Tuesday 14 June 2016

Dice Problems: the Sequel

So my recent transcript of a talk I gave at a con has been... well. widely shared, really. Aaaand well. The unexpected happened.

People read it.

Or said they had. 

So after a rundown of some fairly boilerplate theory, all I said was that you can't escape ideology, ideology includes politics, games have politics, some games have politics just because they do, some try not to and obviously it doesn't work like that, and some have political biases that fans largely ignore, and crucially that's OK, and thousands of page hits later I got... well, I got the internet. 

I got some fairly robust and thoughtful critique of what I was saying about Dogs in the Vineyard, which led me to think a bit about my point, which was a bit muddled, and led me to clarify it a bit.

Basically, the point is really that Dogs in the Vineyard is relational: the power dynamic of an untested teenager given authority by a truly ambivalent religion in a frontier is of course going to be different to that wielded by mob enforcers, witch hunters and Nazis. It's that dynamic – kids doing their best to do good when given power over people who have to recognise that but still see you as kids and who might have seen you grow up – that humanises the game, that's the game's entry point (and is my favourite thing about it, truth be told), but is also where the ideological basis of the game and the ideological basis of the setting can't be untangled. You try to untangle them, you get something very different.

As for the examples of the other two games, great God above. Mage especially. Some of the stuff I saw out there was as I said a few days ago,  like watching people argue about the precise shade of pink they believed grass to be. I was talking about it with some friends and this happened...

Timing. it's all about the timing.

More charitably, all I was trying to say that if you signify the bad guys as being like things that many gamers think are cool (eg. Men in Black, space marines, engineers, Richard Dawkins), and the goodies as things many gamers despise (eg. hippies, modern primitives, Christians, Peter Carroll – and I just put Pete Carroll and Christians in the same box, so allow me a moment to high five myself), it doesn't matter if you call out the bad guys as fascists, because the fans are going to at best write the fascism out or at worst excuse it as necessary. One of the comments on the original post basically repeats the exact "these people are the worst and these people aren't, no matter what you say" argument.

That wasn't a lot more charitable, reading it back. At least I left out the whiteness part of it. 

You know though when you write something you just think is sort of interesting, and you apply your academic discipline to it, and people react to it in weird and puzzling ways? About nine years ago, a similar thing happened when I worked on a book about the Bible and how people interpret it. I got a lot of weird flak for that, much of it unrelated to the actual essay. One of the co-editors on that book reminded me:

I'd forgotten about that. Funny though, how people react about games in much the same way as people do about religion.