Friday, June 5, 2009

"I am a nobody in real life!"

I see this attitude a lot in the general gaming community to explain the dislike of low-level classic D&D play, or a dislike of Call of Cthulhu play, and to explain why the escalating power of D&D makes the game "more fun" and why games like Exalted and such are fun to a certain breed of player. I just saw another example of this mentality today.

Now I can understand wish fulfillment and power fantasies, even if that's not why I game. Superhero games are good for this. "I want to fly!" "I want to be able to lift a tank!" But that's a somewhat different thing. In real life, some things simply aren't possible, and if they are, there are consequences to those actions somewhat more serious than needing to roll up a new character. I have a suspicion it's a bit more entertaining to pretend to be a criminal on the run than to actually be one.

But this idea that playing a low-powered (or "normal") character is no fun because you feel unexceptional in real life?

That's pretty fucked up.

Those rare times I actually get to play instead of run a game, yes, I want to be a badass! I want to "win" and complete whatever objective I have in the game, but I don't expect any game to just hand me that experience as a default! And I am certainly not projecting some idea of who I wish I could be if only I had the balls or the luck to be so onto my game persona.

(I wonder if this is related to why people are completely disgusted with things like torture or other real-life atrocities, let alone Carcosa-like activities, appearing in their game... why, if Joe is playing the steadfast reliable warrior noble he wishes he could be in life, what does that say about George who decides his character wears an executioner's hood and cuts off orc fingers to get information? Or if Bob wants his next character to be a girl?)

Make your next character somebody you would never want to be in life. Maybe someone you would take great pains to stay away from. I'm not talking about making a character that smells or steals or being completely anti-social so that nobody would like them. I mean try someone with a different political outlook. A different religion. Money-hungry. Environmentally careless. Someone with "conservative family values." An assertive Type A Personality. Whatever. Just someone that does not represent who you are or who you wish you could be.

And then go make an effort to be the person you want to be in real life, in real life. You want to be somebody? All it takes is a plan and a gun. Want to be somebody better than that? You just need a better plan and a better tool. There are no guarantees (you could end up like this guy), but you have a better chance of getting there by trying than by gaming. So go go go!


  1. Amen.

    I sense a thread of this barrier between old-school and new-school gaming going on in the community since I read about this earlier today at Ode to Black Dougal.

    As well, I have noticed something like this myself. I have contacted a couple people on NearbyGamers trying to see if there's interest (since I live way out in the 'burbs, there's not that many people that near to me). One person seemed interested in the game concept but wasn't so hot on old-school gaming. Another wasn't interested at all for reasons reflected in your post and the one I referenced above.

  2. I find the attitude especially baffling in games like D&D where a first level cleric or magic-user can do things that no human alive seems capable of. Is routing brain-devouring zombies with nothing but a crucifix and a dirty look not badass enough for some people?

  3. Yes.

    I do have to wonder, though, whether this whole response ("I am unexceptional in real life, so I don't want to play an unexceptional character?) is genuine. I see it a lot on forums, too. Hell, it's almost a trope. Shit, it's almost obligatory. An automatic, recognizable position to occupy in relation to a particular idea.

    I think half the time, that's all there is to it. There are certain things people say as part of conversation X. When conversation X pops up, viola -- a half dozen forum regulars pop up to say one of the half-dozen or so things that you say in conversation X. Do they really believe that they're unexceptional? Eh, who knows, maybe. Or maybe not. Have they really thought about it that much? I dunno. I wonder.

    I mean, it's a pretty easy standard trope to dismiss an approach to gaming. If they're not interested in playstyle X for whatever reason (and whether they really understand the reason or not, or the playstyle or not), this is one of the standard ways to say, "Eh, not interested."


  4. I could actually see some merit to the idea of wanting to play someone "special". If you're mostly a social gamer you might feel it's to involved to play a 1st lvl OD&D character. Just following along and goofing off wont work, since it will kill you flat. But, for a social gamer that is what is fun with the game!

    The musings on why some people gets so worked up by e.g. Carcosa is really interesting, though!! I've asked myself that some times.

  5. Funny you should mention guys who play female characters. This might call wrath down upon me, but here is my experience. Over the years I've encountered several guys who played female characters. I don't think any of them wanted to be female in real life, and I don't think it had anything to do with sexuality issues except this: mainly, they were creating and playing females they wish they had as girlfriends.

  6. character that smells or steals or being completely anti-social so that nobody would like them<

    Ah, the standard gamer

    I have a guy running a chick in my game. A big, 6'4" South African guy running a female drow (who is also a druid, if your head wasn't spinning around from the description already). He seems pretty mensch, and has a girlfriend who just because his fiance. Yet he is running this female (although she is a bit of an ass kicker).

    Over a dozen games so far, and no clue as to anything sexual about her. Does she like guys? Does she like girls?

    Yeah, guys running wimmen-flesh always was, and always will be, a head scratcher to me.

  7. I should offer the caveat that not all guys I've gamed with are up to some fantasy kinkery when they make a female character. It depends a lot on the way the character is portrayed.

  8. I think part of it may be a cultural shift. Gygax and Arneson grew up in a world where ordinary people did extraordinary things. Most gamers are likely to recognize the name Rodger Young from Starship Troopers. What's less well known is that the real Rodger Young was 5'2", near sighted, nearly deaf and looked a little like Radar O’Reilly. He also died winning a Medal of Honor. He had plenty of contemporaries with similar accomplishments. Could Joe Peasant slay the dragon? Why not - his real world equivalents had done deeds as great. In modern times, there are a lot fewer examples of ordinary men doing great deeds. When gamers complain "I'm a nobody" I think there's an underlying assumption that ordinary men can't do great deeds and heroes are a breed apart. Personally I blame Ayn Rand but that could just be irrational hostility on my part.

  9. >Personally I blame Ayn Rand but that could just be irrational hostility on my part.

    I always interpreted Rand as saying that the only difference between being ordinary and extraordinary is wanting to be. Hell, I thought the last paragraph of my post was completely Randian.