Tuesday, April 30, 2013

[Let's Read] Playing With Fire, Part 12: Chapter 4 Black, White, or a Mixture of Grays?

Chapter 4: Black, White, or a Mixture of Grays? continues from Part 11.

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 4 concludes with four pages about Escapism. The "predominant way of escape from reality is through fantasy and imagination" (Pg 59) and, despite proponents' claim that it's a good thing "one of the complaints most frequently voiced by critics is that players have taken advantage of this form of escape and abused it" (Pg 59) by spending a lot of time on it, as "(f)or many (if not most) players, FRP games typically steal valuable time from other activities that are far more important to the lives of the players" (Pg 59-60).

Excuse me, J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad, what valuable time from other activities do you mean? Specifics, please, but none are forthcoming. Well, folks, time is one of those things that we are often short of. We cut corners with family, friends and work, because, as it turns out, it boils down to what we want to do is not always what we have to do. Most of us would love to spend more time having fun than doing hard work or being stuck in boring meetings. One of the marks of adulthood is the ability to determine how much time we're willing to spend on entertainment. If we don't do that successfully, then we're responsible for the outcome, whether it's pissed-off family or a pissed-off boss. But I'm responsible for it, not two no-name hacks who can't even be bothered to read any of the material they're citing.

Then they go back to the canard of "one usually becomes a character in a fantasy" (Pg 60), which becomes a problem "when a player takes his fantasy role too seriously" (Pg 60), with some players "'literally go into fits because a character was killed or injured'" (Pg 60), according to one player. A mother said "'I've seen people have fits, yell for fifteen minutes, hurl dice at a grand piano when their character dies'" (Pg 60). Another "potential danger is over identification with the character–the player actually becomes the character" (Pg 60) and "(t)he desire to become part of that fantasy has led some to make the imaginary world their 'reality.' As a result, the real world becomes less and less real" (Pg 61)

They keep repeating themselves, thinking that their assertions that people can become an imagined character is valid without any evidence to support it. Well, I don't believe them because they present no evidence. As for people having fits when something bad happens to their character, I've seen that. I've also seen family members have fits when watching the big game on television, jumping up and down, swearing and throwing things at the set, all in anger because their team lost or missed a point or whatnot. People get excited in their entertainment, that's not a stretch, and usually react badly to things not going their way. This isn't a unique event for RPGs–it occurs all across the spectrum of entertainment.

The section ends with "(t)here may be other areas of misuse and abuse in escape fantasy, but time, identification and reality are the ones most frequently mentioned .... there is nothing evil or wrong with escape per se" (Pg 61), but "(i)n guarding against the misuse of time and reality, we need to 'be careful how (we) walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of (our) time, because the days are evil' (Ephesians 5:15-16)" (Pg 62).

Yes, abusing things is bad, time is something we all have to deal with, but the other two, identification and reality, the authors have failed to adequately evidence. And, again, I do not recognize the authority of either of these authors to tell me how much time I spend on things. It's not in their CV.

The Bible quote at the end was cute, though. Too bad the whole 'days are evil' quote wasn't taken seriously by the authors because their analysis in Chapter 4 was complete crap. Logical fallacies everywhere I read. Circular reasoning, red herrings, assertions without evidence, sloppy research and more. C'mon, guys. Do your job, critically examine RPGs. I dare you!

Bah! I'm going to waste some time on something that's enjoyable. This book so far is suck.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

[Let's Read] Playing With Fire, Part 11: Chapter 4 Black, White, or a Mixture of Grays?

Chapter 4: Black, White, or a Mixture of Grays? continues from Part 10.

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.

I continue the review in Chapter 4 "Morality" (Pg 51). "Whether or not one likes to admit it, moral considerations play a central role in the universes created by fantasy role-playing games." (Pg 51). Assert, assert, assert, that's all you do, J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad. Without any basis. How do we know that this latest of their assertions are true? We don't. They just assert it and want us to trust them. Sorry, but no dice. I don't trust either of you, nor your assertions.

They then go into how good and evil exist in equal parts, blah, blah, blah, nothing is absolute, good doesn't win over evil and in the end, "good is no better than evil–it is just one tool in the conquest" (Pg 51). Additionally, "the game provides the player with the potential for laying aside his morality while playing" (Pg 51) and then goes on to quote one player who says "(i)n D&D, it is better to be evil. You get more advantages in being evil .... if ... you no longer trust someone, if you chop him down ... there's no penalty for it" (Pg 51).

Since they've already stipulated that thoughts can be criminal, then if the Old Testament was an RPG session, Moses' player is responsible for the murder of the overseer, the plagues that descended on Egypt (especially the murder of all the first born) and the slaughter of the Amalekites in battle. Wasn't murder evil before the 10 commandements were brought down the mountain? Seems to me that Moses was good "just as one tool in the conquest."

As for laying aside morality, if one believes that thoughts can be criminal, then that makes perfect sense. Except that the authors haven't presented a good case that certain thoughts ARE criminal, so their argument is crap. The single quote from one player only proves that the authors are cherry-picking. For that one player, he likes to play evil characters. One instance doesn't mean all.

The text then goes into morality and power, saying "games thrive on the quest for power, and man has always craved power" (Pg 52). They quote Gary Gygax "As the DM you are to become the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to all the universe. You will breathe life into the stillness, giving meaning and purpose to all the actions which are to follow" (Pg 52).

The footnote points to an article by another pair of evangelicals (Onken and Miller) but the quote is actually from Keep on the Borderlands (1979, Pg 2). The whole paragraph this quote is taken from says "Dungeon Masters, if many copies of this module are available to the players, you may wish to alter sections of the Keep and the Caves of Chaos. If you do this, you will be sure to have new surprises for players who might be familiar with some of the contents of the module. You are not entering this world in the usual manner, for you are setting forth to be a Dungeon Master. Certainly there are stout fighters, mighty magic-users, wily thieves, and courageous clerics who will make their mark in the magical lands of D&D adventure. You, however, are above even the greatest of these, for as DM you are to become the  Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to all the universe. You will breathe life into the stillness, giving meaning and purpose to all the actions which are to follow. The others in your group will assume the roles of individuals and play their parts, but each can only perform within the bounds you will set. It is now up to you to create a magical realm filled with danger, mystery, and excitement, complete with countless challenges. Though your role is the greatest, it is also the most difficult. You must now prepare to become all things to all people."

It's obvious that J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad never actually read the whole paragraph, much less any of the source material they quote, because, though it is a bit of purple prose, the intent is not the quest for power that they believe it is, instead it is Gygax telling the nascent DM that he's going to have to work harder than the individual players at the imagination for the world. Yet another example of quote-mining and cherry-picking their quotes, too dishonest an act to allow to pass without comment.

Staying on the power theme, the quote an unnamed psychologist, who says "'If I had a child who tended towards schizophrenia, I'd never let him near D&D. There's a danger that it would reinforce feelings of grandiosity, of omnipotence. Reality and fantasy are hard enough for schizophrenics to differentiate.' ... 'But I doubt very much that the game causes problems.'" (Pg 52).

First, who is this unnamed psychologist? Why isn't he or she named?  Second, the psychologist is talking about schizophrenics, not normal, mentally-sound, players of the game. I agree that letting a mentally-ill person who has trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality play D&D is probably a bad idea, and I have no training in psychology. But to conflate this to all players from those that are mentally-ill is wrong and insidious of the authors. They aren't talking about the mentally-ill in this text. If the book was all about not letting schizophrenics play D&D, I'd be heartily approving of it, because distinguishing fantasy from reality is a basic necessity to being mentally OK. Yet another red herring.

"Where there is power, there is often violence, and FRP games are no exception" (Pg 52), the text continues, "this can be seen ... in the critical hit tables from the game Arduin Grimoire" (Pg 53), then it goes on to quote from the Arduin Grimoire and it's author, Dave Hargrave "'It's deliberately gruesome .... They've got to understand that what they do has consequences. The world is sex. It is violence. It's going to destroy most of these kids when they leave TV-land.'" (Pg 53) They continue with "the purpose of his game is to prepare children for living in the real world by exposing them to the brutality of sex and violence .... but many would disagree with his methodology, which they would describe as overly harsh and brutal." (Pg 53).

First, it's imaginary violence and imaginary power. It seems that both the authors have a hard time distinguishing fantasy from reality. Maybe they shouldn't play the game because they have that problem, but why should those of us who can distinguish these two things apart listen to what they have to say? Second, Arduin Grimoire is not a game, it's a supplement. Why, oh why, can't they get that right? Lack of rigor in research by the authors, that's why. I checked the critical hit tables in my copy of Arduin Grimoire and they match the quoted part in the book, except for a misspelling here and there, but there were worse options that they didn't include. Did they actually read Hargrave's book? Finally, yes, the world is a gruesome place with bad things that happen, but getting a single quote from a single game designer again proves that the authors love to cherry-pick.

They quote Dr. John E. Holmes (editor of the Blue Box), from his article in Psychology Today titled "Confessions of a Dungeon Master" (1980) "The level of violence in this make believe world runs high. There is hardly a game in which the players do not indulge in murder, arson, torture, rape, or highway robbery .... I don't think this imaginary is any more likely to warp the minds of the participants than is the endless stream of violence in TV, movies, or literature. Quite possibly it provides a healthy outlet for those people who are imaginative and inclined to enjoy the game." (Pg 54). The text adds "his conclusion ... would not be accepted by everyone. There are many today who are concerned about such violence, whether on television or in fantasy games specializing in emotional participation." (Pg 54).

The authors conveniently ignore the immediately following sentence from Holmes' article "In order for the game to provide vicarious release for unacceptable behavior, the entire group of players must go along with the convention that game roles are independent of the actual players." Why wouldn't they include a statement that totally contradicts their belief that players become their roles? Convenient. And which others don't accept his conclusion? Could they have named a few, possibly, rather than a broad "many?" Also, when did RPGs specialize in emotional participation? Imagination and emotion are not the same thing. One could argue that all forms of entertainment have emotional components, from watching the big game on T.V. (who hasn't seen someone yelling at their television over a missed play?) to games like Monopoly (who hasn't experienced someone gloating when they collect all the railroads?), but that doesn't mean they 'specialize' in them. Neither do RPGs but the authors have simply asserted that they do without any evidence.

Then we turn to sex with "(w)here there is power and violence, there is often sexual immorality .... The toss of the dice may well determine in some cases whether or not a character remains a virgin; and rape is not an uncommon occurrence" (Pg 54). Taking a quote from D&D, "'non-human soldiers' are expected to 'rape freely at every chance'" (Pg 54). Flagnote 13 says that quote comes from Pg 31 of the "Players Handbook (Lake Geneva,Wis.: TSR Games, 1975)."

Imaginary power, imaginary violence and imaginary sex. Which of us, J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad, has the problem with distinguishing fantasy from reality? Unfortunately for the authors, there is no virgin rape table in the works they cite, otherwise it would be quoted ad nauseam. They say they take a quote from the Players Handbook (1978), except there is no reference to that on Pg 31 (it's the monk ability table), and, since they're saying it was printed in 1975, after checking my copies of the White Box set (1974), Greyhawk (1975) and Blackmoor (1975), I've found no reference for it. What extremely crappy and sloppy research because it, in fact, comes from the Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), from hiring troops. The full sentence is "The less intelligent non-humans will server for from 10% to 60% less cost, but these evil creatures will certainly expect to loot, pillage, and rape freely at every chance, and kill (and possibly eat) captives." See The Escapist for an analysis on this quote-mining.

They continue to harp on it with the "moral makeup of FRP games is dependent upon ... the moral world view of the inventor" (Pg 54) and "the participants creates his own moral or immoral universe" (Pg 54) and the "creation or acceptance of moral choices in fantasy and in the real world may both be part of what is essentially a unitary process in personal moral development" (Pg 54), trying to conflate imagination with reality when they say that the player "is not merely identifying with a character, or hero, as in a book–he is the hero" (Pg 55). With books and movies passive activities (i.e. you are watching or reading, rather than play acting), they say "actors are probably more involved in their roles .... (b)ut they are professional role players, not impressionable adolescents caught up in the excitement .... they ... have a good grip on reality to begin with" (Pg 55). But then they turn against professional actors with "(i)t should be admitted in all honesty, however, that since both acting and role playing have participation in common, some of the same potential problems ... could occur when acting out a part" (Pg 55).

So, if there actually was a link between moral choices in fantasy and ones in the real world, that combined together to create personal moral development, you'd actually have some evidence to back that up, right? Where is it? Hello? When I taught physics, I'd ask my students to show their work. Not surprisingly, the authors don't show theirs. Again, I'm thinking that one of us has a good grip on reality and it isn't the authors of the text. If actors playing a role could come to believe their roles are real, then how many cases of actors playing serial killers have actually turned to serial killing? In the years and years that Hollywood has had serial killer TV shows and movies, one would expect at least one would surface if the authors' point of view was correct. What is so hard with understanding that there is a difference between action in reality, and imagined action?

And, as the text goes on, they continue to conflate action with imagination, by saying "(s)ince the player and the character are one in thought and decision, to say that something was not really the player's ... but those of the character is superbly ridiculous. There is only one person involved, and he is both the player and the character" (Pg 56) and "(n)ow, this is ... simply to indicate that the door is opened for wrong thoughts and decisions, as well as a loosening of his moral will" (Pg 56).

How many times do we have to go over this? This argument itself is superbly ridiculous because they haven't provided any evidence to support their assertion that a player and the character he is imagining have the same thoughts and actions. Sure, I'll give them that one person is involved, the player, but the character is an exercise in his imagination. There is no substance, no basis in reality for this character. It's completely imagined. To argue otherwise requires more evidence than they've presented, which is none. And that last sentence returns us to the thoughtcrime and I'll repeat: I don't recognize either of the authors' authority to say that there are right and wrong thoughts. Nothing they have said would make me agree with their assertions concerning that.

The next two paragraphs is just another red herring, talking about how the game elevates imaginary characters as role-models. "Are thieves, rapists, assassins, and magic users (occultists) of the moral sort that others, especially children, should be encouraged to admire, to accept as 'models?'" (Pg 56). By this very flawed argument, the authors then have to condemn the Bible. Abraham was willing to murder his own son at the orders of his deity. 'Righteous' Lot gave his daughters to the citizens of Sodom to be raped. Yet these characters are considered moral and to be admired? What are the chances that they'd use the same criteria on their own holy book that they use on RPGs? Well, they don't.

The second to last page of this section claims two things, both completely circular. First, that "a standard of right and wrong for everyone .... can be found and understood only in a moral universe created by a good and holy God, because God Himself–His character and goodness, holiness and love–is the standard" (Pg 57) and second, by saying "(t)he Bible is the final authority on right and wrong, and if God declares in the Bible that prostitution, rape, stealing, mutilation, murder, human sacrifices, worshipping other gods, casting spells, using magic, and practicing necromancy are wrong, should one ... become involved in a fantasy game in which one participates by imaginative role playing?" (Pg 57)

I just love that circular logic: First, an absolute standard exists because God says so, and God is the source of that absolute standard, and second, God is the absolute standard of morality because the Bible says so, and the Bible says that God is the absolute standard of morality because God says so. Where do you go from there?

The last page of the Morality section deals with thoughtcrime again. "Can anyone believe then that the imagining of sinful behavior ... is simply an innocent pastime? With the Bible as our guide, we must first of all guard our minds against wrong thoughts. Images, concepts, and ideas that are introduced in the consciousness will have consequences in actions" (Pg 58) I leave it to the gentle reader to see one more instance where thoughtcrime is not allowed.

So, what do we have for the Morality section of Chapter 4? More assertions that are not followed up by any sort of evidence, thoughtcrime and red herringscherry-picking and quote-mining, sloppy reference footnotes and no actual evidence that the authors actually read the cited material, more assertions without evidence, more thoughtcrime, more red herrings and two instances of circular reasoning.

So far, these authors have done a shitty job. Next time in Part 12, I'll finish off Chapter 4. Thank Zeus for that!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

[Let's Read] Playing With Fire, Part 10: Chapter 4 Black, White, or a Mixture of Grays?

Chapter 4: Black, White, or a Mixture of Grays? ranges from pages 43 to 62, and consists of a single title page, one blank page, and eighteen 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.

The chapter starts with "A high school student one day asked her teacher what she thought of fantasy role-playing (FRP) games. With a smile, the teacher said she would enjoy playing because it would allow her to use her imagination .... Another teacher, overhearing the conversation, could not in good conscience allow this student to play what he perceived to be an evil game. He decided to interrupt and give his opinion (which was really a tirade) about the game's occultic content." (Pg 45) The paragraph ends with the student confused and still wondering.

It's a nice story, except for one thing: it never happened. They cite no verifiable reports or anything to support that this event occurred. It is purely conjecture, a 'just-so' story. What's the purpose for this story, then? To 'present' both sides, obviously with the pro-teacher a dupe and the against-teacher vindicated by the rest of the chapter. Throw "evil game" and "occultic content" into the mix for good measure.

The authors then ask whether games are good, bad or somewhere in-between, concluding that there is no simple answer. "In the real world there are usually two or more sides to an issue" (Pg 46) is an argument that I cannot contest, except for two things: first, no matter how many sides there are to an issue, the side that contains the majority of facts and evidence is the right side. Second, the authors don't  and haven't presented two or more sides fairly–they've presented (and continue to present) one side as always right (Biblical world view) and ALL other sides as always wrong and they continue to do so, despite claiming otherwise.

They continue on with the pretense, saying "(i)n critically examining FRP games, at least four basic areas should be considered: (1) the role of fantasy, (2) morality, (3) escapism, and (4) occultism." (Pg 46) spending the rest of the chapter on the first three.

Starting with Fantasy, they begin with "It should be understood at the outset that there is nothing wrong with fantasy per se" (Pg 46). That's a loaded question, if I've ever seen one. They go into what fantasy is, how it's "a part of God's creation in the sense that God created man with imagination and the ability to fantasize" (Pg 47) and add a quote from Elliot Miller, who claims that man can create secondary worlds and that man "does not have the power to bring these worlds into actual substance ... others may, through their imaginations, attain a state of 'secondary belief,' wehere they are able to perceive and appreciate the invented reality" (Pg 47).

And I call bullshit on this since, yet again, the authors assert without providing any sort of evidence to back it up. Because "perceive and appreciate" is not the same as reality or even the semblance of reality. We perceive the world around us with our five senses. Appreciation is not necessary to this. And, entertainment, and let's be clear on this, we're talking about entertainment, is not the same as reality. When we watch movies, we see and hear but don't touch, taste or smell (at least not yet, technology being what it is). The same applies for theatre, watching television and surfing the internet. But RPGs are more like books than plays or film. Players (and readers) have to imagine in their mind's eye to 'see' things in that imagination. It doesn't mean that what they perceive is real, full-stop.

The text continues with fantasy has good or bad uses, blah, blah, blah, "even 'good' fantasy can be corrupted by overindulgence ... to escape from responsibilities .... There is also a distorted and destructive use ... the fantasizing of sexual exploits or extreme violence" (Pg 47), which at no point do they actually say why any of these things are good or bad. Overindulgence is all in the eye of the beholder and I'm sure that thinking about sex is wrong from an evangelical point of view, while other points of view would take the opposite tack.

"Determining a good use of fantasy from a bad use" (Pg 48) is what it's all about, and I agree, but I don't believe that they have presented a case (so far in the book) that they are the ones to determine that.  Frankly, I wouldn't trust either of these authors with a nickel, much less deciding for me what is good use and bad use.

They persist with "(p)roponents ... have created parallels between it (D&D) and certain Christian fantasy writings" (Pg 48), then go off on and talk about C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and quote a letter written by an Episcopal minister to Christianity Today supporting playing D&D. "On the surface, this argument appears to have some credibility" (Pg 48) but then disclaim that by stating that the Christian fantasy books have elements "contrary to the Bible" (Pg 48) and have "great differences, which proponents of FRP games either ignore or rationalize away" (Pg 49) but that these books "are accepted and considered to be a good use of fantasy because they offer a reflection of an essentially Christian world view" (Pg 49) with "(a)bsolute morality ... sustained in a theistic universe ... by a transcendent holy God" (Pg 49). Whatever D&D may have taken from these fiction works, it didn't include "the moral universe God created .... Moreover, its universe is not infused with an absolute, inherent morality" (Pg 49).

This is a whole lot to chew through, so let's start here: who cares whether certain people think that certain Christian fantasy writings have something to do with D&D. Looking through Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (Pg 224), there is a list of nearly 30 authors, authors like Poul Anderson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, L. Sprague de Camp, Lord Dunsany, R.E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Andre Norton, and Jack Vance, of which Tolkien is one but Lewis isn't even mentioned.

Whatever ways religious folk who play D&D feel they have to rationalize having fun with friends around a table so they don't feel bad about it has no bearing on whether J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad, or any other religious author or leader, has a say in what is a good use of fantasy and what isn't, that's up to them and their conscience. I, however, don't recognize the authors authority on this matter and nothing they have written so far has convinced me otherwise.

Secondly, they have posited a universe with an absolute morality and haven't delivered any evidence to support this assertion. Nor have they said why that is necessary in order to have D&D moved from the 'bad use' to the 'good use' except within the whole bugaboo of a Christian world view. Frankly, I don't recognize their authority to claim that a Christian world view is valid.

The fantasy section concludes with "neither fantasy nor fantasy role playing is wrong in and of itself" (Pg 50) then goes into the whole reason why it's wrong, because, to boil things down, "God has forbidden" (Pg 50) it. They quote from the Bible "'Every one who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart' (Matthew 5:28)" (Pg 50) and "To fantasize about those things that God has forbidden in His Word (immorality, the occult, the pursuit of other deities–all elements of Dungeons and Dragons) is tantamount to doing them." (Pg 50).

To think something is to do it? That's INSANE. And it's thoughtcrime, pure and simple. George Orwell wrote all about it in 1984. Well, J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad, I don't recognize your authority on this matter, nor the Bible's, to say that to think something is to do it. My thoughts belong to me, and to me alone. No one can tell me what to think or how to think. No one can punish me for thinking thoughts they don't want me to think. It's none of your or their damn business. Stay out of my head! You're not welcome nor wanted. The essence of freedom is to be free to think, without fear and without condemnation.

Damn. Twelve more pages to go in this chapter alone. I'll continue with Chapter 4 in Part 11.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

[Let's Read] Playing With Fire, Part 9: Chapter 3 The Theology of Fantasy Role-Playing Games

Chapter 3: The Theology of Fantasy Role-Playing Games ranges from pages 35 to 42, and consists of a single title page, one blank page, and six 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.

In this chapter, I have no plans to examine Christian theology. Quite frankly, I'm not interested in that, not because I lack the training or experience (see the Courtier's Reply for an answer to that), but because I'm reviewing this book based solely from a gaming POV since this is a gaming blog. I trust that the reader can find a religious blog to discuss the theological aspects of RPGs. So, instead of focusing on theology, I'm going to critique the authors attempt to tie RPGs to theology.

Chapter 3 starts with "one quickly discovers that each game has its own distinctiveness ... that are different from those in other games. More important, however, one also discovers that each game has its own universe (world view or theology)" (Pg 37).

In Part 8, I covered the whole 'world view' thing, so I won't go over it again here, but the theology bit is new. According to Dictionary.com, theology is defined as "the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God's attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity."

By no definition of theology does world view equate to theology nor does a game's "own universe." Conflating these three words together is the height of hubris and dishonesty. The accusation that D&D and other RPGs contains theology is ludicrous because there is no study of god(s) and no religious truths in RPGs. They only contain stats of mythical gods and how they interact with imaginary characters in a encyclopedic, definitional, way, much like reading about how ancient Greeks worshipped Zeus and Apollo. No one can honestly accuse the encyclopedia entry on the Greek myths to contain anything remotely like theology.

The text continues with "It is within this framework that all meaning and understanding regarding the game is derived ... players must comprehend the game's universe in order to understand fully their role playing ..." (Pg 37). The authors do not provide any evidence to support this contention because it is completely false—it is actually the mechanical rules of the game, i.e. the crunch, not the setting, that is the framework of the game.  Without these mechanics, RPGs devolve to a pass-the-stick storytelling circle. The only comprehension that the players must have is the rules system. And, sorry folks, the system ain't theology. Anyone who actually played an RPG would realize this.

After claiming that RPGs have similarities (who'da thunk?), they proceed with dividing the remaining chapter into sections on God, Creation, Man, Resurrection/Reincarnation and Morality.

Staring with God, they repeat the previous statement that "each player is expected to have a patron god" (Pg 38) as part of a polytheistic religion, which they got so wrong last chapter. No, no, no. Each player-character, that is to say, each character, not each player. To make the mistake once could be forgiven yet they continue to beat this falsehood drum. This is, quite definitely, bad research and bad journalism.

Their position then built upon this straw man is that there is only one God and blah, blah, blah, more quoting scripture. They started with a flawed premise ("players ... have a patron god") then expect that to makes the rest of their argument correct. Bad logic.

In the Creation section, they say "FRP games generally put forth a nontheistic universe or universes—that is, without an infinite creator God" (Pg 39), which invalidates their first position. A nontheistic universe has no gods, yet the God section clearly posits (and rails against) a polytheistic universe. Which is it, J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad? You can't have a nontheistic universe when you have polytheism. Again, this section is built on a flawed premise, that of players, not characters, involved with a host of gods and throw in some scripture.

They continue with Man, claiming "FRP games say that man can better himself and progress through various levels by means of cooperation, skill and some luck" (Pg 39). This is a strange argument on two points. First, "progress through various levels" is tied straight to specific game systems, D&D included, not to any sort of theology. Second, it has been demonstrated by history that man has bettered himself thorough cooperation, skill and luck. The development of science since the Dark Ages is a prime example of cooperation, skill and luck. To claim otherwise, or that it is unique to RPGs, is idiotic.

They again confuse player with character when they say "a player can begin as a hero or wizard .... in some games it is even possible to attain to the level of divinity ..." (Pg 39). How many times do they use this flawed premise? And game rules, i.e. D&D Set 5: Immortal Rules box set,  to fall toward apotheosis are mechanical rules, not theological, in scope.

In their Resurrection/Reincarnation section, they create a new flawed premise, that of "two options for man regarding immortality. One option is resurrection .... (a)nother option is reincarnation" (Pg 40). Immortality is not achieved using the rules in D&D from either of those options. In fact, both options only bring the character (not the player) back to life after he has been killed.

In Part 7 of this analysis, I already quoted the AD&D Players Handbooks for the Resurrection spell. Reviewing the Reincarnation spell, "Druids have the capability of bringing back the dead in another body if death occurred no more than a week before the casting of the spell. The person reincarnated will recall the majority of his or her former life and form, but the class they have, if any, in their new incarnation might be different indeed. Abilities and speech are likewise often changed." (pg 64).

Reading the Players Handbook, from which Playing with Fire's actual footnoted quotes were "spell of resurrection" (Pg 40) and "reincarnation spells" (Pg 40), compared to the full text of the spell description, leads one to believe that they actually never read the book they were quoting. What horrible and shoddy research.

Finally, they hit upon Morality, claiming that RPGs "see an amoral universe at best .... (s)uch activities as rape, stealing, murder, mutilation, human sacrifices ... are incorporated into the adventure ..." (Pg 41). If these activities automatically create a 'bad thing,' then the majority of history, literature and fiction have to be thrown out, including works such as the Bible. The central point of the New Testament itself is one specific human sacrifice, ordered (or at least allowed by) the central deity of the Bible. The Old Testament also contains heaps of rape, murder, genocide, human sacrifice, slavery. The argument that such activities existing in RPGs is wrong, while ignoring the Bible's own contents, is simply an inconsistant comparison.

The text posits that since "these games are open-ended, there is no final victory for good or evil" (Pg 41) then mentions in the related flagnote that "TSR ... has an in-house document ... in which explicit instructions are ... (that) 'good should always triumph over evil.' However, neither this document nor this conclusion has been made public" (Pg 41). What are they trying to do here? Sounds like another argument from ignorance. They invoke "no final victory," then "this document" has not been released to the public, implying that it doesn't exist.

The chapter's conclusion section has more of the same, conflating RPGs with a bankrupt theology and that Biblical theology is correct, claiming that "they are definitely two distinct and contrary theologies" (Pg 42). They get it so wrong, because theology actually has a definition, one that that they have conveniently ignored all along, at least until they use it to describe Biblical theology.

After asking "(i)f one should start to become his game character in reality ... would the effects be positive or negative?" (Pg 42), they then state that if "there is a false understanding of the supernatural, then the gods and demons one calls upon and imagines may not at times be purely imaginative and nonexistent after all" (Pg 42). The chapter ends with a final, ludicrous question "if, as the Bible indicates, that there are real spirit beings called demons, would that make any difference?" (Pg 42).

What a load of complete crap. First they start with a loaded question, then they assert the gods and demons in RPGs may actually exist. Why are they bringing up demons anyways? They had the perfect opportunity to present evidence for demon possession with relation to RPGs in Chapter 1, but failed to follow through.

Chapter 3 concludes with a wimper. The authors employ quite a bit of Kettle logic and assert, without even a shred supporting evidence, a Slippery Slope to ruin for players and 'monsters and demons.'
 Unfortunately, they're all talk and no facts, starting with a flawed premise (RPGs have theology) and tortured logic. One could argue the existence of the tooth fairy with these arguments and a 'tooth fairy theology,' too.

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?