Monday, July 31, 2023

Collectivity, Cooperation and Challenge

Failures of Collective Spirit

Everyone on the internet, and many people who aren't, have had an experience like this:

-"Hey guys don't we all love this boat we're on!"

-"Yes we do! Or, at least--it is better than having no boat!" all agree

-"Ok, do whatever, have fun doing your thing just please nobody press the red button or the boat will explode!"

-Someone--just for funsies, or for clown clout--presses the red button.

-Boat explodes. Everyone regrets this.


This is a failure of collectivity.

That is: a set of behaviors that everyone involved acknowledges benefits everyone, including themselves, and someone just cannot stop themself from putting some other short-term personal goal first.


In a role-playing game one of the fun parts is having your PC do weird or funny stuff, things you wouldn't do in a more practical world--the fun of being someone else.

In a role-playing game with a heavy challenge element (one where there's a real threat that you will lose a character and therefore no longer be able to play the game in the specific way you were having fun playing it and have to start over and do it a different way) the usual best strategy to succeed in the challenge is to engage in collective thinking.

This can involve explicit planning--"We all benefit if we kill the monster and get the treasure, so let's pay attention to who we each are as a group and figure out how to use those aptitudes to best do that", but it can also involve just, as a player, being aware of who the other peoples' characters are and what they can do.

Many people experience a mild conflict here in the moment:

  • They want to succeed!
  • They also wanna do what they wanna do because its playtime, dammit!
  • (Also sometimes failing because one PC cannot help but be the squeaky wheel they are is fun, too.)


Outside a role-playing game online there are other obvious examples of this in forums online:

For example, there's no piece information that can be passed on via namecalling on a forum that can't be passed on in some other way, but someone will, eventually, always do it even when there's an explicit rule against it. Somebody gets bounced and nobody is hurt but them.

Every time somebody does one of these things they're failing to act in a way that's best for everyone--including them--and they know it, but they just can't stop themself.


D&D and Cooperation

D&D is very much a game about cooperation.

It is much more so than most triple-A video games or nearly any other popular entertainment you'll be involved with outside of actual sports.

This is an oddly-smothered point.

The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy about cooperation, as is Star Wars. The ideal that people with diverse skillsets and attitudes need to work together to achieve laudable long-term goals is deep deep in the DNA of the media that inspired most RPGs.

The current post-5e, post-Critical Role, post-D&D The Movie temperature of conversation about D&D broadly online emphasizes many things including:

-Character-creation options (related to conversations about peoples' interest in video game character gen options) and the ability to use them to express yourself


-Progressive social principles.

Considering this, its very odd that one of D&D's radiant innate progressive virtues--the emphasis on working together--isn't placed front and center all the time.


Here's Why

Despite any open claims of holding to progressive principles, the people most responsible for the current conversation in RPGs absolutely suck at collective thinking. So many pay more attention to what happens to an imaginary orc than to a real human player at the table with them.

I know. I've seen them play games. I was often in games with them.

Right now the conversation is defined by:

-the post-Storygame narrativist scene which largely grew out of people being unable to communicate with their fellow D&D or Vampire or RIFTS groups, especially in challenge-oriented play and so invented games full of rules to police interhuman communication or simply gatekeep any player out unless that player wanted to play the exact narrowly-defined microsubgenre of game they themselves wanted to play instead of just agreeing they all wanted the fucking ring to go in that fucking volcano


-2010s OSR veterans who, when given a choice between politely asking one sacred crackpot friend to stop lying on the internet or letting the entire ship sink, absolutely chose letting the ship sink

I reiterate-I have seen these people play games

They are absolutely blown away by 101-level collective-success tactics. See you're outnumbered? Back up, close the door, pour flaming oil on the floor, drop marbles in the oil, have a resilient PC hold a torch over the oil (remember which PCs are resilient!), ready to drop it, protect the wizards. Works all the time.

They are filled with shock and awe by even just the most basic gestures in this direction, they will make you leader immediately.

Patrick Stuart once killed one of Zach Marx Weber's PC because he thought throwing green slime on him would help.

If the current version of progressivism in the RPG scene seems oddly fascist, I'd posit this is why--these are the people who have absolutely zero practice self-governing, who made their clout by talking about how they were proudly unable to play with anyone else and needed very new very specific new gates built to keep people out rather than just learning how to throw a party.