that only work in fantasy worlds, are you sure your not thinking of Objectivism, as experiemental evidence strongly suggests that Utilitarianism is the default human morality system, and it works really rather well.

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    1. None of the evidence I've ever seen in favor of Utilitarianism has ever been convincing to me as it always fails when placed in the personal and not on the grand scale (i.e. this family of four has no home; you're a family of one, give yours to them).

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    2. Your describing a no win situation, and honestly, one that a property rights resolution comes out of even worse.

      For deciding that by property rights allows for a situation where a grinning psychopath can sit and watch a family of four die of exposure with moral certitude that he has done nothing immoral.

      One of the distinct advantages of utilitarianism is that it provides a consistant and objective means of dealing with such no win situation, in a manner that does least harm.

      Of course, what your describing is an example of act utilitarianism. A rule utilitarianism system would say, that in general, maximum utility is achieve by not stealing, there for it is a rule not to steal.

      Of course this those arn't the only to options, and utilitarianism would be much more likely to say, share the house, and work together to build a new house, so that the family and individual can later trade, build wealth and be happy.

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    3. I'm not ignoring your comment Benjamin; I'm just not in a place where I can talk about this right now without being a derisive jerk and you don't deserve that. So please accept my apologies for not furthering the dialogue at this time.

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    4. That is okay. I come across as one of those even when I am not trying to be, so If you can manage not to be, that is cool.

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    5. That is okay. I come across as one of those even when I am not trying to be, so If you can manage not to be, that is cool.

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  2. There's a lot of bad DMs in the world but this smells a little anti-intellectual and that always leaves a bad taste.

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  3. Had to look up the concept of radical truth and I agree it's less a philosophy and more a means of personal improvement....albeit one which makes more sense, I suspect, to those for whom a habituation of lies and self delusion are more common.

    I've always been partial toward the idea of injecting a campaign with a dose of existentialism (Sartre style) and in fact did so, with a setting where the gods are created by mankind, essentially...all beliefs and concepts are actually produced as a result of human thought, not the other way around. The players have had a lot of fun over the last few campaigns in this setting trying to piece together the big mystery.

    I admit, it seems ironic to try for something like radical truth in a game where the core conceit is "we're going to pretend we're not who we are..." Ironic!

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  4. Also: Rule Utilitarianism is most likely the best descriptor of ethical process we have for how the Social Contract actually functions. You might (as Benjamin suggests) be thinking of something else?

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    1. Just thinking of the John Stuart Mill version I learned in college.

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  5. 1. I'm not familiar with this "radical truth" idea but I guess I'd be skeptical of any "message" adventures being fun. Then again some people love the heck out of "Dogs in the vineyard" and that sort of thing which sound similar. But you'd have to be on board from the start. I'm reluctant these days to even present moral dilemmas unless the group is willing/interested in dealing with them. I know at least one regular player in my group is annoyed by moral ambiguities and uncertainty in his dungeon crawls ... there's enough of that in real life!

    2. I'm pretty intrigued by the idea of moral theories "working" or "not working." I know some theories are inconsistent or incoherent when subjected to scrutiny, but the theories that have really caught on among philosopher -- like Utilitarianism -- tend not to be incoherent or inconsistent. So I guess I'm wondering what the criterion for "working" is.

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    1. 1. There are some really great "message-based adventures" and games out in there. The work of Caleb Stokes specifically in regards to 'No Security' and 'Red Markets' demonstrate how cool it can be. Listen to basically any RPPR Actual Play podcast, where Caleb is running and you'll get an idea of what he is all abount.

      The best message based adventures, really don't need any more buy in than any other adventure or game.

      2. There are a couple of ways of measuring the success of a ethical framework or system of morality.

      One is how well it describes human baseline morality.
      Objectivism for instance tells us that gut wrenchingly horrible actions are moral. There are good reasons most people look at an objectivist and say HELL NO!

      Another is how well it works as a system for making ethical or moral decision, that don't lead to a weirdly messed up world. When you work through the implications of a world dominated by Objectivism, you get a world that no sane person actually wants to live in.

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