Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Long and Dull Ranty-Rant about Labels

Old school? New school? What the hell?

Okay, labels are just labels. They don't really tell you anything about anything, unless you know exactly what is meant by the label. And the labels "old school" and "new school" apparently don't tell people enough about what the game is like to be worthwhile.

Okay, fine. I don't care.

I don't play games to acquire a label (other than "gamer", but I've had that one so long I don't even think about it much anymore). I play games because I enjoy them.

I don't consider them "just games" any more than I consider a book to be "just a book" or a movie to be "just a movie" -- or a job to be "just a job". I tend to find the word "just" to actually be unjust; it's unnecessarily dismissive.

They're not "just games" to me, whether old school or not. Gaming has been a big part of my life, it has contributed largely to my development of social skills for one thing. Most of the long-term friends I have I made through gaming. So yeah, I'm going to tend to take it seriously.

But doing so doesn't mean I need to rain on somebody else's parade. I've come to realize that if some kid I don't even know wants to play 4e, then that's fine -- for him. Doesn't mean I have to play it (I tried it and didn't like it -- there's too much farting around for my taste). Same with 3e; I used to play it and enjoyed it for a long while. But it began to get a bit samey; everybody else I ever met had higher stats than I did, so they thought their character (or their "build" was therefore better than mine). And that's just not the kind of thing I'm into. I'm glad it's there for those who like it, but I no longer count myself among them.

Notice how I'm not saying my way is better? That's because it's only better for me; it isn't my place to say what's better for someone else. I'm just saying "this is what I like", not "this is what you should like". I don't have time for people dictating to me what I should be doing so I'm damn sure not going to dictate to them.

Tell you what, you want labels? Okay, here you go.

Back in the day, on the Risus mailing list (which is now the Risus Yahoo group), there was a discussion of trust. Risus is a high-trust game. You really have to trust the GM to do what's best for his game (which should include allowing the player characters to be awesome).

It's the same with old school, near as I can figure.

New school, apparently, is the result of a backlash against such things. Some GMs were found to be untrustworthy, so a massive body of rules had to be erected to "protect" the players from these GMs.

(Back in my day, if you couldn't trust your GM, you just didn't play in his game. Simple as that.)

And this "new" school isn't as new as you might think, either. I remember one game back in the mid-80's. We had some old established players and some newer ones. The DM was a distinct Gygaxian; he was there to challenge you but not to kill you outright. Something happened (I don't remember exactly what), but some of the players cried foul. I didn't care; I knew he was going to give us a good game and that he should be given the benefit of the doubt.

So I said, "Look, he's the DM; you can trust him."

One of the newbie players, who thought she was much smarter than she actually was, chortled and roared out "Anyone who trusts the DM has got to be STUPID!" (I'll note here, before I get flamed for this, that she was NOT typical of the other female gamers I've known...)

She actually believed this shit.

I looked at the DM; he looked like he'd been kicked in the gut.

Similar situation came up in 3.5. Another Gygaxian DM (this one came up playing D&D, the boxed sets; you know, the ones some people who simply cannot read call "Basic D&D" when only the basic set of D&D is called Basic). He had the experience and the DMing chops, he could run a good game. Or he could phone it in. Depended on his mood that week, I guess.

Anyway, 3.5 is pretty cut and dried. The rules say you can do this and you can't do that. Well, he did something that apparently contradicted what the rules as written said. And his brother hit the roof. They argued about it for at least half an hour, during which time the rest of us got no gaming done.

No trust. None whatsoever. (Turned out that what the DM was doing was okay by the rules, but his brother didn't have all the information. Nor should he have; if you already know it all, why are you playing?)

So trust seems to be an old school trait, but it isn't. It's more necessary in the play defined as old school, but it ought to be there anyway.

Anyway, this discussion of trust came up regarding Risus. Risus dates back to the early 90's, and allows you to design the specific character you want. Sounds pretty new school to me, but it still requires a high degree of trust in your GM for it to work. So it's kind of both. Or neither. (And it's also free. Remember the name, kids: Risus. Confounding expectations since 1993.)

The label doesn't matter. Risus is a good game, and I'll play it. Because I'll play what I want, and don't care what label others put on things.

You see, I trust my Gamemasters (or referees, or whatever). But I've seen it go the other way. I've seen guys who expect (and frankly deserve) my trust when they're behind the screen; these selfsame guys immediately display their arrant distrust when it's me back there. I may have to earn some respect, but if I've gone to the trouble of putting a game together, the least you can do is give me the benefit of the doubt -- if I prove untrustworthy, then that's one thing. If you shoot my game down through distrust before I can prove myself, that's an entirely different thing -- and you won't be invited back, that's for sure.

So, is there a point to all this ranting? No, I don't think there is. I just wanted to get in on the whole debate that's resurfaced. I wanted to give people a different look at things. Hey, it's my blog -- you get my viewpoint. And that's all I'm qualified to give.

If you agree with me, if don't agree, either is fine. I don't expect you to change your mind because of what I say. I may get flamed, I may get praised. I don't think I'll care very much one way or the other.

Anyway, that's where I'm at.

2 comments:

Sham aka Dave said...

Anyway, that's where I'm at.

You're in a good place. Pull up a chair and lets roll some dice.

m.s. jackson said...

As a long time GM, I can say I agree with you 100%. I love Risus and have GMed it a few times. With Risus, there MUST be mutual trust...both ways, otherwise the game will dissolve and fall apart rather quickly.
Having recently GMed a Whitebox game, I can see clear parallels with GM to player trust, and vice versa.