Monday, September 6, 2021

Politics In Gaming

"Everything is political." Haven't I heard that quote somewhere before?

Folks who have read my blog over the years are used to me occasionally (or more than occasionally) shooting my mouth off about my personal politics. Y'all are actually fortunate: what I pen here is generally curbed and toned down from my actual thoughts on various "issues." I am a seething ball of hatred, disgust, and frustration with regard to all sorts of things (duh), which may be why I tend towards the cranky end of the personality spectrum despite the actual hopefulness and optimism that my personal beliefs give me.

[no, I'm not talking about my Catholicism giving me the thought of heaven-after-death, etc. I'm talking about my belief that humanity is basically good. Despite all the fucked up shit we do. And that God/The Universe is basically wonderful. Despite all the fucked up shit that happens]

*sigh* Trusting "The Plan" is tough, I suppose.

Anyway, I'm not writing today's post to talk about MY politics. Instead, I'm writing to talk about, well, my reaction to politics or (rather) political talk.

I'll start with this: I've been reading a handful of blogs lately that have very interesting, possibly useful, things to say about Dungeons & Dragons. Really, fascinating stuff. And if I were to consider my own delves into D&D to be at all "professional," I suppose these people would be on the level of "professional colleagues" for me (not that we are on the same tier...I'll not presume to measure myself against other designers...just that we're in the same field of study/design). 

But as I've dug a bit deeper into these authors personally, I've found I dislike (not strong enough, but let's not start harsh) many of their professed political opinions...not only as they apply to "real world" stuff, but as they apply to gaming (and other aspects of "geek culture" but let's just stick to gaming). 

For me, what ends up emerging is many conflicting feelings. 

Do I want to promote these people (by writing about them)? I've always been of the opinion that there's no such thing as "bad publicity," and folks may have noticed that over the years there are a couple individuals in our community that I simply don't write or talk about. I don't link to them, I ignore their blogs, I (generally) write as if they don't exist. Railing against folks doesn't make them disappear; it simply adds fuel to the fire (and fans the flame). It also has the potential to drive the curious to their site, increasing their following and/or breeding more divisiveness (leading to more talking about them, in turn promoting them MORE). There are some things made by some people that just aren't great for the hobby.

In my opinion.

[and no, Venger, I'm not talking about you, ol' hoss]

But some of these folks have concepts and ideas that are worth discussing on my blog, and I always want to credit folks when they're responsible for a particular topic or thought exercise. How to do this without promoting something? How to separate the work from the author? This has caused me difficulties in the past, but to be honest, it's a far less tricky subject when you're dealing with a dead author, instead of one who is alive and well and continuing to make art. Especially in our more enlightened (dare I say "woke?") 21st century. I can somewhat excuse the racism of Lovecraft, for example, considering his culture of the least enough to enjoy his works for what they are (imaginative though somewhat formulaic). Far harder to excuse failings in a contemporary author.

However, to be clear: it is not racism that leads me to NOT want to promote individuals (that was just Lovecraft's (main) issue).

Do I support these people financially? Do I buy their product(s)? I know I've written before about not buying WotC product as a form of protest ("voting with one's wallet") but that's more about the product being BAD and trying insanely to prod the industry giant into doing things better/different (a Quixotic-idiot quest if ever there was one). What about a product that was actually good or useful? You find out that a particular author has "terrible politics" (whatever that means to you) but their book is exactly the thing you're looking for? Do you put money in their pocket?

It should be understood by now that few (if any) independent publishers in this hobby are making the kind of money you can "live" on. I sincerely doubt I could, even if I didn't have a family, mortgage, car payment, etc., not even if I tripled my output (which could only happen if I didn't have a family, etc.). Certainly not in Seattle. But don't underestimate what that money means to an independent publisher. Receiving currency...even in pitifully small incredibly uplifting to an artist-creator, especially the amateur/semi-pro. It says your work has VALUE. That people will PAY REAL MONEY for stuff you made. Money that could have been spent on something else (beer, rent, whatever) was instead given to YOUR WORK in that you may have undervalued yourself for a myriad of reasons. For many folks, receiving any cash for our product simply incentivizes us to create more.

Do I want to incentivize individuals whose politics...or behavior...make me cringe?

Spoiler Alert: today, this morning, I did just that.

And, I believe this was a real first for me. There are plenty of products floating around the OSR that get high praise that I haven't touched, and not just for reasons of politics. To be blunt: most are things I have little or no use for me. Old School Essentials, for example: I've perused its beautiful hardcover pages in the shop, but I've never bothered to purchase it (despite the complimentary reviews I've received on it) because I already have B/X, and know how to run a game using my old, floppy saddle-stitched books. Has nothing to do with Norman's politics (I don't know anything about Norman's politics); it has everything to do with OSE being a clone of B/X, and B/X being a game I already possess. Same holds true for OSRIC and a number of other similar products. Likewise with adventure modules: I have plenty, and can quite happily write my own, too, so it's exceedingly rare that I'll buy an adventure...usually only because it fills some sort of niche vacancy in my collection.

[there are, of course, exceptions]

But when I have purchased OSR products, it's generally been without knowledge of the publisher's political stance (most publishers don't wear their beliefs on their sleeves). Today, I purchased (what appears to be) a well-researched reference book (in hardcover!) from an individual who holds some political views I find...distasteful.

And I wonder how much of my nonchalance about it (I really didn't hesitate at all with my purchase) had to do with a conversation I had last night with my old buddy, Steve-O. Please allow me to explain: Steve is one of my best friends in the world, and (because of our busy family lives) we don't get the chance to talk nearly as much as we once did. Maybe half a dozen times in the last year and a half, and mostly lightweight stuff about football (specifically the Seahawks).

Last night I was running errands and we ended up in a long phone conversation that veered straight into politics because I mentioned the fam was watching a 9/11 documentary while I was out. Steve, like myself, is a Democrat, with liberal, progressive values on most prior decades, we've had many an entertaining conversation about politics and the state of chaos that is our country.

Yesterday's conversation was neither entertaining, nor enjoyable. My friend has gone down a rabbit hole so far to the left that he's ended up coming around to the same conspiracy theories and nonsense one finds on the Far Right. The polarization of nation's politics has led from spirited or passionate debate to life-and-death, unreasoning, unrelenting extremes of position. It's disheartening. Even trying to talk him back to my own "moderate" position (and frankly, I'm fairly far left-of-center), caused him to shut down: unwilling to converse, respecting me too much to argue, but so dug-in that no negotiation was possible. For my Libra-buddy, who has gleefully argued both sides of every argument the last 35 years I've known him...the personality change was both profound and disconcerting.

And I realize this type of attitude is something I've fed with my own rhetoric. I'm like most folks I suppose: I consider my own opinions/beliefs to be "correct" (due to "reasons") and folks who don't think like me are either ignorant, assholes, or idiots. This is not an unusual way of thinking...but I have (as I wrote at the beginning of this post) a propensity for shooting my mouth off about my thoughts. Which, while perhaps "charming" to some, probably has the overall impact of further polarizing folks in BOTH directions.

And that sucks. Because it's stupid and destructive. And even doing it ONLY here (on the blog) and ONLY relating it to gaming...well, it still bleeds into non-gaming life. Everything IS political these days, and you see it in the culture wars being fought between disparate factions of the hobby.

It sucks. And I'm tired of it. Fatigued.

I never bought into the idea that all gamers (or all D&D gamers...or all Old School D&D gamers) should be some sort of united group based on their hobby or nerdy-ness or outsider status or something. I've never felt a need to support and promote EVERYone in this hobby of ours. And I still believe that it's okay to critique and criticize and say, "I don't like this product," or even "This product is garbage."

But I think I may be done with getting hung up on someone's political stance, even the truly stupid ones. At least, I'm going to try not to let politics...or behavior outside of gaming...overly influence my opinion of someone's work or product.  

I can't not be political, but I can try to be more broadminded. And I can try to be less polarizing in my interactions and writing in an already too-polarized world.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have Blood Bowl to play. Happy Labor Day, folks.


  1. I am 100% behind vote with your walet. I won't eat at a chick-fil-a for example. But I am reasonable in my avoidance and not really on board with one mistake cancel culture

  2. When I read some of the non-gaming stuff that Venger and RPGPundit wrote, I cut them from my online reading. If I wanted that kind of crap, I would have joined 8kun.

  3. Felt the same when I found out about Venger and RPGPundit. If I wanted to read crap from people like that, I would have joined 8kun.

    1. Again, to be clear (and as I wrote above), I'm NOT talking about Venger. I dislike Venger's politics, but I don't have the same issues with his work that I have with some authors.

      That may surprise some...perhaps even Venger. But I have my reasons.

      Pundit's a different matter (and closer to the mark), but I wasn't really writing about him either. Personally, I find it difficult to take the term "SJW" seriously, certainly not as an epithet.

      [fighting for "social justice" is always a good thing. Different folks have different methods of fighting for it, and one may disagree with methods and/or be suspect of motives, but disparaging? Nah. Silly]

      Anyway. I'm done railing about it.

  4. I may have bought Zak Sabbath's "Vornheim: The Complete City Kit", but at least I waited until 2015 when it went on sale at DriveThru RPG for only five bucks.

    Oh, and his domestic abuse issues weren't made public until 2019.

  5. I've wondered too about the point at which I don't engage with people who share my interests but not my politics. I'm much more cautious about this with Americans than I am with people from the UK. Although we have a common language the political starting points are just so different.

    What I listen for is whether people can distinguish between a fact (objective, verifiable) and an opinion (subjective, not verifiable). Quite often people treat their strong opinions as fact and this is where the conflict starts. A better understanding of fact v opinion would help us all out.

    1. It doesn't help that some folks distrust facts or don't agree with what the facts are.

    2. Yes, I agree with that. This means that we have to first establish agreement on what a fact is, before discussing anything more meaningful.

      This is a tragedy, but IMO it comes from the 24h news channels having to fill their schedules with something to get viewers in. The BBC isn't immune from this, far from it. These days I read mainly the Irish broadcaster RTE's website along with the English language versions of France24 and Deutsche Welle

    3. There’s a lot of truth buried in the humor of Anchorman 2.

      The internet is, unfortunately, a blessing AND a curse with regard to information dissemination. When I have the stomach for it, I try to get my news from multiple sources, but most are still businesses and (thus) slaves to the advertising dollar. It’s tough. I am fortunate that I have connections with actual political sources of info (they do NOT, however, play D&D. Sad thing, that).

  6. First, thanks for the mention!

    Politics has gotten so bad in our gaming spheres that most of us are finally reaching a tipping point.

    We have a few choices ahead of us...

    1) We entrench deeper, becoming more partisan, more hostile to the other side, less willing to engage with those not perfectly aligned with ourselves, seeing our political adversaries as not quite human.

    2) We look towards moderation and compromise, we try to see the other side's views and engage with more humility, humanity, and understanding. We treat our political adversaries as colleagues on "the other side of the aisle" like it was for the 1980s, 90s, and 00s... before the hyper-politicization of all things.

    3) We agree to put politics completely aside and focus on gaming. Any mention of politics is either ignored or shot down until there's only gaming and non-politicized culture remaining. We throw away our lists, boycotts, blockchains, etc. This also relies on #2 because we need to start seeing gamers as gamers and people like ourselves, not the worst scum or inhuman monsters you could think of. This will also lead, I believe, to moderation and compromise, which is how we remain a society and country.

    Personally, I don't want stay the course of option #1. It's as tiresome and unproductive as fighting a protracted civil war.

    I hope we can move forward with options 2 or 3. Not just for our own sakes, but for the RPG hobby. If we stick with 1, what do we have to look forward to, segregated drinking fountains? This drinking fountain is for progressives, this one over here is for Trump supporters, and maybe there's a third for everyone in-between. Yeah, no thanks!

    Hmm... maybe I should turn this into a blog post (if I do, I'll link to your blog, hoss) because there's a chance it could gain traction and actually do some good. Something that Raven Crow blogger guy mentioned - we need more clerics because there are wounds that could do with healing.

    1. @ Venger:

      This is a totally same and rational comment. Which is why I don’t think you’re a (total) asshole. Probably about on par with me, asshole-wise.
      ; )

      Keep on trucking and let’s argue like civilized beings for a change.

    2. Communication is the only way forward. Thanks for showing how it can be done (and reminding us why we need to).

  7. I've heard it said that if someone had simply encouraged Adolf H.'s art career, the 20th century might have gone very differently. I don't know enough about the facts to have any idea if this is true or not, but I can't help thinking that people who are busy making and playing "elf games" are not spending that time and treasure making mischief, and that can only be for the good.

    1. The nice thing about Hitler is that there's so much water under the bridge since his death, that one can engage in coulda' woulda' shoulda' hypotheticals without (usually) polarizing folks too badly...the distance between then and now gives us the opportunity to indulge in such mental masturbations.

      There are folks and issues alive and well today that aren't quite so easy to approach with an objective eye.

      But, TS, while I think your point is a little simplistic (what if we are making "elf games" that promote hate or that are polarizing by their designed themes?) I get what you're aiming at. And it's a nice sentiment. I think we can do even more to reach out to each other.