Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Know Your Enemy

-C has an interesting post up today, talking about my recent musings on consensus-oriented play. Melan makes a comment that is worth reprinting in full:

I am really frustrated by a lot of game discussion on the net - particularly on RPGNet's d20/D&D forum - where posters assume that typical gamers will be acting in bad faith in situations that depend on human choice. There is, I don't know, a complete lack of generosity towards roleplayers, and some sort of almost paralysing fear about bad experiences.  
As a conclusion to these assumptions, the discussion then shifts to how a game's rules should limit or outright prevent the potential for human error by limiting human choice; moreover, the experiences of posters who come from a different point of view are written off as atypical or downright wrong. I see these assumptions as damaging - used to argue against them for a few years, but I have mostly given up because I just ended up attacked over it.  
So, yeah, sportmanship. A mutual commitment to group enjoyment. That's the point. That's the entire point, and I don't want to play in a game that doesn't give me that.

This absolutely hits the nail on the head. There is something poisonous about discussion of RPGs in online forums - a cynicism, a meanness of spirit, a failure to understand basic human decency in game contexts - which I find genuinely worrying, and it does seem to flow from rpg.net's d20/D&D forum, although you see it elsewhere too. It's not the majority of the forum-goers (many of whom contributed excellently and pleasantly to my Monstrous Manual thread, for example), but a large minority of fevered egos, tainting our collective subconscious.

I don't find it worrying in any sort of WE'RE ALL DOOMED sense; rather, I'm anxious because it seems to me that the Powers That Be in the RPG world take what goes on in forums very seriously. I can't help but feel that a lot of what 4e tried to do in "fixing" D&D was in response to what a large number of the fevered egos in places like rpg.net were saying was wrong with gaming, but that this was ultimately a quixotic goal because it wasn't properly understood that people who are very vocal in forums are not really very representative of the majority, and are pretty much by definition guaranteed to be odd, not to mention socially inept and angry. Their concerns are not the concerns of normal gamers, but the concerns of cynical mean-spirited people who do not understand basic human decency in game contexts, and readily assume bad faith at the drop of a hat.

It's related to the problem that is experienced by TV-show makers, radio broadcasters, and media personalities the length and breadth of the world: you get complaints about something and try to make changes in response, forgetting that people who are bothered enough to complain are by definition rather strange and also tiny in number in comparison to the unoffended masses - so by effecting changes in response you are in fact chasing wild geese.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, I really wish people like Monte Cook and Mike Mearls would lock themselves away from the internet when designed D&D 5th edition and just make a game that they think normal people would enjoy, and play-test it the traditional way by just playing it a lot without input from the "fan base".

32 comments:

  1. You know, I don't think I've had bad experiences with choice in play, most of my bad experiences had to do with pre-play choices. Too many games focus to much (in my opinion) or providing every possibility under the sun to a starting character, which is a case of the game company giving in to players who demand to have a pet giant bald eagle, thirty magic items, and their own village at first level.

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  2. I run into this a lot with my day job (video game development). The forums are dominated by the same types of people with the same types of unrealistic and unrelenting negativity. There's a certain point where you have to tune it out, if only to preserve your own sense of self worth. I'd imagine there are people at WOTC whose job it is to stay on top of forum chatter, but the principal developers probably keep a healthier distance than it might appear.

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  3. The irony is all editions were compatible before these jokers got ahold of 'the brand'.

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  4. On the one hand, the internet is a fantastic resource for games, but on the other, it seems to have allowed all the people who believe D&D needs to be "fixed" to complain louder than ever.

    4th edition seems to have been a grand experiment in whether or not that audience could ever be pleased. "Warlocks are unplayably bad", "Improved Defenses is a feat tax." It's all white noise.

    I think I'm also in favor of the plan to deny the 5th edition design team access to the internet!

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  5. It would be useful for the DMG to deal with handling disagreements and building consensus, even if only briefly. I think that this is a critical skill for referees, but one that is neglected in published literature about DMing. What little advice that one can find published is often so vacuous or vague that it's not much help at all. It's the failure to resolve conflicts about expectations and the shared imagined world that leads to the breakdown of the trust and sportsmanship that are necessary for a good game.

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    1. I wouldn't disagree. You're right though - it is neglected. I don't think I can remember reading anything like that, although I do tend to skip through "how to play an RPG" intro sections.

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  6. There's no way to read the rpg.net forums without coming away with a jaundiced view of human nature. Development of a product based on feedback from rpg.net will devolve inexorably towards something consisting largely of fire and dildos.

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  7. Interestingly, this phenomena shows up on both sides of any given argument. It seems rather like politics at times, where neither side believes in the good faith of the other. Lack of skills make players' the prisoner of DM fiat or skills constrict the character to only what the DM allows. Sandbox games are mindless encounters without any emergent story or any preplanned structure means the DM is a closet novelist ready to inflict his story on the player's.

    A semantic disagreement over the use of the term "convince" got a comment I made called "bigoted" and poisonous." A comment whose only other words of substance beyond aforementioned convinced were "DM" and "players."

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  8. (somewhat slightly insider viewpoint: I wouldn't worry about it if I were you)

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    1. Why, has something changed since the 4th edition approach?

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  9. "There is, I don't know, a complete lack of generosity towards roleplayers, and some sort of almost paralysing fear about bad experiences."

    I thought I was the only one that noticed that. It like these people need shrink or something:
    'show me on the doll where the bad DM touched you'

    The systemic removal of the power to make judgement calls has been going on for a few years now that I've noticed - and not just in games design. It's mirrored in the general culture. (zero tolerance policies, etc)

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  10. Truthfully why do you read threads on rpg.net? Ive heard nothing good about the place and there are plenty of D&D forums - Im not saying those are worthwhile mind you.

    I don't know why anyone is interested in how other players might play at other gametables. I only play with friends who were not formerly gamers and so are relatively sane. I haven't encountered anyone online I would like to add to my playing pool even if it was geographically convenient.

    I can understand an argument about rules interpretation but not about the conduct and motivation of unknown gaming personalities somewhere else in the world. How can they affect your modus operandi and why would you want to affect theirs?

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    1. Why do you read blogs then?

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    2. I mean, if you don't have any interest in how other players play at other game tables, you haven't encountered anyone online you would like to add to your playing pool, and you wouldn't want your modus operandi affected by other people elsewhere in the world, why participate in online discussion at all?

      90% of everything is crap, as we know, and it applies to online discussion of RPGs. But by extension 10% of it is worth reading.

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    3. For about two years I read blogs and forums to collect recommendations for good rpg material i had not heard of.

      I still participate as far as I find gamers amusing. You will notice it is not enough to be sane to be tickled by gamer furore and indignation, one has to be sane *and* a gamer. This category is populated in the single digits. I keep getting banned from forums for actively heightening my enjoyment of gamer discussion but there are a handful of blogs I visit too, two I enjoy for the posts and the writers, the rest for the prospect of naked idiocy in the comments. When gamers are not fawning and fame-seeking they are cranky and querulous. They are universally weak of intellect but most are aspiring geniuses with the vanity of aged actresses (Sunset Boulevard). This is an irresistibly entertaining zoo for me.

      What is your excuse? Do you consider intellectualising rpgs a slumming sojourn from your studies?

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    4. No, I have a hobby I enjoy and I enjoy talking about it and writing about it. It's that simple.

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    5. Why, I don't care how anyone else drives, it's not like I'll ever drive on the same road as them at the same time.

      I mean, why should I care about norms in competitive games like chess or poker. It's not like I should be interested in how anyone else is engaging with my hobbyist interests.

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  11. Well the thing about rpg.net is that other forums have a signal:noise ratio in which there's a certain amount of intelligent posts and a certain amount of insane blather. Rpg.net on the other hand seems to have more of a sublime genius:barking madness ratio in which there's a certain number of posts that are simply awesomely creative (the Long Stairs, noism's 2ed MM thread, etc. etc.) while others the others...

    There's enough good stuff there that you shouldn't let the horrible stuff there drown it out.

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  12. Funny, I was just there enjoying this awesome thread where people were encouraging and helping each other with...oh right...sorry. It wasn't a thread related to D&D/D20.

    I'm sure this kind of this happens all the time with Mutants & Masterminds on Atomic Think Tank. Hmmm...no. OK, well I've been to TREKRPG.Net and...nothing. Odd.

    Yes, I am being snarky but don't worry, I have a point and I am not immune to my own slander.

    Get enough people together who like a thing and sure, the vocal, naysaying minority are bound to rear their ugly heads but I have to wonder why is happens with D&D more than other game. My gut answer would be because more people play it, care about it and have played it longer than any other RPG. This results in a larger, nore deeply attached fan base that has very strong opinions.

    While you don't see these kinds of comments and reactions about M&M or a Star Trek RPG, you will see it in regards to DC Comics' New 52 and Abrams' Star Trek (yes, I am guilty on both counts of being 'that guy' when it comes to those subjects).

    In the end I think calling these folks our 'enemy' is both true and sad. It indicates we should be ready against them as they shall forever remain our enemy. That may be but it is unfortunate that with our vast resources and intellect we can't think of a way to bring about a lasting peace.

    Oh well, back to my secret world of rainbows and smiley faces...

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    1. Abrams' Star Trek SUCKED. Well, okay, it was an entertaining film, but it was made for non-Trek fans and it showed.

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  13. Kent wrote: “I don't know why anyone is interested in how other players might play at other gametables.”

    I have to credit my rediscovery of how I used to play to online forums. And I also feel like I’ve also learned a lot about ways to play that I didn’t know before but that I really enjoy. I think I’m having more fun today because of reading about how others play.

    RPG.net wasn’t a big part of that, but some of Mike Mornard’s posts there are, for me, pure gold. The kind that gives me XP and helps me level up as a gamer. ^_^

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  14. There's definitely a specific problem with rpgnet, but I think it lies primarily with the direction set by the moderators, from the owner on down. I often see more passive-aggressive snark and edition-warring from them than from anyone else. They create a nasty atmosphere - which they complain about - and that attracts nasty people. You see it in reverse on ENW; I doubt the mods there are all saints, they have their personal views which will differ from those of other posters, but they generally set a positive example which discourages bad behaviour, they don't engage in edition warring, and they're pretty good at maintaining a neutral tone rather than clearly taking sides in a dispute.

    Attempts to create a better atmosphere on rpgnet seem doomed when they're constantly undermined by the mods themselves.

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    1. The moderation in that site is like a text book study on the psychology of power, and how giving power to the powerless often ends horribly. It's like Zimbardo's simulated prison experiment: give a formerly weak and socially disadvantaged nerd the tag "moderator" and the power to apply sanctions and they will immediately begin abusing their position.

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    2. Presumably the ENW moderators are not vastly different in terms of also being nerds, though? Yet comparing the two sites often looks like one of those 19th century sf novels with the Utopia and the Dystopia. Or Chaos Theory where a slight difference in start conditions creates a massive difference in outcome. Bedford Falls vs Pottersville.

      I get the impression that on ENW (a) the owner is a relatively decent human being, but more importantly he took over a site that already had a socially functional framework in place, and
      (b) the not so nice moderators tend to look to the nice moderators and rein in their behaviour, whereas on RPGnet bad moderation drives out good, just as regular posters see bad behaviour rewarded and are more likely to engage in it.

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  15. On Melan's specific point: "posters assume that typical gamers will be acting in bad faith in situations that depend on human choice" - yes there is a very unhealthy dynamic there. I was just reading an rpgnet thread a moment ago with posters worrying that 5e might reduce _player control_ of the game. To me there's something deeply wrong about needing to control what happens in an adventure game like D&D.

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  16. " I can't help but feel that a lot of what 4e tried to do in "fixing" D&D was in response to what a large number of the fevered egos in places like rpg.net were saying was wrong with gaming, but that this was ultimately a quixotic goal because it wasn't properly understood that people who are very vocal in forums are not really very representative of the majority, and are pretty much by definition guaranteed to be odd, not to mention socially inept and angry. Their concerns are not the concerns of normal gamers, but the concerns of cynical mean-spirited people who do not understand basic human decency in game contexts, and readily assume bad faith at the drop of a hat."

    I hadn't really made this connection (design approach in 4e/rpgnet posters) until recently, but yes seeing the reactions on rpgnetd20 to news of 5e did bring it home to me. The fear of losing control of the game. D&D as a 'safe space' to actualise your fantasies without risk - and without reference to the fun of everyone else at the table. Terror of 'step on up'.

    I don't GM 4e like that; when I saw stuff like 'Wish Lists' in the 4e DMG I just snorted derisively and moved on. But clearly for some people - a minority - Wish List play is exactly what they are looking for.

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  17. It seems to me that, somewhere along the way over recent years, speaking your mind and standing your ground has become tangled with being a dick. So many people seem to think that you have to be an a-hole when giving your opinion. The result is a bunch of people shouting about their opinions and no one is really listening to each other, because who wants to listen to a shouting a-hole? This sort of instantly combative stance, where people assume that others will instantly fight them on any and all topics of discussion, has bled over into roleplaying. Or maybe it was always there, in some embryonic form, and has finally flowered from the muck of low self esteem that has plagued many players/gamemasters over the long years of our hobby. The net result is that people come to the table with massive chips on their shoulders, and this doesn't lend itself well to cooperation or, in the end, fun.

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  18. Well that's what I get for defending rpg.net, my DM just got scolded for calling someone "silly." *sigh*

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