Thursday, April 4, 2013

[Let's Read] Playing With Fire, Part 8: Chapter 2 Dungeons and Dragons It's Origin and Adventure

Chapter 2: Dungeons and Dragons It's Origin and Adventure ranges from pages 25 to 34, and consists of a single section title page, one blank page, and eight content pages.

Three items of Note:
1) direct quotes from the text will be italicized,
2) my analysis of this text is not an attack on individual Christians or to paint Christians as a whole in a broad brush, and
3) the authors' ideas will be critically examined, especially when they present a Christian idea without using the same rigor that they have used on RPGs.

Chapter 2 starts with a mixture of ingredients that make up Dungeons and Dragons, like imagination, caves and monsters. Then the text continues on to the beginnings of D&D in wargaming in the 1950s and 60s, as if that is when wargaming really started (conveniently ignoring the the publication of Little Wars by H.G. Wells in 1913). Yet again, we hear of popularity such that "war-gaming became somewhat fashionable" (Pg 28). Really? Somehow I doubt that is even remotely true.

In fact, the Hula Hoop was wildly popular in the 1950s and 60s, internationally as well as domestically in the U.S., with 100 million hula hoops sold in just two years. That's a fashionable activity. But no evidence is presented to show wargaming's fashionability during this time period - it's simply asserted by the authors.

In 1966, Gary Gygax, along with Bill Speer and Scott Duncan, formed the International Federation of Wargaming. Sub-chapters of the IFW were the medieval Castles and Crusades Society (1970) and the World War II Armored Operations Society.

The C&C Society's magazine Domesday Book, published by Gygax, allowed members to stake out their holdings on a great map of the kingdom. "Dave Arneson was one of the first to claim .... a barony, Blackmoor" (Pg 28) and Gygax developed some rules for sword and sorcery adventures which Arneson used and modified for heroes and wizards. Gygax then started Greyhawk to play "great sword and sorcery yarns" (Pg 28) from "the rules and notes he had received from Arneson" (Pg 29) and "play-tested at the Lake GenevaTactical Studies Association" (Pg 29).

I don't contest this history as they've presented it and in fact, seems to hold up to the known facts.

The authors then divest themselves of history to turn to ... the cost of things. What? What does that have to do with the section subject? (Reminder: "Origin and Adventure" is the subtitle of this chapter). They claim that "true indulgence in the game requires the purchasing and mastering of such books as the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Giude, The Monster Manual, and Deities and Demigods," (Pg 30) then goes on to say there are "over one hundred different booklets and accessories that can be bought for a total coat in excess of $500" (Pg 30).

Yes, true indulgence! Time to clutch our collective pearls in shock and disbelief! As if spending money on a hobby was a valid reason of criticism. This argument is simply a red herring. If spending $500 was at issue, I'm sure the authors were more than willing to tithe to their church in that amount or more! How many gamers actually bought everything? Do they have any information on that? And what does that have to do with the all the tea in China? Personally, in my circle of friends, we shared and traded game books and supplements and dice because we couldn't afford to buy it all. None of us had the money to do so because we didn't have lots of disposable income (much less any income at all).

The authors then go into how the game is played, explaining that "familiar game components such as cards and boards are not used (though there are dice)" (Pg 30) and "no rules, only guidelines" (Pg 30) (if that's true, then why did we get into so many arguments about how to correctly interpret the rules?) and "no limitation on time .... a single game could theoretically extend indefinitely" (Pg 30) and "no absolutes and no boundaries" (Pg 31).

Within these four points, they focus on two with examples. First, they play fast and loose about the time involved, with "(s)ome newspaper accounts mention games that are currently approaching five years in length" (Pg 31) without explaining that such games are not played continuously for those five years but in starts and fits across that time, for only a few hours at a time. If time was an issue, would it compare to a pastime that was more prevalent at the time like watching national football games? After all, sports fans spend years watching the game on the boob tube or in sports stadiums.

And second, their argument that "wits and imagination are crucial for success" (Pg 31) makes no sense when success in the game has really nothing to do with a group of people getting together to have fun. The argument of success seems to be coming from a win-or-lose, zero-sum game. RPGs are cooperative games, not zero-sum.

The authors state that a group of gamers get together, with one running the show as the Dungeon Master, who presents a "psycho-geographical terrain" (Pg 31) for the players to explore. Psychogeography (defined as "inventive strategies for exploring cities...just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape") is not really what is happening, because the players aren't actually physically wandering around their city, in fact, they're imagining they are wandering around a city or a dungeon or a landscape that doesn't actually exist.

As if it was really necessary, they delve into lists again, that this world is "mapped out on graph paper, complete with traps, treasures, monsters, dragons, magical objects, potions, wizards, demons, and gods in various regions" (Pg 31). I really don't understand the purpose of this except to put items of the occult in the text.

Another list follows, showing the possible character classes that a player can choose "cleric, druid, fighter, paladin, ranger, magic user, illusionist, thief, assassin and monk .... the thief is apparently one of the best .... According to Gygax 'None of these [characters] overshadow thieves'" (Pg 31).

Actually, the text of the paragraph from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook (1978, pg 7) says the following "Clerics and fighters have been strengthened in relation to magic-users, although not overly so. Clerics have more and improved spell capability. Fighters are more effective in combat and have other new advantages as well. Still, magic-users are powerful indeed, and they have many new spells. None of these over-shadow thieves. All recommended sub-classes - druids, paladins, rangers, illusionists, and assassins - as well as the special monk class of character, are included in order to assure as much variety of approach as possible."

When "None of these [characters] overshadow thieves." is placed within the context of the actual Player's Handbook, it is obvious that the authors' use of it is a quote-mine and the statement is incorrectly emphasized. A reasonable person would see that the different character classes do not overshadow thieves nor do thieves overshadow the other classes.

The third list (within three consecutive paragraphs) describes the character attributes "intelligence, dexterity, strength, creativity, charisma, and wisdom" (Pg 31). Creativity is one of the six attributes? What about Constitution? If they have access to the Player's Handbook (as they've been footnoting in this chapter), then they also have access to the list of six attributes and I've looked over mine - no creativity stat at all.

The fourth list (in next paragraph) gets the races right, at least "dwarven, elven, gnome, half-elven, halfling, half-orc, or human," (Pg 32) which is pulled straight from the Players Handbook (pg 7), with the exception of using half-orc instead of half-orcish as did the original.

Alignment is reduced to "good, neutral or evil" (Pg 32) totally ignoring the granularity of chaos, law and neutrality (do these people really have access to a Player's Handbook that they're quoting? Have they actually opened the book?), and then they focus in on "each player should also have a god" (Pg 32)—did I read that right? Each player should have a god? That's what they said! Guess they can't get it right that each character should have a god.

The authors explain that the players explore a setting conceived by the Dungeon Master then fall back to the whole list making again with "(t)here is no end to the multiple permutations of characters, dimensions, encounters, situations, and levels" (Pg 33), getting to "a six-rank thief could encounter a fourth- order demon on the tenth dungeon level and render it helpless with a fifth-power magical spell ...." (Pg 33). Do they actually mean a sixth level thief could encounter a Type IV demon on the tenth dungeon level and render it helpless with a fifth level magical spell? I trust the reader can see the problem with this sentence and those who actually have experience with 1st Edition AD&D can see the problems with this scenario. Here's a few hints: A Type IV demon has 11 Hit Dice, an AC of -1 and a 65% resistance to magic, whereas a sixth level thief has only 6 Hit Dice and as noted in the PHB, it requires a thief be 10th level to use magical scrolls (the only way a thief can cast spells), but that is problematic because there is a 25% chance of miscasting and an additional 1% chance per spell level that the spell will be reverse the intent! Even if the thief could cast the spell, the chance of it working is roughly 25% (75% to successfully cast times 95% to avoid reversed intent time 35% to get past the demon's magic resistance)!

And they're not done making shit up with a "gnome could invoke a nnuuurr'c'c (a deadly 40 foot tall mosquito with a 140-foot wingspan) from the astral plane ...." (Pg 33). A nnuuurr'c'c isn't a monster, Nnuuurr'c'c (singular, not plural) is a beast-lord god, lord of the insects, from the Elric Mythos. It resides in the demi-plane of insects, not the astral plane, has 300 hit points and an AC of -2, creatures less than 8th level will run in fear (as the spell, no saving throw) and has only a 55% chance of doing what the summoner wants, while gnomes are limited to Fighter (6th level), Illusioinist (7th level) and Assassin (8th level). So the gnome, assuming it could do it, would summon the god then run in fear? Idiotic and just another example of the authors' failing to do their homework.

The chapter ends with a section called "Two Basic Questions" (Pg 33), which begins with "... the adventure gaming industry ...  has provoked the raising of at least two very basic but crucial concerns" (Pg 33). The first of which has to do with the fact that these are role-playing games and that "(t)oday they assume the roles of what some have referred to as more 'unsavory' characters—for example, a thief, assassin, or magic user" (Pg 33).

The problem, according to the authors, is that "intense imagination is required, and the tendency now appears to be in the direction of developing an alter ego," (Pg 33) so they ask "(w)hat effect will all this have on the player's life and in the development of his self-image and personality?" (Pg 33) and "(i)f one learns to be a robber as a result of playing the role of a robber ... would that not be cause for concern?" (Pg 34). The text completes the first basic question with this statement "(t)he chances of becoming a thief, an assassin, an occultist (magic user), or of developing some negative traits ... because of the prolongation and development of ... the player's alter ego" (Pg 34).

This is a crappy argument and I'll tell you why. First, by their own admission and the facts of the game, D&D allows 10 character classes: cleric, druid, fighter, paladin, ranger, magic user, illusionist, thief, assassin and monk. Yet they ignore seven of those and only focus on three they call "unsavory," the magic user, thief and assassin.

Then they claim, with no supporting evidence to back it up, that players develop alter egos by simply playing the game. So now with that alter ego in tow, the player is going to have negative developments that cause them to act out.

So if playing a role leads to an alter ego that reenforces the role, then famous actors playing serial killers would become serial killers, community theatre actors playing "Professor" Harold Hill would become a musical instrument salesman/grifter, and my young nephew who played a robber in a game of cops and robbers when he was 5 years old would become a bank robber. Acting a role has no correlation to becoming the role, no more than eating bread leads people to become bakers, otherwise we'd have more cases than not of actors of all ranges, local to world famous, becoming criminals based on what they played. Merely asserting this is true isn't good enough. The authors have a responsibility to present evidence that their position is correct and yet they fail to do that.

The second question of these "(t)wo (b)asic (q)uestions" (Pg 33) in the text is that "these games are ... set within a world view" (Pg 34) which may be contrary "to their own philosophy and beliefs" (Pg 34) that "players generally not even notice any changes that may be occurring in their own lives as a result of playing the game (although their parents or peers may notice some changes)" (Pg 34). So they ask "(w)hat effect might all this have on the development of the player's personal philosophy and morality?" (Pg 34).

If games have a "world view" like they say, then by this argument, games like Monopoly and Candy Land and The Game of Life each have world views, too. Monopoly's world view is the domination of a property market by moving around a board with funny play pieces. Candyland's is about restoring a lost king using brightly colored cards. The Game of Life is all about selling your children to the orphanage at the end of the game for cash for your retirement.

The argument that RPGs, or any game at all, have world views is specious at best and downright dishonest at the least. A world view has at least six parts that adequately describe it, 1. a methodology of action, 2. an explanation of the world, 3. a view of the future, 4. ethics and answers to their questions, 5. a way of determining what is true and what is false (i.e. epistemology), and 6. an origin and causation.

For point 1, every RPG system and setting out there fails to even adequately match the reality of a world view in any form, despite what J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad (or even gamers) have to say. In fact, the rules are external to a fantasy world, not integral to it. For example, within D&D, it is the players, not the characters, who deal with rules such as character class, alignment, hit points and more.

For point 2, every setting is completely made up, whole cloth, from the brain of the game designer. Reality has no part in this conceptualizing. It's completely up to the designer, which leads to such common dungeon ecologies as a ancient red dragon in a room next to an orc guarding a pie. Absurdities abound because there are no rules.

For point 3, game settings present no future. In fact, the present is static until the game book is opened. Settings are stuck where the game designer finished the book and, unless the game gets an new edition and a revamping of the setting, the game won't move through time.

For point 4, ethical concerns within an RPG world are as illusionary as ethics within the game world of Monopoly. Choices made by characters in those worlds are simply 'what if' scenarios and not even in the same 'what if' scenarios that one can find oneself in. Me imagining what Zoltar the Barbarian would do when bargaining with the evil dragon Wygvil is completely different than me imagining what I'd do if I received $10 from a sales clerk that only owed me $5 in change. The first circumstance never happened and never will happen, while the second actually could occur.

The only ethical concern is within the game rules themselves, whether to break them or not (i.e. to cheat or not to cheat) while playing RPGs and board games like Monopoly. There is no ethical conundrum when pretending to kill an imaginary monster because neither the monster nor the circumstance of killing it actually exists.

For point 5, true and false cannot exist in an fantastical situation, especially one where one can imagine that dragons exist and magic spells can be cast because any idea can be treated as a true thing, including illogical things like a square circle, an honest politician and a Catch-22 solution.

Finally, for point 6, the origin of the world is all made up by the game designer, caused all from his brain. So he can say anything, like the game world is a flat disc on the backs of elephants and it's elephants all the way down or the moon is made of green cheese.

With this game 'world view,' or so the authors' claim with no evidence to back it up, they ask how this might effect "the player's personal philosophy and morality." But if their argument applies to games, then it could also be used for Monopoly. And that means that a player's morality can be based on dominating a properties market.

This argument is crazy because they don't provide a single piece of evidence that a single thing, like a game, informs a person's morality. How can an imaginary world have an effect on someone's philosophy and morals? The authors simply assert it as a viable question.

This chapter alone is filled with a false claim of fashionability, erroneous emphasis of the cost of things,  a series of cherry-picked quotes from how the game is played along with a focus on the more lurid, mis-identifying player vs. character, made-up game situations that don't even match the rules, and a list of blind assertions without any supporting documentation. With these mistakes, falsehoods and quote-mining, one is forced to reach two conclusions - the authors actually haven't played the game and they haven't even read any of the texts they reference. They are content to just make shit up. Why should we take any of what they say seriously?

1 comment:

  1. Being a M-U is "unsavory"?

    The HELL? (no pun intended)


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