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Author Topic: Real World Ideology reflected in Games  (Read 14507 times)
lehrbuch
Member

Posts: 24


« on: May 20, 2002, 03:03:03 PM »

Quote from: lehrbuch
Please don't be insulted by this, but I have often heard it said that some players dislike Class so much, because of their real-world national myths about the existence and desirability of "classless" societies. Is real-world ideology significant in what we find acceptable and desirable in a roleplaying game? A similar argument could be made about a player's preference for deterministic or random resolution systems, or for the sharing of narrative control amongst all players.


Quote from: Ron Edwards
I guess I'm puzzled by this, for a couple of reasons. First, I don't see a possible implied insult at all, and your basic question is a very good one.


Fine, if you don't see an insult: none is intended.  I do, however, know people who would see such a comment as an excuse to rant about their personal or national ideology; it is such a response I am attempting to avoid.  I should make clear that I really didn't expect you [Ron] to do so, but maybe someone else reading this might be tempted.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Second, I'm not familiar with the trend or profile you describe (regarding character class); it's totally foreign to me.


The basic argument I have seen is: "It is stupid that I cannot do X because of my class.  Anyone can learn how to do anything.  This is just an artificial restraint on my character's activities."  My contention is that such an argument may be reflective of a real world ideology held by the person making it.  An equally valid argument might be:  "Real people are restricted in their behaviours by their upbringing, psychology and perhaps most importantly how they are perceived by their society.  It is stupid to allow every character access to everything, both in character generation and play.  Class, although imperfect, is an acceptable mechanic through which to represent this."  Which might be reflective of another real world ideology.

The two arguments perhaps represent a disagreement about what Setting is being Simulated by the game.  But it seems obvious to me that a player's real-world ideology may influence which Settings may even be contemplated.  And further still that issues like mechanics may be similarly effected.  Such may account for regional differences in the play of games.  It may also be something to think about when designing a game.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Third, the topic has a lot of thread-derailing potential, so I suggest you start a new thread with it.


New thread duly started.
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* lehrbuch
Henry Fitch
Member

Posts: 149


« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2002, 03:44:49 PM »

Interesting. So, for instance, someone with a very mechanistic, deterministic view of the world might prefer Karma systems over Fortune, an extreme democrat/anarchist/etc would dislike GM control, that kind of thing? Makes sense. It'd be easy to say that people's perceptions of the world only decide the workings of the game in Sim game design, but that seems unlikely.
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formerly known as Winged Coyote
J B Bell
Member

Posts: 267


« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2002, 06:39:43 PM »

This is a most interesting notion, lehrbuch.  I hope it manages to stay topical--it could derail any ordinary thread, and as a thread of its own, it's certainly potentially touchy.

I get the feeling you're not in the USA, though I can't tell from your profile or other posts.  I have never heard anyone get upset because they felt that class in the RPG sense somehow reinforced class in the sociopolitical sense.  Explicit discussions of sociopolitical class are unusual in most gamer culture in the USA, IMO.

You are right, though, that "I should be able to do what I want" is a common retort to class systems by those who don't like them.  In my own gaming group back in high school and college, this was pretty much our attitude, and we became die-hard GURPS loyalists.  A while ago I did notice that the way we played tended to be a sort of low-grade "me first" anarchism or quasi-libertarianism.  That is, the characters usually were well outside the system of law in whatever world we were in, were ferociously anti-authoritarian, and later, tended toward a sort of postmodernist view.  (More than one campaign featured re-making the whole world with metaphysical laws that better suited our ideology.)  All this free-thinking didn't extend to the rules, however, which we were pretty picky about (the exception was the magic system, which we often tweaked).

All that said, I attribute the superficiality of our political analysis (in general as well as in relation to our gaming habits) more to immaturity than to being gamers as such.  I do not want anyone to misconstrue anything here to be a generalization in any way about what RPGers think politically.

Now to the present--I think that one's ideology inevitably affects game design (and play of course), though not always in an obvious fashion.  A design I am currently working on (with Mike Holmes, who gets credit for the original idea) turned out to have a lot of dialectical materialism's terminology peppered throughout (probably because its heart is a conflict resolution system), and I have made a subtle joke through the whole text of slightly Marxist-sounding terms.  The system also focusses very strongly on conflict with a Self trait as defining for PCs (it's the only trait all PCs have), and at some point I'm definitely going to figure a way to turn that on its head, since I'm a Buddhist and believe there isn't actually such a thing as a self.  (In the sense of an object that has a lasting, permanent essence; nor do I mean to say it has no existence in any sense; nor--ah, well, if you wanna chat this kind of philosophy, take it to PM.)

That's the conscious stuff on my part, and it's (as far as I can tell) almost vanishingly subtle.  The most obvious thing I can think of that's discussed publicly is newer trends in gender inclusivity, as well as some consciousness in gaming texts about race (in the sense of Black, White, Latino, etc., not in the sense of Elf, Hobbit, etc.).  You do see ferocious debate about the matter of depictions in gaming texts (especially the art), but not very often have I encountered analysis that goes into the mechanics themselves.

OK, this is getting rather long-winded.  I'll return again when my thoughts are better organized.  In general, I think it's possible to analyze this stuff ideologically, but absent explicit statements from the authors, it's a very uncertain thing.  I'm not sure how to get much value from it except as a curiosity.

--J B Bell
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"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes
Andrew Martin
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Posts: 785


« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2002, 08:00:46 PM »

It's my impression that Personality reflects Games. I've been taking 'net personality tests and inflicting them on friends and relations, and noticing that RPGs tend to match the personality types. One friend's personality and my personality are very closer, and we both like the same style of RPG. Others have different personalities and like different RPGs. I haven't yet worked out what correlation there is, or even if there is one.
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Andrew Martin
lehrbuch
Member

Posts: 24


« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2002, 08:07:25 PM »

Hello,

Quote from: Henry Fitch
Interesting. So, for instance, someone with a very mechanistic, deterministic view of the world might prefer Karma systems over Fortune, an extreme democrat/anarchist/etc would dislike GM control, that kind of thing?


Sort of, it's not just what the player prefers but what the designer promotes, though.

Quote from: Henry Fitch
It'd be easy to say that people's perceptions of the world only decide the workings of the game in Sim game design, but that seems unlikely.


I'd almost say that Sim was the *least* effected.  Take the Class or not-class problem:

Sim designers can just say:  "OK, we are Simulating a setting where class is important."  or "OK, we are Simulating a setting where class is not important."  Either statement is as good as the other, and once made there is no argument.  It doesn't matter what the players actually believe occurs in the real world.  The only Sim problem is if neither statement is made but only assumed and some players don't realise it.

In D&D, for example, Class only seems to be present (initially) because the designers decided it is possible to group people and make statements like: people in group A can do X, people in group B cannot.

Quote from: J B Bell
I have never heard anyone get upset because they felt that class in the RPG sense somehow reinforced class in the sociopolitical sense...


Wow.  Maybe I just play with weird people, but once we started to think about it...it seemed a natural conclusion with the people I play with.  Not that we necessarily think this is bad, just that it is what a class mechanic does.

Quote from: J B Bell
...and we became die-hard GURPS loyalists. A while ago I did notice that the way we played tended to be a sort of low-grade "me first" anarchism or quasi-libertarianism.


I too found this playing GURPS and other "classless" systems.  Again, this is not necessarily bad, but it is what the mechanics promote.  Presumably the designers find such play desirable.  

What about experience then, and characters that change?  I'd say that such was indicative of an ideology that people incrementally change and that they improve themselves.  This is a reason why I like "Little Fears", it challenges this assumption, characters get worse not better.  Another example is CoC, where characters are short-term and tend to go insane, this is promoting a totally different ideology about the value of personal achievement to say D&D, or even "dark" games like Vampire.
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* lehrbuch
contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2002, 01:53:36 AM »

1 - class as a term of historical origin refers mnostly to standard of living and influence, but usually also implies something of how that living is made.  The range of careers available to aristocrats was very different to the range of tasks available to the peasantry.  In this sense, vertical social class does correspond to career.
2 - the Marxist sense in which class is often used today refers strictly to the relationship between the individual and the mode of production, and also implies quite a lot about what people do and why.
3 - class as a paraphrase for "category" can be used with or without such associations.

D&D only actually uses version 3.  A better fantasy game, IMO, would use version 1.

I too am familiar with a sense that the class model of performance was overly restrictive, and like others, my homebrews shifted in this direction.  But this does produce a far too modern approach of "anyone can do anything" which does IMO reflect a modern bourgeois ideology rather than a historical one.  Needless to say, this gets my sim goat.  The problem with thr former is that they try to classify by function; the problem with the latter is that it fails to classify at all.  

There have been better attempts - I like HW's packages and the like.  I believe you need at least two dimensions of classification - one for social rank, and another for functional role.
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Paganini
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Posts: 1049


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« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2002, 07:04:14 AM »

This post wanders around a bit through the topics in this thread. Please excuse. :)

First of all, I think Gareth has pegged it exactly right. D&D uses classes to categorize and nothing more. The reason (IME/O of course) that many people have automatic negative reactions to the word "class" is not from political or cultural reasons, but because D&D is such a high profile game that anytime the word "class" enters a discussion people automaticaly think of D&D classes - which are what the guys on the RPG-Create list call *restrictive* classes. The D&D implimentation imposes artificial restrictions to the different character types under the banner of game balance. ("What do you mean my wizard can't pick up a sword? He's got two freaking hands, doesn't he?!")

So, many people assume that the idea of "class" carries with it the undesireable qualities of the D&D class system, when this is not in fact the case. The word "template" is often used (as in the D6 system) to denote non-restrictive classes. Templates in D6 are used to categorize, but do not restrict. Rather, they're more like partially pre-generated characters.

Wandering onwards, I don't think that our world-views *necessarily* have a great impact on the games we design and play. I know my own doesn't. I like games for diversions. When I play a game, I expet things to be *different* from my real worldview. That's the main thing that makes games interesting to me.
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Seth L. Blumberg
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Posts: 303


« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2002, 08:47:13 AM »

While it would never have occurred to me before this discussion to view the word "class" as used in D&D in a Marxist sense, I do think that many of the negative reactions to class-based games--including my own--stem from the (perhaps excessively) high value placed on individuality in Western culture, and especially in the United States.  The notion that one's game-world avatar should be ontologically forbidden from pursuing certain activities is not palatable to many Westerners; I would expect it to be particularly rejected by people with extensive real-world experience of marginalization and rejection (as gamers tend to be).
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the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue
RobMuadib
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Posts: 230


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« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2002, 09:44:55 PM »

Quote from: Paganini

Wandering onwards, I don't think that our world-views *necessarily* have a great impact on the games we design and play. I know my own doesn't. I like games for diversions. When I play a game, I expet things to be *different* from my real worldview. That's the main thing that makes games interesting to me.


I would have to largely agree with Nathan here. One game that comes to mind in terms of designers world-view/beliefs intruding on design was Muliti-verser. For some reason the designer felt the need to include a comment about their own religious views and how those are reconciled to the game. (I forget the exact text, but I can look it up if anyone is interested.) I, and a couple of other people, ragged on the Author for having this religious creep in the game rules text.

Other than that, I can't think of any game where world-view majorly affected the mechanics in an unreasonable or unnecessary way. Indeed, it is the conflict of dealing with clashing different world-views and societal systems that gives alot of depth to roleplaying settings. (What would cyberpunk be without the Global Corporate Oligarchy to take down?)

I think the only "class" conflict that hasn't been directly addressed in games is a modern race war/civil war/secession kind of scenario, for obvious reasons. I suppose real world race would be the single most polarizing thing to focus on in a game. However, there is the opportunity for some interesting roleplaying in such a scenario, but the high possibility of having your game/company labeled racist/neo-nazi/seperatist, or whatever is far to off-putting. (Teaching people how to summon demons and stuff is kind of cliche these days.:) )

anyway, some random rambling on my part.

Rob

(Were Still Evil Too!!)
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Rob Muadib --  Kwisatz Haderach Of Wild Muse Games
kwisatzhaderach@wildmusegames.com --   
"But How Can This Be? For He Is the Kwisatz Haderach!" --Alyia - Dune (The Movie - 1980)
lehrbuch
Member

Posts: 24


« Reply #9 on: May 26, 2002, 06:14:15 PM »

Hello,

I might have another go at explaining what I mean here:

Regardless of designer intent or player acknowledgement an RPG has embedded within it assumptions about the real world and what is good and bad.  Players need to accept these (even if without acknowledging them) in order to understand the game.  Somewhat obviously, if the players' real world ideas align with those of the game then they will accept willingly, possibly even without realising it.  If the players' real world ideas differ to the games, then they will bicker about the game, particularly the "realism" of it.

This seems, at first glance, to apply more to Simulationist games than any other.  However, I think, that Simulationists can easily circumvent any argument by claiming to simulate a thing (setting/character/etc) where the assumptions of the game are "true", regardless of any real world truths.  Other types of gamer may possibly argue that all this is still part of the Simulationist structure which supports their preferred mode of play, and hence use the same argument.  But I'm not horribly convinced by that, as that seems to lead to "all games are simulations".

Some examples:
Class vs no Class.  Which makes the assumption that either people can be grouped or they can't.

GM vs multi-narrator.  Which makes the assumption that either there is a single (game) reality which only one player knows vs there is a shared (game) reality which must be negotiated between the players.

"Task" vs "Conflict" resolution systems.  Which make the assumption that either events happen through statistical "cause and effect" or that events happen through dramatic imperative.

Experience Points.  Personal achievment occurs in increments.

Quote from: Paganini

Wandering onwards, I don't think that our world-views *necessarily* have a great impact on the games we design and play. I know my own doesn't. I like games for diversions. When I play a game, I expet things to be *different* from my real worldview. That's the main thing that makes games interesting to me.


Fair enough.  This is similar to the simulationist argument that I mentioned.  However, you go one step further and say you are comparing the gameview to your worldview.  Thus, it seems to me that if you want to play a game that is different to your real worldview, then you need to be aware of your actual worldview when you play and analysing how the game is different.  Clearly, your particular real worldview will affect any such analysis?  

Quote from: RobMuadib
I would have to largely agree with Nathan here...Other than that, I can't think of any game where world-view majorly affected the mechanics in an unreasonable or unnecessary way.


Possibly, this is because the games' worldview was closely aligned with your own.
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* lehrbuch
Seth L. Blumberg
Member

Posts: 303


« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2002, 07:22:52 AM »

I really don't think that people who play or write GM-full games are doing so as an expression of some postmodern philosophical wankery about the nonexistence of the objective universe, and I find it hard to imagine that someone who disagreed with said wankery (i.e., the vast majority of sentient beings) would get a sense of clashing worldviews from playing such a game.
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the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue
Henry Fitch
Member

Posts: 149


« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2002, 07:50:06 AM »

I know this isn't exactly what we're talking about, but quite a few games have views imbedded in them on a more superficial level than that. Like, Fantasy Wargaming rather clearly shows the author's religious and gender bias, unless he was being quite tongue-in-cheek. CoC and Unknown Armies have very different interpretations of mental illness. And OtE seems to have little chunks of Green rhetoric throughout.
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formerly known as Winged Coyote
lehrbuch
Member

Posts: 24


« Reply #12 on: May 27, 2002, 12:39:07 PM »

Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
I really don't think that people who play or write GM-full games are doing so as an expression of some postmodern philosophical wankery about the nonexistence of the objective universe


I explicitly stated that this was independent of designer intent or what the players thought they were doing.

Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
...and I find it hard to imagine that someone who disagreed with said wankery (i.e., the vast majority of sentient beings) would get a sense of clashing worldviews from playing such a game.


That is exactly what is happening when a player persists in asking the 'GM' in a non-GM type game "Can I do..?", "What is behind..?" or "Is there a ..?".

They have failed to understand the worldview of the game.  I am saying this could be because it is different to their own.
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* lehrbuch
Seth L. Blumberg
Member

Posts: 303


« Reply #13 on: May 27, 2002, 11:06:14 PM »

Quote from: lehrbuch
They have failed to understand the worldview of the game. I am saying this could be because it is different to their own.

If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that:
    [*]players who believe that there is no such thing as an objective reality will never suffer disorientation from playing in a GM-full game
    [*]players who adapt to a GM-full game are temporarily suspending their belief in the existence of an objective reality for the purpose of the game
    [/list:u]
    Both of these statements are wildly at odds with my experience of GM-full games, which suggests that the disorientation some players experience on first playing such games is due to overly-rigid expectations about what the social contract of a roleplaying game must be, rather than to any lack of sufficient solipsism.
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    the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue
    contracycle
    Member

    Posts: 2807


    « Reply #14 on: May 28, 2002, 04:00:12 AM »

    I think lehrbuchs central claim is probably correct.  I mean reverting to the class thing - this social mobility we experience is unusual*.  If we grew up in societies in which with few and rare exceptions sons followed their fathers trade, which is most historical societies, would we REALLY have such an "instinctive" reaction against class systems in RPG?  I doubt it, it would accord much more closely with our daily experience of "how the world works".  In fact the modern perception is so deeply embedded that you would have to go through some effort these days to communicate to modern gamers how psychologically invasive a caste-type system can be; how it is indeed possible to construct a class which does not and never will use a sword on entirely ideological grounds - and arguments to reason and efficiency go hang.

    The rich man in his castle,
    The poor man at his gate,
    He made them high or lowly,
    And ordered their estate.
     - from "All Things Bright And Beautiful"

    * monstrous caveat - perceived social mobility.
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    "He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
    - Leonardo da Vinci
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