Social Responsibility And Honest Adversity

I was talking to Paul Czege about his game Acts of Evil.  He mentioned to me that he was having trouble getting the players to engage the game with honesty and authenticity.  Instead he said the result was kind of cartoony horror porn.  When I asked him to clarify what he meant I realized that he wants the players to go to the same kind of mental space I go to when I run My Life with Master.

When I run My Life with Master I go to an extremely dark and personal place in my mind.  It’s the place where my programmer trained logical intelligence and my romantic ideals touch.  It’s the place where I can rationalize any human behavior as ultimately in service of some higher ideal or virtue.  It’s a cold and dark place but it’s beautiful and entrancing as well.  Going there makes my Masters very genuine and authentic because it’s a very real, very human if somewhat scary and uncomfortable part of who I am.  If you want to see me in top form as a GM play My Life with Master with me.

So, I was trying to figure out what makes taking that long, dark trip into ones own soul fun because it seemed to me that, that is what Paul wants Acts of Evil to be.  I realized there are other games that require similarly self-reflectively dark journeys.  It’s required to play the Demons (and certain Sorcerers) in Sorcerer.  It’s required to play Mara in a Flower for Mara.  I came to a rather interesting conclusion: It’s fun and rewarding to go to those dark and secret places of our selves in those games because the players are empowered to fight back.

When I’m running My Life with Master I know the players have the tools to fight me.  They can at least attempt to resist my commands.  They can earn Love points (easily I might ad).  Eventually the Master is going to get killed.  I even said to Paul, “In a very real sense I do not have to live with myself after running My Life with Master.”  It’s cathartic for the GM to bring that scary part of himself to the surface and watch it get killed by the players.

Sorcerer is a little less safe because that part of the outcome is not fixed like in My Life with Master.  However, the principle still applies in that the rules are robust and the players have the tools to fight back.  The players always have access to tools to push back just as hard as the GM is pushing them.

A Flower for Mara is a very interesting case of this being on a purely social level.  The Mara player is absolutely not responsible for the group’s emotional safety.  More importantly it would socially irresponsible and dangerous if she were.  The Director is responsible for providing that safety.  Mara is free to completely lose herself in her emotional antagonism because someone else is responsible for making the call on whether things are getting out of hand.

After thinking this through I realized that this is at the root of my utter loathing for the RPG school of thought where the GM is responsible for “arbitrating” rules up to and including inventing new rules on the fly.  It completely sucks, is stressful and is completely no fun to be responsible for both playing honest, self-reflective, darkly personal adversity AND for the group’s emotional safety and fun.  I require the game rules to be robust in empowering the players to push back against my unconstrained emotional creative input without me having to break off from that emotional space to make sure everything is being handled “fairly.”

3 Responses to “Social Responsibility And Honest Adversity”

  1. oberonthefool Says:

    Interesting. I’m curious about games or gamelike exercises that divide the Antagonist role from the Referee role. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, though.

    • As I mentioned in the article A Flower for Mara does it. Mara is the antagonist and The Director runs things. In A Wicked Age… sometimes works this way when a PC picks up a particularly antagonizing character from the oracles and hammers people with his big dice thus never ending up on the We Owe list.

      Ryan Macklin also EXPLICITLY does this with his movie hack for Primetime Adventures. The “villain” character of the pitched movie is always a PC and not a Producer run character. This works out really well.

      Wraith may be an early example of something along these lines where PCs play each other’s Shadows and not the GM.

  2. oberonthefool Says:

    Hm, yeah, Mara is a good example.

    I guess the images in my head are more LARPy in this case than usual. Which Mara fits, of course.

    I was thinking of SHOCK, too, but that doesn’t fit because it has no referee, rather than having one separate from the antagonist. Whereas, say, Dirty Secrets doesn’t fit because it has no antagonist… hm, actually it has no referee either, does it? Been a while since I played that.

    Hm. I guess the point is (which is the point you were making, I think) that the antagonist needs to be free to play hardball, and can’t really do that properly when they also have the referee/creator power. There needs to be a check against the antagonist that lets them push as hard as they can; at least if you want the kind of dark and dirty, gutsy RP that we’re talking about here.

    Am I getting the gist?

    I wonder what other games might fit this mold…

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