Naked Went the Gamer is posted

Started by Ron Edwards, March 23, 2010, 06:06:39 PM

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Quote from: Calithena on March 25, 2010, 12:49:20 AM
I still think this is a good essay and I'm still glad we published it in Fight On!
I think so, too, and I'm glad it was published as well. It is a fine essay and I think it has historical value as well as some valuable thoughts to make one ponder. I'd suggest that folks buy a copy of Fight On! as a show of their support. :-)

Quote from: Calithena on March 25, 2010, 12:49:20 AMSome people got on me about it after the fact because they felt that Ron was not a particularly strong D&D fan, preferring T&T and Runequest as games among the early productions. What Ron does get though is the fantasy culture that the play-cultures of all these early games partly grew out of, and we were glad to get his perspective on it for the magazine.
I think that it's interesting to look at the evolution of the role-playing genre. From its basic roots, miniatures gaming (which evolved into role playing) started off as a hobby for middle-aged men. Sure, some of us got into it while in our early teens, but most of the gamers I knew were a lot older than me and when I see photographs of other gaming groups from the era they all seem to be aged college or later. No one at the time seemed particularly distraught by the mostly-nekked woman being sacrificed on an alter on the color cover of Eldrich Wizardry back in 1975, and I suspect it was because of the age of the participants. Lots of folks had read the old Conan pulp stories and other "non PC" fiction, and it really didn't bother anyone to have this stuff out there.

So then, as the hobby evolved, gamers grew younger and younger. Suddenly there was this outcry against "Satanist" D&D players and other rubbish. I suppose that if gaming is an adult's game you have certain parameters but I suppose these change when kids become interested, in the same way that movies have ratings for viewers to use as a guideline. Gaming never had that, and maybe that makes people nervous, but I've met a lot of strange people through gaming (and some normal ones, too) and no one that I've encountered actually thought that magic was real, that they could summon Satan using their game books, or decided to join a cult so they could kill orcs. Not one.

So anyway, Ron's article was probably ill-recieved because many of the old-school gamers remember bad vibes from those outside the D&D clique and Ron's style of play is certainly outside of the usual D&D style. Although I won't claim to have really mastered Sorcerer or other games of Ron's creation, I certainly value his contributions to the field of gaming and his thoughts and insights. If I didn't, I wouldn't hang out here as much as I do. Someday I hope to really "figure out" Sorcerer because it does go against many of the axioms burned into my brain through D&D, and when I finally get it figured out I expect to see Ron nodding and saying "told you so".

It was a nice article and I'm glad that Fight On! took the risk and printed it.
Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * Dresden Files RPG * Amber Diceless
Forge Member since 2004
OD&D Player since 1975


Marv, I think you may have something there with the gradual age-range change in D&D from the college-set grognards to the flood of younger kids who came in during, I think?, the late 70's/early 80's. I don't think that's all of it, but I think that may be a factor, especially combined with the scare-mongering, and "Won't somebody think of the children!?" political posturing-and-arm-twisting of the same period. one that I've encountered actually thought that magic was real...

You've never met a pagan or occultist gamer?

There's a very high population of such in our hobby (though, obviously, they don't think pretend game magic is real).

Actually, I only point that bit out because the "I've never met any" and following bit sounds like "I have to defend the hobby to the mainstream as completely safe and unremarkable and not crazy at all!" But we do have lots of "weird" (ie: counterculture) people in our hobby. In fact, our hobby, and its history, is rooted in weird counterculture. And it seems like we often try to un-embrace that important aspect of the hobby for the sake of looking "normal" (whatever that is) for an ill-defined "normal" "Them".**

That is, yeah, there aren't crazy people running around in our hobby, but why is it THAT is the idea we fixate on when talking about our hobby? There aren't crazy people here. So? We're defining our hobby by what we're not and by how really normal we are? Instead of defining it by what makes our hobby interesting and unique and fun? We're still defending it instead of promoting it, and kind of confused about those two things as being the same.

That's damage we picked up from the 80's/90's scare to our subculture, and I think many of us are still carrying that around in our pocket without really taking it out and examining it.

Which, I think, leads to precisely the same sort of censorship, self-and-otherwise, that Ron's essay mentions. And doesn't just apply to the retro-revolution, but modern developments, too -- like the Wizards ban on association with products that mention drug-use, or sex, or anti-establishment or anti-authority views (ie: you can never portray the police or whatever as corrupt, bad, or evil), or whatever, in any context.

** (Tangential: I think this is also one of those things that helped White Wolf garner such a large audience: they took the "we're counter-culture, we're NOT normal, just like you, and proud of it" stance in terms of the whole goth-craze of the 90's. They sold a "we're not 'normal' and we're just fine with it, go suck eggs" attitude to a group of people for whom that was already a rallying cry.)
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


Great to see the article's out in the wide world now!

I don't have any commentary on the Andrea Dworkin subject, but I was amazed to see that when you look for information on her views, one of the things Google quickly throws at you is her being interviewed by, of all people, Michael Moorcock.

I provide the link not to contribute to any argument, but so that the mystical ouroboros of 1970s fantasy/scifi culture may close in upon itself, and the circle may be complete. :-)


I liked the article, very interesting; only just came across it.

Quite a lot of it jibes with my own experience, albeit I came to it slightly later (1982-ish) and my local context, there was no prior period of liberal thought against which there was a backlash.  Instead, things just got more intensely moralistic and repressive.  This also means that my exposure to the prior fantasy genre was random and spotty; I knew the Fafhrd/Mouser books existed, but they were not to be had for love nor money.  My influences were thus the Clarke/Asimov stuff leavened with a dose of Burroughs.  Therefore D&D certainly did act as something of a gateway to fantasy for me, and even more so for the people with whom I played.  On the other hand, in the same way Raven describes his locality being behind the curve, this still meant that you could, as Ron describes, strike up a friendship with individuals of all kinds through this shared interest, outside of a recognised subculture.  At any rate, this also meant that the sex element never featured strongly in the criticms, perhaps surprisingly - maybe a lot of it was gone already, but while I had to have a few chats with Earnest Parents (tm) to convince them I wasn't inducting their children into a cult, none of these people, good citizens that they were, would ever have looked at the actual contents of the books to see any of that stuff; everything they "knew" was second hand anyway.

I don't have much of an awareness of or interest in the OSR movement as such, but it does seem to me that the backlash as such isn't over yet.  "Family values" is still a political buzzword, and although my experience is purely anecdotal and based on encounters on the internet, I'm not sure the hobby has been much of a counter-cultural refuge.  Perhaps some of the OSR people are not so much capitulating to the backlash, as voluntarily working within its terms of reference.

Secondly, I just wanted to throw out a though on something else, namely the import of Japanese manga and anime.  Quite a lot of this stuff features sexual explicitness pretty much unthinkable in the West for the audience its often aimed at, plus monsters a nd magic etc., and it comes in for some of the same sorts of criticism.  But, it seems to me that it has much the same sort of element Ron describes in early fantasy, the monster and the naked both being strong presences, without being organised or standardised.  Although not perhaps directly related to RPG topics, I wonder if this form is in some way stepping into the gap created by the sanitisation of fantasy, and appealing to the same sort of audience.

"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

Hans Chung-Otterson

The article (and ensuing discussion) has gone a long way towards helping me understand the roleplaying subculture as it stands today.

I only entered this subculture a scant few years ago*, but I immediately noticed something that confused me and that I couldn't articulate about the role-player demographic, something that couldn't be explained away as mere geekiness. It was that this roleplaying subculture seemed to have intersections with all kinds of other, way-out-of-the-mainstream subcultures, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. Now I understand, and I like our subculture all the more for it. It did seem to contain some sort of counter-culture-ness, but again, I couldn't place it until now.

*I was way interested in D&D as a youth, but I wasn't even allowed to watch the Smurfs or read the Goosebumps books. D&D was totally evil (and is still suspect) in the eyes of my mom. I remember reading the Chick tract in a family friend's house. They had a whole box of 'em, and I read them because I loved comics (Calvin n' Hobbes, not Comics comics, b/c those weren't allowed either). I remember, impressionable child that I was, believing every lesson those tracts taught me, and being scared shitless by them.

Ron Edwards

Hans, I'm glad the essay touched base with your experience of the hobby. I'm interested in learning more about how your early experiences with D&D and gaming intersected with your experiences from reading all that Jack Chick.

Gareth, all of that is intensely thought-provoking for me. To begin with the last part, I think you are quite right in terms of content, and it adds an interesting twist. As I see it, anime is marked to some extent by an effect I can only call hyper-Victorian: if it feels good, it must be transgressive; to feel good, you must be transgressive because everything "normal" has been rendered meaningless.* I see a weird dance, in anime and manga, between genuinely countercultural (what I praise in my essay) and effectively a politically-empty vehicle for fetish-based tension-release (one of the things I criticize in my essay). I'm not saying the former is absent, though.

How that worked out and continues to work out when the medium is transferred to Europe, I don't know. But I think that political context would be my starting point for trying to dope it out.

If you don't mind, refresh my memory about where you live and grew up: I think I recall it's Wales, is that right?

Best, Ron

* All of this led to a big rant about U.S. client states, militarism, dubious democracy with unwavering center-to-hard right outcomes, and more.


No I grew up in South Africa.  In practical terms the social context was probably not that much different from what you know as the US Bible Belt, but it was also a bit more complicated than that.  South Africa is a society comprised of micro-groups to a much greater extent I think, because even in the essential unity of the white National Party state there were divisions between English Anglicans and Afrikaans Dutch Reformed Church.  The overall morality was very strict however; the nearest thing SA had to a pornographic publication had no actual nudity - breasts were displayed but nipples were covered by stars - and gambling was banned (except for horse-racing, because in true hypocritical style, an early president had argued that "every man has the right to exercise himself and his horse.")  So while it's not quite true to say that the 60's counter-culture passed South Africa by, it was firstly only present among tiny, tiny groups of South African whites, and secondly all of its political significance was immediately and totally subsumed into the struggle against Apartheid.  On the other hand, the anti-D&D movement was imported wholesale because there are strong links between South African protestant churches and American Evangelical movements, and the whole "Satanic abduction" scare in the 80's was huge.  The little RPG society I had set up in my highschool was thus soon banned under parental pressure.

Anyway, thats probably more than was needed, but I think you can see why a "backlash" was something of a moot point, and why the public libraries, or even bookstores, weren't exactly stuffed with fantasy.

"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

Hans Chung-Otterson


Primarily it made me incredibly nervous as I started to buy, and later play, roleplaying games. Once I was in college and away from home I wanted these games so bad I could taste 'em; subsequently I bought the D&D 3.5 core books. It was a war in my own mind--I knew there was nothing wrong with this game, but It'd been beaten into my brain again and again that they were eeeevil, and so I had all these pangs of conscience while reading the D&D books.

I went to my first convention in 2008, and there were moments--only moments, but they were solid and real--walking around the convention floor when I said to myself, "Am I doing something wrong here? Is this hurting me spiritually somehow?" Ridiculous, I know, but it happened.

Mind, I may not have had these struggles had I thrown out the Christianity that made my mother so Bothered about Dungeons & Dragons, but as I've grown up and become a roleplayer I've kept my faith. I suppose my initial struggles with the hobby were less about reconciling my beliefs with my gaming than extricating the pack of bullshit fear-mongering lies that Jack Chick and his ilk sold to my over-protective mother from my faith.

Interestingly enough, before that 2008 convention experience, I ran a series of 3.5 sessions for a bunch of high schoolers I was working with in a Christian youth group. This left me with no pangs of self-conscience or worry that I was doing something wrong. My struggles came in two waves: with my initial purchase of the D&D books, which was my first contact with the hobby, and with my first convention experience, which was my first contact with the subculture.

Joel P. Shempert

Ron, I really enjoyed the essay. I've been curious about it for some time. I find that yours mine and and Hans' experience dovetail in interesting ways.

I believe I'm right around 10 years younger than you, which means I came into the hobby right smack in the middle of the "dark time" you describe--soft-focus, toothless artwork, reactionary Baptist furor over Satanism and gratuitous violence, and yet, behind all that forbidden mystique, a rather mundane, vanilla reality.

When I was little (circa 1980) we moved to the Dalles, Oregon, a sleepy, dusty little town on the Columbia River. My dad had taken a job as assistant pastor at a baptist church there. There our family had our first contact with D&D.

There was this cool, funny guy who worked in the children's program and youth group, in his 30s, I think. The church caught wind that he was running D&D for the youth, and a delegation went down to game night to confront him. My dad had never heard of the game, but the senior pastor had, and "knew" it was Satanic. They observed the game, and whatever my dad saw there that night convinced him 'till his dying day that it was evil. "Straight out of the pit of hell" was the phrase he used, over and over, for decades. The two elements that dominated his perception were that first, someone was drawing intricate and gory pictures of events in the game, and second, when given the choice between giving up the game and giving up working in the church, the guy chose to quit the church. The former was proof that the game was steeped in violence and wickedness, and the latter that, of course, it was an unhealthy obsession that consumes its players' lives, to the point where they'll EVEN choose it over Sunday School.

Later I came to realize how warped these perceptions were, but at the time I lapped it up. When I was a few years older I read books and pamphlets on the "Satanism" in the game (including of course the Chick tract), and believed every word. Still, though, I had an instinctive sense that even if the Devil had infiltrated this particular game, the IDEA of roleplaying still had merit, and I was drawn to it. So I ended up playing everything BUT D&D--Marvel Super Heroes, MERP, Palladium--which was somehow OK with my folks because it didn't have the name "Dungeons & Dragons" attached to it. My brothers and I were worried we'd get nailed for MSH because it was made by TSR, but the parents never made the connection. And so progressed my adolescent roleplaying career, fun and all, but very sanitized with nary a whiff of the forbidden or dangerous.

To back up a bit: my introduction to the hobby came from a pair of cool older boys in my Christian homeschool co-op, themselves Pastor's kids, funnily enough. Just hearing about the game through the lens of their offhand remarks gave the game a tantalizing allure even though I knew it was Wrong and Evil. I remember being over at their house and seeing the Fiend Folio lying around, and the name and artwork confirmed for me BOTH how Cool AND how Evil D&D was (I also remember being confused, and thinking it was about a Fiend named Folio!). The boys were very aware and respectful of (or fearful of) my parents' boundaries. When the older one took me over after school to play a game, he made it a nice tame Marvel Super Heroes adventure. In retrospect I wish he hadn't been so respectful; I could have dearly used a taste of sweet artistic rebellion!

In college I hooked up with a group of folks who DID play D&D, and there turned out to be nothing much forbidden or dangerous there. By then I was already convinced that the charges of Devil Worship and being initiated into "the real power" were so much nonsense, but I think there was still a vague notion in the back of my head that if not blasphemous, there was still something naughty about the game. But really, not so much. Even so I can identify with Hans' "war in my mind" feeling, of knowing rationally that there was nothing damning about the activity or the product, yet being secretly terrified for my soul anyway. Consciously, I was only aware that I needed to keep  it hidden from my parents.

So with regard to the essay, I feel my experience backs up your picture of the hobby's history in that I grew up with a D&D that was both neutered in terms of truly daring content (we had plenty of "edgy" evil alignment play and the ensuing "good roleplaying" debates) and shrouded in a veil of danger and fear. I can see now that the fear worked both ways--both ignorant yahoos afraid of D&D and a roleplaying culture afraid of the yahoos. When I encountered the Dead Alewives' D&D skit I loved it for its attack on the claim that the game was "eeeevill," but didn't catch that it was also attacking the game's culture in its timid squandering of the potential for underground art.

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.


Hello all,

the Glorantha-phile in me wants to argue against Ron's article, especially as Uleria was mentioned.

Uleria, for those who don't know, is the Gloranthan goddess of love in all it's forms; physical as well as emotional. I wanted to argue that her large presence in an RPG world disproved your thesis.

However, I have to admit that even Glorantha has become de-sexualised (for want of a better word).

No, it's not about sex in RPGs. It's about consensual, pleasurable, enjoyable, fucking-for-fucking's-sake, hot and sweaty, afternoon delight, love making being removed from RPGs.

Uleria has somewhat faded in Gloranthan writings, whereas Thed (goddess of rape) and Gorgorma have become more noticable. Even Babeester Gor, who used to be the fight-all-day-party-all-night good time girl has become dark.

My point is that representation of sexuality as pleasurable has become lost. Or rather, we allowed it to be taken out of our games. Sex is acceptable if it's used to sell (ie book covers), or violent (the erotic elements of Vampire, frex), or degrading, or in some way bad.

Bad sex is good, good sex is bad. WTF? How on earth did this become the norm?


p.s. I'd like to mention the hypocrisy in Blockbuster's policy of not stocking porn, despite having shed-loads of true-life rape dramas. Heck, I even saw a movie in a Blockbuster portraying Mike Tyson as the victim in that whole he fucking RAPED someone misunderstanding. It's not something that affects only RPGs, to be honest.

Ron Edwards

Hi Kevin, and welcome.

My take on Glorantha, including Uleria, is that it represents a high-end expression of exactly the underground, funky, fun, and dissident fantasy that I celebrated in my article. I also wrote that Gloranthan content was generally watered down as the 80s progressed. It seems to me that my article agrees with everything in your post.

Therefore I don't see why you opened with wanting to disagree. "I disagree with Ron. Ron says X. I say X." This confuses me. Part of it is that you say at one point, you want to disagree, and then at another, you wanted to (past tense). Are you saying that you initially or reflexivley disagreed with me, but upon thinking about how Glorantha become watered down (in text presentations anyway), you came to agree with me after all?

I'm not being snarky or pushy. I'm trying to understand what you're saying.

Best, Ron


Heavily précised version:

  • I want to disagree with Ron, because I feel a priori that Glorantha is cool (because of all the goofy, counter-culture stuff).

  • After re-examining the current state of the Gloranthan art, I conclude that RQ/HW/HQ are not exceptions to Ron's thesis.

  • Therefore, I agree with Ron (but posit a wider applicability, beyond RPGs).

Apologies if I was unclear, but my focus was more on presenting the thought that sex isn't really taboo in RPGs, just the wrong sort of sex.

OTOH, notice how gratuitous violence is still prefectly acceptable for children, as long as noone shows boobies.