Saturday, 9 July 2016
Classic Rant: Roleplaying, "Fairness", and Chess
I've heard the advocates of social mechanics in RPG going on about the subject from the perspective of "fairness". It is not "fair", they say, that your character should be able to swing a sword well whether or not his player could but your character can't give a convincing speech if his player suffers from chronic shyness. That's pretty much the argument, right?
There's a serious flaw in this logic, which is that the opponents of social mechanics aren't "unfairly" giving more weight to one thing that a character does than to another, they're just actually expecting an RPG to require that you be capable of doing the one thing an RPG is supposed to be for: Interpreting the character.
No one questions the fact that in chess you can move the knight piece without having to know how to ride a horse; nor do they question that to play chess you need a certain kind of intelligence. Its not "unfair" that people who lack that particular kind of intelligence cannot play well, its just an unfortunate fact. They can't play well. Maybe poker or tiddly-winks is more their style. No one would suggest that we create a complex set of mechanics to simulate the kind of skills that are involved in playing chess well, so that a person with low chess-playing intelligence could have a "fair chance" against a grandmaster, do we?
It would be absurd.
Likewise, in roleplaying games, the whole point is to interpret a character. A prerequisite to roleplaying games is being able to play out a character in social situations. If you can't do that, its not "unfair" that other people can; its just the nature of the game. Too bad for you.
But you know, its not all hopeless. Someone with relatively low chess-intelligence can still learn the game, practice hard, develop certain skills, and eventually compensate for a lack of natural chess talent. They might never become a "grandmaster" but they could, if they wanted it badly enough, end up playing a good game.
Likewise, if someone is a socially inept person, playing RPGs could theoretically allow one to develop skills that will help to compensate for that. If you work hard at it, play a lot of games, and want it badly enough, playing RPGs can help have a transformative effect on you. You might never be a social butterfly, but I've seen several people who went from being either terminally shy or socially-inept bozos for whom serious RPG play helped, in the long term, to turn into much more socially competent people.
Of course, that only happens if you don't substitute the actual roleplaying parts with a bunch of rolls.
(Originally Published August 15, 2011)