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Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

Bedrockgames

Villager
You have a point: an ethical dilemma is an ethical dilemma even if it is entirely imaginary. But when you discuss the trolley car problem in freshman philosophy you are, I assume, trying to imagine that there are real lives at stake, and that it would be a tragedy for them to be lost. In other words, you are analyzing the problem as if it were real. I don't think you would answer the trolley car problem with, "Can I kill them all, and take their stuff?"

Is that right?

If so, that seems to conflict with the sentiments you express about RPG violence: that since it is make-believe violence it doesn't really matter.

(As an aside, a version of the trolley car problem is now appearing in real life in autonomous car design, in the sense of balancing the life of the occupants of the car versus the lives of others. One company...I think it was Mercedes...got in some hot water for publicly stating how its algorithms would make those decisions.)




Honestly, I haven't seen that adventure since the early 80's so I don't remember the specifics. Is it like the trolley car, in that there is no answer that avoids killing innocents? Or can you choose to put your character at risk to save the innocents? If the latter, that's usually what I'd do. To a much greater extent than I fear I would in real life.



...wtf?



Again, a fair question to ask. As DM, though, I don't feel that my NPCs "are me" in the sense that a PC is. I have no more trouble portraying evil NPCs (to be slaughtered by the heroes) than I would putting an evil villain in a story I might write. But I can't imagine writing a story in which the protagonist/hero is evil. Struggling with inner conflict, and as a consequence doing not nice things or making unwise decisions? Sure. But slaughtering innocents, no.

So I find your question "are you not roleplaying your character?" odd. It's precisely because I am roleplaying my character that I find in-game violence disturbing.
I think a key difference though is the trolley car problem asks students what they would do, RPGs are asking what the character would do. And the reason it matters in the trolley car problem is because it reveals something about how we value human life. But let’s be clear: the trolley car problem is still just a thought exercise. It still is imaginary.

That said how Rob reacts to the trolley car problem is very different from how Rob’s C/E barbarian reacts to the Orc dilemma.

Either way, I don’t think there is much of a connection with role playing violence and real world violence
 

Kaodi

Adventurer
Were I in school today I think I would have more fun (or even more fun?) with the trolley problem than I did back when. I think people forget that the people at risk can have interpersonal relationships, not just characteristics or numbers. Like if the trolley is hurtling towards one person and you could switch tracks so it would hit four people that seems like a non-issue - you let the one die. But what if the four are the grandparents of the one?

In any case I cannot say I am the sort that identifies myself with my characters even if I refer to them sometimes in the first person. It's all about "WWJD" - What Would Jozan Do?
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
I think this question deserves some refining.

What kind of violence? Murder-hoboing? I'm not really okay with that because A: it tends to draw a crowd I don't like, and B: I find it boring.

Collective violence? Like, waging wars, fighting over resources, that thing?

Individualized-violence? Like one dude killing another dude for *whatever reasons*?

Though I think these deserve different specific answers, the general answer is that I think a lot of people believe you can't accomplish anything without struggle, and the fact that we're simulating an often medieval era or apocalyptic era or other kind of dystopian era with RPGs, "struggle" most always translates into physical conflict. We must overcome certain obstacles and those obstacles are usually other living things.

Also, because DMs don't reward non-combat solutions or situations.
 
You don't even have to drill negative consequences into them. Kids bite, for example, because they don't yet have the means to express themselves in any other way. As they develop communication skills, toddler violence goes way down.
That may be true in part, but part of the negative consequence that gets drilled into small children is other small children bonking them in the nose or biting them back in response.

That said, I don't remember a notable drop in violence between myself and my playmates, classmates, and even friends until we were about 15. There were plenty of explosive fights in elementary and middle school, sometimes between two kids that really didn't get along, or a bully and a victim, but sometimes between otherwise close comrades. Then, often as not, things would be smoothed over either immediately or a day or two later.

Adjacent to this background, there were a group of older persons where the boundaries on violence never got set. The guy who sat in front of me in my home room class killed two people with a shotgun when a drug deal went wrong. A fight broke out between two upper classmen, and I ended up in the middle of rifle fire when one went out to his truck to get the means to settle the argument. And then there was that time the sons of the local KKK chapter told our RPG group we couldn't call ourselves Knights, and we had to explain to them with more than words that we really weren't going to be intimidated.

So, while I do agree that toddlers become violent at times because they have difficulty expressing themselves and being understood, I'm more on the side of Gradine's appraisal that kids start violent and stay that way unless conditioned otherwise.
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
Either way, I don’t think there is much of a connection with role playing violence and real world violence
???

Me either. Was somebody in this thread suggesting there's a connection?

Makes me wonder if you actually understand the arguments in this thread, or in that other one that shall not be named. Or if maybe you just fear others making such a connection (e.g., the "violent video games cause violent crime" canard) so you're unwilling to entertain some possibilities.
 

Bagpuss

Explorer
You have a point: an ethical dilemma is an ethical dilemma even if it is entirely imaginary. But when you discuss the trolley car problem in freshman philosophy you are, I assume, trying to imagine that there are real lives at stake, and that it would be a tragedy for them to be lost. In other words, you are analyzing the problem as if it were real. I don't think you would answer the trolley car problem with, "Can I kill them all, and take their stuff?"
You are right I wouldn't answer it like that, and when play tabletop I generally don't roleplay like that either. I know the murderhobo is a common trope, but generally most players I know have progressed beyond that pretty quickly, but occasionally revisit it, because it can be fun from time to time.

If so, that seems to conflict with the sentiments you express about RPG violence: that since it is make-believe violence it doesn't really matter.
I didn't say it doesn't matter, just that it isn't real. So we shouldn't have a problem with it. Like the Trolley Car problem, what you decide matters at least to you, in the fictional world it matters to the people the trolley runs over, but in the real world it has no consequence if you decide to save the five and sacrifice the one or not. It doesn't matter if five make-believe people die or not.

Similarly it doesn't matter if a family of hobgoblins die to the real world as a whole, but it does and should matter to you personally. Because it influences how you play that character you are emotionally invested in.

Honestly, I haven't seen that adventure since the early 80's so I don't remember the specifics. Is it like the trolley car, in that there is no answer that avoids killing innocents? Or can you choose to put your character at risk to save the innocents? If the latter, that's usually what I'd do. To a much greater extent than I fear I would in real life.
Well it's an RPG, there are almost always more than just option A or option B, even if the GM presents it as such. That's part of what makes them so much more fun than CRPGs. And another part of what makes RPGs fun is you can be more heroic than you might be in real life, since there is no danger of you actually dying, only your character at worse.

It was your comment about not playing evil characters, I see DM'ing as playing a character, and they are often evil.

Again, a fair question to ask. As DM, though, I don't feel that my NPCs "are me" in the sense that a PC is.
Ah I rarely have a sense that the PC I am playing is an avatar of me in the game world. I recently heard a great quote from Robert de Niro,

"One of the things about acting is it allows you to live other people's lives without having to pay the price."

To me roleplaying is about trying out being someone other than myself, obviously I can't help but bring something of myself to a character, but I make a conscious effort to avoid it when I can. I will frequently play characters that have motivations very different from my own.

I have no more trouble portraying evil NPCs (to be slaughtered by the heroes) than I would putting an evil villain in a story I might write. But I can't imagine writing a story in which the protagonist/hero is evil. Struggling with inner conflict, and as a consequence doing not nice things or making unwise decisions? Sure. But slaughtering innocents, no.
Cool. When you said you had a issue with roleplaying evil characters I thought in general.

So I find your question "are you not roleplaying your character?" odd. It's precisely because I am roleplaying my character that I find in-game violence disturbing.
Right so because your character is an avatar of yourself to some extent. When you roleplay the character in game murder has an emotional impact on you as they are an extension of yourself, hence it matters in the real world.

Where as when I roleplay a character they are often very detached from myself, how my character reacts to a situation matter to me because it influences how I see that character and who they develop and react to future situations in the game, but it only matters in the game not the real world, as it isn't me. Obviously it has some impact in the real world as I try to understand the motivations of someone who has a goals and drives different than myself.

I read a good article recently on what is referred to as Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character, about the real world emotional impact of some roleplaying experiences. It refers to LARPs but I think you would find it interesting, and equally applicable to tabletop. I suspect I build a stronger "alibi" to use the term from that article.
 
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Bedrockgames

Villager
???

Me either. Was somebody in this thread suggesting there's a connection?

Makes me wonder if you actually understand the arguments in this thread, or in that other one that shall not be named. Or if maybe you just fear others making such a connection (e.g., the "violent video games cause violent crime" canard) so you're unwilling to entertain some possibilities.
I assumed this was the reason behind the discomfort with violence in RPGs
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
???

Me either. Was somebody in this thread suggesting there's a connection?

Makes me wonder if you actually understand the arguments in this thread, or in that other one that shall not be named. Or if maybe you just fear others making such a connection (e.g., the "violent video games cause violent crime" canard) so you're unwilling to entertain some possibilities.
Also others on the thread brought up this topic so figured might as well weigh in on that point. Happy to engage you elf, but not going to do so if you continue to speak to me like this. A modicum of respect or politeness would be appreciated
 

Bagpuss

Explorer
Perhaps. But I would likely *position* it differently. See above - I was not going to run a game in which 13-year-olds end up on the wrong side of the moral argument. If I'm going to present the non-combatants as a challenge to kids, I'd position it clearly as a, "Well, nuts, you have to get around this without hurting anyone."

Heck, in games for my adults, if the PCs choose the wrong side of the moral argument, they are apt to be treated by the world like the monsters they have become - meaning that they have made it moral and ethical for others to kill the PCs and take their stuff!
I think kids could also handle consequences to their actions, if they make a questionable choice.
 

MGibster

Explorer
As others have pointed out, role playing games evolved from war games and violence has remained a large part of most mainstream games over the past 45 years. So from the early days of gaming the audience have been made up of people who don't have a problem with the kinds of violence typically found in games. I wouldn't doubt it if some people from the 70s, 80s, and today decided RPGs weren't for them because of the violence. I can't think of any popular RPG that doesn't make the assumption that player characters will engage in violence.

But violence in most RPGs isn't all that realistic. And part of that is because of the abstract nature of combat in a game. Sanitized violence has been acceptable for a long time. Most parents don't have a problem with their kids watching hordes of Storm Troopers mowed down in Star Wars but they might have a problem with those same kids watching John Wick 3.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think kids could also handle consequences to their actions, if they make a questionable choice.
There's "questionable choice" and "end up on the wrong side of the moral argument". Splitting the party to chase down goblins in the woods is a questionable choice, and when they did that, they handled the consequences. Becoming villains is what happens when you are on the wrong side of the moral argument.

I think, on their first go ever at RPGs, having them hunted down and either executed or imprisoned for murder (a likely consequence for adventurers who have moral weaknesses) would not have had a salutary effect on their impression of RPGs. So, yes, I aimed my presentation to steer clear of certain pitfalls. They are young, and have time to get into those later.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Makes me wonder if you actually understand the arguments in this thread, or in that other one that shall not be named. .
Also others on the thread brought up this topic so figured might as well weigh in on that point.

Talk about your questionable choices.

One reason why we are okay with violence, is that in the real world, some people have issues letting things go, and that tends to escalate....

Gentlemen, be warned - dragging around drama from closed threads is an astoundingly good way to get yourself a vacation from the site. Both of you drop it, now, please and thank you. I would, in fact, take this exchange as an indication that neither one of you should be responding to each other in this thread. It does not seem that either of you has cooled off well enough to resist the temptation to take pot-shots.
 

Riley37

Villager
I think this question deserves some refining.
Yes. On the first page, I raised a distinction between colonialist and non-colonialist violence. AD&D has a colonialist endgame: at Name Level, a PC can build a keep and kill all monsters around it, with the result that peasants show up, build farms, and pay taxes to the PCs. Celebrim and I may disagree on whether that constitutes colonialism, and whether that's the default context for Keep on the Borderlands; well, we agree on many things and disagree on many things. There are D&D games with non-colonialist and possibly with anti-colonialist story arcs.

There's also, as you say, significant differences between collective and individual scales of violence. "Braunstein" was a Napoleonic war game, which considered significant individuals as factors in the progress of battles: if the battle happens in a town, then what happens if someone kills the mayor of the town? Arneson's "Blackmoor Bunch" (eg Sir Jenkins and the Bishop of Blackmoor) shifted the game from an overview of a battle (literally looking down onto the table-top diorama of a battlefield) to a zoom-in on named individuals; and that was a step from war-games towards D&D. (These steps happened *before* Arneson started using the "Chainmail" rules, if I understand correctly.)

Also, because DMs don't reward non-combat solutions or situations.
Hey now. You could make some points and arguments about how *often* DMs reward non-combat solutions. I'd take interest in well-researched assertions about changes in rewards, across the expansion and evolution of TRPG, and which game publishers introduced which mechanics in which editions.

Your categorical and unqualified statement has been counter-factual at least since 1981, when "Champions" was first published, since the Champions rules for XP are not specific to defeating enemies. (If the Big Bad Guy plots to poison the city's water supply, then *any* method of foiling his plot counts as success.) There are published 5E D&D "Adventurer's League" scenarios which include XP rewards which are *only* earned by non-violent resolution of problems. My PC got 50 XP, for example, when the party encountered a dire wolf, and my PC cast Speak with Animals, enabling us to get past the wolf without bloodshed. That's not some DM's house rule; that's direct from the scenario as published by WotC.
 

Riley37

Villager
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.
Perhaps you have taught your children that danger and morally questionable choices are best left to adults. IMO, this is good parenting of five-year-olds. If your children's off-the-cuff response to "you see something moving in the windows of an abandoned house" is "find Daddy and tell him", so much the better. Have you tried games written for young players, such as "No Thanks Evil"?
 

Riley37

Villager
Sanitized violence has been acceptable for a long time. Most parents don't have a problem with their kids watching hordes of Storm Troopers mowed down in Star Wars but they might have a problem with those same kids watching John Wick 3.
Most parents, yes. I am an oddball, or outlier, in feeling *less* comfort with sanitization. Years ago, I was watching a group of children, ages maybe 8 to 12, while their parents were having a meeting, and I played a VHS of "Star Wars". I hadn't planned this in advance, but right after the PCs escape the Death Star, on impulse, I hit PAUSE, and asked: What emotions Luke does Luke show, immediately after killing several people? (Troopers shot in the Death Star, plus Tie Fighter pilots: "I got him!".) Does he seem proud, sad, angry? I recognized that Luke killed in self-defense; but if I ever kill a fellow human, I *expect* to have strong, unpleasant feelings, as soon as the situation allows me to drop out of fight-or-flight mode. Even if I am simultaneously proud of my skills, and proud of my successful defense of myself and/or others.
 

Li Shenron

Adventurer
I'm just ... curious ... as to what other people think. I mean, I understand WHY (IMO) violence is part of the scene (legacy of wargaming, advancement through XP, fantasy tropes, etc.), but I'm curious as to what people think of it now?
Just because violence is in the game, it doesn't mean that all possible violence has to be in the game.

In all my D&D games, certain kinds of violence will never be featured (rape is one, anything specifically against children is another), and other kinds can be mentioned but are not narrated in detail (torture).
 

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