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Real Players, Fantasy Worlds

I wanted to start a thread collecting thought about the relationship between the "real world" on the one hand, and fantasy gaming on the other. I'm thinking about this specifically with regards to OSR and old school gaming, because it seems that's where the assertion of an absolute separation of reality and fantasy is most commonly articulated. This is either in the form of 'keep politics out of the game/away from the table' or the argument that fantasy has no historical referent, either in its main themes or implied by the cultural context of the writers and creators. I also want to promote OSR creators who are working against the reactionary stereotypes that are unfortunately associated with that style of play. So in sum, this thread is a) critical reflections on how and why we, as real people, engage in fantasy roleplay and b) a celebration of creative people in the broader community.
So here's a couple to get us started...

• Zedeck Siew, one of the best writers in the osr space, and co-creator of the amazing A Thousand Thousand Islands. He thinks critically about the implicit colonialism of dnd, but not the aim of shutting it down, but rather to use a game to explore the complexity of colonial dynamics. Is there something 'fun' about colonialism, and if so, what does that tell us about it? Can we use the game to replay the scene of settler colonialism from different angles? He has recently written eloquently about being the possibilities and limitaitons of being a postcolonial creator
Think about it: what is a roleplaying game, but a seed of imagination designers give to players and gamemasters – so they can grow imaginations of their own, to care for and grow together at their own tables?...
But – here. You can have a seed bomb. The nice thing about a seed is that, with your care, it could sprout in your own garden. If you want. Let it flower in your mind.

•Dyson Logos, has made excellent, minimalist maps and made them available for free. He recently posted about the meaning of pride for him:
Pride is here, and we keep being proud because otherwise there is nothing left but wrath. Everywhere around the gaming social media environment today you see people complaining that “if you want to be treated like normal people, you have to shut up and stop this whole stupid pride thing” and similar.

Because we know how well it works when you keep the GLBTQ+ spectrum all hidden away in their closets right? That brings us Stonewall, execution in work camps, and conservatives flat out laughing as the AIDS crisis kills thousands of our loved ones before us.

• Emmy Allen, who makes amazing procedural dungeons like The Stygian Library, on sex in ttrpgs

• This Legacy of the Bieth post on "scab-picking"

• Blog of Holding post that connects dungeons and dragons as a cultural artifact to the context of the 20th century US
But it is very difficult to write a document with no cultural assumptions at all. Gygax consciously excluded the trappings of a medieval society, and filled that vacuum with “real life” American details. Gygax wrote D&D in a country where, 100 years before, frontier land was considered free for the taking. (19th century propaganda depicted the land’s original Native American inhabitants as inimical savages, like orcs). At the same period, the success of America’s industrialist “robber barons” taught the country that birth and family weren’t the keys to American power; the American keys were self-reliance, ability, and the ruthless accumulation of money.


I'm certainly missing a lot of things, so please post links and creators who you think deserve more support!
 

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pemerton

Legend
I wanted to start a thread collecting thought about the relationship between the "real world" on the one hand, and fantasy gaming on the other.
I'm not sure if you're inviting original thoughts, or wanting links to other sources. If the latter, apologies and I can come back and sblock this post.

About a decade ago now I had to speak at the philosophy and film club associated with a British philosophy department. I was struck that the convenor of the club asserted, without argument, that a film that celebrates or valorises wrongful conduct cannot be an artistically great film. I disagreed then and I still do.

I also think it is possible to admire the ideas and work of someone without admiring everything about them. I admire philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Frege and Anscombe without admiring all of their beliefs. My (one-sided!) relationship to George Orwell is complicated, and I don't just read it off my views about his political views.

I think this generalises to fantasy. Fantasy can be entertaining, engaging, and emotionally compelling although it is deeply flawed in the world it presents or the perspective it adopts. For example, one doesn't have to be a romantic, or a royalist, to be moved by JRRT's story of Aragorn. In another recent thread I mentioned that JRRT's treatment of The Shire tells us nothing about relations of production; and Sam never seems to wonder why he has to address Frodo as "Mister Frodo" while the courtesy is not returned; but that doesn't mean a reader can't be moved by this tale of companionship, or feel Sam's sorrow when Frodo departs Middle Earth at The Havens.

Everyone of course has their boundaries, although sometimes these can be surprising: I remember many years ago now watching the film Das Boot at the cinema and being surprised how easily I was drawn into this tail of submariners waging the U-Boat war against Allied shipping.

I'm therefore hesitant to be too quickly judgemental about the tastes and boundaries of others. But I would find someone who can't identify connections, or denies connections - of trope, theme, etc - between fantasy storytelling and the real world to be most likely rather ignorant, or rather mischievous.
 

I'm not sure if you're inviting original thoughts, or wanting links to other sources. If the latter, apologies and I can come back and sblock this post.

About a decade ago now I had to speak at the philosophy and film club associated with a British philosophy department. I was struck that the convenor of the club asserted, without argument, that a film that celebrates or valorises wrongful conduct cannot be an artistically great film. I disagreed then and I still do.

I also think it is possible to admire the ideas and work of someone without admiring everything about them. I admire philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Frege and Anscombe without admiring all of their beliefs. My (one-sided!) relationship to George Orwell is complicated, and I don't just read it off my views about his political views.

I think this generalises to fantasy. Fantasy can be entertaining, engaging, and emotionally compelling although it is deeply flawed in the world it presents or the perspective it adopts. For example, one doesn't have to be a romantic, or a royalist, to be moved by JRRT's story of Aragorn. In another recent thread I mentioned that JRRT's treatment of The Shire tells us nothing about relations of production; and Sam never seems to wonder why he has to address Frodo as "Mister Frodo" while the courtesy is not returned; but that doesn't mean a reader can't be moved by this tale of companionship, or feel Sam's sorrow when Frodo departs Middle Earth at The Havens.

Everyone of course has their boundaries, although sometimes these can be surprising: I remember many years ago now watching the film Das Boot at the cinema and being surprised how easily I was drawn into this tail of submariners waging the U-Boat war against Allied shipping.

I'm therefore hesitant to be too quickly judgemental about the tastes and boundaries of others. But I would find someone who can't identify connections, or denies connections - of trope, theme, etc - between fantasy storytelling and the real world to be most likely rather ignorant, or rather mischievous.
Thank you. What I want to think about is what does fantasy, and in particular fantasy gaming, enable. I think the storygames/indie scene thinks about this question in a deeper and more critical way than dnd, but I also think there's something to be said of using the adventure genre to work though more complicated issues (related, among other things, to morality, colonialism, violence, and the like). As in, what are we getting from these experiences, and is fantasy gaming the most suitable vehicle for them. I realize it's a somewhat abstract question.

Somewhat related, there's some really good discussion of this in this video:

It's really interesting the ways that the OSR and story games approach world creation and interaction in similar and different ways. For example I find the "Free Kriegsspiel" movement really interesting.
 

pemerton

Legend
I also think there's something to be said of using the adventure genre to work though more complicated issues (related, among other things, to morality, colonialism, violence, and the like).
I'm not sure about this - literally, I don't know which way my intuitions run and I don't know enough examples.

In 2006, the Australian historian and anthropologist Inga Clendinnen wrote an essay critiquing the treatment of Australian colonial history by Australian historical novelists, basically on the grounds that they anachronistically project their own understandings onto the past. I love Graham Greene, but in this on the whole very generous essay Zadie Smith notes that his great anti-colonial work The Quiet American still has blind spots. I wonder what RPGing that really tries to grapple with colonialism would look like? The English still barely grapple with the fact that their present wellbeing was built on the wealth of India; Australia's wealth was in turn built on British investment, but the question of this relationship of Australia to India has not even been raised in Australian public discourse. How would we integrate this into (eg) Cthulhu by Gaslight, or Wuthering Heights?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
This is either in the form of 'keep politics out of the game/away from the table' or the argument that fantasy has no historical referent, either in its main themes or implied by the cultural context of the writers and creators.

Whether it has a referent or not isn't material. Any work of fiction is created in a socio-historical context - that of the author. A writer from a given culture (and a group of RPG players are in this sense, authors) carry with them a bundle of assumptions. They can work with, or against, those assumptions, but they are there, whether you like it or not.
 

Though, of course, the author can very much be dead, and the text read in a very different way-- a significant portion of our literary criticism today involves accepting authorial intent as only a portion of the story, or seeing the way in which the work reacts to and re-contextualizes that context.

The socio-historical context of the author does not subjugate the meaning of the work, the meaning of the work reveals how the author intersects with their context and how they transgress or transcend it. Then, the reader in turn can do the same, irrespective of the author-- much feminist criticism seeks the silent voices of the women within texts written in patriarchal contexts by male authors, commentaries on Grendel's Mother for instance.
 

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