Wednesday 28 April 2021

Changing the World

When I was young, I wanted to change the world. Like most people, I thought that the right way to do this was through politics, or working for NGOs, or in the world of policy. Nowadays I tend to think you're doing well if you're able to make things better for your own family and local community at the most. But I also increasingly think that when we talk about 'changing the world' in common parlance - particularly when we're young - we unduly privilege politics. Of course, politics matters. But humans are spiritual beings. You can change the world by creating things that uplift people's souls and make them glad to be alive - that give them the opportunity to step outside of themselves, to reflect, to imagine that there is more to the world than just the mundanity of doing.  

I don't mean that this makes the world better in just some airy-fairy artistic sense, although uplifting people's souls and making them glad to be alive is intrinsically good in its own right. I mean it in a practical sense too: when people are uplifted from time to time, they live fuller, richer, more productive and interesting lives, and this cannot but contribute to a better society overall. We can't measure this quantitatively (like we can't measure most things that matter quantitatively) but you only have to think about the issue for a moment to realise that a society in which public morale is lifted by having access to inspiring and wonderful art and entertainment will be healthier, happier and more secure, as a consequence of being spiritually better off, than it would otherwise be. 

It sounds awfully pretentious and trite - as well as ludicrously precious about the value of one's mere hobby - to say that on these terms Gygax and Arneson changed the world considerably, just as did Dickens, Camus, Tolkien, Hemingway, Gaugin, whoever else you wish to name. No, mentioning them in the same breath as Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Lyndon Johnson or Margaret Thatcher would be silly. But the cumulative effect of their game diffused and spread among the millions of people around the world who have derived satisfaction from it and its progeny is not, in terms of the public benefit, nothing. It isn't just a game (although that in itself would still not, of course, be nothing).


  1. Art is actually quite powerful, it is quite important.
    Yes, the political world has more impact in greater scheme, but art impacts politics too, the same way more so the other way around.
    This comment might be pretentious, but I am reminded of the concept in Sufism where music can awaken either the divine self or the animal self, and I believe that many things, including the tabletop game hobby, can uplift people.

    1. Yes, I agree with that basic point. Was Disraeli more important, or Dickens? The former got things done. But would he have been able to without Dickens?

  2. Yeah. Thanks for this.

    I was feeling like crap today, and now I feel...well, less like crap.

    Appreciate it.

  3. I'm not sure it's so very silly. If we shed the burden materialist epistemologies weigh upon our attempts to apply or extract meaning to/from reality, we can enjoy more interesting conversations. Truth? Couldn't say. Don't really even want to.

    All this so as to gild the lily of my observation: rpgs re-enchant experience, tell a story made puissant by our role within it, reclaim the spaces of the imagination left painfully fallow.

    Stafford's ideas on the Gloranthan Heroquest, leap to mind. Taking back this ground might seem unimportant within the terms of dialectical materialism. But outside of that strait jacket, you've got nothing less than the re-enchantment of 'the story'.

    1. The re-enchantment of the story. When you put it like that, it does sound important.