The Invention of the Gamemaster
I personally feel that the greatest contribution made by Gary Gygax et al is the *idea* of tabletop role-playing, and not specifically the core structure of the D&D ruleset itself. Which, if we're being honest, is pretty awkward and clunky. So was the Model T, but that doesn't mean Henry Ford wasn't a frickin' genius.
And IMO, what makes tabletop role-playing such a brilliant new idea is the concept of having a gamemaster. Chess doesn't have a GM. You don't get to say, "this Rook has decided to set off to see the world - what's in that next square past the edge of the board?" or "what kind of terrain in in this square of the chess board, and can I use it for cover to get the jump on that enemy Knight?". There's nobody to ask, and nobody empowered to make up a binding answer. GMs turn what would otherwise be a (possibly very engaging but) strictly limited strategic exercise into an open-ended, endlessly fascinating *adventure*.
Choosy Humans Choose Science
Game Design As Art
For years I've been both an artist and an RPG game designer, and as I see it, game design is just another artistic medium. When I draw a picture, I'm trying to depict a certain subject and convey a certain story or feeling, visually. When I design game mechanics, I'm trying to depict a certain subject and convey a certain story or feeling, through the experience that people will have when they play.
Yet for some reason, visual arts tend to be respected as the special creative expression of the artist, while the art of game design tends not to be granted a similar level of respect.
I've been thinking about this since Gary Gygax Day, when someone posted a quote from Gary where he criticized D&D 3.5 - and some of the reactions showed complete contempt for Gary as the ARTIST who created D&D. Imagine if someone took the Mona Lisa and modified it, and then when DaVinci complained he was told that it's none of his business. (I'm not comparing D&D to the Mona Lisa. I'm using the Mona Lisa as an example of a piece of visual art, simply because it's well known. The same principle that I'm trying to get at, here, would apply equally if someone modified a napkin doodle by your aunt Matilda).
I realize that the needs of tabletop role-play require additional GM input to a degree that looking at a picture doesn't, but still. If things were done to works of visual art analogous to what's commonly done to works of the art of game design, we would all be (rightly) appalled.
Sexual Harassment Amongst the Unbelievers
There is a kerfuffle going on in the Atheist community. I've been pretty silent about it, but somebody asked me my opinion so I wrote the following response, which I would like to share. Non-atheists will find nothing of interest here; move along, you folks have your own problems ;-)
Okay. So just to be clear, the kerfuffle I'm talking about is the ongoing flame-fest over the issue of sexual harassment policies at Atheist conventions. So here's what I think.
I think what we're seeing is the consequence of trying to form a community out of a bunch of people who have abandoned our culture's default (Christian) rules of behavior. I'm not saying it was a mistake, I'm saying we all ought to face up to the fact that we have some work to do.
Some who've dumped Christianity feel that in the absence of its archaic sexual taboos, we should now all be free and open about our sexual impulses. Others who've dumped Christianity feel that in the absence of its patriarchal biases, we should now finally respect the absolute equal rights of women and have zero tolerance for unsolicited sexual advances.
I don't think the problem is that one side or the other is wrong. I think they're both mostly right. The problem, in my view, is that we lack a clear new cultural standard for behavior that accommodates both of these views by adopting reasonable limits to enable them to co-exist. Both sides are being a bit shrill and defensive, and that's entirely understandable, because both are fighting to make sure that the new emerging standards of behavior place as few limits on their side of the dispute as possible.
So while it can be unpleasant to listen to this infighting, I think we need to accept it as inevitable. I also think it could be healthy in the long run. Because if we never work through these differences then we won't be one community, we'll be two.
I get mail.
From: AntheaSubject: Hide the BibleHi Jeff – just come across your website and in some ways it is highly amusing. In others, however, I find it upsetting and I hope you will read on to find out why. I know of some members of the Gideons movement; I know of the huge sacrifice in time and money some of them make to fund and place Bibles in hotels for those that want to make use of them. You can guarantee that amongst the donors there are plenty of elderly widowed women living on a meagre pension who want to do this for the benefit of others. Could you not show some respect for them? So you don’t want to read it? Fair enough. I understand. Plenty don’t. Why not just put it back in the drawer? Your game seems quite funny, but as it extends itself and encompasses more and more Bibles, you are in a way insulting and rejecting the love and concern of hosts of people who care about others. You may not like their way of caring – but that is what it stems from. If you ever read some of the Gideon bulletins, you will hear of some of the heart-rending stories of those on life’s knife edge who have been helped in a significant way by finding a Bible in a hotel room – people who previously would never have touched one yet remain truly grateful that they did. Your game may the reason that some people miss out on some help at a crucial moment in their lives. You may never know. Please re-think what you are promoting. I am sure you are a reasonable person (as well as obviously a fun one) so please have a re-think. Best wishes, Anthea
If elderly women are wasting part of their meagre pensions to put Bibles in hotel rooms, then THAT is the problem. Instead of hassling me about interfering with those Bibles, why not hassle the Gideons organization for weaseling money out of those elderly ladies?
You ask why I don't "just put it back in the drawer". I don't do that because I think Christianity is harmful. I'm sure the love and caring those elderly women feel is real. I encourage them - as should you - to channel it into something that actually helps people in need, instead of sucking them into a cult when they're at their most vulnerable.
You refer to testimonials by people who say they were helped by finding a Bible in their hotel room. Fair enough. Have you ever read any of the testimonials by those who've thrown off the shackles of religion, and felt so much better for it? Yet you won't find atheists taking advantage of hotel patrons by slipping our literature into their rooms. It's not that we care any less than those elderly ladies. It's that we think taking advantage of a captive audience like that is crass, manipulative, and WRONG.
Thank you for presuming that I'm a reasonable person. I try to be. And that's WHY I come up with stuff like the Hide the Bible game.
Labels: atheism, bible, gideon, hotel