20 March 2019

A Vision for the Future

Upon watching this video of Rutger Bregman I was struck by something he said at 3:27, "we need some kind of vision for the future." He then mentions how MLK didn't have a nightmare, but a dream; Hillary Clinton said in an interview that she was the only thing standing in the way of the apocalypse; and how 'the left' is anti-everything, but don't have anything they are for.

I think this can be applied to the fantasy genre in general and even more specifically to RPGs. Let's first look at the root of most fantasy fiction, The Lord of the Rings. The basic plot of the trilogy is driven by the need to stop Sauron, and we're never really sure what his goals are. Essentially the heroes of the story want to maintain the status quo. This may work for this work of fiction where morality is black and white and certain species are clearly good or evil, yet this same idea of maintaining the status quo is juxtaposed with more modern fantasy settings where morality has more grey area. One of the most popular modern fantasy characters, Drizzt Do'Urden, who stars in 20+ books is a prime example of this. Excepting maybe the Homeland trilogy, where he has a goal to escape his stereotypically evil family, Drizzt never has a goal of his own, he is always working to stop a villainous plan or some great catastrophe. In some cases, yes he will assert himself, or more likely one of his friends will, and decide on a productive goal to accomplish, but this is only used to lead to the greater conflict in the book and he ends up having to stop a villain from accomplishing their goals. It is never about what he wants, it's about what he doesn't want. You can see this same pattern in so many different cases of modern fantasy fiction.

So, RPGs? Well, we see the same issue, especially among new players or DMs, and D&D games more than other RPGs I think (though this may be because new players/Dms come into the hobby through D&D). DMs have to create a 'plot' and lead the players by the nose to follow it. Then everyone is up in arms about railroaded adventures, but they still want to play in a planned adventure. And people claim that they are playing in a sandbox world when they are just given the option of following 3 different 'railroad' adventures. Whenever players are given the opportunity of unstructured play and the ability to pursue their own goals, complaints arise about the DM not doing their job. So the cycle continues, DMs create railroad adventures where some evil matermind is hatching a diabolical plot with worldshattering consequences, the PCs must work to stop the villian usually by killing him, the world is saved, the players retire their characters, and the DM has to create a new 'campaign' oftentimes in a different, but essentially the same setting. It's always about stopping the villain and not creating something new or improving some aspect of society in the fictional game world. That would be too hard and require too much foresight and introspection.

This may not be the case in all games or groups, but it is definitely the norm. I think this is more of a player problem than a DM problem, most DMs who have a little experience would be happy to run a different type of game. Therefore as players we must strive to make a difference in the game world, not through just maintaining the status quo, but by working as force of progress. Why is it the villain often has goals that the players in the real world might agree with, but the consequences are always 'the end of the world.' Perhaps, the PCs could work to upend society with a goal of 'Utopia' and the villain is the one trying to stop them and maintain the status quo? I just feel that players have a larger role in shaping the nature of the game than the DM, and it is our responsibility to realize that and have our PCs pursue personal goals and not just react to whatever the DM throws at them.

I meant to talk a little more about the state of politics and the messed up party system in the US, but I think I'll leave it fairly short. This same general advice from above can be applied to the real world as well. Your vote always counts, vote your conscience, not your party. In this 'information age' parties are more unnecessary than they have ever been. If you want a better world, do something about it, pursue your dreams and goals. Have a dream to begin with.