Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pardon Me if I Offend

My younger readers can be forgiven for having a blasé attitude towards music. I imagine it's hard to conceive of a time when it meant something to be a fan of Billy Idol, George Michael, or Madonna. I feel the same way about the Beatles or Elvis; what the heck was all the fuss about?

Things are different now, however, and in a very interesting way. Back then, you could be both offensive and acceptable. Sixth-graders could dress up like KISS and air guitar in an official school production.

Hell, you could sing "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" in an official school function.

This was a different age. Public intoxication was frowned upon, but not illegal. You could go to a public park with a picnic and drink a beer. Whether or not a restaurant or bar allowed smoking was up to the owner. Democrats and Republicans could discuss politics together without ending friendships.

It wasn't that there were no rules; the rules were just understood to be flexible. You could break them. You could get in trouble for breaking them. But it was also generally understood that most rule breaking was not a threat to society at large. It was also generally believed that a healthy society could stand to be offended every now and then. Many even assumed that such occasional offense was healthy.

I am not going to argue D&D's popularity was largely based on any dark reputation. (I will, however, argue that Saturday Night Live stopped being funny when it stopped being offensive; there's a reason the Lonely Island bits are much funnier than the rest of the show.) I will argue the travails of D&D's dark past, where it was assailed by “angry mothers” and decried as witchcraft, are overblown. Yes, some mothers and other relatives did snatch away books and burn them at church meetings. But not in any significant numbers. You can still find first edition books floating around the used-bookstore economy. There was no great purge, and I don't recall Gygax being subpoenaed to appear before a congressional hearing.

The truth is, nobody gives a damn what we do in our little hobby anymore than you give a damn for what model railroaders paint on the sides of their boxcars. Understand that most moralistic condemnation, when it rises to the level of media attention, is mostly just a good old-fashioned shakedown. You and I don't have enough money to make the effort worthwhile.

Most of you have no idea what happens in my games. I imagine some of you would be horribly offended. I am, without a doubt, a "lawn-crapper." So are the guys at Paizo. So is James Raggi.

In the Doom & Tea Parties campaign, most people are assumed to be bisexual, slavery is practiced by nearly every culture, and human sacrifice, while rare, is certainly not unthinkable. Am I making a statement in my game? Not really. These are just tools to create interesting situations for us to play with. Most of these issues are less personally offensive to me than the idea of acquiring wealth and power through home invasion, murder, and piracy. And everyone who enjoys D&D knows that those create interesting situations that lead to fun.

If the stuff I bring up in my games, or that Raggi and Paizo publish, offends you, I shudder to think how you will feel when you discover what your sister was reading when she was twelve.

Art by William Hogarth.

17 comments:

scottsz said...

In terms of music, grognards can remember when there was just one big 'section' of a music store, and then things got partitioned out.

Do you feel that (perceived) extremism in gaming is fueled by so many delimiters ('high fantasy', 'swords and sorcery', 'pulp', 'noir', etc.)?

Have there been too many accumulated definitions or descriptors to role playing games and their market(s)?

sirlarkins said...

It wasn't that there were no rules; the rules were just understood to be flexible. You could break them. You could get in trouble for breaking them. But it was also generally understood that most rule breaking was not a threat to society at large.

Really? When was this magical time of openness and understanding, so that I may set the dial on my time machine when I finally build it?

I actually agree with the main thrust of your post--D&D got caught in the blast radius of a larger moral panic that was going on at the time, and gamers are still walking on eggshells. Time to get over it.

The last line of your post reminds me of the recent kerfluffle over the content of YA books "these days"--I read an editorial last week that basically said, "Have these people read Flowers in the Attic? That shit came out 35 years ago!"

Greg Christopher said...

I think there is a difference between being actually offended by the content and not wanting it in your RPG community waving it's big dick around.

I don't have a problem with someone saying fuck and shit, but if you start doing that around my mom, then I might get pissed.

I don't know why this is so hard for people to grasp in the conversations on my blog.

Timeshadows said...

I'd remind the OP that at the same time that D&D and angry mothers were in the news, Anita Bryant was condemning the Equal Right Amendment and Gays, there were no Minority Characters of significance in any major TV show, and saying 'Fuck' in public could easily begin a brawl as older Americans (most veterans) would 'hold you' 'til the police arrived to sort your ass out at county (or worse).

Bigotry was still institutionalised, the Deep South was still a dangerous place to be for anyone 'not quite right' in the locals' eyes.

Have we lost something in the exchange after decades of Social Engineering, SitComs as new morality (Three's Company, anyone?), and saying farewell to 'Happy Days'?

Likely.

Does any of this have any bearing on Violence Against Women in art for a contemporary RPG?
--Not that I can see.

That shit is just as wrong, and more-so, today, in this age, than it was in more Victorian years of my own lifetime.
--Not only that, it's *Fucking Stupid* for a Niche of a Niche hobby trying to find new players --players who haven't bought into the Cannibal Corpse mindset, that is.

Is that /so/ *Fucking* hard to understand?

trollsmyth said...

scottsz: That is a very good question. I hadn't considered that angle before, but you may be right. I actually like a little ghettoization as it helps me find what I'm looking for, especially as I get picky in my old age.

But yeah, the different groups begin to drift down their own paths, isolated from each other, losing the collective context they used to share. Then one day someone takes a peek over the wall into another ghetto and shrieks, "DEAR GODS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?"

trollsmyth said...

sirlarkins: Set your timemachine to the late '60s through mid '80s. As Timeshadows points out, it wasn't a perfect time, and it may have been too tolerant of certain viewpoints. But George Michael could actually sing about wanting your sex without mincing words about milkshakes. ;p

There's a reason the cocktail party died.

The thing to keep in mind about the moral panic of the time is that it amounted to a lot of people flailing their arms and screaming, the introduction of PG-13 at the movie theater, and little else. A few industries got shaken down by congress, but for the most part, the wounds on RPGing were all self-inflicted. Later adoption of "zero tolerance" gave us our current climate.

And the YA nonsense is exactly why I said that. Drives me crazy on so many levels. Young girls have been reading stories about ghastly murders, incest, homosexuality, rape, kidnapping, etc. since at least when I was a kid. So far, none of them have self-combusted, had their heads explode, nor have we seen a wave of violence caused by women readers sweeping the nation.

scottsz said...
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scottsz said...
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scottsz said...

@trollsmyth: exactly!

@sirlarkins: Just a note - remember that the people who 'need to get over it' have, in fact, been tossed aside by three different game companies... none of whom did enough to counter the 'panics' or (heaven forbid), prevent them.

Herb said...

In the Doom & Tea Parties campaign, most people are assumed to be bisexual, slavery is practiced by nearly every culture, and human sacrifice, while rare, is certainly not unthinkable.

Dude, offensive?

1&2 sound like where I was last weekend (#2 in a specific sense that you'll either know and get or not).

Together they sound like a fun campaign.

trollsmyth said...

Herb: Muster?

Sorry, t-sipper humor, I couldn't resist. ;)

Herb said...

Actually, leather if you really want to know.

And I haven't been in Aggieland since November...in Atlanta now.

Roger the GS said...

The internet is great, because it lets like-minded people find each other.

The internet is the bane of tolerance and civil society, because it lets like-minded people find each other.

trollsmyth said...

Herb: Ah, I should have guessed, but since I thought you were still in Aggieland...

Should I offer my congrats or condolences?

Roger: Word. We're all going to have to learn to tolerate the intolerable, I think, when it comes to speech and such. Doesn't mean we can't try to change things. Forcing silence, however, just puts ideas under pressure and in the dark, where they can ferment into weaponized forms. :p

Anonymous said...

Did anyone really want to know?

Anonymous said...

Understand that most moralistic condemnation, when it rises to the level of media attention, is mostly just a good old-fashioned shakedown. You and I don't have enough money to make the effort worthwhile.

Amen to that.

Herb said...

Oh, definitely congratulations...much, much better job (had gotten laid off in Aggieland anyway) and for certain other interests (see where I was) much better than rural east Texas.

Although the "I should have guessed comment" is interesting, especially if it was the where I was and not the location...didn't realize I was that obvious.