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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ramblings on the Design of RPG Violence

...given the choice between the car wreck on the other side of the highway and a field of poppies...
Ref: Did Dungeons & Dragons Motivate Dr. Amy Bishop's Murder Spree?
Ref: Idiotic Article at the Boston Rag

Killing isn't generally rewarded by society in the real world. Why is it rewarded in most roleplaying games? If you're not killing things in most computer and role playing games, then your character is probably not doing his job. Why is there such a heavy emphasis on killing monsters and taking their stuff? Is this the only way we have to measure a character's performance? It seems to be the main one at the very least.

It's no wonder that folks making up the ratings for games are so disparaging when it comes to their views about violence in the games. I'm certainly not an advocate of the idea that games are a training ground for our youth. Those who believe roleplaying games have anything remotely to do with violence in our youth need to take a reality pill. Children supposedly influenced had more dire problems to begin with and looking at anything but the whole portrait of a violent act, allegedly inspired by games, is a mistake. Speaking as a parent too, it seems other parents generally want to find something other than themselves to blame for not paying more attention to their children.

Still I think it would be interesting to build other rewards into our games. Rewarding characters with experience points for obtaining treasure wasn't always absent from the game but it's been gone for a while now. The popular logic is that treasure is its own reward and that it makes the game easier to run when there are fewer sources of experience points to worry over. These arguments are admittedly hard to dispute, until one examines the game and the behavior of its players more closely.

When killing becomes the fastest and maybe only means to advancement, since story and roleplaying rewards are often thinner, then your players will kill. Pacifism is, again, generally not rewarded in games. It's against the design of the game. It's extremely unlikely to be rewarded and that's a pity, because watching resourcefulness unfold is one of the great pleasures of roleplaying games. The thief who makes his way past guards and into the royal palace to walk out with the crown jewels and brags at the local thieves guild is entitled to as much reward as the barbarian who guts a dragon. The druid who redirects a river to put out a cabin fire is just as entitled to reward as the ranger who slays his sworn enemy.

I suspect that this doesn't happen very often because we human beings seem to react more to taking life than preserving it. This is the real reason the moronic dolts at the Boston Herald would rather write sensationalist drivel than an actual news story. We humans love our bad news. Sorry to say, but given the choice between the car wreck on the other side of the highway and a field of poppies, we'll ogle the car wreck every time.

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