Posts Tagged ‘social contract’


January 18th, 2013 No comments

Every once in a while, a tragedy happens.

It is tragic, to see lives snuffed out. It is tragic to see people lose hope, go past that line, and do horrible, unspeakable things. It scares us all. It concerns us all. We should never forget that there are awful things in this world, and we should do what we can to combat the evils of violence and the tragedies that scar us. Everyone, it can be agreed, wants this sort of thing to stop.

The question then becomes how.

Do we need cops in schools? Do we need fewer guns? Do we need psychological evaluations? Do we need to crack down on violent video games?

Of course violent video games are the answer.

This is an entirely predictable and altogether terrible way of dealing with the massacre at Sandy Hook. It’s predictable because this is what the media, anti-video game pundits, and legislators have done, time after time after time. Literally. The 109th, 110th, and the 113th Congresses have proposed the same bill. We know that as soon as the guns come out, and the blood is spilled, and the tears are shed, that it will take about a month for everyone calm down, and point their fingers at the consoles. Jack Thompson and Senator Leland Yee have been the subject of some of my posts in the past, but they’re not the only ones going on this crusade against video games.

Which brings us to the terrible part of their crusade: It’s ultimately useless. Not only has it failed a constitutionality test every time the bill’s been brought up, but it’s not the source of the problem. Pesky First Amendment rights aside, prohibiting the sale or rental of video games to minors isn’t going to teach children a damn thing, and I’m tired of pretending like it will. What it will do is frustrate me, and gamers like me, who don’t really need to be told what to watch, or what to play, or what to think. It is unnecessary and wasteful legislation, particularly in light of the tragedy. Could you lawmakers kindly focus your efforts on either gun control or mental health initiatives, instead of trying to penalize and judge a subset of people who are just as moved by this tragedy as you are?

In the end, I am happy that President Obama is calling for more research into the link between video games, violent imagery, and violence in our society, but I ultimately think that the research will be ignored. People are eager to find a scapegoat, and no amount of guarantees of free speech or already existing data are going to convince people that violent video games are not the culprit. No force on the planet can convince people that proper parenting means being a God damned parent, and being with your children, instead of just letting them babysit themselves in front of a screen. This kind of tunnel vision is already at work: Lanza had an elaborate set up for Call of Duty and Starcraft, and loved electronics. That must make him a killer.

Him, me, and about 80% of my generation.

Share Button

Seats at the Table

January 1st, 2013 No comments

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about player buy-in. That developers should have to pay attention to this resource should be a given at this point, but what do players have to do with their investment? How should they treat it, and what does it afford them as players?

First off, I don’t think players should be stingy with their investment. It’s not something that should be hoarded or treasured without ever expending. The cool thing about investment is that nothing sells like it. When all your friends convince you you should play in and be enthusiastic about a game, you tend to listen. That doesn’t mean that you should give 110% to everything. That’s going to just drain you until you don’t care about anything, much less a game. To that end, I suggest that you at least give yourself a chance to be hooked by a game. Read its synopsis. Read a blog article about it. Listen to your friend extol its virtues. Merely hearing about it isn’t going to hurt, and it may in fact get you involved in something you’ll enjoy. But be prepared to give constructive feedback, and let the developer have a chance to better his game with it. If your friend comes running up to you and tells you that he has an amazing idea for an Exalted game, give him the chance to pitch it. When he tells you it’s an Abyssal exalted game, and you’re all playing Heroic Mortals, then you may want to tell him why it’s not your cup of tea.

Similarly, do the developer and yourself a favor: be honest about your buy-in. If you have only a little to give because of other commitments, say that at the start of any game you’re going to be playing. “You know guys, this sounds really awesome, but I’ve only got a weekend a month to devote to it. Could we make a character that doesn’t need me to be there all the time?” People (and by this, I mean the game’s storyteller or developer and the other player) will listen. Their ability to listen gets clogged by signal-to-noise ratios though, so make sure the message is heard.

With so many people involved in the creative process, telling people how you feel about investing in a game is tricky. In a tabletop game, lots of these points would be easy to consider. It’s just six people, so there’s not a lot of other opinions to take into account. If you’re a potential player in a game that meets at your friend’s Bob house every Wednesday night and you know everyone there, your communication will be relatively clear. Alternatively, when you’re part of the Mind’s Eye Society or helping to develop inXile’s next RPG, there are going to be a lot of people talking, all at once, and not all of them will want to hear you. Not all of them will be paying attention. This is not always a reason to give up though. If you are enthused about a game, if you’re prepared to invest in it, you should keep talking, and encourage people to do the same. Work out what can be done with something you’re prepared to spend time and energy on and make it the game you want to play. You have a reasonable expectation to be entertained by a game, provided that you come in good faith to the table, just like everyone else.

If, at the end, you don’t feel like you’ve been listened to, or the game isn’t going to be what you want, remember that it is just a game. This shouldn’t devalue it, or your experiences with games, but please be mindful that if the investment you’re putting into it isn’t giving you back what you want, you have every right to walk away from it, and find something else that suits you. It’s up to everyone at the table to play with each other, and create an environment to play in.

This seems like a nice place to start the discussion on investment. How do you become invested in a game? How do you encourage investment? Take a look at the new mechanics for Requiem’s Majesty Discipline and think about how the very fabric of the power requires and promotes investment on both players. The Boon system, teased about in that article, suggests that if you play along as a victim of the power, you get rewarded. Buy-in is created on the part of the user of the power, the victim of the power, and the Storyteller. Tell us your thoughts about buy-in in the comments below.

Share Button

A Higher Standard

November 28th, 2012 1 comment

You might know of a professional gamer known as Destiny. Steven Bonnell has about 27k followers on Twitter, and a very active presence in several Reddit communities, as well as a popular website. He truly is a professional gamer, and by that, I mean he makes a living through streaming, advertisements, endorsements, and gets to play video games all day.

Which is good, actually. We need more professional gamers if we want to be treated more seriously as a culture. But professional shouldn’t just mean that you’re able to make a living from it. Like in “real” or perhaps “mundane” sports, if we’re going to hold these people up as examples, we need to actually hold them to a higher standard than your typical flamer, troll, griefer, or 12 year old boy in a 23 year old’s body.

About 3 months ago, a female fan of his going by the handle “Bluetea”, was exposed to a few of Destiny’s fans. He had shared naked pictures of his with two of his friends.

This was uncool.

In retaliation, she gained access to his Twitter account and shared pictures of his dick to all of his followers.

This was also uncool.

But here’s where the real crux of my problem: In response to the beginning of this drama, what Cloud Nine Labs, one of Destiny’s major sponsors and the designers of his website said, was largely “That’s just Destiny being Destiny.”

“The principals at Cloud Nine Labs, including myself, remain in support of Stevens PR decisions. Furthermore, we encourage his brutal honesty, snide remarks, controversial comments/subjects, humor, etc. as it brings a uniquely dynamic and highly entertaining element to the streaming experience. His strong personality is what makes him Destiny – one of the most successful SC2 streamers of all time. Other SC2 personalities should take a cue from Mr. Bonnell because the SC2 pro circuit is not just “gaming”. It has become a powerful industry that can be monetized by establishing a strong, widely talked about brand which Steven has managed to accomplish.

In short: stop bitching, change your tampons and up your game”

Contexual language aside, this is really disappointing to me. Not in a sexist way (though it is) and not in a greedy sort of way (it’s that too). It’s disappointing is that this is what we want our role models to be. Snide, arrogant, assholish, and proud.

While admitting that we’ve got a way to go, I’ll also point out that in mundane sports, we don’t accept this behavior. Manny Ramirez, OJ Mayo, and even Mike Tyson aren’t people who we hold up for the next generation to be.

We should be forgiving of flaws of character. We should understand that people have lapses, and people are jerks from time to time. I talk about people behind their backs, I gossip, I carry opinions of people that are less than favorable. You do too. We all do. But we don’t encourage that sort of behavior, and we shouldn’t. It’s certainly not the kind of thing we should hold as an ideal.

So what do you think? Are we hopelessly doomed to being assholes forever. or can we step up our own games? Lemme know.

Share Button

The More Things Change

April 1st, 2011 1 comment

Role-playing games are an escape from reality. We play to forget the hardships of a day, and to enjoy the company of friends. We play because we would rather be these other people, at least for a few hours. But the few moments we can steal away from the dreary day-to-day are still at the whim of Real Life. Sometimes, we can no longer make the commitments that we made when we started gaming. Sometimes, we’re no longer having fun with these characters, or this party, or this DM. And sometimes, Real Life says “Enough.”

And we stop.

It’s lamentable. It’s tragic even. With bittersweet farewells in character and mixed feelings out, we try to reconfigure the game to deal with the absence of characters and players who we had previously counted on.

And that’s the rub. We did count on these people. We counted on the storyteller to keep telling stories, or the tank to keep getting all those big, bad monsters not to hit us. We counted on the healer to keep us alive. We counted on the rogue to gank bitches and take names, damn it! We counted on our friends, and we can’t any longer.

So how to move on? How to deal with the absence introduced? Well, that depends on a lot of things, but mostly it depends on whether the person who is leaving was a mere player on a stage, or if he was the storyteller.

If the storyteller’s gone, then nine times out ten it’s the end of the game. It’s a little different in a LARP, where players have a lot of investment in the games themselves, but if it’s a tabletop game, or if it’s a raid, that might very well be the death knell of it. You can kiss that game good bye, and those stories probably finish without ending. Maybe that’s the greatest tragedy; the game got started because the people around it wanted to tell a story, and they’ll never have that chance any more. The sour feelings and wishful thinking that the game could be resurrected someday almost pale in comparison to the story having never reached a “the end”.

It’s far more common, and far more muddy, if it’s a player who leaves. If one player leaves, usually the person in charge (the ST or raid lead) will try to fill that place in, try to get someone new to pick up the slack. This usually works, but doesn’t usually work well. New party dynamics have to be figured out, new relationships have to be established in an already established order. Can it work? Like real world relationships that have problems, it’s really only possible if everyone left tries to make it work. The new player has to do their best to fill the role expected of them, and the rest of the group has to try and accommodate the new. It’s more disastrous if one person’s leaving triggers an exodus, and suddenly, a noticeable percentage of the game just isn’t there anymore.

In either case, if the remaining people want to save it, they have to make the decision to try to save it. They have to be willing to put in the effort to do the heavy lifting, and to deal with the new that has taken the place of the old. It’s hard for the people who don’t make the decision to leave, but instead decide to try and rebuild, knowing they’ll not only be a little sadder, but that the game they’re now playing is not the game they agreed to play when the game began. All games change over time, but rarely do they change so radically.

On the other hand, the players might not want to save the game. They might just want to reform, with a new idea. Play a different game, raid with completely different characters. Moving on from what was to what will be, what could be. The possibility of having something new to take the player’s mind of the old is a very alluring concept. Since the old game failed, after all, you have all this free time to fill it up with a new game.

There is also the decision to just tough it out. Maybe you don’t need that person in the way you thought you did. Maybe you can get on, ignoring the limp, the phantom character sensation as it were. It doesn’t always apply, of course. You need a storyteller, and you need a couple of players, but you can sometimes make do with less. Maybe you had more than you needed to begin with, and it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Your games are faster now, streamlined without that extraneous part of the group.

But ultimately, the problem isn’t with the person who’s leaving. They’ve made their peace, and their decision, and carry on with their lives. They knew what they were doing, and when the finally put their foot down, there isn’t a lot that another people can do about it.

No, the problem is with who’s left.

Share Button

Consent of the Gamers

January 26th, 2010 6 comments

Let’s talk about responsibility.

There are very few things in life we have to do, and they mostly include automatic responses from our nervous system. That being said, there are things we should do, and we largely lump these things together in a category of things we call “being responsible”. These involve getting a job, paying your taxes, treating other humans with respect and courtesy, and generally being a productive member of society. Responsibility is sometimes given a bad break, because it’s tedious, and mostly doesn’t make us feel great. While the end result is sometimes a positive feeling, or even pride at having accomplished something important, the tasks we undertake while being responsible are arduous, time consuming, and most often, and this is the important part kids, not fun. Which often means things we consider to be fun should be devoid of responsibility.

This however, is not the case. It shouldn’t be. There are some great examples of a lot of fun to be had, particularly fun with other people, that need to be pursued responsibly. Driving is one. You don’t drive a car without a seat belt and without regard for your passengers’ safety and the other drivers on the road, even if you’re going really fast. Especially if you’re going really fast. Same thing with sex: you work out with your partner ahead of time what is acceptable behavior, and you stick to it. You don’t deviate outside of the guidelines you’ve set up without a lot of unacceptable risk. Amusement rides are full of safety precautions that you have to meet before you can enjoy responsibly. Speaking of enjoying responsibly, did anyone mention alcohol? In essence, responsibility when it comes to having fun is about meeting the demands of everyone, and creating the most happiness for those involved. It also means, perhaps explicitly, not raining down on someone else’s parade.

Thus, our responsibility while having fun is clear. There are plenty of good examples of what are bad ideas, and when not to do them. Gaming should be no different. Much like sex however, what is acceptable differs from person to person, and group to group. There are perhaps a few commonly accepted rules, which I believe can be addressed as common fare, but given the large scopes of kinds of gamers as I addressed in my last post, what is understood as necessary by one group may be totally superfluous for another. Let’s start with the basics then.

1. People should be ready to game. This means that, whoever you should be, you should be wherever you need to be, whenever you need to be there, with whatever you need to game. I wanted to fit however into this, but why ever for?

In essence, be punctual and prepared. This doesn’t mean that you have to be in someone’s face about them showing up 5 to 10 minutes late, but let’s not waste people’s time here. When you’re going to be 15, 20, 30 minutes late, that’s definitely when you should be telling people, at the very least. Have whatever you need with you too: dice, character sheets, books, laptop… whatever you need to be ready to throw down and kick some goblin’s ass. In line with being prepared with the mechanical pieces of the game, be prepared by knowing the mechanical essence of the game.

2.Know the system. This doesn’t necessarily mean game the system, or abuse it (and it’s important for DMs to know when the system is being abused), but know what you need to know for the game you’re in, and your character in particular. If you’re playing a combative character, be prepared to be able to throw down some dice and say what you hit with. If you’ve got to know how to cast a spell, or do some occult research, know your pools.

This is important for DMs and MMO gamers as well. DMs need to be even more well versed than players with the mechanics of the game, but by the same token, don’t abuse it and make the game unfair for your players. You have to be aware of what they’re capable of, as well as what the obstacles that lie in their way are. Tangentially, if you’re playing a MMO like WoW, know what your role is (Tank, Healer, Damage) and be prepared to know the mechanics of it. If you’re playing a Feral Druid for example, you should know that contemporary theory says that because you should be crit immune, you should stack Stamina and shouldn’t pick up a lick of defense gear.

Most importantly comes the synthesis of rules 1 and 2.

3.Don’t be a dick. I hate to steal Wheaton’s Law, but its elegance is amazing, and works into the discussion like this: Don’t do anything that ruins someone’s enjoyment of a game. Whether that’s being 45 minutes to an hour late and wasting people’s time and energy, or harping on someone’s choice of mechanics without a grounded reason. Most importantly, don’t be cruel about it. Someone can make a decision for a lot of reasons, and if you’re a dick about it, you’re only going to agitate and disturb what should be a fun activity.

What this all means is that you should, when you game, lay down certain ground rules about what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Players gonna miss a few games? That might be okay, or it might not fly. Prot Warrior’s thinking of respeccing to a slightly different build? Make sure that the raid leader and Warrior Class Lead (if such a person exists) know about it, and do what they need to do about it. Or just let him go wily-nilly. If people in your group are deviating from what others in the group think they should, it’s important to correct the small deviations before they grow into large ones, and make what was once something awesome into something resembling a burden. Playing well together’s important, but the fun’s the thing.

Share Button