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.