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Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

Riley37

Villager
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.
On one hand, EN World is for gamers regardless of political allegiances, and for all I know, some of us (in this thread or otherwise) have a positive opinion of the KKK while others have a negative opinion of the KKK; there are differences we "check at the door" or take to PM. On another hand, bravo for standing your ground on "knight", and (if I infer accurately) for succeeding.
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
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.
my nephew use to watch the cartoon series Blinky Bill, which is about a group of Anthropomorphized Australian animals having adventures in the Australia bush. Anyway I remember watching one episode when Blinky and friends go back in to the past to explore history, except they didnt go back in Australian history, instead Blinky (who is a koala) becomes a armoured knight out to save the princess from a medieval castle.
I for one was really disappointed, sure it was a kids show but the example does illustrate the inherent bias of 'Western' views of their romantic 'fantasy' past - Fantasy has developed from the old folklore rendering of the Dark/Middle Ages with its Rogues, Knights, Castles, Wolves and Dragons who lived "Once Upon a Time" in a "Land Far Far Away".

They might well, predate the imperial era of the 18th/19th century but the modern understanding of them was most certainly transformed and modified by the era.

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.
Its notable that you raise Tolkien as he also reflects some of the colonial reality of his era via the inclusion of the 'elephant' riding black Southrons, a 'warlike people' who side with Sauron and fought alongside the Orcs against the heroes.


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...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.
I accept that most of the Eddas and earliest European folklore has Man v Nature as its foundation, that of course is very evident in the development of the dragon, ogre and of course the wolf, witch and fey. But to say that the foreign other is unknown is incorrect as Africa and Near East were known, and even within Europe you have people like Saami, Roma and Picts who were other'd.

REHs states that the Cimmerians were ancestors of the Irish and Scots Gaels and while Conan is a barbarian herepresents the finest ideals of the North West European as he is set against both decadent civilization of the northern lands and the exotic foreigners further south in Stygia (Egypt), Kush, Zamora (Middle East) and Vendhya (India).

While these renderings of the exotic other as dark scorcerer and beguiling enchantress may not play to the savage image (although the Afghuli of Afghulistan do) they are nonetheless colonial images of other as untrustworthy enemy that influenced the development of RPGs.

As an aside does anyone remember Aesheba? an older setting envisioned as Greek-Africa? The book had some good research and nice ideas but for me there was always that niggling thought that Africa is rich enough to have its own existance without needing to overlay ancient Greece on top

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.
Actually my playing orcs was probably more inspired by my love of Pigsy (Cho Hakkai) from Monkey Magic, I also used a half-orc to approximate Woefully Fat the Pirate bokor in On Stranger Tides. The character I played most often was a gnome - also non-human, but more easily kept out of conflict.

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.
That indeed is one of the dilemma in playing DnD races as races rather than as monsters and of course I am not unique in that as can be seen in the various cultural reskinnings that have happened over the years, most notably of course the Native American Elfs of Dragonlance.

Anyway this thread has been popular and the discussion moved ...
 
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Kaodi

Adventurer
While it has been mentioned that the game and/or DMs sometimes fail to reward non-combat solutions I think this kinda sidesteps the main issue: that for many characters the main form of advancement is getting better killing things and that for all characters advancement means de facto getting better at killing things. And in D&D and Pathfinder at least any class that lacks plentiful skills or magic is going to be extremely sub-optimal in a game with minimal violence. Violence is baked into these systems from top to bottom; they are designed for it.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager

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.
Why am I getting warned, I didn't bring the other thread up. I was talking about this thread.
 

Dispater

Villager
Violence is a fundamental aspect of the human experience whom we have spent centuries to figure out how to get rid of. First, delegated away to government and professional troops to avoid it in our daily lives, whoin turn fought god-awful wars and found it better to be at peace. We are all fascinated by it, but the truth is, violence does not reflect our reality any more. It is the exception, or a sign of societal decay.

Still we endlessly fetishize it in games and pop culture. Sexuality, on the other hand, very much reflects our existence. As humans we procreate and fornicate in the millions every day! And yet we are so afraid of it in games.

Someone make me understand us humans, because I dont.
 
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"?
When preparing to run a game for them, I looked over some of the other options out there and decided (characteristically) that the systems were too complex and not expressive enough, so I wrote my own which I dubbed SIPS (Simple Imagination Play system).
 
On one hand, EN World is for gamers regardless of political allegiances, and for all I know, some of us (in this thread or otherwise) have a positive opinion of the KKK while others have a negative opinion of the KKK; there are differences we "check at the door" or take to PM. On another hand, bravo for standing your ground on "knight", and (if I infer accurately) for succeeding.
There aren't enough KKK left in the USA to fill a basketball arena. The leadership got busted up by state Attorney Generals about that same time, and they never recovered. Heck, even the neo nationalist socialists that we do have left in the USA have a bad opinion of the KKK because they consider them too soft. I can feel pretty safe in saying that no one in these threads has a positive opinion of the KKK.

That said, I don't agree with your first sentence, nor does the management.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
While it has been mentioned that the game and/or DMs sometimes fail to reward non-combat solutions I think this kinda sidesteps the main issue: that for many characters the main form of advancement is getting better killing things and that for all characters advancement means de facto getting better at killing things.
The game's rules are certainly largely about combat. The *could* have rules that were as rich for dealing with social/political action, or other activity, but they don't. If we hand players a hammer, we should expect them to treat problems like nails...

There are games that do better. The CORTEX+ based Leverage game, for example, does include combat. But that is only one out of five major skills, and the other four are expected to be just as valuable in getting through to the conclusion of an adventure - and in fights it is generally assumed the PCS are not using firearms, and are knocking out bad guys instead of killing them. There are FATE variants that put intellectual and/or social conflict on the same mechanical basis as physical conflict.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
There's a fine line between fun happy combat and ... um ... uncomfortable colonialist massacre of women and children, if you catch my drift.
Coming from people that genocide was committed against, yes, it was immediately noticed, and it was uncomfortable. Eventually it was one of the motivators to move away from that system. Personal combat, combating supernatural horror, that's fine; wiping out entire groups down to women and children? No. It wasn't even a fine line, I remember my friend reading that and being like "eh".
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
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.
I think it is also just a natural thing that people like to see in their entertainment. Violence isn't unique to RPGs. It exists in movies, books, television and even music. I watch a lot of Kung Fu films and a lot of action movies. And I think the reason I like those is probably tied to the same reason I like killing monsters in an RPG or having a campaign that is about a massive sect war. It is exciting and cathartic. It also creates very high stakes (the threat of character death for example).
 

MGibster

Explorer
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.
You might be surprised. Many soldiers have stated they experienced a feeling of elation after killing the enemy. They might feel bad when they get a chance to reflect upon it later but in the immediate aftermath? Often it's joy. The killed the people who were trying to kill them, they won, and they survived. Happy times.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
I think it is also just a natural thing that people like to see in their entertainment. Violence isn't unique to RPGs. It exists in movies, books, television and even music. I watch a lot of Kung Fu films and a lot of action movies. And I think the reason I like those is probably tied to the same reason I like killing monsters in an RPG or having a campaign that is about a massive sect war. It is exciting and cathartic. It also creates very high stakes (the threat of character death for example).
Well ....

Okay, so I've been looking at what everyone has been saying (and a LOT of good stuff in here), including [MENTION=6943731]dragoner[/MENTION] and his very thoughtful, albeit gut-punchy comment above yours (I don't know how else to refer to it ...) ... and I'm thinking something along the lines of the following:

It is interesting, to me, that the following two statements are GENERALLY true, if not true in all aspects:


1. The media I consume is much, much, much more comfortable with the depiction of violence. I mean- sure, there was some violent and transgressive stuff in the lates 70s and early 80s, of course, but it's somewhat interesting to me how much more mainstream it is in all media. From video games (do you remember when the original Mortal Kombat was a BIG DEAL) to movies (ahem, JW3) to tv (GoT etc.). Arguably, this started in the 80s and has just accelerated.

2. OTOH, I am much less comfortable with violence in my D&D and RPGs. Wait, that's not quite right. I mean, as I wrote in the beginning, I can be just as murderhobo-y as the next person, but I am certainly much more aware and sensitive to certain issues, such as the aforementioned B2. There are things that I formerly took for granted that kinda sorta squick me out now (and apologies for not seeing it before).

And I appreciate the many voices that have already commented that are helping me understand this tension, and articulate it.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
1. The media I consume is much, much, much more comfortable with the depiction of violence. I mean- sure, there was some violent and transgressive stuff in the lates 70s and early 80s, of course, but it's somewhat interesting to me how much more mainstream it is in all media. From video games (do you remember when the original Mortal Kombat was a BIG DEAL) to movies (ahem, JW3) to tv (GoT etc.). Arguably, this started in the 80s and has just accelerated.
Was there a reason for quoting me (just genuinely not sure and not sure if you were inviting a reply)
 
You might be surprised. Many soldiers have stated they experienced a feeling of elation after killing the enemy. They might feel bad when they get a chance to reflect upon it later but in the immediate aftermath? Often it's joy. The killed the people who were trying to kill them, they won, and they survived. Happy times.
Feeling bad about killing is a heavily conditioned response, and so far as I can tell is not natural. And, even if it were, the vast majority of civilizations in world history have built their culture around celebrating martial prowess and victory, and were ruled over by a martial elite class. The easiest way to achieve social and economic mobility was to kill your civilizations enemies. Until relatively recently, in many societies a young male couldn't even hope to marry unless he achieved a certain level of above average social standing and economic success, so most societies - from North American aboriginals, to Scottish Highlanders, to the steppes of Asia, and on and on - had a huge surplus of unmarried young men eager to kill other unmarried young men. That was human culture worldwide for most of humanities existence, so much so that evidence for it is written into our genes, and you can mark in the genetic code where the culture started to shift.
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
Feeling bad about killing is a heavily conditioned response, and so far as I can tell is not natural.
I thought it was the other way around: the military puts a whole lotta effort into un-conditioning new recruits, so that they won't be all conflicted about it when the moment comes. And that this is why the military actively promotes derogatory slurs for people of whatever state they happen to be fighting. To de-humanize the enemy.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
Feeling bad about killing is a heavily conditioned response, and so far as I can tell is not natural. And, even if it were, the vast majority of civilizations in world history have built their culture around celebrating martial prowess and victory, and were ruled over by a martial elite class. The easiest way to achieve social and economic mobility was to kill your civilizations enemies. Until relatively recently, in many societies a young male couldn't even hope to marry unless he achieved a certain level of above average social standing and economic success, so most societies - from North American aboriginals, to Scottish Highlanders, to the steppes of Asia, and on and on - had a huge surplus of unmarried young men eager to kill other unmarried young men. That was human culture worldwide for most of humanities existence, so much so that evidence for it is written into our genes, and you can mark in the genetic code where the culture started to shift.
I am pretty sure when soldiers go to war militaries have to work against a natural aversion to killing other people. This seems like an extreme simplification. Even if you look at a lot of those ancient armies, many of them were professional, others were class or caste based, not everyone was involved in the fighting.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
And that this is why the military actively promotes derogatory slurs for people of whatever state they happen to be fighting. To de-humanize the enemy.
This doesn't sound like it is true, or at the very least not true for a very long time (been googling it and can't find much); do you have sources on this? This doesn't match what I've heard from people in the military I've spoken with.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Was there a reason for quoting me (just genuinely not sure and not sure if you were inviting a reply)
I was thinking about your comment, re: the media, and dragoner's comment, directly above it.

I'm not looking at specific things, more of a gestalt.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Feeling bad about killing is a heavily conditioned response, and so far as I can tell is not natural.
You say that as if humans *have* an identifiable "natural state" - we are a tribal, social species and an extremely extended infant period compared to other animals. We, more than any other creature on the planet, are focused on *learned* behavior, not inborn, "natural" behavior. What is natural for us is to try out a large number of different behaviors, and see what works.

I will push back on the idea that, since very young kids can be observed being rough with each other, that violence is the human "natural state". Human children are not born with a full suite of natural behaviors that they get conditioned out of. Human children are more blank slates - they *experiment* with behaviors, and they observe the behaviors of others, and they learn and develop.

Note: learning and developing are not synonymous. Some learned behaviors can be unlearned. Some behaviors come from how brain structure develops over time, and that can be difficult or impossible to undo.
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
This doesn't sound like it is true, or at the very least not true for a very long time (been googling it and can't find much); do you have sources on this? This doesn't match what I've heard from people in the military I've spoken with.
My original source was my grandfather, describing his training for WWII. However, this is the first thing that popped up for me on Google: https://www.sfgate.com/science/article/THE-SCIENCE-OF-CREATING-KILLERS-Human-2514123.php. (EDIT: I just realized you only quoted the second half of my post. No, it doesn't mention the derogatory slurs thing. I'll go look for that. EDIT2: Nope, first page of results on first search didn't turn up anything. But I'll continue to believe my grandfather.)

Pithy quote:
The FBI discovered a similar problem among law enforcement officers through the early 1960s: a startling number were refusing to fire at suspects even when other lives were endangered.
Even those who fired their weapons were not necessarily trying to kill -- it is hard for an observer to detect soldiers or cops who fire high to intentionally miss.
Psychologists who advised the military and law enforcement agencies began to push for changes that would revolutionize training to improve kill rates. Their methods -- familiar to those who operate boot camps, police academies and aggressive-response self-defense courses -- are a distasteful mystery to most in the outside world. But they work.
The Pentagon improved firing rates. Research suggests that 55 percent of U.S. soldiers fired on the enemy in the Korean War. By Vietnam that rate had climbed to more than 90 percent. Police studies document similar changes in recent decades.
For somebody who doesn't want to believe this, it would be pretty easy to just say, "Yeah but that's a newspaper...from liberal San Francisco. Where's the peer reviewed clinical research?" And my answer would be: "I dunno. It's not a high enough priority for me that I'm going to go looking."

EDIT: And just to honor my grandfather, who died a few years ago, I want to mention that for decades he claimed he had been on Guam, doing supply stuff. Just before he died he was at a doctor's appointment with one of my aunts. The doctor, while chatting him up, asked if he was in the war, and what unit he was in. My grandfather told him. The doctor turns out to be a military history buff, and looked startled. He said, "So you were on Iwo Jima." My aunt scoffed, "No! He wasn't on Iwo Jima!" My grandfather said, "Yeah, I was," and started sobbing. It was literally the first time he talked about it since coming home.
 
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