Sunday, November 30, 2003

In character and out of character
I have been over at Terra Nova today, seeing what the dedicated writers there are coming up with while I am busy looking at other stuff than games. A few interesting discussions were brewing. I posted a reply on one, but I think I want to expand on that reply, so I am doing that here.

The topic was "facism is fun", and it was discussing the idea that players want influence, but facism may be a fun thing in a game. This looks like a contradiction, but I don't think it is. First, the discussion and my immediate reply at Terra Nova:

The thing the experienced roleplayers I played with in Dragon Realms tried to make sure everybody understood was that DR was a GAME. It is not reality, and it shouldn't be mistaken for this.

Now there might be a difference between a game and an online world/community, but I think it would not be healthy if we mistake the community of minds with the community of geography.

Within a community of minds, fascism can be fun! Not because I think a dictatorship is a better way of ruling a country, but because I would enjoy the challenge. I don't think I would be the kind of brave hero to go up against a real dictator - I would not try to assassinate Franco or even Hitler. While I hope I would dare to do My best to undermine them, I am a very mediocre revolutionary, I fear. But in an online community, or in a game, I could try my hand as a part of the opposition.

It might get me kicked by the immortals or administrators, and so what? I can just go through a different server with a different IP address, make a new character and try out a new strategy. I don't need to fear for my children, I don't need to worry that our doors will be kicked in at midnight and my husband shot in front of my eyes to show me the error of my ways. I may get a few nasty emails and perhaps somebody will hack my connection and plant a virus if I have been REALLY bad, but there will be no breaking of bones, no burning house, not even a little Berufsverbot.

I think the connection between In Character and Out Of Character is something we need to remember both as players, participants, administrators and researchers. It limits both what we can do, what we can learn, and what effects game strategies has. It also opens up for the exact same things, just with a different value, a different meaning of the same things in the flesh world.

And yes, in role-playing games, you need evil. "The bad guy" should be accepted, respected and then enjoyed. There's nothing like a good adversary in a game!

Once I had posted that, I realised that both the initial debaters might be right. I wish to have influence while I play, freedom to do what I like online, and to be able to change the systems that surround me. I don't want to be somebody elses pawn and nothing but that. This may translate to democracy, but I think that may be the wrong metaphor. Because I don't really want to have influence on somebody elses rules. When I play a game, I want to understand, use, come up against and perhaps find the flaws in and thus crack somebody elses rules. The freedom to exert my influence and my rights is part of the rules. A game where the rules imply a dictatorship can be really fun because playing it gives so much room for subversion. A game where the rule is "do what ever you like" does not give me anything to do that makes it worth while. Where is the joy of being the head of an underground army to liberate the world from the evil clan of hedgehogs, if the hedgehogs can be removed by simple popular vote and don't fight back?

However: within the rules, I want freedom. I am in the game because I know, among other things, that as long as I am following the rules, I can do anything! If there is no rule against it, it is not wrong. Of course, game culture can imply unwritten or uncoded rules, but that is part of the experience, and you quickly learn what is considered right and wrong - and then you have learned an other level on which to play the game. What bothers me is if new rules are added at the whim of the immortals. That is when a player loses the freedom vital to playing, and the experience becomes frustrating. This is also the type of immortal intervention you find players protesting against - either actively, by organised protests, or passively, by leaving.

So the question is, really, at what level did the two talk about democracy and facism? Seems like I should have stayed a week longer in New York, and attended State of Play. The department would have fallen apart and turned towards anarchy though, if I had stayed away longer, further neglecting my customary position as the dean's left hand, the real architect behind the power....

(OK, I have to point out that I slipped into gaming mode and not professor mode at the end there. It wouldn't have been anything as fun as anarchy, just more of the same bureaucratic boredom.)

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