>> Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Pat Robertson, asked whether Christians ought to play videogames that have magic in them, doesn't understand the question but points out that there used to be something called Dungeons & Dragons that destroyed lives.
He's right, at least about D&D destroying lives. I was allowed to play it as a kid and it completely ruined me.
For the uninitiated, Dungeons & Dragons is a complex set of rules collected into a series of thick tomes; these rules are used to resolve disputes over what has happened or should happen as a result of a series of complicated, fantastic, often implausible events that frequently bear only the vaguest resemblance to the common everyday experiences most people have.
When I used to play the game--and often when I still do, though my friends and I rarely have time anymore and I don't think we've played D&D in several years now--I typically took on the role of the Dungeon Master. The Dungeon Master is a person in a D&D game who is expected to know the ins and outs of most of the rules, applying and bending and flexing those rules to present a constantly changing series of possible hypothetical scenarios with which to challenge, thwart, frustrate and entertain the players.
I suppose I've already misled you in a way, with that last paragraph. Sorry. I think it's just another sign of how D&D took an honest poor boy from North Carolina and turned him into a parody of a civilized human being. When I wrote that I don't have time to sit around memorizing and trying to understand various arcane rules in a big book and presenting scenarios to other participants in an elaborate and absurd fantasy game, I merely meant that I no longer play Dungeons & Dragons specifically. I do, however, participate in a farcical campaign referred to merely as "The Law", which is almost indistinguishable but for the fact that The Law doesn't openly use dice to resolve disputes between players, making it, regrettably (technically) a LARP.
Dungeons & Dragons, you see, was one of those "gateway drugs" you're always hearing about. No, not those, one of these. It surely can't be mere coincidence that I wasted countless hours and hours of my youth participating in an activity where I had to memorize and apply rules and take copious notes and argue with people, and then went on to waste countless hours and hours of my middle age participating in an activity where I had to memorize and apply rules and take copious notes and argue with people. True, there are superficial differences between now and then: as a lawyer, I get paid to pursue these activities, whereas I was previously an amateur who paid to engage these activities. It's sort of like I went from being merely a user to being a dealer who dips into his supply. Also, these pursuits used to be fun and less soul-corroding, alleviated depression instead of causing it, and the dragons used to be more important than the dungeons (alas and alack, I still have to deal with dungeons, but the dragons are more-or-less gone unless you count a few judges I've appeared in front of).
This is the main thing, that Dungeon Mastering as a promising youth no doubt led to the depraved and degraded state I find myself in today as an attorney. Damn you, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, I'll see you both in one of the Nine Hells that occupy a symbolic dimensional purely Lawful-and-nought-but-Lawful Evil pie slice on the Lawful Evil axis between the planes of Gehenna (Neutral Lawful Evil) and Archeron (Lawful Neutral Evil). (Mmmm--evil pie. Nomnomnom.)
If only it ended there, though. I hold myself blameless for what happened when I was but a naïve child and found myself wondering, as I read various roleplaying guides, about the mythical historical eras represented by these games. It's almost inevitable that someone designing a fantasy adventure set in some kind of medieval setting turns to real actual history books in an attempt to add verisimilitude to his fantasy creation. And once you start reading about one historical era, you just can't stop--I mean, do you realize they're all linked together? It's like, every year ends with a cliffhanger or something; there you are, absolutely certain you're Just Going To Stop when you get to the end of 1299 CE, only you start thinking as you get towards the end that there's no way everything is going to be wound up nice and tightly by December 31st--and lo and behold, it isn't. Turns out there's a bastard 1300 that comes right after, and is followed by the year 1301, until next thing you know your reading up on, say, Fourteenth Century armoring techniques (for the Dwarven smith non-player-character who buys and sells things to the player characters when they come back to the village of Greenhaven, natch) has led you right into a bunch of further reading on whether the Spanish conquistadors' breastplates were worth anything against Aztec weapons and at that point you've kind of been sucked into this whole business of whether that prick Cortez is going to conquer Mexico or not (spoiler alert: he does, but I think it's pretty implausible and if they ever do a movie adaptation they probably ought to rethink that ending).
Heaven help you, next thing you know, Hitler's invading Poland.
The important thing here is that History has made me very unhappy. I'm sure of it. I look around and I see plenty of Americans who don't know the first damn thing about American History, let alone the history of Mexico or of the Spanish conquest or Fourteenth Century armoring, and they seem to be very, very happy. First of all--and this may surprise you--it turns out that you don't actually have to know any history to talk about it at great length and offer up all sorts of completely misguided opinions. Second of all, this creates a huge problem for anyone who does know any history, because it turns out that you've wasted all sorts of time learning actual facts nobody else cares about, and that will never change the opinions of any of these other people who like to talk about history.
Or who present history any other way; third thing is that you will not believe how much knowing history ruins watching history movies. Everyone else is all enraptured by the silver magic of Stephen Spielberg's latest opus--and I'm not picking on Spielberg here, he's one of my favorite directors and I love so many of his movies--but there you are, thinking things like "Hey, that's not who said that, and so-and-so is a composite character, and the African-American cultural experience / the Japanese occupation of China / the Amistad trial / Oskar Schindler's use of Jewish slave labor / the Normandy invasion / the Israeli response to the 1972 Summer Olympics terrorist attack / extraterrestrial-human relations in Mesoamerica / the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment was a much more complicated and ambiguous thing than this movie makes it out to be." On top of that, if you're the kind of jerk who says something like, "You know, that scene in the office wasn't wholly accurate," you're just some kind of pedantic jerk who can't enjoy a freaking movie like everybody else for God's sake why don't you ever shut up? And everybody hates you, because nobody likes a pedantic jerk who can't enjoy a freaking movie, jerk. You probably don't even like yourself. What are you going to do now, cry? Cry, you pedantic movie-hating jerk? Go bury your face in a pillow and cry about it, why don't you, nerd.
Also, on a personal note, let me add that I actually majored in History, instead of majoring in something useful like accounting or finance or one of these other careers that would allow me to make millions of dollars in not-income so you can't tax it for some reason, you greedy bastards. Speaking of which, fifth thing (the impoverishing wasted college education in nothing useful is number four, obviously), I'm also an unhappy liberal thanks in large part to the history thing, I suspect. My parents are also a bit left, so it's partly their fault, but I do need to spread blame where it needs to be spread and point out that those wasted years left me with a sense that events are often contingent and unpredictable, that no man can tell what the future can hold so he'd best hope he lives in a society that won't let him fall too far, that civilizations that failed to treat their poor and disenfranchised well typically end rather badly with the poor and disenfranchised hanging or shooting everyone above them and people who wear glasses (such as meself), etc. It should be obvious that being a liberal ruins my life: first, because there aren't very many of us ever since Ronald Reagan convinced Americans that we were beneath contempt, and second because as a straight white male with a professional degree offering me a potentially lucrative career as a social parasite, I ought to be able to enjoy it more instead of feeling guilty and feeling obligated as an actor embedded in the historical past, present and future to "give back" and "pay it forward" and all those similarly ludicrous socialist notions. I ought to be driving a BMW and running over the peasants and calling them "fags" and whatnot, before going home and demanding my woman make me a drink while I prop my feet up on an illegal Mexican and read my Wall Street Journal.
History, I hope to see you burning in one of the Hells next to Gygax and Arneson.
If you think it's just Law and History, you'd be dead wrong. Dungeons & Dragons players like doing things like asking if their characters can make a trebuchet from a pig, fifteen feet of kudzu, a picnic basket, and the fattest character in the group (not necessarily the fattest player, note). (Whether I'll allow this may depend on whether they want to fire the pig or the character.) Or they'll want to know whether a character can escape the ghosts of twenty-five hungry, bored and long-dead banquet guests by surviving a fifty foot fall into boiling lava if they cast an ice spell on their way down and the character covers his face with a piece of cheesecloth they found in the centuries-old shambles of a castle kitchen. These kinds of questions involve things like physics, biology and math, even if you might have thought that "magic" would render such things beside the point. (Instead, players will happy argue for six hours about exactly how cold a spell gets and whether Wall Of Ice would be more effectual than Ray Of Frost for diving into boiling lava, until the Dungeon Master finds something in one of the statute--er, rule books.) Or you find yourself reading up on ecosystems because you have this horrible compulsion to figure out what kind of environment would justify encounters with bronze dragons and beholders, and what does a giant eyeball covered in tentacles that are covered in eyeballs eat, anyway?
Science won't make you any happier than History. The only thing Creationists are unhappy about is Evolutionists, whereas Evolutionists are unhappy about lots of things, like science funding and textbook purchases and whether the special effects in Jurassic Park should be re-done so that T. Rex has feathers like we now know he's supposed to. (Y'know what? Spielberg, you're getting in the Hell line behind History, Arneson and Gygax. Go on. Queue up and stop yer' whinin'.) Nobody worried about global warming until scientists came along. And it isn't like you can single out some scientists: you might think global warming would be a non-issue if we just got rid of all the climatologists, but stupid astronomers noticed there was a runaway greenhouse effect on Venus, too, some time around the invention of radio telescopy; in fact, they're the ones who got other kinds of scientists to start asking innocent-sounding questions like, "Huh, if CO2 does that to temperatures on Venus, wonder what it does on Earth?" And are they happier for knowing? Hell no. Now they all feel bad about running their air conditioners. You know who's happy? Morons, that's who. Ignoramuses. Lucky bastards.
And don't get me started on comparative religion. Start reading up on assorted mythologies so your fantasy country can have some of that awful verisimilitude, like your armor stores and your eyeball-infested ecologies, and it's only a matter of time before you're asking a dangerously infectious question like, "Hey, can you believe people actually used to believe this crap?" Pull that one card from the base of the house, gravity does the damage.
All this knowledge I acquired as a result of playing a stupid little "game". All the bad habits it instilled, like thinking about problems and looking up answers and engaging in educated debate. Man. It has brought me nothing but grief and sorrows uncounted. And it has not brought me a mansion on the hill and an obnoxiously large, gas-guzzling, manhood-compensating, tanklike SUV that gets three miles a gallon and strikes fear into the hearts of the Prius drivers I mow down driving eighty miles an hour in the slow lane. I live a ruined life, worrying about law and politics and science and feeling like things ought to be, you know, fair and stupid stuff like that. Like, for instance, if you run over a peasant you ought to be treated the same whether you're a poor guy or a millionaire like I should've been if I'd studied something useful in school, just like if two guys fall off the same cliff they both suffer one six-sided die's worth of damage for every ten feet fallen to a maximum of ten dice of damage (unless one or both of them are Monks and can use their special Monk abilities to fall any distance without hurting themselves). There are rules, which apply to everybody, and there's chance which giveth and taketh away (so one guy rolls ten ones and only suffers ten points of damage, and the other guy rolls ten sixes and suffers sixty, and we take cognizance of life's unfairness but try to ameliorate it with compassion and attempted consistency--if we're suckers, that is; real men laugh at the guy whose character got splatted).
I concur with Pat Robertson. Dungeons & Dragons wrecks lives. Consider me, a poor sinner and cautionary tale. I could've been a rich investment banker who got halfway through Tuesdays With Morrie and gave up when the plot began to get complicated, and instead I had to go and become some kind of bleeding heart lawyer who knows stuff. Woe is me, and all the other nerds I gamed with. They didn't all become lawyers, of course: some of them do things with computers and stuff like that. Just terrible. Don't do it, kids. It's too late for me: I've become educated and cynical and worldly. Listen to Reverend Pat.
Don't touch the magic. It's imaginary, but it will still eat you alive.