Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"The Tyranny of Fun"

I'm not certain just who coined this phrase, but it both amuses me and pisses me off. To begin with, I'll define what this is supposed to mean (based on what I've read online on other blogs of certain self-proclaimed 'old school' gamers): 

The "Tyranny of Fun" :  A movement within gaming (and specifically D&D) that suggests that play should be centered around the players having fun—at the expense of any challenge or 'realism'.

This amuses me for a few reasons. First of all, there is the definition of game:

Game: an amusement or pastime

And then the definitions of amusement and amuse and pastime

Amusement: anything that amuses; pastime; entertainment
Amuse: to hold the attention of (someone) pleasantly; entertain or divert in an enjoyable or cheerful manner
Pastime: something that serves to make time pass agreeably; a pleasant means of amusement, recreation or sport.

Thus a game is something that is supposed to hold your attention pleasantly, make time pass agreeably, and divert in an enjoyable manner. You know what? That sounds pretty good to me.

The argument that the term 'fun' is subjective, and therefore not a valid argument is in itself not valid. When the thing in question is a GAME, fun and subjectivity are at the heart of the matter. And because everyone's sense of fun is subjective, it means people choose the types of games they enjoy playing—or in the case of RPGs, they adopt a playing style with the established rules that caters to their likes. In a game, I don't see anything at all wrong with that—because we are just talking about a GAME not life.

So what if the mainstream (4th Edition) D&D is taking a turn that you don't personally care for. Nothing ever stays the same. And if the company is doing something wrong, then the marketplace will reveal it and the game will stop selling. I think the part that really sticks in the craw of a lot of old-schoolers is more of a generational matter than anything else. Generation X (and older) sees Generation Y as a bunch of self-involved punks with a sense of entitlement, who whine if everything doesn't go their way. 

Like many stereotypes, there is a nugget of truth at its heart. Some Generation Y people are exactly that—the embodiment of entitlement. But not all. And honestly, the people who really get into gaming are (in my experience at least) usually pretty smart and creative people. To say that the latest generation are all a bunch of ignorant brats is selling them—and ourselves—short. In fact, it smacks to me of old men yelling at kids to 'get off their lawn'. Its kind of embarrassing for me, being one of the 'old men'. 

A more valid question about the latest generation of games is whether or not they cater to the perceived shortcomings of Generation Y. Are they making the situation worse by reinforcing the 'everyone is special' mentality that so many people see? Honestly, I can't answer that question. And most of the people who seem to be complaining about that don't seem to be able to either, as almost all of them begin their arguments with "Well, I don't play 4th edition, but..." I don't play 4th edition, or D&D, in fact (not for years and years). So I don't consider myself qualified to answer this question—and I am willing to give those snot-nosed punks the benefit of the doubt. 4th edition isn't my cup of tea (I know from what I've read of it first hand), but I don't berate others for playing it. 

So there you see my amusement with the whole 'Tyranny of Fun' issue. People complaining that others aren't 'doing it right' (i.e. the way we did it when we were their ages). It IS amusing to see people taking an AMUSEMENT so seriously. I mean, when you look at it from the outside it is giggle-worthy: gamers are angry because other gamers actually want to have FUN in their games! The nerve!

And that is where my own amusement begins to turn to annoyance and anger. 

I've never 'called anyone out' before (and I'm not really trying to), but one blog in particular got me thinking about the whole thing: James Raggi, of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. He's very outspoken and I'd say that 99-percent of the time I agree with or at the very least understand the issues he brings up. I also know that, like a lot of us bloggers, he is speaking from the heart and perhaps WANTS to stir things up. That's fine. So do I.

But a couple things in particular stuck in my craw (wow, lots of craw sticking in this post). Those were these statements:

'sitting down playing pretend in order to compensate for inadequacies in life is very sad'.
'people who do see RPGs as wish fulfillment are really kind of sad. You really want to be a dashing hero? Then go DO it and stop sitting around pretending to do it.'

This was said in support of his argument against fun being  a viable argument for how a game is run. This is a very tired tactic in my book—a personal attack, seeming to suggest that gamers who don't play the 'RIGHT' way are compensating for their own miserable lives at home. The whole term 'playing pretend' is insulting as well—especially when you consider that the hobby IS playing pretend, even when you do do it the 'RIGHT' way.

As a person who seeks fun first and challenge second, I am definitely not doing things the RIGHT way in James' opinion. Hence that barb was evidently intended to hit me. 

Well, guess what. I'm not compensating for anything with the way I play. I play to have fun. I enjoy challenges, I enjoy the heroic journey of characters from lowly amateurs to epic figures. My players enjoy challenges as well. They like moral dilemmas, puzzles, personal interactions. All of that. You can play for fun and not be in it for instant gratification. And to assume (as James apparently does) that anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously one of THOSE people..well, its just narrow-minded.

And if I were vindictive, I could turn the argument around that people who read too much into the importance of their hobbies are sad; That people who seem to think that 'realistic' gaming is somehow a noble and praiseworthy endeavor are sad. Yes. I wish I were a great hero and explorer. But I'm not—I don't have the physical or mental endurance for that. I admit it, and yet its fun to pretend. Just like it was when you were on the playground as a kid. But to suggest that running a REAL game is a REAL accomplishment is (again) sad. There was a guy in one of the old X-File episodes that seemed to epitomize this attitude in his famous (to me) quote:

"Well, you don't play D&D for as long as I have without learning a thing or two about courage."

Okay, so maybe that was vindictive. But anyway...

The reason I was angered by Raggi's statements was not because they hit too close to home, but because nobody likes being forced into someone else's stereotype. I am not defined by my amusements—by the games I play. They are there for me (and my friends) to have fun—its that simple. Nothing more serious or noble. I am, however, defined by what those amusements did for me. Through games, I met almost all of the best friends in my life. The fact that I am happy and surrounded by friends is a very REAL accomplishment—one that I am proud of. And if you're looking for more self-justification than that from a GAME, well...then that is sad.

So there you have it. I guess I'm part of the Tyranny of Fun. But I'd prefer that to the Tyranny of pretentiousness.


  1. >>This is a very tired tactic in my book—a personal attack, seeming to suggest that gamers who don't play the 'RIGHT' way are compensating for their own miserable lives at home.

    No, this was a reaction to people themselves saying things like "I want to be a hero in the game and kick ass because I'm a nobody in real life." It's a separate thing from the "fun" argument and different than "edition wars."

    >>When the thing in question is a GAME, fun and subjectivity are at the heart of the matter.

    Without defining what you enjoy or why certain elements appeal to you, you're talking about your feelings and not about the common point of reference - the game.

  2. Point taken on the latter. I was talking about gaming in general, I suppose- and not specifically about D&D.

  3. Ty: That doesn't make any sense! How is that supposed to work.

    Me: Ty, honey, it's make-believe. We're not REALLY in space right now...

  4. And just out of curiosity, what's wrong with wanting to be a hero and kick ass?

    This from someone who kicks ass in real life, too.