“But it’s my character!”

August 13, 2009

Wow. I didn’t expect to run across a D&D story in a serious post about the widespread epidemic of rape in our society. Again, escapism for some:

Jewelbeard is extremely liberal. He wants to help people regain their civil rights. He is pro-choice, he is pro-gay, he professes a unremarkable and unverified affinity to anti-racism. But he cannot stop calling his cats filthy sluts, or acting like a fucking asshole in D&D.
There is nothing wrong with having a place and a time to relieve built-up tension. But by shifting the argument thataways, Jewelbeard neatly sidestepped the question of why there is a tension build-up in the first place. He is basically admitting that not getting to call women bitches and whores and treat them like he hates them on a daily basis creates an intolerable tension within him, and it must be let out somehow. But as long as he votes for Obama and only treats cats and imaginary women like shit, he doesn’t have to investigate the part of him that finds treating women as equals difficult.

So I guess there’s the fundamental difference- do you play a shared imagination game to be free of the shit you deal with regularly OR do you play to be free of the guilt of NOT getting to shit on people the way you long to?

I suppose that’s why there’s such resistance to looking at the social structures in and around roleplaying…



  1. I hear the sound of a million cans of worms opening. This is like the dark, beating heart of so much RPG play, and exposing it is like kicking a hornets’ nest.

    I did my postgrad thesis on the social structures of my local games club, and it basically made me a pariah there.

    Thanks for the work you’re doing talking about this stuff.

  2. Can we engage in a fictional exercise that isn’t a form of straightforward fantasy fulfillment?


    • I actually don’t have a problem with the concept of id fantasies, though it’s immensely problematic if a) it comes at a disregard to the people you’re playing with and b) a complete unwillingness to actually look at what it might be saying.

      If it were a private daydream, well, that’s your own business, but at the point when you’re sharing with others, both A & B is going to come up, because you’re interacting with other people.

      The latter, the examination, is actually a crucial point to any group negotiating the type of fiction they want to create or experience.

      In the larger view of media and fiction, around the world people have a pretty good idea that not all types of stories are interchangable- “I went to see Carebears and got Requiem for a Dream!”. (“I wanted to play a game of light hearted fantasy and then there was torture and rape!”)

      This sense of trust and violation is heightened in roleplaying, because the creator(s) are right there- it’s not like sending a letter to Hollywood after the thing has already been produced- it’s people you’re interacting with right there, like, “How is this fun, and if it’s fun for you, what are you saying?”

      The defensiveness that silences the discussion is ultimately what prevents gamer culture from seeing how/why it drives certain groups of people away. (“Not harshing squees > triggering people”)

      • I don’t have a problem with id fantasies except that it seems like a lot of people only want to do id fantasies, ever (in books, TV, and definitely role-playing games.) It’s like, I don’t have a problem with bacon. I just don’t want to eat bacon at every meal, as the sole content of every meal.

        Your points about audience and group are well-taken. There’s this added thing, though. For what I want to do with games, we need to do things other than the basic id-level identification and fantasy fulfillment, and get into other uses for art and literature: like trauma processing, seeing things from outside perspectives, and symbolic analysis.

        • Yeah, it’s interesting because I find a lot of “finding voice” potential in games to be leading that way. It’s just hard to do when silencing stuff is really heavy.

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