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Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

Bedrockgames

Villager
Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

Because it isn't real.

Why are we okay with violence on TV? Because it isn't real.
Why are we okay with violence in cinema? Because it isn't real.
Why are we okay with violence in books? Because it isn't real.
Why are we okay with violence in plays? Because it isn't real.

Why are we not okay with violence in reality? Because it is real.

I know that is a really simplistic way of looking at it, but it is the core difference.
This is my view of it. Not a fan of real world violence but I love action and martial arts movies. Combat in RPGs is cathartic. It isn't against real people or creatures.
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

Because it isn't real.

Why are we okay with violence on TV? Because it isn't real.
Why are we okay with violence in cinema? Because it isn't real.
Why are we okay with violence in books? Because it isn't real.
Why are we okay with violence in plays? Because it isn't real.

Why are we not okay with violence in reality? Because it is real.

I know that is a really simplistic way of looking at it, but it is the core difference.
So is there no violence in games that (for you) crosses the threshold into "not okay", even though it still isn't real?

There is for me.
 

Bagpuss

Explorer
Okay looking at your question in a bit more detail.

And this came to a head recently when I ran B2 for some kids. Generally, Goodman Games did an amazing job, and I reviewed it here-
https://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?655877-Into-the-Borderlands-On-Running-an-Updated-Classic

So here's the part of the original I wanted to emphasize-

Seriously. I was prepping before running it, and I kept reading about the caverns filled with the Kobold Chieftan's women (who would attack) and children and ... yeah. Depending on your audience and/or tolerance for humanoid genocide, you might have to re-work a few things. I know I had to seriously re-work it to keep the old feel while making it acceptable for more modern play.

There's a fine line between fun happy combat and ... um ... uncomfortable colonialist massacre of women and children, if you catch my drift.
My question to you would be why? Why did you feel the need to rework it and in what way did you rework it? If you remove the women and children hobgoblins then in my opinion you have done a disservice to your players.

For me the encounter stands up as well today as it did when first published.

It is there to present a moral dilemma to the players. They have been cutting their way through hobgoblins perhaps justifiably so, as they have been raiding the nearby human settlements. But then they face hobgoblin women who are ferociously defending their little hobgoblin children.

I remember playing it my teens and it had an impact then, and presented many questions among the group as to do we kill them or not. Even when we decided to and tried to justify it with terms like "intrinsically evil, we can't look after them and it would be more cruel leave them to starve. They will only grow up to kill more humans." it made us question how heroic we really were. We looked back at the male hobgoblins we had been killing and realised they were just raiding to support their families. And all this was decades before people were analysing D&D for social justice issues in their blogs.

I'm sure I'm part of the only bunch of kids that had a sort of wake up call with encounters like that one.

So if you removed the women and children, you are just encouraging a murderhobo mentality, as for some reason society accepts killing males as fine. The male hobogoblins are then just killing for selfish reasons, and that justifies killing them.

So Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

Who says we are? We all have some fun with a bit of wanton destruction and violence in RPGs every now and again, and certainly violence is often a simple direct solution to problems in RPGs. As I said before it isn't real so there aren't and real world consequences form killing someone or something else(1). RPGs are a safe space in that respect to let out some of your darker traits. But I would say a lot of the time (and certainly in well written scenarios and games outside D&D) violence can have some dramatic in game consequences, and that's when RPGs are at there best, IMHO.

That's why I am concerned to felt a need to alter the encounter in that scenario, even when playing with kids.


---------------------------------------------------------------

Warning: Below is a danger of going off into tangent on adult themes only just stopped myself.

1) Saying that there can be real world consequences if you go and kill another PC. I've played in lots of games with plenty of PvP deaths, and it is never nice to be on the receiving end. But it makes for a memorable moment, and personally I think a little bit of negative emotion at the time is well worth it, and friends end up laughing about it and retelling tales down the line. Other groups have broken up over stuff like that, I don't understand that myself. It is only a game, admittedly one you can get heavily emotionally involved in, but still a game.
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
So is there no violence in games that (for you) crosses the threshold into "not okay", even though it still isn't real?

There is for me.

There isn't for me since it's all pretend. There is for the NPCs, though. If the PCs torture a thief to get information and it gets out, they could end up imprisoned. Torture is generally going to be illegal unless the government is doing it, and even then not all governments do it. The PCs reputation will suffer in any case as the locals view them as bad men.

Whether the PCs engage in torture or not, let the orc women and children go or not, or murder NPCs in cold blood or not, all tell me what kind of people their PCs are, not what kind of person they are. This is a game and sometimes we stretch out boundaries and play something that we would not be comfortable with in real life. Roleplaying games are good like that.
 

Bagpuss

Explorer
So is there no violence in games that (for you) crosses the threshold into "not okay", even though it still isn't real?

There is for me.
Thanks that is a great question.

I went into the point in a bit more detail above, but to answer you directly.

Yes and No, like all entertainment.

Yes - There is no violence in games that cross the threshold into "not okay" to be included in a game, if handled properly. I see gaming as a safe space, where you can have pretty nasty stuff happen but because it isn't real there is no actual danger to the people round the table.(1)

No - There are countless incidences of violence in game that I am "not okay" with either in character or as a person.

To take the recent controversy which involved sexual violence towards characters.

Am I okay with sexual violence, no of course not, but because of that do I feel a film like The Accused should never have been made? No. Do I feel uncomfortable and shocked by the rape scene in that film, of course. So I am certainly "not okay" with it. But the film was very important at the time and had a significant effect.

Same with RPGs, there are plenty of scenes where I am "not okay" with the violence itself, the encounter with the hobogoblin women and children mentioned above. I am "not okay" with violence against women and children, but I am fine with that encounter being in an RPG. In fact I would go as far to say it is an better scenario because it is in. Would it prompt some people today to touch an X-Card perhaps it would, but I still think it should be there.

I strongly believe not every RPG experience should be a "fun" one. That RPGs are often at there best went you are faced with uncomfortable situations and difficult moral dilemmas that may make you think. That you can have characters put in situations they don't want to be in and you personally find distressing. However I also believe that requires a certain amount of by-in and consent (which appears was lacking in the recent controversy).


_______________________________________________________

(1) This assumes you are playing with friends, or at least people that aren't trying to mental hurt you. I'm pretty stable and have no issues with separating in game and out of game emotions, but not everyone is. But in the past I've had sexual violence done to a character and it does leave a lasting impression, and at the time was a troubling experience. Looking back on it however I am glad it was something I could experience in a safe environment.
 

Dispater

Villager
The lowest common denominator.

Violence is the basest, crudest capital of our society. A massive oversimplification, I know, but I am one of those who think ordered society is based on the control (or monopoly) of violence. We humans are social animals who have found coded language, laws and rituals to circumnavigate the need for violence, yet instead, we ceaselessly describe and portray and discuss violence in art, literature, games and films. We are essentially indulging in a form of fantasy or fetishism; sometimes for the lack of conflict it in our own lives.

I think most people who have seen true violence shy away from it, and even in games, because it would remind them too much. Yet most people who have never experienced it properly are drawn to it. And lets face it, thats us, sitting here, and posting on this forum. A blanket statement, I know, but the fact is we are sitting here discussing games on online fora, not out in a ditch somewhere shooting bullets with screaming sergeants about. We are so fortunate to live in relatively peaceful times. Still even the most enlightened progressive individual has no appreciation for this. But has plenty of power fantasies and violent dreams. These cravings are coded into our genes, and I think we resort to games and entertainment to scratch that itch.

I am not one here to call out what came first, chicken, or the egg; it is a paradox, as we make greater leaps of technology, we use a greater part of our intelectual effort to describe violence. Whether it is a coded ritual we inherit from our parents or culture, we pass on to our kids. Do not ask me why.

So when you get together with your group and play out combat; you are not really describing proper violence. I understand we here are mostly just using it as a vehicle for conflict and drama. However, my point here is, we humans often resort automatically to violence when we have to describe something new. When you are writing you campaign lore, you most likely have "the war of -insert goofy fantasy name-" kick of a chain of events that leads to your currentd day. And most DMs not being the most original of creatives; will most likely, most often, resort to combat as the vehicle for challenge to his group, an easy fix.

It takes more effort to understand that a political conflict, an intelectual or emotional conflict can have so many other forms. You can run entire games where violence is simply not an option (consequences too great, or simply not needed). If you want to see less of it, it is down to you. Either as a game designer - make up a game about court intrigue that has only minimal violence involved. As a DMs, run a story where every encounter is one where the characters have talk their way out of it. Make the games reflect more the world we live in; and not the violence fetishism of computer games.
 
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Elfcrusher

Explorer
It is there to present a moral dilemma to the players.
This seems to contradict your other claims. If it's all just make-believe and it's all ok, then there's no moral dilemma.

Now, there may be in-game consequences: if you kill the innocents your god will strip you of your powers, or whatever. And maybe that's what you mean. Make-believe violence, and make-believe moral dilemma.

On a somewhat related note, I've never found any attraction to playing evil characters, and I always find it somewhat unsettling when others do. I've tried to play evil characters, and invariably I put on a veneer of evilness (maniacal cackle, etc.) but I still end up doing good. Even in solo video games. I've heard the explanations of exploring other personalities, etc., but I'll admit that in my heart I always think there's something wrong with people who enjoy it.

EDIT: On the other hand, I can easily understand how an actor might really enjoy playing an evil character in a movie. I just don't see those two activities (acting and RPGing) as remotely similar. Which in turn may shed light on other disagreements about roleplaying, metagaming, etc.
 
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Jonathan Tweet

Explorer
1) It's a team activity where all participants can make meaningful decisions.
2) It is a conflict that has a clear problem to solve.
3) Progress toward that problem can be easily observed and measured.
4) The progress toward that problem is uniquely dynamic, giving all participants an opportunity to imagine something visceral and exciting.
I've been thinking about this issue for almost 40 years, and this summary is pretty good.

Humans find sex and violence to be interesting, and of those two pursuits violence is the one suitable to group activity, as in a roleplaying game.
 

Bagpuss

Explorer
This seems to contradict your other claims. If it's all just make-believe and it's all ok, then there's no moral dilemma.
How, are you not roleplaying your character? I present you with the trolley car problem is that not an ethical dilemma for you despite the fact there is no real trolley or real people getting hurt?

Now, there may be in-game consequences: if you kill the innocents your god will strip you of your powers, or whatever. And maybe that's what you mean.
No, I mean doesn't it present you with a choice to make as a player, like the trolley car problem.

Make-believe violence, and make-believe moral dilemma.
Yes, but it is still a moral dilemma. How would your good character react to the hobgoblin women and children encounter?

On a somewhat related note, I've never found any attraction to playing evil characters, and I always find it somewhat unsettling when others do.
I take it you never DM then? As a regular DM I frequently have to put myself in evil characters shoes. Although like you I don't like playing evil characters as a player, and even in gritty dark settings like Cyberpunk will be the one guy still trying to me good. Even as a GM my evil characters tend to have understandable motives even if there methods are somewhat questionable. Although throwing in the odd Hannibal Lector character or actual demon occasionally is fun.

I've tried to play evil characters, and invariably I put on a veneer of evilness (maniacal cackle, etc.) but I still end up doing good. Even in video games. I've heard the explanations of exploring other personalities, etc., but I'll admit that in my heart I always think there's something wrong with people who enjoy it.
Snap.
 
Anyway as a indigenous minority in a former British colony, I've always been acutely aware of the 'problem of DnDs' fantasy foundations essentially being the glory of Europe and Empire over the 'savage other' (ie Orcs, goblins).
Certainly if I also had that background, I think I'd see why that would be your first pass understanding of the structure of D&D, but the fantasy foundations of D&D go back to a time well before Europe was a mighty colonizing power, to a time when on the contrary Europe was one of the world's cultural and technological backwaters and more often than not, it was being colonized by foreign nations (Huns, Turks, Moors, etc.).

D&D's fantasy and folk roots don't start in the 18th or 19th century. Trolls and goblins and elves and dwarves and the like didn't come out of Europe's colonial experience, but out of its dim dark prehistory. The fantasy roots of goblins and trolls and the like aren't Europeans driving out indigenous groups in the Age of Exploration, but the brutal man versus nature fight of the European Dark Ages. Tolkien, who popularized this sort of thing as much or more than any other, was a medievalist. His inspiration was Beowulf and the Viking Eddas and the rest of that Northern European we are just now emerging into literacy a good 5000 years after writing was discovered literature. The northern Europeans that believed in savage fairy people and driving them into the wild country weren't thinking about non-European peoples of which they had almost no contact. They were thinking of their own bitter cold, inhospitable, and savage land with its long lightless nights and short growing seasons.

When D&D establishes the idea of driving out monsters, and settling the land in a pastoral manner, it's entirely self-contained within European setting. There are no non-Europeans present in that narrative, and the monsters - fairies, dragons, evil spirits, giants, restless dead - are the inhospitable wilderness and possibly other European iron age tribes. So, I reject the assumption that D&D in its core gameplay first emerged as some sort of "colonialist narrative" and that we need to find a point in RPGs where some alternative was first introduced. The original Blackmoor Braunstein was certainly not based on colonialist tropes, and it's slander to claim so.

Has this sort of thing on occasion been transformed into a colonialist narrative? Probably, but it's not that common. Even writers who held at times in their life deeply racist attitudes, like Robert Howard, when they projected their own race into this fantasy setting, they projected them as the barbarians in the setting and not the civilized peoples. The white peoples of Howard's setting were the primitive, unsophisticated ones, limited in technology, lore, commerce, and wealth. Howard's setting isn't about white colonialism per se - it's about a yearning for that mythic primitive bygone time when supposedly Caucasians were more manly, honest, virtuous or whatever than they were now in his eyes, polluted by commerce, decadence, excessive learning, and the sort of things that Howard thought led to social and racial decline. In other words, it's back to yearning to that just emerging from the dark ages mythic narrative. Does this not being colonialist necessarily make it better? No. But there is a danger I think in seeing things too much within the lens of your own experience.

Its probably what pushed me more towards playing non-human characters (half orcs, gnomes) in non-combat orientated classes (thief-acrobats, alchemist, clerics) or monk-assassins (strike back at the establishment!!).
I think it bizarre to self-identify with orcs. I don't identify you with orcs. Why would you identify yourself in that way? Why consciously adopt a negative stereotype? The orcs, ogres, trolls, goblins, kobolds, and so forth were never meant to mean you. So if you appropriate them and self-identify as them, then of course you are going to see all violence against them as some sort attack on yourself whether it is meant that way or not. But then, you are at that point the one engaged in cultural appropriation - taking dark age fears of a different culture and reskinning them for your own purpose. You can't blame the author for that baggage.

I spent almost my entire youth playing a 1e AD&D Thief. I probably did it because I was an adolescent and adolescents are almost always attracted to rebellion.
 
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Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
Violence is one of the fundamental elements of the human experience I guess. And even our civilization is held together ultimately by the threat of violence. Its a basic part of life. Plus its easy to make into a game. Other fundamental aspects of living, like sexuality, don't translate as well to a game. Well a RPG. Well a table top RPG. Well...it depends on who is playing.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Yes - There is no violence in games that cross the threshold into "not okay" to be included in a game, if handled properly. I see gaming as a safe space, where you can have pretty nasty stuff happen but because it isn't real there is no actual danger to the people round the table.(1)
A little while back, I taught my 13-year-old de facto goddaughter how to play D&D. That gave me an entirely new perspective on what "safe" means.

There's a little-realized fact that there's no such thing as a no-holds-barred safe space. Safe spaces need boundaries, and the boundaries that are useful and safe for one group may not be for another.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

Because it isn't real.

Why are we okay with violence on TV? Because it isn't real.
Why are we okay with violence in cinema? Because it isn't real.
Why are we okay with violence in books? Because it isn't real.
Why are we okay with violence in plays? Because it isn't real.

Why are we not okay with violence in reality? Because it is real.

I know that is a really simplistic way of looking at it, but it is the core difference.

Okay. But that's not necessarily the case, is it?

Just because something is depicted in fiction, doesn't mean that it is perfectly acceptable.

And we have various tolerances for fictional depictions.

If we look back to the late 60s and 70s, we can see that (for example) in movies, things are in flux in America with the lifting of the Code. Profanity, Nudity, and Violence were all ... somewhat ... acceptable in various amounts. Heck, Airplane is a movie from 1980, is rated PG, and has (female) nudity, obvious references to oral copulation, and all sorts of material you wouldn't find in any PG movie today.

And opinions re: depictions of violence have changed; the type of violence depicted in the 70s wouldn't have flown prior to that, and the idea of violence as spectacle in American movies (the "Action movie") really only became a thing in the 80s- the exact time that sex and (to a lesser extent) profanity were moved downward.

So your answer isn't wrong, per se, so much as it's incomplete to the question.

Why are we okay with violence in RPGs as such a foundation of (most) games? Why does violence and killing go unremarked, and seems unremarkable?

By the way, I don't have an answer, and I'm not looking for "the answer," I was just thinking about how normal it is. Which, you know, is kind of weird.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
A little while back, I taught my 13-year-old de facto goddaughter how to play D&D. That gave me an entirely new perspective on what "safe" means.

There's a little-realized fact that there's no such thing as a no-holds-barred safe space. Safe spaces need boundaries, and the boundaries that are useful and safe for one group may not be for another.
Yeah, as I wrote originally, this nagging idea re: violence first started when I was reading through B2 and preparing it for kids.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Yeah, as I wrote originally, this nagging idea re: violence first started when I was reading through B2 and preparing it for kids.
So, let me continue from the perspective of my experience - since it was a recent one in which I actively questioned the tolerances for many things in my game and presentation...

At the root, we view some violence as okay, because we still live in a world in which violence is occasionally necessary. There are still (entirely human) monsters among us, and sometimes we are not left with non-violent alternatives for dealing with them.

My 13-year-old players knew this, so I could use violence in my game to that extent. There could be foes in my game who were willing to do harm in order to achieve their ends, and the players could oppose them and use violence to do it. That would be okay, as they are prepared for it.

What wasn't going to be okay?

1) Explicit graphic brutality. Yes, it exists in the world too, but my 13-year-olds were not yet versed in what that really means, and it was not my place to introduce them to the idea and help them integrate that understanding.

2) The PCs as the bad guys. While it was okay to allow the PCs to take a certain glee from exacting a sort of rough justice, taking glee in getting what they want through violence was not going to fly - much for the same reason as (1), because to do that right I'd have to make it clear what kind of consequences that has - and 13-year-olds are not yet ready to understand the depths of those consequences. Thankfully, the kids showed no desire to be bad guys, even when the opportunity was easily available.
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?
If we were all Americans, here, I could just say "because we're a violent society."

Instead, for my flip, sarcastic, cynical answere I'm going to have to go all ST:tNG, and say " because we are an egregiously violent species."


(And, you don't get to complain about flip, joking answered to serious questions.)
 
Yeah, as I wrote originally, this nagging idea re: violence first started when I was reading through B2 and preparing it for kids.
One thing I've noted in the past about playing with kids is that they tend to be vastly more moral than the adults. Most middle school and earlier players I've encountered tend to take moral quandaries very seriously, where as most adult players I've encountered are ruthless murder hobos.

I've always been really fascinated by why that is. Is it that the kids can't separate fantasy and reality as easily as adults, or is it that the kids correctly recognize the importance of make-believe and play as a form of mental practice and problem solving and the adults have forgotten? Or are the players in their innocence actually in truth more moral than the adults? Or is it just that since the adults know they are playing a game, they take none of it seriously except "winning" the game? Or is it that the adults have been conditioned to think of winning as only a matter of dog-eat-dog survival?

One other problem I encountered when running RPGs for 5 year olds, is that the players (my children) refused to make choices that would put them in danger. If a house in the neighborhood was said to be haunted, well that was more than sufficient reason not to go into a run down house. Besides, going into an abandoned house was dangerous in itself, and it was trespassing. If there was a dark hole that possibly led to fairy country, by no means where they going to go down it. Anything remotely uncanny or dangerous caused them to make the very rational decision to avoid that potential danger and stay safe. So it basically became impossible to have adventures, because they'd take one look at an adventure and tend to go, "Nope. Not doing that. You'd have to be stupid to do that." The result is that most of their make believe play tended to lack conflict, and consequently tended to lack drama as I thought of the term.

We had some drama of mundane things, but it was nothing like running any sort of RPG I'd run before. I had a tendency to find that in game stress didn't need consequences. Any end game stress was completely debilitating to the player anyway, that it was hardly necessary to dehabilitate the character. If the character would be sad, frustrated, scared, or what not - the player probably was as well.
 

Bagpuss

Explorer
There's a little-realized fact that there's no such thing as a no-holds-barred safe space. Safe spaces need boundaries, and the boundaries that are useful and safe for one group may not be for another.
Hence my footnote. Of course you aren't going to throw the same situations and dilemma's at a 13 year old kid as you might to at a University student or an middle-aged bloke like myself, or if you did they wouldn't react the same way.

I still think you could probably throw the hobgoblin women and children at all of them.
 
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lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
If we were all Americans, here,

(snip)

(And, you don't get to complain about flip, joking answered to serious questions.)
I'm an American.

Of course I will complain.

What? You think that some sort of shame ... or concern about hypocrisy ... will keep me from complaining?


HECK NO!

My right to complain is guaranteed, by, like, the Constitution, or the Declaration of Independence, or one of the Commandments, or the collected works of John Wayne.
 

Bagpuss

Explorer
Okay. But that's not necessarily the case, is it?

(snip)

Just because something is depicted in fiction, doesn't mean that it is perfectly acceptable.

So your answer isn't wrong, per se, so much as it's incomplete to the question.
I'm sure you've seen my responses that followed that rather simplistic first response. I still stand by that statement however, but nothing is that simple.

Why are we okay with violence in RPGs as such a foundation of (most) games? Why does violence and killing go unremarked, and seems unremarkable?
Because it is influenced by the media and myths it represents that has always had violence and killing as it's foundation.

The next question is of course why does the media/myths have violence and killing as it foundation?

You are then getting in to philosophy and the human condition. A bit too broad of a topic. Although I like Tony Vargas's Star Trek quote.
 
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