Saturday, August 12, 2017

Relevant Retropost Saturday Night

I write about Nazis a lot for a guy with a D&D blog but tonight's Relevant Retropost was because I was reading an article about the Alt Right and it reminded me: the Alt Right are nerd trashbabies and all nerd trashbabies are, regardless of overt political philosophy, nerd trashbabies--and have a lot in common.

So when I read this...

The people you describe in the book, especially the younger, more online-oriented people, seem to be struggling with a contradiction: They want to be relevant in a culture they claim to hate. Or maybe they just read too much Nietzsche.

Yeah, definitely with those guys, I think they are both participants in and very disgusted by what they consider a degenerate culture. Which is why I think it’s so interesting that a political ideology that is so disgusted by modern libertinism and gender-bending sexuality and porn and everything would find a home in 4chan of all places, because these are people who spent years watching the most horrific and dehumanizing porn you can find on the web, and they all suddenly went right-wing reactionary.

What does that suggest to you about the psychology of the alt-right?

I think it says that their sense of the world gone to hell was actually influenced by their own immersion in the forms of culture that they eventually saw as degenerate and ruined. But if they spent more time in the mainstream culture and in society in general, perhaps they wouldn’t have this sense that everything is degenerate and Western civilization is in ruins.

...I remembered this (Original post with comments here )

Radical Game Critique Isn't

That fucking lone orc guarding that fucking chest in that fucking ten foot room.

Ever since I first started playing I knew exactly one thing about the much-maligned lone orc in the ten-foot room.

That is: if he's there it's because I put him there.

As I've said before, when it said right in the Dungeon Master's Guide that you could buy adventures or make up your own, it never occurred to me why anyone anywhere ever would buy one. I'm pretty much in the same boat still. Even the best modules in the world get rewritten snout-to-tail as soon as I get them.


When I first started reading RPG blogs and forums, I was struck by two things:

1. God DAMN these people are mad about games

2. God DAMN these people have bought a lot of game crap

It was a constant stream of B1 this and X1 that and WG4 Ripped My Flesh and 3.5 Makes Your Pee Green and 4E Makes You Turn Into A Beeswax Toucher and I just thought Who has time to read all these things? For me the hobby was about: You grab a game off the shelf, you rewrite half the rules (they were written by distant corporate overlords and so suck) and then you start making stuff up.

The level of investment people had in these rudimentary accessories baffled me--and baffled me even more when I got my hands on them--This is Caves of Chaos? A bunch of dudes in corridors? White Plume Mountain has a flying canoe? It was like visiting The Big City your friends have been talking about all your life and finding three matchbox cars and a cardboard box with windows draw on it.

And the weirdest thing was: the more pointed, aggressive and would-be-radical the Internet dork's critique of D&D and its supposed impact on society was, the more accessories they'd paid for. Ron Edwards' critique of D&D as a cargo cult is clearly informed by having swallowed year after year of TSR product and there are angry 4vengers with pixel icons on Something Awful who could drown you in their Old School game collection.

And their message was: These modules taught us! And they taught us wrong!!!!!

This isn't actually a real article. Thank god.

And I just thought: what rich kid buys modules? You draw a maze and put cute stuff in it, you make up some voices and attach people to them--how hard is that? I know 5 year olds who can do that. They were critiquing a consumption-based culture they'd created and I'd never seen or cared about--and that none of the people I played with saw or cared about, like basing their ideas about the game off the quality of a buttskin dicebag they'd bought. Sure there was some inane Vietnam vet behind the register at the game store--but he's as ignorable as the pamphlet-sized pap he was selling. And conventions? Come on. You buy your dice and run--that DIY is the soul of the game.

The fact is, the modern wannabe progressive critique is a middlebrow apologia for having bought the thing in the first place.

It is an uncritical adoption of certain tropes of criticism as penitence for having uncritically adopted the previous tropes offered by the game product.

It is exchanging one failure of skepticism for another.

It happens like this:

You're on the Forge or Story-Games where there's supposed to be a hip and radical dedication to independent game making and publishing,

...or you're on RPGnet where there's supposed to be a hip and radical dedication to remaking games as a safe space for marginalized people,

...or you're on Something Awful where there's supposed to be a hip and radical dedication to joking everything terrible about modern culture to death...

...and you're hanging out and looking for something to talk about with hundreds of internet strangers. So what do you have in common? Well, not much--you live thousands of miles from each other--but there's probably some game product you've all read. So you start talking about it.

And then you remember why you're here--you can't just say you like Shadowrun or even "Meh, Shadowrun, too much like real life"--you are supposed to make a show of being hip and radical (or as much as you can sitting alone at your computer in your nerdforum). So you embed all your ideas about the world into a critique of Shadowrun. Or a Shadowrun module. Or the Shadowrun module after that.

Of course what this critique obscures is: you once thought you needed to buy a lot of Shadowrun modules. I mean, if there's some consumer out there whose mind has been damaged by too much near-future fantasy technoir it's the kind of consumer so used to buying RPG crap they think it's the reason for everything they've ever seen happen at an RPG table.

The radical Hot Take is the tax you pay for having bought and read and maybe even used the module in the first place--a tax which hides an important fact: the more radical thing to have done would be to do the thing every RPG has urged you to do since the mimeographed OD&D first appeared and write your own adventure. Most of these critiques read like screeds on the evils of nightlife by people in AA.

The postcolonial critique of Caves of Chaos is less radical than just not using Caves of Chaos in the first place 'cause its kinda fucking basic.

Perhaps this is the reason for the vociferousness of the accusations laid at the door of RPG products and RPG norms--the people making them are gnawingly aware that the only reason they even have enough familiarity with these norms to make those critiques is their own embrace of them and total failure to innovate or think for themselves.

The Drama Club dedication to picking apart each new piece of nerd media, from Batgirl to Orphan Black, as soon as it hits the ground belies an even greater truth: you'd have to worry a lot less about these things and the supposed messages they send if you weren't so intent on watching them all right away.

The Angry Consumerist Critic is not a radical and the only behavior they're critiquing is that of their own former self. And rather than this having taught them to think for themselves, it has cause them to exchange one bill of goods for another.

Independent thought is so not part of their daily lives, that they actually think games for adults should reflect their values. As if adults should be forgiven for being unskeptical enough that they're learning values from a game.
I grew up with a blanket punk rock/marxist critique: all mainstream media is sick shit trying to sell you something, handle it with kid gloves if at all. It's all racist and sexist and classist--it's made by moneypeople to make more money. The obsession with divvying every game and TV show into ones Doing It Right and Doing It Wrong has a fundamental philosophical flaw: that the milk from the corporate nipple is ever "right". Nothing Disney does with its princesses or Marvel does with its Thors is going to show up without blood on its hands.

When I critiqued mainstream modules on this blog, the attitude was always:

1. Find out if there are dysfunctional or weird parts of this that aren't part and parcel of what you'd expect from any suck-by-committee corporate design process.
2. There might might be some genuine human gold under the weight of that totally presumed and pointless low-hanging fruit. Occasionally there is.

Indie stuff is worth your scrutiny inasmuch it claims to represent an actual human or group thereof chasing something other than the most money possible. That's a situation where you might expect to see someone Doing It Right. No matter how much your favorite mainstream superhero comic is doing right, the entire background of its production is fundamentally wrong.

If you bought a product by a company that doesn't even care enough about you to put the name of the monster on the map in the place where the monster lives, being shocked that you found a bit of unexamined paleothought in it is like being shocked your McNugget wasn't free-range. Demanding the majors think better is a noble goal, but claiming to have just now discovered the lazy thinking in them shows that you were expecting otherwise.  And expecting otherwise means you are and have always been exactly that most-gullible-kind-of-person who lets that message slip into their unconscious.

It's like a war reporter who lands in Afghanistan and goes "Holy fuck, one of those guys has a gun!". Critique yourself first.


FM Geist said...

I think what's maybe pernicious (or specifically pernicious) about the faux radical critique of mainstream production is the embedded assumptions that:
1) the use of something open ended (to varying degrees) will be most likely used in the most racist/sexist/classist/homophobic/whatever way [honorable mention: everything about racism and BitC]
2) there is a neutral arbiter that awards the "true interpretation" from someone who remedially learned basic concepts of critical theory from bastions of awfulness (SA, Gawker media subsidiaries, everyday feminism [which is run by the gross SWERF Polaris Project which maybe distorts their point of critique but it's problematic to criticize the progressive])
3) that ignores various additionally 101 theory claims that objects are also interpreted by subjects (trash nerds as outlined in 1&2) and by raising their voice about it (rather than, say, making something better) they are contributing to a larger discourse
4) backfires insofar as it contains a paternalistic logic that on the basis of this 101 education and entitlement the trashnerd bastion knows that (product) is why women, POC, LGBTQAI, etc folx aren't playing (rather than they're a sanctimonious scold playing a boring story game that's about their mediocre 101 ideas about social issues)
5) and becomes particularly toxic when those groups in question *disagree* with their assessment (like all the critical fervor about representation via skin tone & gender changes among core artwork rather than hiring changes regarding those artists or buying indie games by the folx that they're supposedly trying to protect

Which probably is why their ire is directed at smaller rather than larger producers of product for them to critique because it's easier to harass an individual than the customer support line for a large corporation and it feels more important for some reason

Zak Sabbath said...

solid analysis, girl

FM Geist said...

I hope that isn't sarcastic cause I'm blushing

Unknown said...

All true. (Also FM Geist's analysis.)

Also - modules like White Plume Mountain (for example) also elicit nostalgia for an uncomplicated mindset of the mid-teens that is essentially unavailable for adults with, shall we say, any level of aesthetic, social or political sophistication.

Because that nostalgia is so strong the emotional investment is too high for such a (now admittedly) crappy module to simply be shrugged off. So a reclamation or denunciation project is undertaken where a fairly crappy module retains a place of importance in some kind of navigation of adulthood when it should probably be left behind with pop tarts and after school cartoons.

The emotional investment factor probably also includes the amount of besieged defensiveness a lot of former outcast nerds put in when being spitballed in the school library. They had to insist what they were doing was cool so much they now can't admit it probably wasn't.