I’m watching Party Down again, I forgot what an asshole Roman is, he deserves all the bad stuff that happens to him. I like to think his character is the same guy from Freaks and Geeks.
There’s an old roleplaying game called Werewolf the Apocalypse. The gimmick of this game is that werewolves are the chosen protectors of the earth and nature and all the nice spirits and whatnot. Part of this job involved making sure that no animal got too overpopulated and ruined everything with their waste. This included humans. Back in caveman days the werewolfs would eat the humans just like everything else to make sure there were never too many of them.
Werewolfs were natural beings, there was no curse or getting bitten by a werewolf that turned you into one – you just are one from birth. Some are born to humans and some are born to wolfs. Werewolfs never had babies together because that was TOO much werewolf DNA and it would make a mutant freak. Back in the olden times there was a balance amongst the werewolfs generally among wolf-werewolf and human-werewolfs but some tribes were more human and some tribes were more wolf. At one point one of the wolf tribes was like “humans suck, we’re just going to eat them all”. So they did that for a while until the other tribes were like “whoa, this isn’t cool, humans are part of the natural order like any other animal, this is not our job”. So the human genocide plan was stopped but so many humans had been killed that there was a moratorium on eating humans until they could get their numbers back up.
This didn’t turn out well. By the time someone said “whoa, there are a lot of humans around here maybe we should end the moratorium” it was too late. Human population had exploded and what was worse they weren’t cavemen anymore – they had cities and knives and blankets and horseshoes. The werewolfs couldn’t handle it anymore – no one person was a match for a werewolf, probably not even ten humans, but a whole mob of humans with flaming pitchforks and dogs and bees? Now you’re in in trouble. And the problem just kept getting worse and worse, and then the humans started killing all the wolfs too so the only werewolfs left were the human ones so the werewolfs were getting all out of whack too, you know like in their chakras of whatver. This whole time the wolf tribe that wanted to kill all the humans was sitting there going “SEE”.
Anyway, the Apocalypse title comes from the idea that for werewolfs this is the end of the world. They failed in their mission to protect nature because the humans are wrecking everything and they can’t stop it. I have lots of books for this game in my attic and a bunch more were wrecked by a flood and I’ve read them all and know a ton about it, but I’ve barely ever played it. I’ve probably send tens of thousands of hours playing RPGs at this point and I would say maybe 30 of them were spent playing Werewolf the Apocalypse. It’s in a category of games that are super cool conceptually but are actually kind of impossible to play.
What does this have to do with anything? Nothing really, except that last night I bought a PDF of a Werewolf book I wanted to look at and I saw in the comments some people arguing about game details I won’t go into and what they were fighting about is something that often comes up in RPG circles – something being “unrealistic”. A large part of my brain finds this laughable. We’re talking about game where werewolfs, who can do magic by the way, are fighting corporate sponsored mutant nature killing machines, toxic dragon spirits from other worlds, and possessed serial killing rock star vampires and somehow realism is being discussed?
But buckle up folks because there’s the gag – there’s another part of my brain that totally gets it. Whenever I’m playing a RPG and I’m not having fun often it’s because I’m thinking “this isn’t realistic” even though I’m playing a catman wizard with a pegasus who has their own dimension they carry about in their pocket. So what does that mean? How can something unrealistic be realistic? I can’t fully explain it, but I have a couple ideas of what is it.
One is that there’s an expectation of consistency. For instance, if Batman picks up a car and throws it at Kiteman I don’t like that because there’s a well-established Bat-canon about how he’s just a dude. A strong dude, but he can’t throw a car because he’s not super, he’s a normalish man. It’s unrealistic in the sense that it breaks with the rules that we’re agreeing on. This is probably a lot of where the disagreement comes in from RPGs because for a lot of things there are no “rules” (there’s lot of literal rules but you know what I mean) because the whole idea of RPGs is that you make it your own. A campaign book provides some bare bones stuff to work with, everything else if whatever you make it in your own game. So when two people are talking about Werewolf the Apocalypse they aren’t really talking about the same thing. As I’ve often said playing an RPG is like making sweet sweet love, there’s no right or wrong way to do it, it’s just that people like different things.
This leads me to my second point. Part of the issue is probably also that while roleplaying is a shared experience it’s actually anti-collaborative in a way. When people watch a TV show they all see the same thing, but since an RPG happens in your mind no one is experiencing it the same way. If I’m running a game and I say “you see a shady guy coming your way” each player has a different idea of what a shady guy looks like. Now some people would LOUDLY complain that when you’re running a game you shouldn’t do that – you should describe what the guy looks like in a way that makes the players understand that he’s shady. But this is even more dangerous because people don’t have the same ideas on what’s shady. If I describe I guy that I think is shady some people might think “this guy sounds awesome! I want my character to be his friend”.
Example, I was playing in a long running and well-liked campaign that was derailed when the person running it introduced a character that was supposed to be a cool mentor guy that would send us on more missions, but the way he was presented made everyone hate him. Now, I don’t want to criticize the way anyone else runs their game because god knows I’m super thin skinned about feedback when I’m running a game, but the guy running the game did the exact wrong thing. He tried to be like “no this guy is totally sweet, you like him” which just made everyone hate him more. If I had rules about how to be a good game runner (which I do not) the number one rule would be that you can’t strongarm the players. If you introduce a character that’s supposed to be one thing and everyone feels the opposite about them you just have to go with it. Turn the good guy into a bad guy. Or have the cool guy be a loser. It never works when you try to do damage control.
As a complete sidenote the players were also being jerks in that situation. I hate to say it because improv is gross but playing a game is kind of like that, you need to get on board with that is being offered. And I say that as someone who doesn’t always do that myself even though I should know better. It’s interesting how wrapped up you can get in your character and what they would or wouldn’t do – because of the first item I mentioned. There’s a guy running the game but you’re creating your own narrative in your head. It’s funny, even when people help you out sometimes they have to make a big deal out of it – “Well my character would never do this but I want to play so I do X”. I appreciate it but also why are you drawing attention to it? What do you want, a fucking medal?
But the third reason is probably the most relevant one. I think people say something is unrealistic when they just don’t like it. If I say “I’m starting a new campaign where dragons and weak and everyone slaps them around” I guarantee that some people would get really pissed about that because it’s “unrealistic” because obviously dragons are powerful and awesome. But what they mean is that they don’t like it – it doesn’t match up with the “reality” in their head, which is fantasy. And let me tell you people get very upset about these things.
I used to think that this was a particular characteristic of gamers or nerd culture or whatever you want to call it – getting legitimately upset over things that don’t matter at all (see reaction to any Star Wars movie made after 1980) but I’ve realized that it’s not unique at all, everyone is like that, it’s just that gamers/nerds/whatever have so much more to fight about. What does the average normal person have to fight about? Which Pussycat Doll is the ugliest? Which Fast and Furious movie had the best hair and makeup? Which streaming service has the most episodes of Benson? There’s not a lot for them to get upset about. But when some Anime character gets a haircut or Lara Croft’s boobs are not big enough oh man there’s a whole bunch of people ready to sound the Purge horn and get to killing. There’s a real community with games and things of that nature, and a community is like a family – and no one can piss you off like family.