In Fear of Giving Offense, We’ve Traded Our Ability to Create

Posted: May 29, 2013 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games
Tags: ,

One of the stranger behaviors I’ve noticed lately in forums that people tend to take offense very easily nowadays. Whether it’s on the topic of race, sexuality or religion, people have a much lower tolerance for discussion than ever before.

As a person who participates in a hobby that is uniquely suited to creating safe experiences by which to explore ideas, this is a troubling thing. While RPGs in general are categorized as entertainment, there’s still a strong potential to use it as a means to ask the hard questions and to examine issues that would otherwise have more lasting real life effects.

Most of my campaigns tend to take one big question and asks my players to create characters that explore that. L5R dealt with Duty and Honor, I had a Mage: the Awakening game dealing with the possibility of a slow extinction of their kind.

The important thing about it is that the central question that my campaigns are built around should be uncomfortable and have no one true, easy answer. It’s a puzzle of perspective, of figuring out an opinion and following through, hoping that history will somehow find you worthy of being remembered as a hero (or for some, a villain.)

It is because of this that the culture of easily taking offense bothers me. By closing off alternate opinions and viewpoints (however unsettling,) people lose out on the totality of the thing being discussed. Rather than be able to appreciate the complexity of the entire model, you’re suddenly forced to work with the safest, most politically correct version.

In many ways, it’s essentially turning every single play ground into a padded white room. Take away everything that could go wrong, and you’re left with something bland and boring. I don’t presume to be an educator through my games, but I feel that it is an interesting intellectual (and moral) exercise to come to understand the complex and paradoxical nature of moral and ethical conflicts.

I think that we owe it to ourselves to push these boundaries now and then. It helps us grow a bit and understand that the world isn’t black and white, and self determination matters much more than you think.

Caveat: Don’t take this article as a one true way of running games. Every group games for their own reasons, and I don’t expect beer and pretzels type gamers to like this play style. But if you feel that your players can appreciate it, and have the open mindedness to give it a shot, you owe it to yourselves to at least give it a try.

  1. It scares me more that for the sake of being politically correct, we are teaching ourselves to stop learning. Being able to question, to discuss are important aspects of learning, one that I would argue as vital to learning. More than just simple acceptance and to memorize without thinking, it’s in when we learn to question, to discuss and to argue is where we actually learn and discover new things.

    When we start to shut down discussion, we become no better than sheep.

    I’m grateful this hobby had allowed us opportunities to allow us to explore ideas (sometimes controversial) in an environment that is safe. I’m happy that the hobby can be used as a learning tool that promote discussion, we all learn something or at least walk away from the table with something knocking in our heads.

    It’s not for everyone definitely, but it’s something if you have players who find themselves growing out and getting bored of their usual “invincible Hero” stage as I did. Think of it as a next step up in the campaign, other challenges for the Epic Hero that can’t be just easily solved by his blade and magic but still important to the world the Hero lives in.

    The battlefield will be different, but the stakes involved are the same. 🙂

    A fine example can be found in this show: Maoyuu Maou Yuusha (yes it is an anime, I know). Despite it being an anime with a typical D&D esque epic level Party, the themes involved are fairly deep.

  2. Jennifer says:

    There is a difference between calling people out on their racist/sexist/whatever bullshit and shutting down discussion of those topics and many people fail to see that. You can absolutely include, for instance, racism in your game without BEING racist. It’s a big theme in a Shadowrun game I’m playing, actually it’s a big theme in Shadowrun itself, but it gets ignored very often. How easy do people think it would be to be a troll, especially one without money?

    The games that asked the hard questions and forced me to make the hard decisions were the best games.

  3. Serendipity strikes today. 🙂

    How apt this episode came out quite so recently with yesterday’s blog post.

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