Games & Soapboxes

edited July 2010 in Story Games
Posted By: SilverlionI play games for fun. Not to learn lessons from someones personal soapbox.Doing anything else besides playing a game for fun is deeply irresponsible, and dangerous.

I won't delve into your background--but think on this: Do you have years of experience in the field you want to teach on? The appropriate training? Professional, and moral ethics as held to a doctor, psychologist or similar professional in such a field? A few decades worth of field tests for the game? Studies to back up your methods of teaching?

It be better to approach the world as a journalist, a preacher, a teacher or other person interested in doing good works. Tabletop RPG's? Isn't the place.

I'll be honest: I hope much the same that people learn to overcome these complex and selfish issues for the good of others. Yet would you want me to utilize my personal stance (which happens to be religious) via a game to teach you how to change things?
Quoted from another thread.
Matthijs suggested that this line of inquiry be cast into its own thread.
Enter thread.

Straight up, I believe something very different than Silverlion.

I believe that engaging in story, and constructing experiences, it's a vital avenue for learning and growing and seeing new perspectives. Story games can teach us new skills, and help us re-train how we look at old skills.

When Silverlion asks if he should use his "personal stance (which happens to be religious)" to teach me how to change things?
Yes.

As a staunch existentialist, I don't get a lot of meaningful interaction with religious ideas. I get a lot of tacky surface stuff, like cheesy fliers about how Jesus is the light. But I don't get a lot of meaningful depth to that exposure.

And, the meaningful depth and exposure I do get is never in an atmosphere where I can really digest it and play with it. It's in a serious, real world atmosphere where I'm more concerned with defending my own beliefs than hearing yours, unfortunately.

What if there was a way to explore and dive into and play with these ideas, in a playful and safe space, where we could check our own baggage at the door and really immerse? What if we could play with big ideas, big consequences and big choices... but rest assured that the weight of world wasn't on our shoulders?

We could learn so much better! Share so much better! Listen so much better!
And doesn't that set up sound familiar?
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Comments

  • I'll go a little further. I don't think "playing a game for fun" as a pure thing that doesn't contain one's viewpoint and beliefs and an attempt to communicate them in some form is possible. All creative endeavors are inevitably going to be a statement of who you are and what you believe in some way. Why not be up front with that instead of pretending that there's "fun" that means nothing and "serious stuff" that means exactly what you intend it to and nothing else?

    "RPGs are just fun" is denial, pure and simple.
  • Well, I'll say it here, what I didn't bother saying there.

    A Theory of Fun, by Raph Koster. It covers very well the whole fun is learning thing.
  • I don't know that "just having fun" really means anything. Games take stands. When D&D makes evil a palpable, concrete force in its world, that's teaching us something even if we don't ever believe evil is concrete in our world. All games, or at least game play, have on some level some political component, because they portray how a world fictionally works.
  • Everything has politics. A game can't not be a soapbox. Better that it does so intentionally, and humbly.
  • edited July 2010
    Yet would you want me to utilize my personal stance (which happens to be religious) via a game to teach you how to change things?
    Yes, I'd be interested in this.

    More soapboxes, please. Well, actually, no. More games with agendas, please, like Steal Away Jordan.

    P.S. This is Graham, still posting from Elizabeth's account by accident, aaargh.
  • Games with agendas = good. Though, it brings up the argument of what a game "means" and if you're not exploring that meaning, whose fault is it - the players or the game?
  • Posted By: Mark WI'll go a little further. I don't think "playing a game for fun" as a pure thing that doesn't contain one's viewpoint and beliefs and an attempt to communicate them in some form is possible.
    Posted By: misubaA game can't not be a soapbox.
    Personally, I hear those statements and feel like they are way too prescriptive.

    I think that games can be simple expressions of joy and fun, and can stand on their own two feet without needing to be a soapbox, vehicle for belief sharing, etc.

    I mean, on some level, everything is political and everything is an expression of our beliefs, sure.
    And on that level, sure, every game is a political vehicle for agendas and viewpoints and beliefs. Or whatever.
    But moving beyond that level, I think that games are what we make them, and what we see in them.
    I don't think they need to be belief-fueled or new-viewpoint-engendering, I just think that they have that potential.
  • edited July 2010
    Wow, you guys all agree so hard!

    I wonder what the guy you are all dogpiling thinks? Did anybody think to invite him to the party, or this more of a yay us thing?
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI wonder what the guy you are all dogpiling thinks?
    That'd sure be awesome to hear.

    Maybe we can all slow our roll and extend a considerate hand, and just hang tight until Silverlion joins the party?
  • Every media product we are presented with comes with an agenda attached: every movie, every song, every TV show, every novel, everything. Not all of them are explicitly and intentionally trying to convert us to their point of view, but it's safe to say that we will like those things more if we agree with them, and that they're going to do their level best to make us like 'em. Doesn't matter if we're talking about Fahrenheit 9/11 or Left Behind or "Friends" or a Lady Gaga video.

    So on that level, yeah, I'm fine with the idea of games -- which have to be written by someone at some point -- having an agenda. These things aren't created in a vacuum, after all.

    I get a bit twitchier when people start talking about how to write a game with the explicit intention of teaching something, but only because I worry that it'll make the game less fun even for people who already agree with and approve of whatever point of view is being taught. (I don't worry about people who disagree, because most of them just won't play it, the same way that most people won't watch a TV show that doesn't appeal to them.) If you can make a good, fun game and say what you want to say at the same time, more power to you.


    There's one area in which I absolutely, 100% agree with Silverlion, though, and that's when we get around to the idea of games-as-therapy. That's a realm for qualified experts: people who have training, professional ethics, and oversight. You want to make a therapeutic game, you need to work closely with people who know what the fuck they're doing, because good intentions without the necessary expertise can do more harm than good. "Deeply irresponsible and dangerous" is a mild way to describe it, in my opinion.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarWow, you guys all agreeso hard!

    I wonder what the guy you are all dogpiling thinks? Did anybody think to invite him to the party, or this more of a yay us thing?
    I have to say I don't really disagree. Any game that overtly has some message it carries usually turns me off. Dogs in the Vineyard is one such example, and I only got interested in it because it mechanically does what I want it to do, which ends up having nothing to do with meaning. I also found BSG rather trite with the religious overtones. Even Poison'd doesn't appeal to me given that it tries to drive the message that pirates are nasty, nasty, people.

    Now if it's a covert message, I could handle it. I know plenty of people who watch Star Trek just for the fun of it, and they don't see any of the underlying messages, while others only like it because of the underlying messages. That's cool, but if you can't tune out the message and just enjoy, it'll simply turn a lot of people off the game and never be popular. I guess game wise there's A Dirty World - it is about words being more damaging than weapons, and is quite appropriate in a game whose medium is words, but you can set that aside and just have fun telling a story using the creative mechanics, or also to shift the emphasis on that which puts Goku and Vegeta and Chichi and Bulma on equal footing - a way of balancing characters that are inherrently unbalanced with other mechanics.
  • +1 on the games-as-therapy front. This strikes me as deeply misguided if I'm feeling charitable, arrogant and maybe dangerous if I'm not.
  • I have to say I don't really disagree. Any game that overtly has some message it carries usually turns me off. Dogs in the Vineyard is one such example, and I only got interested in it because it mechanically does what I want it to do, which ends up having nothing to do with meaning. I also found BSG rather trite with the religious overtones. Even Poison'd doesn't appeal to me given that it tries to drive the message that pirates are nasty, nasty, people.

    Given your last sentence there, you make me doubt the validity of the others you wrote.

    That's not the message. The message is that desperate people do desperate things. What do you think the message is in Dogs? That shooting people hurts? Or maybe that coats are cool?

    I kind of agree with you about BSG, but I suspect for different reasons than you do.

  • Posted By: Paul B+1 on the games-as-therapy front. This strikes me as deeply misguided if I'm feeling charitable, arrogant and maybe dangerous if I'm not.
    Pretty much.

    On the games as learning front -- well, any activity that involves social interaction will involve some degree of social learning. So RPGs are pretty much a shoo in. I also agree that structuring such interaction in a good way is a good thing, as opposed to have a poor social structure or no guidance at all.
  • edited July 2010
    This thread is somewhat interesting... but it's fragmenting. I see these different (but related) sub-threads:
    Games [can | should | shouldn't try to] educate.
    Games [can | should | shouldn't try to] evangelize (in all sense, not merely religious).
    Games [can | should | shouldn't try to] have themes or be cathartic.
    Games [can | should | shouldn't try to] be therapeutic.
    Games [can | should | shouldn't try to] drive emotional reactions, which in turn can [pick one or more of the above].

    If for no other reason, we could wait on Tim Kirk to explain to which of the above he most objects, and move forward from there.
    *ducks and braces for opprobrium*
  • I'm still wondering how in the world anyone can really draw a clean line between "game as pure content without communicative intent" --- "game as creative process (and therefore with an imbedded set of viewpoints and values)" --- "game as teaching tool" --- "game as change agent/therapy"

    That's a really muddy spectrum. Anything that involves communication of ideas or behaviors and learning is going to have the potential to alter minds. I feel like there's a lot of highly emotional abreaction to the idea of games that can change us. All communication and interaction changes us. Way, way better to have that change shaped intentionally than have it emerge from a bunch of unexamined ideas and reinforcement cycles baked into the game without conscious intent.
  • I'll add to David's (very perceptive) list that my point is perhaps more meta - you can't tell the difference between those 5 things reliably, and you can't avoid them. It's all degree and intentionality.
  • edited July 2010
    Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanI have to say I don't really disagree. Any game that overtly has some message it carries usually turns me off. Dogs in the Vineyard is one such example, and I only got interested in it because it mechanically does what I want it to do, which ends up having nothing to do with meaning. I also found BSG rather trite with the religious overtones. Even Poison'd doesn't appeal to me given that it tries to drive the message that pirates are nasty, nasty, people.

    Given your last sentence there, you make me doubt the validity of the others you wrote.

    That's not the message. The message is that desperate people do desperate things. What do you think the message is in Dogs? That shooting people hurts? Or maybe that coats are cool?

    I kind of agree with you about BSG, but I suspect for different reasons than you do.

    The premise of Dogs is about fighting for the glory of god, that's not even a religious overtone there anymore, it's just plain religious, and it's something I have no interest in getting in to. The mechanics can be used for something entirely different, but that's the part I don't like. As for Poison'd, maybe you got something different out of it, but I never gave it a second look.
  • Dogs is no more about fighting for the glory of god than is your average D&D cleric or paladin. Less, in fact.

    Dogs is about much, much more interesting things.


    James
  • Dogs to me is about fighting for what you think is right, having the authority to enforce what you think is right, and deciding how far you will go and what consequences you will accept to achieve what you think is right. The glory of god part is just color. Like fighting for Pelor, Paladine, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. There is actually no need for it, and hence why Dogs can be played in many setting, not just frontier fantasy-Utah. It is unfortunate that people can't get past the color to see the game inside. And I am a staunch athiest, so if I can get past it, anyone should be able to.
  • I think we need to stop talking about gaming as if it is some special activity that teaches us things because no other activities do that.

    Soccer taught me how to win, how to lose, how to pick myself up and dust myself off and try again after fucking up in public.

    Lifting weights has taught me how to deal with pain and discomfort, how to walk towards something I don't want to do and do it.

    These are hobbies, things that are fun.

    So maybe my contribution is that fun is never just fun.
  • Posted By: JuddThese are hobbies, things that are fun.
    I don't disagree with you, but...
    Posted By: JuddLifting weights has taught me how to deal with pain and discomfort, how to walk towards something I don't want to do and do it.
    ...not a lot of people would say "pain and discomfort" and "doing something I don't want to do" when asked what's fun for them. :D
  • Accounting,

    I don't want to de-rail the thread talking about the simple joys of putting heavy weights above one's head.
  • ...not a lot of people would say "pain and discomfort" and "doing something I don't want to do" when asked what's fun for them. :D
    World of Warcraft.
  • Well played, sir.
  • Posted By: JuddI think we need to stop talking about gaming as if it is some special activity that teaches us things because no other activities do that.

    Soccer taught me how to win, how to lose, how to pick myself up and dust myself off and try again after fucking up in public.

    Lifting weights has taught me how to deal with pain and discomfort, how to walk towards something I don't want to do and do it.
    Cool, Judd.

    This is something I hear you on, though I've never thought to articulate it or thought that it might be relevant.
    But it is! And it makes the case for story games as fun that is also growth.

    So, like, thanks for widening the context of this conversation.
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarI wonder what the guy you are all dogpiling thinks? Did anybody think to invite him to the party, or this more of a yay us thing?
    I'd still love it if Silverlion joined in!

    Migo offered a view contrary to my own. Mark W and Misuba took their views beyond where I was comfortable taking mine.
    So, there's some diversity to the conversation, here... but still, I'd love it if there were more!
  • Posted By: JuddI think we need to stop talking about gaming as if it is some special activity [...].
    QFT.

    James
  • edited July 2010
    I'm going to stand by what I said, and I'm unlikely to change it, yet I am willing to discuss the idea.


    . There is a difference between my beliefs shaping game aspects, unintentionally from my point of view, and the process of intentionally creating a game designed to convey a specific moral soapbox.

    I specifically feel that any probing into psychological issues is too dangerous and SHOULD get someone brought up on criminal charges, if they do so in the guise of a game, unless they are at the least a trained professional counselor using said play/game in a therapeutic environment. (A Role playing game group, not therapeutic environment for the record.)


    Some information to understand my background:

    I've actually accidentally triggered one players claustrophobia unintentionally.

    I've been approached after games because the player's who played (online) felt I was religious and wanted to talk about it at one point. I did not intentionally include moral or religious specifics of my particular beliefs, I did however present religion as positive in this case. I've done the same with beliefs not my own, and have done so as fairly as I can.

    I only run games where the PC's are heroes. I don't find exploring the darker side of things interesting, mature, or in anyway entertaining. It is too easy a path to vicarious thrills, and power fantasies, and far far to easy--even for me, to role-play.

    I once wrote a superhero story about myself with powers. The end result is NOT pretty, and I'm fully aware, that with the best intentions of such powers, I would slip into being a tyrant. (I just want people to be nice, WHY won't you be nice!") can move from a general moral compass to a dictate upon others. I'm comfortable knowing that I would do my best to do good in real life, and would fight and die for what I believed to be good, and sometimes "good" is protecting other peoples rights to completely disagree with me, but I also know that I take dim view on some peoples actions.

    I believe in Evil. I don't believe it needs supernatural impetus, but I believe humans like us, exist who are evil. There are people damaged by society, who can be helped, but there are a lot of people who NEVER will, because they are evil.

    I am Christian (but a liberal one with rather stringent views on not having the knowledge to judge peoples actions--I don't know enough, I can but warn them of the dangers I perceive in their choices and leave it God, to sort it out.)

    I've been diagnosed Bi Polar: Type 2, Hypomanic, no psychosis, and with extreme anxiety. I've seen the dangers of mental health PROFESSIONALS who suck at their jobs, so I am always very worried when people think they can change the world by sorting out problems even professionals wrestle with. I've not met a game designer yet I'd want to be delving anywhere into that murky place. (I'm relatively stable, on medication and in constant counseling--events occurred just prior to the release of Hearts & Souls, that triggered this illness and is not genetic.) .I went from being a relatively functional semi-professioanl customer representative who loved working with people to a virtual recluse. I only went outside my home to see the doctor, counselor, and to game with one group who got my illness well enough and made me as comfortable as they could with their rather abrasive natures. (I love em to death for not changing that even when I was suffering they supported me in their way.) I lost track of several dozen sets of friends locally for a long time, because of that. However, unlike many who suffer these illnesses, I was not willing to stop fighting, not easily. I also am not stupid enough to go off the medications I'm on unless they stop working, or start threatening my life with other health concerns, unlike some bipolars. (I will likely be medicated for life.)


    However, Matthijs said he was focused more on teaching people to not be stupid.Which is not necessarily a psychological issue, but does veer very close to it in considerable ways that make it worrisome. Especially since stupidity is highly subjective.

    The idea of improving critical thinking, is important to me as well. I just don't think gaming is the way to do so.

    How do you think a game can teach critical thinking (that is "not stupidity" as close as I can word it, without delving into deeper issues that are dangerous?

    Morally speaking since gaming is not a religion, but essentially a toy--a play thing, a hobby. IS it even appropriate it address such territory?

    Why should gaming be the vehicle for it--instead of journalism/lecturing/teaching?

    Do you think anyone will buy a game based on the idea of teaching someone's soapbox? (Besides the already sold to choir--like academic papers written to other academics?)


    Would this discussion have more suitable method? (So not as to mess up the Zen, as Andy put it.)

    Alternately is anyone willing to consider being in error such a polarizing topic? If not, best just to let it go and drop the discussion. I'm more than willing to consider other viewpoints, though I'm not sure how much if at all that will impact my view.
  • edited July 2010
    Posted By: SilverlionThere are people damaged by society, who can be helped, but there are a lot of people who NEVER will, because they are evil.
    There's a lot you said that I think is worthy of debate and discussion. And I think almost all of your concerns are legitimate. I personally find this part of your world view more troubling than the prospect of any role-playing game designer trying to subtly teach a moral lesson to the players of their game.

    The thing about games is they involve a back-and-forth. Its participants engage one another as equals and learn from one another. A mindset that views anyone as a lost cause can't engage with others in that mode.

    But here might be a possible acid test for whether it's profitable to engage you further on this topic. Outside of the whole arena of role-playing and gaming, do you think that a professional teacher has the moral authority to attempt to teach critical thinking and ethics via standard commonly accepted teaching practices? Even where that teaching intersects with and challenges the faith-based understanding provided by the parents or the religious institutions that previously instructed the world-view of the prospective student? Yes? No? At what age? Public or only private?
  • Posted By: SilverlionI've seen the dangers of mental health PROFESSIONALS who suck at their jobs, so I am always very worried when people think they can change the world by sorting out problems even professionals wrestle with.
    Silverlion, this is interesting to me.

    Let me share some of my background in return. I've worked as a community support worker, language therapist and employment counselor. I've also spent a great deal of my personal life attempting to support those around me, especially those who are struggling with big barriers.

    As a professional, I've had instances where I really hurt someone, where I've burned out and not been able to back out, where I've let me ego and presumptions get the best of me.

    As a human, sans job description, I've never fumbled or sagged in the same way. I have fucked up, but I haven't lost the will or stopped listening.

    I think that equating authority with capability is a dangerous thing. I think that equating professionalism with capacity is a dangerous thing. I'm not saying you were doing that exactly, but I am leading up to...
    Posted By: SilverlionWhy should gaming be the vehicle for it--instead of journalism/lecturing/teaching?
    Because of the importance of joy.

    Games are made joyfully. They invite you to play. They invite you to be wrong and have that be okay. They invite you to learn in a safe environment.

    When Jason Morningstar made Grey Ranks, he probably wasn't in a very sunshine-y and la-dee-da mood. But he was acting out of a certain joy, a joy for sharing and exploring hard moments in human history, and a joy for history, and a joy for telling stories together, and a joy for unpacking the situations we encounter.

    When people play Grey Ranks, they're playing. Not in a flippant way, not in a way that degrades the subject matter, not in a non-serious way. But in a way that explores deeply, that takes advantage of the safety that a game provides, and that is fuelled by a joy for experiencing and emotionally overcoming.

    I take Grey Ranks because it is a pretty hardcore example. It's about child soldiers defending Warsaw against Nazis, if I'm not mistaken. It speaks to some powerful issues.

    It does so with a somber joy that I'd be hard pressed to experience and enter into if I was turning to journalism or lectures.
    Posted By: Silverlion
    I've actually accidentally triggered one players claustrophobia unintentionally.
    So, learning is partially about making mistakes, right? Some might argue that it is 100% about making mistakes, but let's take a moderate and middling path here.

    In order to not get seriously hurt by the decisions you make, you have two options:
    • Only make small decisions
    • Make decisions in a safe environment
    You have a friend who faces claustrophobia.
    You encountered that in a relatively safe environment.

    You learned something about the person. You learned something about watching for people's lines and boundaries.
    You learned something about handling claustrophobia when you encounter it in the world.

    I submit that it is better that you did this learning in a place of safety, rather than somewhere else - say, by actually forcing your friend into a confined space, and unwittingly doing a lot of emotional damage, and learning about their claustrophobia that way.
  • edited July 2010
    Posted By: Mcdaldno
    As a professional, I've had instances where I really hurt someone, where I've burned out and not been able to back out, where I've let me ego and presumptions get the best of me.

    As a human, sans job description, I've never fumbled or sagged in the same way. I have fucked up, but I haven't lost the will or stopped listening.

    I think that equating authority with capability is a dangerous thing. I think that equating professionalism with capacity is a dangerous thing. I'm not saying you were doing that exactly, but I am leading up to...

    Bear with me while I work on this quoting thing, its very different from the other forums I use.

    It isn't my aim to equate authority, but training, and more importantly over-site. I've dealt with counselors doing their practicum, who essentially had no "authority" in the respect I'd use the word, being merely further along college students than I was at the time. Yet they still had training, study, and more importantly back up and people to lean on in terms of organizational structure to help protect the people involved on both sides of the virtual table. Any authority a professional has--especially in the the vast majority of cases is because we've chosen to give it by hiring them. I had to "fire" and file complaints against one professional but at least I had the means to do that. With a game designer, or a player who isn't the designer, what does someone being exposed to game. out of controlled circumstances, have to protect them?

    Because of the importance of joy.

    Games are made joyfully. They invite you to play. They invite you to be wrong and have that be okay. They invite you to learn in a safe environment.

    When Jason Morningstar made Grey Ranks, he probably wasn't in a very sunshine-y and la-dee-da mood. But he was acting out of a certain joy, a joy for sharing and exploring hard moments in human history, and a joy for history, and a joy for telling stories together, and a joy for unpacking the situations we encounter.

    When people play Grey Ranks, they'replaying. Not in a flippant way, not in a way that degrades the subject matter, not in a non-serious way. But in a way that explores deeply, that takes advantage of the safety that a game provides, and that is fuelled by a joy for experiencing and emotionally overcoming.

    I take Grey Ranks because it is a pretty hardcore example. It's about child soldiers defending Warsaw against Nazis, if I'm not mistaken. It speaks to some powerful issues.

    It does so with a somber joy that I'd be hard pressed to experience andenterinto if I was turning to journalism or lectures.

    I like the way you've put that, while I agree that's important. You've got to be extremely cautious in some instances with even joy. Emotions, even joy, can be a tripwire to a bomb. I think joy is generally a good thing, with people who are otherwise willing to embrace it. However, I'm not sure that joy can't be had through learning from teachers, lecturers, etc. (Then again I was in the past a bit of an academic, so I may have a flawed view of them.)


    You have a friend who faces claustrophobia.
    You encountered that in arelatively safeenvironment.
    Except of course I lost the friend as a player for further games. Triggering emotional responses can happen, I've had it happen to me and other player in play, however, when the emotions, even in a safe environment can be hurtful, human nature is to avoid hurt, embracing it to learn, takes a specific thought process, that a game cannot guarantee to facilitate because of the differing backgrounds and viewpoints people possess.

    You learned something about the person. You learned something about watching for people's lines and boundaries.
    You learned something about handling claustrophobia when you encounter it in the world.

    I submit that it is better that you did this learning in a place of safety, rather than somewhere else - say, by actually forcing your friend into a confined space, and unwittingly doing a lot of emotional damage, and learning about their claustrophobiathatway.
    I'm not sure it makes a difference. I learned something that wasn't being taught--intentionally but by unfortunate accident. I'm not saying that learning is bad in play, I am suggesting aiming to teach specific things may be problematic and even harmful.

    Of course I say this just as I posted a mini version of my idea for a game for younger children in RPG fashion over on another site, so, apparently some teaching is alright. I think its more the subjective nature of the lesson that's at issue. (Teaching math skills is fine, book keeping too.) Of course I also encourage the game for young children to be overseen by their own parent, which is allegedly the person supposed to be most watchful in regards to what their children are exposed too.
  • edited July 2010
    Posted By: blankshieldDogs is no more about fighting for the glory of god than is your average D&D cleric or paladin. Less, in fact.

    Dogs is about much, much more interesting things.


    James
    That may be the case, but first impressions are created by the back cover blurb or the few sentences of synopsis. The moment I see an indication that the game's trying to send some message, I look elsewhere.

    The reason being, if there's some sort of message, it takes precedence over the entertainment. If a game tries to convey how deadly and nasty fighting is, the game will have a system like TRoS, which on the surface looks awesome, but in practice you end up never using the combat system because it just isn't fun. So then there's no point in having the detailed combat if it'll just be a coin toss to see who's absolutely slaughtered and you try to avoid fights at every turn. Now TRoS went in with the purpose of making realistic fighting, so I gave it a look. There was a game I saw about medics (maybe Grey Ranks, or I'm possibly confusing it with something else), I took a short look and decided I'd rather read a book about it. There was another one about black slaves, again, I didn't give it another look.

    If the game is very clearly a toolkit for me to play the stories I want to play, then I'm interested. If the game looks like a vehicle to deliver a message from the author, then I'm simply not interested, because it stops being my game.
  • Posted By: SilverlionI like the way you've put that, while I agree that's important. You've got to be extremely cautious in some instances with even joy. Emotions, even joy, can be a tripwire to a bomb. I think joy is generally a good thing, with people who are otherwise willing to embrace it. However, I'm not sure that joy can't be had through learning from teachers, lecturers, etc. (Then again I was in the past a bit of an academic, so I may have a flawed view of them.)
    *nods*

    I totally hear you, that playing with big ideas and big emotions is dangerous.
    And if that fact forms a line that you don't want to cross, well, that makes a lot of sense.

    Personally, I want to go into dangerous territory, when I know I'm dreaming with friends.
    Is it totally safe? No. You've presented some stories that demonstrate the risk.

    But I think that continually learning and experiencing and jumping between shoes, in safe environments, with structure, is how we best learn and develop. It's what makes us capable of handling danger, and what makes us capable of stepping beyond the safety net when we need to.

    If you see that potential, but feel like the risks aren't worth treading, I appreciate that.
    You've shared a pretty bummer story about losing friends over shit that happened in game, and probably even shit that was not super out there.
  • Posted By: migoThe reason being, if there's some sort of message, it takes precedence over the entertainment. If a game tries to convey how deadly and nasty fighting is, the game will have a system like TRoS, which on the surface looks awesome, but in practice you end up never using the combat system because it just isn't fun.
    I think this is just one of those "agree to disagree" things, because I played Riddle for years, and we enjoyed the hell out of it, and the combat system was a huge part of that enjoyment.


    James
  • I think I see where SL is coming from, but wow. It seems to me that if that argument is generally applicable to games, it's applicable to every other arena of our lives where we try to communicate our ideas to others with the intent of actually communicating (rather than simply posturing or "being heard"). It applies to friendships. It applies to family relationships. It applies to workplace relationships. It applies to mentoring, and learning, and coaching, and every other thing we do in life that involves any attempt at changing the emotional state, beliefs, or behaviors of others. All relationships can be abusive.

    Games aren't a special privileged place. The power to share is the power to hurt. Or heal. I would WAY rather play with dangerous or uncomfortable or painful ideas than wrestle with them as part of another kind of human relationship.
  • As Judd pointed out, most activities in life, often and even especially, recreational ones can help us grow as individuals. Usually when they try to do this in a prescriptive way, they don't work unless the audience is already self-selected and open to it (like people who choose to go to a meditation class).

    However, as a species, we don't grow or evolve. We live, we fuck, we kill, we die. Humans have reached no higher good and no lower evil today than they did 1,000 years ago. The only thing that changes is technology. RPGs aren't going to help much, but they are fun to play in the meantime and can be helpful for you as an individual.
  • edited July 2010
    Silverlion,

    Sounds like you have had some tough times. Loss of relationships, mental illness, and resultant loss of the employment that you seem to have loved. These things will shape your perception of life and the world. What I am hearing from you is that you have very little trust for people and their intentions for you, and that one of the few gages that you use to test reliability of a person when handling your mental state is professional status. Even then, you say that there are many bad professionals. That is a tough place to be in, and I can definitely sympathise with it.

    To share some of myself, I am a senior medical student. I am in the midst of applying to residencies. I would like to share with you a little about games, specifically role playing games, in medical education. This hopefully will shed some light on the professionals who are helping you with your mental illness.

    Roleplaying games are core to medical education. Every doctor who graduates from medical school and plans to practice in the US will have roleplayed to some degree. In order to get a spot in a residency in the US you must pass the US Medical Licencing Exams Step 2 Clinical Skills Test. Big name for an elaborate and expensive LARP. Medical students in their 4th year of medical school will converge on a handfull of cities and "pretend to be doctors treating patients". There are rules that I won't get into here, but the gist is that they set up a faux clinic, and you rotate to 12 different patient rooms. Each room has a paid professional actor that you interact with, diagnose, counsel, and then write orders and a clinic note for. There are certain actions that you just pretend to do because of danger and discomfort, such as rectal exams and female pelvic and breast exams. But it is all pretend. No one is sick. And you pass if you play well enough.

    This is not the only example of roleplay in medical school. It is used extensively for exactly what this thread is about. Subjects that are difficult to talk about, that make people uncomfortable thinking about, or are just outside of the experiences of most students, we role play them. It sets up a safe place to practice, it allows for an audience and feedback, and it decreases anxiety of students considerably. Subjects such as sex, drugs, drinking, money, homosexuality, religion, cross cultural medicine, and end of life care are some but not all of the areas that medical students role play pretty extensively prior to ever interacting with a patient. They are considered invaluable to medical education, and most people would say that a medical school that doesn't engage in these activities is not worth going to. Your education will suffer.

    To give you an idea about how these role playing sessions are actually games and not just free form role playing, I will relate my most recent session. I am currently doing a palliative care rotation. This is the branch of medicine that deals with helping patients make decisions in situations where there are really no good options. The most difficult aspects of this class are that you have to help patients make decisions about care when there is no option that is curative, and the other options have significant negative side effects. Most patients are going to die. Soon. There is a ton of loss that you have to deal with. The stories and relationships are amazing. It is uncomfortable even for people who are good at it.

    So here is the game. We were lead through a guided experience. We were instructed to create these cards that each had one thing of significant value to us, each within one of 5 spheres: things we possess, relationships, activities we love, objects in nature of significant meaning to us, and goals that we have for our lives. This gave us each a deck of 20 cards with all the most important things to each of us. We were then told to imagine that we were the character in the following fiction, and the more we immersed ourselves in it the more we would gain from it. The "GM" then read a piece from our perspective that related finding a lump in our armpit, relating it to the doctor, biopsy of the lump, the wait for initial diagnosis, the actual diagnosis of cancer, the treatment, the relapse, the further treatment, the non-response to treatment, the slow decline, and eventual death. Throughout this reading, the "GM" would stop and we were asked to lose a couple of cards at each dramatic moment. Some losses were chosen, some were randomly chosen by a partner. There was one episode of recovery of cards. It was amazingly difficult losing each thing that was important to you. Eventually, you were left, contemplating the very end of your life, left with nothing as you left this world. All 12 of the participants in this exercise were left crying, with a significant sense of loss, and a new understanding. There is no way to really relate the feelings that I got from this exercise, but the exercise reliably created the same experience in all participants.

    The understanding gain was that each of us had different things on our cards. Each thing was really important to the owner of the card, but there were some that were more important than others. My experience of taking a friend's cards left me with the thought that I would have liked to be able to ask her what cards she wanted me to take. I devastated her because I took the relationship that was most important to her and the place that meant the most to her. She cried when I did it. To be able to avoid taking those would have been the most humane thing possible at that moment. In real life, we each have imaginary cards, each person has different cards, and through my actions, I will end up taking cards away from my patients. Therapies always have both positive and negative consequences. I will now always ask which cards they value most. My patients deserve that.

    In this exercise, I learned a great deal about my own values, my mortality, but for my practice, I have gained an empathy that it would have taken terrible mistakes to learn without the game. The cost would have been great for my patients, but also for my psyche. I do not need to make those mistakes now.

    All of the professionals who help you have used role playing games. They have become better healers because of it. Games not only can teach valuable lessons, in my life, some of the most valuable lessons have come directly from role playing games.

    The creative use of play can create safe environments for the exploration of dangerous subjects. Simulation has a huge role in the education of people who will manage difficult and dangerous situations. Role playing games, especially table top RPGs, reign supreme in situations where relationships are central to the dangerous subjects. To say that they are too dangerous to use is to throw away a powerful tool for transformation and preparation. Neither the military nor medicine will ever give up RPGs as teaching tools. Their use in other areas is inevitable.
  • edited July 2010
    Posted By: Mark WGames aren't a special privileged place. The power to share is the power to hurt. Or heal. I would WAY rather play with dangerous or uncomfortable or painful ideas than wrestle with them as part of another kind of human relationship.
    It's not an either-or situation, though. Just because you choose (and I use that word deliberately) to put something uncomfortable or painful into your gaming doesn't mean that you've magically removed it from real life. It just means you've put it into your gaming, too.

    And I would argue that whether putting it into a gaming situation is going to be helpful in real life or not is going to depend very heavily on whether you knew what you were doing. Which, again, is something that's more likely with training and oversight than it is with just good intentions.

    I'm not saying that games can't have a therapeutic role, because it's pretty obvious that they can. I'm just saying that I feel it's something that non-therapists shouldn't be trying to do.


    Edit: Nameless's post really hits the nail on the head for me. That's a perfect example of proper training and oversight, right there.
  • You can teach or persuade without it being therapeutic in nature. My current group is learning a bunch of stuff about the Boulanger crisis of French politics in 1889 in my game, I ain't no therapist, I don't even have a degree in European history, and it ain't hurting nobody.
  • Posted By: blankshieldPosted By: migoThe reason being, if there's some sort of message, it takes precedence over the entertainment. If a game tries to convey how deadly and nasty fighting is, the game will have a system like TRoS, which on the surface looks awesome, but in practice you end up never using the combat system because it just isn't fun.
    I think this is just one of those "agree to disagree" things, because I played Riddle for years, and we enjoyed the hell out of it, and the combat system was a huge part of that enjoyment.


    James

    You missed the point I was trying to make with TRoS as an example. TRoS works because the purpose was to create a realistic fighting system which is desirable for entertainment value. If the same deadliness had been developed with a system trying to teach how violence is bad it would have been incredibly underwhelming.
  • Posted By: Accounting for TasteNameless's post really hits the nail on the head for me. That's a perfect example of proper training and oversight, right there.
    I agree that we had significant oversight, and that the "GM" had proper training, but I disagree with the impiled conclusion that this must always remain so for teaching instruments. I think that the lessons that games can teach do not always require training or oversight. What training did Homer, or Shakespear, or Harper Lee have that would prepare them to teach us about life? There are many people who can teach us about meaning in life who have no professional training. And there is no oversight.

    RPGs are another artform that can convey meaning, with themes and narrative. Art can transform and enrich us. I would be afraid of the governing body that was set up to regulate which artist were sanctioned to provide us with aproved art. I would be afraid of the meaning instilled by those governing bodies. Art must always remain democratic, and a tool of the people.
  • edited July 2010
    So, let's say I have a soapbox, and I stand on it and yell, "Question authority!" all day long. I rail against blind obedience, and everyone knows that's my opinion. The people who agree might salute me with a fist pump, the people who disagree might yell, "Shut up!" Just as likely, the people who find me entertaining will salute, and the people who find my voice grating will yell.

    Now let's say that next to my soapbox I have a big chart full of statistics illustrating that humans are better off, individually and collectively, when they question authority. Now I'm inviting a new reception. In addition to agree/disagree and like/dislike, I've now got convinced/unconvinced/curious. Most people will be skeptical of my stats, or just not care about them, but maybe a few people will go, "Oh wow, I didn't know that! I guess I should question authority!" Or at least get partway there: "Maybe I should question some authority..."

    Now let's say that my soapbox and charts come with hypnotic projections that guide everyone through a brief simulation of following authority to death and bucking it to prosperity. So now they have an experience that supports my claim. We've still got the range of reactions, but maybe most are stronger ("annoyed" -> "really annoyed"), and maybe, if I've done a good job with my simulation, more people are convinced I'm right.

    And finally, let's say that I'm wearing a clown suit, and so everyone who comes near is thinking thoughts of light entertainment, and is not prepared to be critical of the experience that's about to hit them. So now maybe I get fewer skeptical reactions, and convince a few more people.

    Best case: I've just convinced a small percentage (but as high as I could!) of the people who heard me to behave in a constructive manner.

    Worst case: I've just convinced a small percentage (but as high as I could!) of the people who heard me to behave in a destructive manner.

    So. Should someone stop me? Should I have stopped myself? Or should everyone else just be expected to make their own judgments, the same way they're free to buy or not buy every product they've ever seen advertised?

    Once it's clearly proven that I'm giving bad advice, then hopefully my community will warn people about me. But until then, I'm comfortable saddling my audience with the responsibility to decide for themselves whether to buy what I'm selling on my soapbox.

    Caveat: in real life, I'm not a hypnotic clown on a soapbox, and I certainly wouldn't offer a message-heavy or emotionally intense RPG experience to someone I knew to be very impressionable or fragile. I'd be looking out for that, though of course I'd appreciate it if anyone just plain told me! (I'm speaking in the hypothetical because I haven't run any intense games for strangers.)
  • edited July 2010
    Posted By: NamelessI agree that we had significant oversight, and that the "GM" had proper training, but I disagree with the impiled conclusion that this must always remain so for teaching instruments.
    I agree with you, which is why I didn't imply anything of the kind. I already said I'm cool with games that have agendas and/or want to teach things, and limited my disapproval to games-as-therapy by good-intentioned amateurs. So, we agree at least a little bit. Yay for us!
  • Posted By: NamelessSilverlion,

    All of the professionals who help you have used role playing games. They have become better healers because of it. Games not only can teach valuable lessons, in my life, some of the most valuable lessons have come directly from role playing games.

    The creative use of play can create safe environments for the exploration of dangerous subjects. Simulation has a huge role in the education of people who will manage difficult and dangerous situations. Role playing games, especially table top RPGs, reign supreme in situations where relationships are central to the dangerous subjects. To say that they are too dangerous to use is to throw away a powerful tool for transformation and preparation. Neither the military nor medicine will ever give up RPGs as teaching tools. Their use in other areas is inevitable.

    Indeed, this isn't counter to what I'm saying though. Perhaps I should rephrase?



    Less specifically, I find peoples opinions on this interesting. Thank you.
  • Posted By: migo
    If the game is very clearly a toolkit for me to play the stories I want to play, then I'm interested. If the game looks like a vehicle to deliver a message from the author, then I'm simply not interested, because it stops being my game.

    I want to ask a question here. One of the reasons I tend to write about the subjects I choose is because they interest me in some manner. Hearts & Souls, takes a different tack as a superhero game, because I think comic books are more about heroism, than powers and stats--is that an un-acceptable agenda/message?

    High Valor is a fantasy game "done right," that is one for my tastes where the game is centered on epic choices. It has things in play like dying when one faces monsters and stopping them from harming people (by will, faith, or valor.) It's not a heavy handed handling of those choices but that in its own way is a "message." Would that be problematic in a game based on certain folklore and epic stories, one can die--and still impact the world?

    Tribes of Mother Night, was a setting I wrote long ago for someone's system rather than my own, it dealt with prejudice--but it wasn't trying to send a specific message other than be what it was--a setting which had long years of prejudice and such shaping events in the world. Is it possible to touch on these things, without in essence sending a message?


    General (to everyone) I attended college for English and Speech, one of the interesting classes I took for speech (communication) was an education class called Storytelling, in it was emphasized that you interact with an audience and you tailor you stories to the audience in some manner to effectively entertain. I think this is the role of the GM in many cases is to guide things and assist the audience (the GM and players) into having fun with the game as both participants and the audience, which makes any gaming likely to create an experience that the group wants, in some manner, regardless of the writer's original goals.(Partially because players may have different desires of outcomes.) Can a distant creator find a way to improve the game by addressing this aspect of play over specific "messages" they may want to send, without sending some kind of message in and of itself?
  • edited July 2010
    Posted By: SilverlionIs it possible to touch on these things, without in essence sending a message?
    Hell, no.

    When you choose one word over another in constructing any sentence that you write or utter, you choose between different messages. Maybe it's a big difference, maybe not.

    But that's not the same as what I think migo means by using a game as a vehicle for a message. I think the word migo wants, but might not be enough of an ass to use, is "propaganda".

    EDIT: Actually, let me stop putting words in other mouths. *I* think the right word for the heavy version is propaganda.
  • @Silverlion At the risk of being obtuse, how do the alleged moral dangers of offering RPGs not just for fun differ from the offering any creative content, interactive or otherwise, which isn't just "for fun"? Are they are special case, or are you making a general point? You are certainly within your rights to have certain expectations of creative content based on its packaging, for example, children's films should be suitable for children. Should creatives have to concern themselves at every point with that they are professionally qualified to produce material which could otherwise be damaging? I don't see it.

    For example, if it had been a film and not a game which had triggered your friend's claustrophobia, would you have considered the flimmaker morally culpable?
  • Posted By: Simon RogersFor example, if it had been a film and not a game which had triggered your friend's claustrophobia, would you have considered the flimmaker morally culpable?
    I'm usually all about comparing RPGs to other media (movies, music, programming, etc) but here I'm smelling apples and oranges: At the RPG table, the GM and players have a more intimate relationship with each other than a filmmaker and their audience.

    It would be more accurate to make a similie about a novice filmmaker taking a filmmaking class at college, where all the other people in the class are acquaintances and friends who he knows, has talked to, had drinks with, etc.

    Unfortunately, the metaphor of filmmaker, painter or musician as it stands isn't quite the same, as they don't have a closed, controlled audience of 3-5 people they are intimate with.

    Also, this is a tiny bit relevant :-).
  • I experienced a substantial, nearly friendship-ending negative emotional experience with another player while playing poker once. Another time whilst playing Monopoly. I suspect these are natural risks of social interaction and that efforts to avoid them in RPGs would be misguided.
  • What it comes down to for me is I want to engage with the idea but I dont want you to preach to me. I dont want you forcing me to believe that X is bad and to only play in a way that shows x is bad but if you can set up situations that let me interact with the concept and deal with it in a realistic human terms than I'm all for it. There is a problem though. If you are trying to teach me something I may not come to the same conclusion that you want to teach. I'm not sure I'd agree with everyone on this board about when war is or isnt justified.
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