Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Ten Commandments of the OSR...

(1) The OSR is an attempt to preserve, promote, and/or revive old-school games.  

(2) Its aims can be met by playing these early games, but also by publishing content under the Open Gaming License or developing original systems in this style.  

(3) There's nothing about seeking to preserve, promote, and/or revive old-school games that suggests (much less requires) any particular political, religious, or social agenda.

(4) The fact that some people in the OSR behave badly says nothing about the OSR as a whole.  Some are good, others bad; but all of them can like older games.

(5) If you want a positive, welcoming OSR, be a positive, welcoming person.  Splitting off into ideologically pure communities just might be the worst possible way to achieve this.

(6) We desperately need values, but we'll have to look beyond the OSR to find them; and when we do, shouldn't they apply to everything and not just our gaming?

(7) As long as people remain fascinated by older games, the OSR will never die.

(8) Things like Sword Dream and The Inglorious OSR are at best subsets of the OSR; and far from signalling the death of the movement, they speak to its diversity. 

(9) The OSR has no leaders.  Some are louder and more vocal, but they can only speak for themselves (and that includes yours truly).  Feel free to add your voice to the mix.  

(10) If you've fled the OSR only to run your weekly OD&D game, you haven't escaped the movement at all.  Indeed, you've aided it's sole purpose.  Long live the OSR!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

On the Slow Death of Shock...

Okay, so James Raggi, shock maestro of the OSR, offered a clever play on the whole Kids on Bikes game with Kids on Pikes.  Yes, the cover of his GenCon catalog depicts dead children impaled on pikes, seemingly for our amusement.  I've seen worse in real life, and while I find it distasteful in the extreme, I'm not clamoring for censorship.  These things inevitably correct themselves, and James isn't helping himself.  I've never played his game, and the gross marketing tactics don't communicate anything informational.

Dead kids bleeding on wooden pikes!  Will the ideas never cease?  Seriously though, this latest non-controversy does at least invite a conversation about how we're supposed to view violence in games where the whole point is to stick pointy things into others and take their money.  How do we enjoy this and have any issue with Kids on Pikes?    

Birth, sex, and death are part of the human condition and impossible to ignore.  If you’re reading this paragraph, you were born.  And if you aren’t having sex now, the smart money says you’re the product of it (and very likely seeking your next encounter).  Our desire to survive and reproduce is indelibly hardwired, so much so that we omit these things from our narratives to our peril and to the detriment of the concepts we hope to explore...

I get it.  I'm not some prude who wants to play tea party.  Orcs pillage the countryside, slaughtering all in their path.  Lust reduces men to quivering jelly, makes them the lovers of demons (or maybe their own sisters in Caligula's case) and worse yet, predators of the topical sort who populate our news cycles all too often.  Indeed, these realities elevate our fiction and our games, and their omission would suck the humanity out of our efforts and leave a huge, unsatisfying hole in its wake.  Candyland doesn't interest me.

But that's the rub, isn't it?  When do our narratives go from being stories about humanity which just happen to involve death and sex, even if prominently, and when do they become death and sex for its own sake divorced from any context?  This distinction matters...    

So first, let's partition sex and violence.  Sex between consenting adults is nothing to oppose or censor so long as it's basically responsible and hurts no one.  But once it becomes non-consensual it devolves into violence.  And let's extricate death because this, in and of itself, is the natural end of our cycle, however painful it can be to the survivors.  We can disentangle these things and distill that which any considerate human should rightly reject...

Namely, the suffering of others as an end unto itself and offered up as entertainment or a clever marketing strategy.  And this is why I'm ultimately turned off by Kids on Pikes.   

Pain and suffering are things that happen in our narratives.  That doesn't mean we should find them cool or entertaining for their own sake.  Now I totally get that the grindhouse genre playfully exploits blood-spattering gore.  It's basically dark humor, and I was raised on the excellent Creepy and Eerie horror comics of the 1970s.  But these stories were surprisingly moralistic in their approach and never suggested that we should enjoy, much less find humor, in the suffering of helpless innocents, as horrific as they could sometimes be...

Feel free to disagree.  Free country.  For fans of Raggi's work, it's entirely consistent with an unbroken trend and maybe even good marketing.  But for adult gamers, human suffering shouldn't be amusing or diversionary fare.  Not when real children die in depressing numbers every day.  I don't care for (most) Quentin Tarantino movies because only a pampered and protected millionaire would find graphic suffering amusing*.  Again, that's just me.

There's no easy way to partition the fact of violence and the enjoyment of it, especially when the lines are so easily blurred.  We're rightly horrified at actual violence against children, including James Raggi (who obviously doesn't condone it), while simultaneously devouring splatter flicks.  It's the whole duality of man thing.  But live long enough and see enough actual suffering firsthand, and maybe the smile fades a little and we move on; and this is the slow and inevitable "death" of shock.  These tactics will eat themselves alive...

*From Dusk til Dawn and Pulp Fiction were decent, but the victims sort of had it coming!