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How to Tell if Your Fun is Wrong

Okay, this is a topic that I have seen come up a lot lately, and so I decided to create a thread around it.

First off, I want to make it clear, fun cannot be wrong unless it is directly at the expense of someone else. This is true for D&D playstyles, and every other situation where the intent is to have fun. Futhermore, as D&D is a game, where the intent is to have fun, this means that there is no wrong way to play D&D if everyone at the table is having fun, and they are not directly harming anyone outside of the table, no matter how abnormal their playstyle may seem to you. If you have fun playing D&D where no one can speak Common, and everyone at the table is having fun, that is a correct way to play D&D. If a player has fun playing a character in a combat wheelchair, that is a correct way to play D&D. If a table has fun playing D&D in outer space battling mind-eating platypuses and eel-spiders using laser pistols and british-space-hippos, that is a correct way to play D&D.

If the fun is at the expense of someone else at the table, that is playing D&D incorrectly. For example, if a player has fun because their character constantly steals from everyone else and the victimized players aren't having fun due to the problem player's behavior, their fun is wrong because it is at the expense of their fellow players, and thus they are playing D&D incorrectly. If a whole group at the table has fun playing D&D because they're using racial slurs and base all of their races off of real life racial stereotypes, that is directly at the expense of those real-life racial/cultural groups and thus the table's fun is wrong.

Now, to address red-herrings and bad-faith arguments that will inevitably come up. People will complain "the new direction of D&D is negatively effecting my table! Whataboutthat?!?!"

Wrong. It isn't. You have your preferred rulesets already. Any "negative impact" that you are experiencing is in your head. It is pretend and imagined to claim a false sense of victimhood. Your annoyance at the recent inclusive changes to D&D 5e is not a valid rebuttal to the truth that is that D&D cannot be played incorrectly if everyone at the table is having fun and no one is directly being negatively impacted by my table. Comparing your annoyance at my playstyle to the harm that perpetuated racial slurs and stereotypes does to real world marginalized people is both selfish and nonsensical. If you get offended by my D&D game with british space hippos, eel spiders, and spaceships, that's on you and you have no right to tell me how to play my game when me and my players are minding our own business and enjoying the game (furthermore, Spelljammer has been in D&D for decades. D&D has been not just a fantasy-medieval game for longer than I've been alive).

tl;dr - The answer is almost definitely a "my fun is not wrong", unless your fun is directly at the expense of someone else. If your fun comes at the expense of someone else, stop playing that way. That's bad for the community and the world. If your fun isn't at the expense of someone else, ignore anyone that tells you that your fun is wrong, because it isn't. It doesn't matter if you're a powergamer, hardcore-roleplayer, Rules as Cool DM, Rules as Written DM, or whatever else. Play how you want, because your fun is not wrong, and call out anyone that you see trying to tell anyone otherwise.

The rest of the thread can be for discussing how this idea seems so widespread amongst the community, how to deal with people who gatekeep based on playstyle, and sharing the amazing and unique playstyles that you enjoy at the table. Happy Easter and I hope this discussion remains constructive.
 
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payn

Adventurer
Since D&D is #1 and everything else seems to be ------------------------------------------------------>over here, a lot folks bring the badwrongfun arguments to D&D. They dont want things to change because its going to make finding players a PITA. It's an unfortunate byproduct of a niche hobby. Some folks want the #1 in town to suit their playstyle perfectly out the box. They want the most product available and a living system to boot. Thats one of a few reasons why the gatekeeping happens. This town aint big enough for everybody attitude. It also gives rise to E-wars. Hopefully thats changing, but who knows?
 

MGibster

Legend
Wrong. It isn't. You have your preferred rulesets already. Any "negative impact" that you are experiencing is in your head. It is pretend and imagined to claim a false sense of victimhood. Your annoyance at the recent inclusive changes to D&D 5e is not a valid rebuttal to the truth that is that D&D cannot be played incorrectly if everyone at the table is having fun and no one is directly being negatively impacted by my table.
That's not quite true. In my experience, it's much easier to find people who play games which are currently in print than it is to find players for games that are out of print. So if a game I like goes in a direction I don't care for then I'm out of luck because finding other players is going to be more difficult. Not that I'm complaining. As I've said in other threads, D&D (and other RPGs) are constantly changing to cater to the next generation of gamers which is a necessity if they are to survive as viable products. I don't expect any game company to cater to my personal needs and if things change and I can no longer follow that doesn't make me a victim nor does it make the game bad.

The rest of the thread can be for discussing how this idea seems so widespread amongst the community, how to deal with people who gatekeep based on playstyle, and sharing the amazing and unique playstyles that you enjoy at the table. Happy Easter and I hope this discussion remains constructive.
Something I try to do is to be a cheerleader for gaming in general and that means echoing your statement: As long as everyone is having fun there is no wrong way to play a role playing game. There are a ton of games I have absolutely zero interest in playing such as Blue Rose. Does that mean Blue Rose is bad? Nope. I just have no interest in the romantic fantasy genre so it's not for me. But I'm happy the game exists for those who want to play it. So when I hear someone dump on a game because it's lame just be a cheerleader for it. "Hey, man, it's not my thing either. But they're having a good time with it and I'm happy for them."
 

Sithlord

Explorer
The only badwrongfun I can think of is a player whining because he can’t create a character not true to the setting. And by that I mean using eberon birthmarks in a greyhawk setting. Or something like playing an elf in a setting that doesn’t have elves like a good hyborian setting. That’s my opinion.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Your annoyance at the recent inclusive changes to D&D 5e is not a valid rebuttal to the truth that is that D&D cannot be played incorrectly if everyone at the table is having fun and no one is directly being negatively impacted by my table.
In case this wasn't clear before - the annoyance with the "inclusive changes" was never with how anyone wanted to play D&D. It was about the insistence that a set of non-racist rules and rules descriptions that were liked by many were somehow racist.

That said, I don't think this is a debate we should actually have here. Enworld has already decided which side they are on and that needs to be respected. So it's not something I am going to hash out. I only bring it up to share the other side's story so that it isn't misconstrued.
 
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Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
I'll push back a little bit on the idea that there is no way to play badwrongfun RPG games if no one is directly being harmed . . . .

In my first high school game, I was invited to join a group that had been playing together for a while, all dudes. We encounter a group of priestesses on the road, who had knowledge we needed to find the macguffin, and they refused to give us the info. So . . . . the party proceeded to rape, torture, and kill the priestesses to gain the information. I was blown away and disgusted, never went back. Since I was a nerdy, introvert, with low self-esteem and low self-confidence, I also didn't say anything. Made lame excuses later when asked if I was returning for the next game.

This group had no idea I found the idea of raping and torturing horrifying . . . but I strongly feel that even if I had never gamed with them that one afternoon, their playstyle was pretty messed up and most definitely badwrongfun. Even if every one of those guys truly had no problems with that style of play. Their playstyle, in effect before I joined, didn't directly harm me . . . it certainly bothered me and made me pretty uncomfortable . . . and (to my knowledge) didn't directly harm anyone else. But these were some pretty sick and twisted fantasies being played out, and horribly sexist attitudes being perpetuated.

I'm hoping that all of these young men treated the women in their lives much better than they treated the women in their fantasy games, and it's possible, even likely, that they all might be more than a bit embarrassed (maybe even ashamed) now as adults looking back at their teenager behavior . . . but, IMO, that still makes that particular gaming style badwrongfun. So much bad, so much wrong.

If a group of players, of any demographics, is actively promoting racism, sexism, or other ideologies harmful to society at large . . . in their home games, with everybody at the table totally on board . . . badwrongfun. Not that I expect perfection from folks, we're all guilty of falling back into passive racism, sexism, etc, from time-to-time. But when it's an active part of the fantasy . . .

Hopefully what I encountered was rare back in the 80s and even more rare today!
 

MGibster

Legend
I'm hoping that all of these young men treated the women in their lives much better than they treated the women in their fantasy games, and it's possible, even likely, that they all might be more than a bit embarrassed (maybe even ashamed) now as adults looking back at their teenager behavior . . . but, IMO, that still makes that particular gaming style badwrongfun. So much bad, so much wrong.
The games I participated in when I was that age didn't include such egregious actions but we very often made the "Haw! Haw! You wake up with a sore butt" joke any time a PC was captured. I'm certain that the majority of us made comments or exhibited behaviors when we were younger that our older selves would find appalling or embarrassing today. That's just part of growing up.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
I think the main argument against this point of view would,d be aimed at the escape capsule for indirect harm. The OP suggests that if playing a game causes indirect harm to someone else, but is fun for everyone at the table, then it is good. Many people would disagree with that point of view.

One problem with that discussion is that it depends on the difference between indirect and direct harm. Suppose that a game being played objectifies women and makes them purely an accessory for the male characters. If all the players are male, and like that objectification, then any harm is indirect, and so this qualifies as “good fun” by the OP rules.

Now the original post sort of walks back it’s original position and says that racist games are direct harm, even if no one involved is offended. That, to me, seems like indirect harm, but the OP labels it direct harm. The examples of potential bad tropes given are very tame an innocuous — they don’t really tests the premise.

Overall, I’d just drop any qualifiers and say that you if your game was viewed by any reasonable person, and it would cause them pain, it‘s bad/wrong. I understand that “reasonable” is very much left up to debate, but there’s no way to get around that issue. Precedence and sound judgement need to be your guide.

So, for example, even when playing in historical games, I use the term “Romany” to describe a certain culture, even though using historical terms would neither upset anyone at the table or cause anyone direct harm. But many (not all, but many) people from that culture would be hurt by my use of that historical term, so I don’t do it.
 

TheSword

Legend
I think the main argument against this point of view would,d be aimed at the escape capsule for indirect harm. The OP suggests that if playing a game causes indirect harm to someone else, but is fun for everyone at the table, then it is good. Many people would disagree with that point of view.

One problem with that discussion is that it depends on the difference between indirect and direct harm. Suppose that a game being played objectifies women and makes them purely an accessory for the male characters. If all the players are male, and like that objectification, then any harm is indirect, and so this qualifies as “good fun” by the OP rules.

Now the original post sort of walks back it’s original position and says that racist games are direct harm, even if no one involved is offended. That, to me, seems like indirect harm, but the OP labels it direct harm. The examples of potential bad tropes given are very tame an innocuous — they don’t really tests the premise.

Overall, I’d just drop any qualifiers and say that you if your game was viewed by any reasonable person, and it would cause them pain, it‘s bad/wrong. I understand that “reasonable” is very much left up to debate, but there’s no way to get around that issue. Precedence and sound judgement need to be your guide.

So, for example, even when playing in historical games, I use the term “Romany” to describe a certain culture, even though using historical terms would neither upset anyone at the table or cause anyone direct harm. But many (not all, but many) people from that culture would be hurt by my use of that historical term, so I don’t do it.
I don’t have a dog in this fight but one of the best games I’ve DM’d was Way of the Wicked by Fire Mountain Games.

The players, betrayed a garrison allowing an invading army of monsters and bugbears to overrun the land, killing (and the rest) as they went. They poisoned a lot of innocent people. They tortured a fair few people men and women to obtain information. They killed dozens of adventurers in unpleasant ways. They unleashed a plague on the land, and made a deal with a dragon to capture a princess while they murdered the king. They also put to death hundreds of priests for worshipping their god.

By any objective standard a reasonable person (not a gamer) would look at that and think it was abhorant.

It was a huge amount of fun. One of the top 3pp for sale and winning multiple awards (despite its author being a crook).

Who decides what a reasonable person thinks is acceptable?
 
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GrahamWills

Adventurer
The players, betrayed a garrison allowing an invading army of monsters and bugbears to overrun the land, killing (and the rest) as they wentThey poisoned a lot of innocent people. They tortured a fair few people men and women to obtain information. They killed dozens of adventurers in unpleasant ways. They unleashed a plague on the land, and made a deal with a dragon to capture a princess while they murdered the king. They also put to death hundreds of priests for worshipping their god.

By any objective standard a reasonable person (not a gamer) would look at that and think it was abhorant
I’m not sure actually that I agree; unless you spent a lot of time describing in detail the process of torture it doesn’t seem offensive. Playing bad people and doing bad things is not in it self abhorrent. But my suggestion wasn’t suggesting that if a game seems awful to reasonable. people that it’s a bad game. I find most country music close to abhorrent, but it doesn’t hurt me to know that people enjoy it — quite the reverse!

Your game reminds me of a horror film! Yeah, a ton of people will not enjoy it and would feel squeamish watching it and would not want to, but I don’t think those people are hurt by knowing that others watch horror films.

Who decides what a reasonable person thinks is acceptable?
This is a common question in courts of law, where the term is used in many contexts. The answer is — reasonable people decide. Yes, this is self-referential, but it has to be. You can make some rules that exclude obvious cases, but it’s a process. I may be an optimist, but I generally feel most people will be reasonable on most issues. YMMV.

Thanks for providing a good example test case; i think that it is important to differentiate between causing disgust, causing offense, and causing pain, and your story helps draw that distinction.
 

Who decides what a reasonable person thinks is acceptable?
If this is meant to be rhetorical, if so it's not the best approach, because this is routinely an approach/test taken by judges/juries in the UK. The dreaded "man on the Clapham omnibus"


Not sure if a similar test is used in US jurisprudence.

Re: Way of the Wicked I don't think I agree that most people would find that abhorrent because of the extremely consistent cultural double-standard re: murder and war in entertainment. Now, you can go frown at that double-standard if you like, but it's existed for like, what, significantly more than a century? Centuries plural? So I don't think it's going away soon. As @GrahamWills points out, the torture might be, but if it was "offscreen", probably not.

I think there's a deeper and complex discussion about dehumanization of the self to be had too, but I'm not even really sure where to start with that.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Who decides what a reasonable person thinks is acceptable?

Well, each of does.

And "it is popular and won awards, and that makes it okay," is a pretty weak defense, given how many pieces of art that have been critically and popularly acclaimed for decades are now recognized as being problematic. Gone With the Wind is a good example here. Disney's Song of the South, which the company now refuses to show because of how bad it is in that regard. A whole bunch of White Wolf splatbooks were similarly lauded at the time, but would be (rightfully) castigated now....

Not sure if a similar test is used in US jurisprudence.

The concept of a "reasonable person" does come up in some areas of US law.
 

I'll push back a little bit on the idea that there is no way to play badwrongfun RPG games if no one is directly being harmed . . . .

In my first high school game, I was invited to join a group that had been playing together for a while, all dudes. We encounter a group of priestesses on the road, who had knowledge we needed to find the macguffin, and they refused to give us the info. So . . . . the party proceeded to rape, torture, and kill the priestesses to gain the information. I was blown away and disgusted, never went back. Since I was a nerdy, introvert, with low self-esteem and low self-confidence, I also didn't say anything. Made lame excuses later when asked if I was returning for the next game.

This group had no idea I found the idea of raping and torturing horrifying . . . but I strongly feel that even if I had never gamed with them that one afternoon, their playstyle was pretty messed up and most definitely badwrongfun. Even if every one of those guys truly had no problems with that style of play. Their playstyle, in effect before I joined, didn't directly harm me . . . it certainly bothered me and made me pretty uncomfortable . . . and (to my knowledge) didn't directly harm anyone else. But these were some pretty sick and twisted fantasies being played out, and horribly sexist attitudes being perpetuated.

I'm hoping that all of these young men treated the women in their lives much better than they treated the women in their fantasy games, and it's possible, even likely, that they all might be more than a bit embarrassed (maybe even ashamed) now as adults looking back at their teenager behavior . . . but, IMO, that still makes that particular gaming style badwrongfun. So much bad, so much wrong.

If a group of players, of any demographics, is actively promoting racism, sexism, or other ideologies harmful to society at large . . . in their home games, with everybody at the table totally on board . . . badwrongfun. Not that I expect perfection from folks, we're all guilty of falling back into passive racism, sexism, etc, from time-to-time. But when it's an active part of the fantasy . . .

Hopefully what I encountered was rare back in the 80s and even more rare today!
I would say that's pretty direct harm, it's harming your ability to have fun and possibly their idea of the proper way to treat women. Like I said in the OP, I consider a group playing a game where they use real life racial slurs and stereotypes to be direct harm to those real life racial groups, so I would also consider this to fall in the category of "directly harming other people" and "badwrongfun".

But this is a good example of truly bad fun, because it does harm.
 

The only kinds of badwrongfun are:
  1. Exploitative, using the provided game in ways that defy the intent at that specific table,
  2. Coercive, deriving from pushing the other participants (even peripheral ones) into situations they aren't comfortable with,
  3. Insulting, taking joy from belittling, shaming, or demeaning other people or players.
There is no such thing as badwrongfun that isn't at least one of these things. As long as everyone is a positive, willing, and engaged participant, it is not possible to have badwrongfun.

System should never matter for asking if every participant is positive, willing, and engaged. Even "adult"-oriented games (like White Wolf stuff, or Monsterhearts), the system is not and cannot be the cause of any player being insulting, coercive, or exploitative. There can, of course, be elements or even whole games that are written containing insulting stuff, but making a group play a system written like that is at the very least coercive.

A much more interesting--not to mention productive--line of questioning is to ask whether a particular game succeeds at the goals for which it was designed. But such systematic talk doesn't sit too well with an awful lot of gamers, and isn't nearly as evocative and identity-staking as "X isn't D&D" or "you can't RP with Y" or "dey terk our JERBS ALINEMINTS!!"
 


I think the main argument against this point of view would,d be aimed at the escape capsule for indirect harm. The OP suggests that if playing a game causes indirect harm to someone else, but is fun for everyone at the table, then it is good. Many people would disagree with that point of view.

One problem with that discussion is that it depends on the difference between indirect and direct harm. Suppose that a game being played objectifies women and makes them purely an accessory for the male characters. If all the players are male, and like that objectification, then any harm is indirect, and so this qualifies as “good fun” by the OP rules.

Now the original post sort of walks back it’s original position and says that racist games are direct harm, even if no one involved is offended. That, to me, seems like indirect harm, but the OP labels it direct harm. The examples of potential bad tropes given are very tame an innocuous — they don’t really tests the premise.

Overall, I’d just drop any qualifiers and say that you if your game was viewed by any reasonable person, and it would cause them pain, it‘s bad/wrong. I understand that “reasonable” is very much left up to debate, but there’s no way to get around that issue. Precedence and sound judgement need to be your guide.

So, for example, even when playing in historical games, I use the term “Romany” to describe a certain culture, even though using historical terms would neither upset anyone at the table or cause anyone direct harm. But many (not all, but many) people from that culture would be hurt by my use of that historical term, so I don’t do it.
The definition of direct harm was probably poorly defined in the OP, which is my bad. What I would define as "direct harm" is real harm and indirect harm would be imagined harm. If a party used Vistani as originally written in the Curse of Strahd (not to say that the current version is perfect, it is definitely still problematic), that is direct harm to the culture of the Romani people. If a DM decides to get rid of a race from the table, let's use Tortles as an example, and someone unconnected to that table gets offended, that is indirect and imagined harm (the same is true in a reverse case where someone gets offended because someone uses Tortles at their table).

If others assumed "direct" and "indirect" to be "at the table" and "not at the table", that's my bad, and definitely not what I intended to say. Does this clear things up? I am aware of how the definition is a bit iffy, but this is more a case of "you know it when you see it" than "strict, always objectively true signs".
 

Badwrongfun happens when you make me waste my time at the game table, and I am ticked off hours later.
. . . That doesn't sound like a case of badwrongfun, that sounds like a case of wasted time.
IF you don't like how a group plays, walk away. I did for 12 years.
And this is the point. Playstyles that are not harmful, but are incompatible, doesn't make them wrong. It just means you're at the wrong table.
 

MGibster

Legend
And "it is popular and won awards, and that makes it okay," is a pretty weak defense, given how many pieces of art that have been critically and popularly acclaimed for decades are now recognized as being problematic. Gone With the Wind is a good example here. Disney's Song of the South, which the company now refuses to show because of how bad it is in that regard. A whole bunch of White Wolf splatbooks were similarly lauded at the time, but would be (rightfully) castigated now....
The past is a foreign country where they have odd customs and they do things differently. Aside from the problematic aspects of Gone with the Wind, most modern audiences would grow bored with the pacing of the plot in the 221 minute long movie, the production values, and may find the style of acting in the 1930s to be rather melodramatic. And many games are the same way. Ignoring all the problematic elements of AD&D 1st edition, the rules are going to seem archaic to a lot of people. I have happy memories of playing AD&D but wild ogres couldn't drag me to a table to play it ever again.
 

TheSword

Legend
Well, each of does.

And "it is popular and won awards, and that makes it okay," is a pretty weak defense, given how many pieces of art that have been critically and popularly acclaimed for decades are now recognized as being problematic. Gone With the Wind is a good example here. Disney's Song of the South, which the company now refuses to show because of how bad it is in that regard. A whole bunch of White Wolf splatbooks were similarly lauded at the time, but would be (rightfully) castigated now....



The concept of a "reasonable person" does come up in some areas of US law.
Way of the wicked wasn’t 50 years ago. It was six or seven years ago.
 

D1Tremere

Explorer
My opinion is that no conception is unexplorable in fiction or art. Just because you explore a subject that violates cultural norms, religious dogma, etc., that doesn't make it wrong in my opinion. What makes it wrong is if it is causing harm to another without their consent. Play a game with racism, sexism, etc., is fine so long as no one is being forced to play in it, everyone has given informed consent, and it isn't being done in a commons area where it may impact others without their consent. I say it is fine for a couple of reasons; one, because that is the true price of freedom. If we want to be free we must tolerate that which violates our own standards, and we only have power to limit such freedom in commons. Another reason is, playing a game, writing a story, etc., that contains material which violates cultural norms doesn't necessarily mean that those involved truly condone such acts in reality. One example is murder. In D&D the concept of murder is much more relaxed than in the real world (usually). This is because, in general, many societies are comfortable with fictional killing of bad people even if they don't support the death penalty for real life criminals. It is a quick and easy way to see justice done within the confines of a limited time narrative.
That's just my 2c.
 

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