[Meta Gaming] Of Problems and Correctness

This is an ugly, ugly book. Let me state plainly that I am not a racist, homophobe, anti-semite, misogynist or any other heinous hater-of-social-demographics. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to say this – everyone would realise that this is a work of fiction and that the opinions contained herein are the opinions of a fictitious character. But it’s not a perfect world. Even in writing this little box, I will get my point across only to those who bother to read it. Somewhere, someone will pick up this book and think “that Justin Achilli’s a real son of a bitch”. And it won’t be true, but he or she won’t know it. Please don’t be that person.

In closing, this book presents some very unpleasant viewpoints. They’re not my own, but they are very real things, present in our world, and downright rampant in the World of Darkness. They’re here for you to inspect and learn from; it is only by confronting these atrocities that we can hope to rise above them.

— Justin Achilli (1998)

To be a liberal means to believe that tolerance is good and global warming is bad, but also to believe that you can save the world simply by not using the word “poof”. S/he may have good intentions, but doesn’t seem to appreciate that all the things s/he considers to be civilised – democracy, universal suffrage, the right to exist without having the shit kicked out of you for having long hair or skin that’s a bit on the dark side – were achieved through the effort of rather more pro-active people, who fought and occasionally died in order to create a less appalling version of humanity. To be a liberal means to shield yourself from the full horror of your society, to have a veneer of civic responsibility while still approving of a system that’s wholly founded on exploitation.

— Lawrence Miles (2009)

I think living in the real world involves whinging at people about things they can change, at least if they actually put some thought into it, which doesn’t seem to be the premise of Blue Rose. The premise of Blue Rose is more like “We all wished that hate and fear and prejudice would just go away and leave us in a magically protected miracle land which for some reason still has an inherited monarchy because there’s nothing innately divisive, unfair or socially damaging about an institutionalised class system.”

— me (2012)

Join the dots.

13 thoughts on “[Meta Gaming] Of Problems and Correctness

  1. An impressionist thesis on why openly progressivist rpgs tend to become such bloated nightmares of vomit-inducing garbage? Most specifically in the case of Blue Rose, which seeks to eliminate the perceived causes of injustice rather then confronting them head on?

    I pose that the relentless impulse of the progressivist to educate, subvert and co-opt interferes with the goal of entertainment, that is, to be entertaining. One cannot serve both God and Mammon. The need to be progressive is seen as a higher virtue then the obligation to the reader.


    1. It doesn’t even eliminate the causes of injustice – merely the injustices themselves. The system of hereditary power remains unchallenged. In fact, it’s reinforced, by the same magical bullshit bomb that chased all the problematic thoughts away.

      I counter that education, subversion and co-option are all potentially entertaining things to do, but that many a text and pastime fails to educate, subvert, or co-opt. The targeted Blue Rose, which will be subjected to my ire until the last day, asks “wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was nice?” This is a lovely and good-hearted question but a vacuous one, which does none of the things which you identify as the function of good progressive entertainment.


      1. Out of curiosity and for the sake of lively, springly debate, what game would you consider to be good progressive entertainment, keeping in mind Novarium and Blue Rose are most certainly not it?


      2. By my own petard, you rascal!

        In all fairness, I know that ‘progressive as a byproduct of being good’ can be done in other media, cf. the newest Mad Max film, but I struggle to think of an RPG that pulls it off.


      3. Fury Road was very good but I still wonder if I had not liked it better had some of the progressive elements been removed. I’d be hard pressed to do so, however, nothing in Fury Road really feels tacked on or hackneyed, its a pretty seamless fit. However, If it had just been Mad Max doing asskicking for 1.30 hours that would have been fine with me too.


  2. Perhaps part of the problem may be found in the interactive component of the medium? Movies are ultimately stories and all stories have some sort of message, even if that message is so muddled as to be ‘not every story has a message.’ Thought-experiments of postmodernist film students aside, rpgs are a medium that traditionally provides a canvas or framework in which a story or adventure can take place. It is possible to create this framework so that it slants decision making into progressive channels but i think the term for that is usually ‘heavy-handed railroading.’ The progressive impulse to treat all other courses of action or modes of thought as immoral does not gell well with a game largely based on agency.

    I reread that paragraph and I missed out not getting the surgery and getting an account on big purple.


    1. I dunno if I agree with that. We are usually creating our RPG material in order to curate some sort of experience (even if it’s “incoherent gonzo freeform grab-bag, AGENCY UBER ALLES!”) and selecting elements which spur players along particular trains of thought. Some will doubtless kick against our subtle hints and inspirations, but such is life and it’d be a very boring hobby if they did what we expected them to all the time.

      You are onto something with heavy-handedness. I believe it’s the explicit expression of agenda in the Blue Roses and Novariums of the world that makes them rubbish – the choice to stop and show their working all the time.

      Talking about Fury Road again: “We are not things” is a very entry-level feminist statement but George Miller doesn’t stop telling his story to explain that. When Nux and the Wives are arguing about what a dickbag the Immortan is, they’re doing so in short, controlled slogans in the middle of a chase scene – it’s not a lecture, it’s a series of summative questions. You’re supposed to hear “who killed the world” and join the dots yourself. It’s a matter of technique and pacing and a lightness of hand. There is definitely something you are supposed to think here but you are not thwacked over the head with it, nor does it impact on your viewing of five hotties throwing Nick Hoult out of a speeding truck.

      In RPG material you would simply present your ‘progressive’ elements as elements unquestioned and get on with it. In the setting notes I have been scribbling of late there is a sidebox which a lesser man would title ‘But What About The Trannies?’ It’s a paragraph or so about how transness works in a world where gender and power structures also operate differently – a practicality included for the sake of inspiration, not something for which I want a fucking medal. I haven’t spent pages banging on about how inclusive my setting is and I wouldn’t publish it with A TRANS-FRIENDLY RPG on the cover in big letters.


      1. [Inspiration]
        Nuanced commentary is nuanced. It is possible to stimulate players into certain decision making routines (for example, my Carcosa game teaches players to be self-reliant, on their toes, paranoid and for the most part indifferent to human suffering not by design but by the way the game world is set up and reacts to their actions) but players flourish in settings that allow for a wide range of character types and solutions.

        [Blue Rose/Novarium]
        For me its more that the implied values and organization that would almost never naturally exist in the imagined world that is being postulated, thus it breaks versimilitude. Novarium at least dodges a bullet by adding a sort of gender-based deus ex machina where all the birds suddenly have magic powers to explain the skew and Blue Rose has its magic deer to root out and exterminate plotholes but in any pseudo-historical fantasy setting with a feudal system and a population that consists mostly of farmers and soldiers the sort of progressive, gender-equality uber-alles wet dream that is currently touted as the future would simply never arise and would be a competetive disadvantage if it did.
        A lot of people that bemoan the unfairness and evils of the feudal system fail to realize it is predominant throughout history because it is a very natural, very basic form of organization that is a neccesary precursor to more sophisticated forms of government.

        [Fury Road]
        Correct, which is why Fury Road was palatable and very enjoyable despite its burden of ideological trappings that I do not agree with, a litmus test for quality entertainment.

        Inclusiveness without virtue signalling? You are off your meds.


      2. [Inspiration]

        Yep. Can’t argue with that.

        [The impossibility of progressive feudalism]

        Yes. This was what I originally grilled both games for: they don’t go far enough. They’re fairy tales, not speculative fiction, and I feel that if you’re going to set out to prove some progressive point, you owe it to yourself to see it through. Ask “how would an anarchic agrarian society that’s achieved the end of the progressive journey actually work? let’s use our imaginations to engage with something and work out the problems of it!” instead of prancing around doing the same tedious imitation feudalism as everyone else.

        I’d have a lot more patience for the Blue Rose project if it was ONLY an attempt to do D&D in the style of Mercedes Lackey and Tamora Pierce rather than Fritz Leiber and R. E. Howard. I have no patience at all for Novarium since it reeks of creepy white knighting.


        Yes I am, but only for a few days while the prescription’s renewed.


  3. [Progressivist thingamaboble]

    Speaking of speculative fiction, have you read Ian M Banks’s Culture Novels (or Smart Trek as I occasionally call it). I think as far as uber-leftist future utopia’s go this one takes the cake (and damned entertaining and good novels too, I ain’t hatin on Banks).

    A band of agrarian villages banding together for mutual protection with a council of elected elders doing the governing seems plausible. Maybe put a broad in there (that council table is not going to dust itself). Maybe a dude in a wig. Can’t put a foreigner in there because everyone would think he is a witch or a witch and a spy (spy-witch) and burn him. And even then they would be less concerned with “diversity” as with “Getting the fookin’ harvest done in time afore winter ya daft cunt” followed by “bandits” or “Wolves” or “That bastard Baron’s soldiery loomin aboot lookin’ to forage.” If Charles wants to marry a dude would they be like “Yah Great job on that Charles you plow that acre!” or would they respond more along the lines of “Yah daft fookin’ wanker now who is gonnae knock Mary up with noin kids foif of which wonnae survivaif til’ ‘dulthood so teh fields can be plowed ya cunt. Ye can ‘splore all tah caeves ye little haert can imagine in yer euwn toim aftar ye git yerself sum fookin’ kids”
    So basically they would be Ireland.


    I’ve always felt Blue Rose could do with more child molestation and griffin fucking.


    1. [Banks]
      I’ve read his Scottish Gothic stuff (where he doesn’t use his M) and enjoyed it, but for some reason never been drawn to the sci-fi. I really should give it a go, bu I still have three Eddisons and five non-fiction books on the pile…

      I’m pretty sure I’ve downloaded that RPG off Norwegian Style at some point. It’s the sort of thing they’re into.

      Funnily enough, my missus said the same thing.


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