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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 121 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: [The Shab-al-Hiri Roach] Disturbed at GenCon  (Read 23286 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #15 on: August 17, 2006, 06:08:33 PM »

The Shab-al-Hiri Roach is the first game I have ever played that I found disturbing for philosophical reasons.  The game has a point; the behaviour of the characters is essentially no different, whether they have eaten the Roach or not, and therefore comments on the depravity of human nature. I got the point in the first 15 minutes. As a believer in the doctrine of original sin, the point was easy to make for me.

I haven't seen this point particularly addressed in any of the above posts, so I'll address it: wow, that is a really interesting insight, and the moment I read it, I understood exactly what you meant. Jason, you should take this as a high compliment, seriously.

Hans, as someone who is rediscovering his belief system, I understand how this point could be very disturbing and unpleasant. I thank you for posting this thread.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Hans
Member

Posts: 576


« Reply #16 on: August 17, 2006, 06:44:45 PM »

So I don't play GTA.
Your sympathy with my position is reassuring, Adam, even if not shared for this particular instance of gaming.  I'm glad you DIDN'T experience it, and had a good time.
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I know I've read the comment before, but the Roach felt a bit like a colorful board game -- akin to Betrayal at the House on the Hill. Because the fiction failed to constrain or increase my options, I had a sense that the fiction didn't really matter. So I went about my murdering and torturing and stuffing a man's intestines into his own mouth without a sense that I was addressing any premise whatsoever.
This is very interesting.  I've heard almost the exact same comment made about Capes by some people I play with here in Ontario, and yet in Capes I never have any problem feeling like things matter.
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3. A proto-Nazi it is!
Your my first choice if I ever do a remake of Triumph of the Will.  That was meant to be a joke, based on your wonderfully cultured German accent, and not an accusation of facism, by the way.
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I noticed a palpable drop in energy at the end of the game, when most of the table realized they could not win.
This is also interesting, I noticed this as well.  I don't think any of my impressions are based on bad sportsmanship, but I can't deny at least a twinge of a "taking my toys and going home" feeling at the very end.
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Josiah's deliverance went totally over my head, I'm afraid! I totally failed to figure out who the "kindly face" was, much less that the Roach was expelled through His agency. I understand the Mythos to be a nihilistic, materialist milieu: I no more expected Christ than I expected Cinderella. I glossed past your narration because I didn't understand it, and I was keen on getting to that bit where I won the game.
  You didn't notice Christ?!!!!  :)

Seriously, I was pretty much disengaged near the end, and sort of playing for myself, you know?  If I really wanted to make a statement, I should have made it more bluntly and melodramatically, with angelic hosts, stigmata, transfigurations,  Handel's Hallelujah playing in the background, etc.  So it really is no surprise it made little impact.  As I paraphrased Tony, one person's recollected story is rarely the same as anothers.

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Perhaps some of your discontent is that you wanted to address a premise ("Does a belief in determinism [Calvinism] lead men into evil?") and the rest of us were doing no such thing?
That is probably a deep insight into my character Adam.  Have you ever considered becoming a therapist?  I never consciously thought of that premise, but its pretty obvious my subconscious was sending me telegrams about it.
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #17 on: August 17, 2006, 07:54:54 PM »

That is probably a deep insight into my character Adam.  Have you ever considered becoming a therapist?  I never consciously thought of that premise, but its pretty obvious my subconscious was sending me telegrams about it.

Nah, I just think systematic theology is teh awesome. That's a classic question about Calvinism, and a great premise to address. Figure out what game we can use to address it at GenCon next year, and I'll be there!
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #18 on: August 18, 2006, 07:18:04 AM »

Dude, I have problems even playing Sorcerer for the same reason.

I'm pretty easy to engage, I think. Even when the game isn't precisely my cup of tea, I'm usually on board in some respect. But...I prefer to play heroes.

It's like the computer Joshua says in the movie Wargames about playing Global Thermonuclear War: "An interesting game Dr. Falcon. The only way to win is....not to play."

I mean, in Sorcerer, the "winning move" to me is to stop being a sorcerer. Banish your demons and live a normal life. Ron points out that you can perhaps overcome your demons and win that way, but the probable moral descent neccessary to do that is, I think, not acceptable.

I often play characters who are tempted by the dark side, don't get me wrong. And they even go over at times. They're only human, after all. But in the end, I hope that there's something truely redeeming about the character. If not, well, then I'm really not interested in playing the character for more than - as you put it yourself - about 15 minutes.

I've had precisely the same problem with Paul Czege's game Acts of Evil and have made that clear.

The issue is that after you've made the point with 15 minutes of play (or even having watched that much), the only way you're enjoying yourself is is you are actually finding humor in the things that are going on. That, in and of itself isn't problematic to me. I can watch a dark movie. The problem with a RPG is that you yourself are making up the dark things. Those come from somewhere. And the fact that you're making such a thing for the exploitation of the group present?

Yeah, I don't enjoy that at all, either. Maybe I do have a dark side. I'd rather not look at it too deeply. That's not denial, that's player preference.

I think that it's a testament to how effective Jason's design is that it provokes such a reaction. Even a game as good as, say, Unknown Armies with similar content doesn't do so. And, I'm sure that for some it'll be a great design as they may enjoy these things. I'm not going to judge.

But, sorry, I don't have to participate. I played a 15 minute demo of Roach. And that's probably all I'll play.


I would say that MLWM is not exactly the same. This is because the characters in question aren't so much bad as pathetic. You understand that they're doing the bad things they're doing not because they want to do them, but because they're in a dysfunctional relationship with somebody domineering. As such, when you're laughing about something apparently depraved, the tears that accompany the laughing are because of the sorrowful feeling you have for the poor minion.

Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter. ~Friedrich Nietzsche ...

If you're feeling for the minion, rather than simply reveling in the depravity of a bad act, it's a very different thing. Leastways it is for me.

Mike
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Bret Gillan
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That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


« Reply #19 on: August 18, 2006, 07:51:01 AM »

Hans this is really interesting to me, because it's come up recently in my own thoughts on a game I'm currently preparing to run. Basically, at what point and in what way is the creation of a fiction condoning the events that occur in the fiction?

I'm currently setting up a Burning Empires game. For those who don't know, Burning Empires structures the game around the battle between Humans and Vaylen (body snatcher-like aliens). You can have humans on the Vaylen side who don't realize they're on the Vaylen side - their actions are just working against the best interests of humanity.

In the game as we've set it up, two of the three PCs are Noble Lords whose planet and power is built on serfdom. They are on the Human side. A figure of note on the Vaylen side is a Serf Insurrectionist. Since this world creation session I've gotten to thinking about it, and it makes me deeply, deeply comfortable. It seems to me that we, the players of the game, are creating a fiction in which fighting slavery is against the best interests of humanity. I've discussed this with my players, who think I'm overthinking this, but I feel like we're creating a fiction in which slavery is condoned.

Now, I enjoy pushing comfort boundaries in games I'm in, but this is the first time since I was very young that my comfort boundary is being pushed, and I think this is happening not because of the events that are occurring or could occur in the game but because of the statement about slavery I believe me and the other players are making in this game, intentionally or not. It sounds like this is what you and Adam and Mike are talking about - that the mechanics of the game push the fiction towards a message you don't agree with and that by playing out that fiction you feel as though you're condoning it.
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Ricky Donato
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Posts: 156

Just chillin'


« Reply #20 on: August 18, 2006, 08:19:41 AM »

In the game as we've set it up, two of the three PCs are Noble Lords whose planet and power is built on serfdom. They are on the Human side. A figure of note on the Vaylen side is a Serf Insurrectionist. Since this world creation session I've gotten to thinking about it, and it makes me deeply, deeply comfortable.

Quick clarification, Bret: you meant to say uncomfortable at the end of this sentence, right?

More generally, you (Bret) bring up an excellent point: there is a distinction (IMO) between creating a fiction and condoning that fiction. I've done this myself; I wrote a poem where the main character was tremendously arrogant. He comes out the winner in a conflict, and that just makes him more arrogant. Whenever I read that poem, I finish it feeling furious at this arrogant prick. And you know what? I really dig that feeling, and I really love that poem precisely because of its effect on me. I consider that the hallmark of success.

Hans, if you encounter fiction that makes you uncomfortable, that's perfectly OK. It means that you have to decide between two choices:
1) You say, "This content makes me uncomfortable, and I will play this game anyway, with the goal of trying to understand where my discomfort comes from."
2) Or you say, "I am not going to play this game in this form because I am uncomfortable with its content."

Does that help at all, Hans?
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Ricky Donato

My first game in development, now writing first draft: Machiavelli
Blankshield
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« Reply #21 on: August 18, 2006, 08:36:34 AM »

Just want to offer a really quick comment to Hans, thanking him for starting this thread.  It's a good thread.

Hans, thank you for clearly and without rancor saying what most people really mean when they say "This game sucks"

thanks,

James
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Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #22 on: August 18, 2006, 08:52:10 AM »

It seems to me that we, the players of the game, are creating a fiction in which fighting slavery is against the best interests of humanity. I've discussed this with my players, who think I'm overthinking this, but I feel like we're creating a fiction in which slavery is condoned.
Here I am, in both this example and Hans' AP, going... "but, but... ooooh, juicy!" Isn't one way to look at Bret's situation to say "slavery and oppression are exactly what make this society vulnerable to the Vaylen. If I am going to preserve humanity against an alien threat, I am going to have to beat them by abolishing slavery and oppression. I'm going to have to give up my power and privilege to save my world. I'm going to win the insurrectionist over to my side."

Now, in the Roach case, I guess I tend to approach the game as black comedy and not worry too much about the moral weight of it, but Hans' choice seems like something that's not out of bounds for Roach play - just not the default and not what was expected at the table. You could play a morally engaged game with the roach, if everybody was ready to see it and support it. I think that could be cool.
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Hans
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« Reply #23 on: August 18, 2006, 09:46:16 AM »

Hans, if you encounter fiction that makes you uncomfortable, that's perfectly OK. It means that you have to decide between two choices:
1) You say, "This content makes me uncomfortable, and I will play this game anyway, with the goal of trying to understand where my discomfort comes from."
2) Or you say, "I am not going to play this game in this form because I am uncomfortable with its content."

Does that help at all, Hans?

I think that summarizes the situation admirably.  I can see both points, and can conceive of different levels and kinds of discomfort that would make me choose one or the other course of action.

Of course, another question might be how do you deal with the situation where, three hours into a four hour session, you cross the line from point 1 to point 2?  Or three sessions into a five session campaign?  At that point it becomes more a question of tact; how do you tactfully explain to the GM that you need to walk away?

We all know these things should be discussed up front (as Lisa and Jason have indicated the rules of the Roach require), but we also know that people's self knowledge is incomplete; sometimes you don't know something will bother you until you actually experience it, and therefore don't really have any hint you should avoid the experience in the first place.  In a Dust Devils game I ran at GenCon, one player made the statement at the beginning of the game that he was uncomfortable with rape.  I thought, "wow, that is incredible self-knowledge, I need to make sure I ask a question regarding boundaries before every session of Dust Devils I run with strangers."  But at the same time I thought "wow, what had to happen in a game for him to need to state THAT up front?"  I can truthfully say I've never had rape even hinted at in 20+ years of gaming.  It would never have occurred to me to mention it as a boundary I didn't want crossed. 

In response to Mark's comment regarding black comedy and Jason's comment regarding "pitch black satire", my expectations regarding the game were totally skewed, in retrospect.  If I had made the judgement that the Roach was going to be "pitch black satire" I probably would have steered clear in the first place.  Black comedy as a form of entertainment has never been a favorite of mine.  I expected, I don't know, dark grey comedy; sort of Wodehouse meets Lovecraft, as I may have mentioned previously.  More parody than satire. 

From that perspective, my experience with the Roach is roughly analogous to a person buying Ferrari and then complaining that it gets poor gas mileage; a little more research could have saved some trouble.
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Ricky Donato
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« Reply #24 on: August 18, 2006, 10:12:24 AM »

Of course, another question might be how do you deal with the situation where, three hours into a four hour session, you cross the line from point 1 to point 2?  Or three sessions into a five session campaign?  At that point it becomes more a question of tact; how do you tactfully explain to the GM that you need to walk away?

That's an excellent point to raise. I think it must begin with you stating outright, "I am uncomfortable here." This does not equate to you leaving the game, though. I see two possible solutions:

1) The group decides, "Ok, then we won't go into that uncomfortable situation. We'll go into this other situation instead." This is a perfectly functional solution.
2) The group says, "We really want to go into that uncomfortable situation." To which you presumably reply, "Then I think I should not be playing." This is also a perfectly functional solution.

Which of the two will actually occur depends on the social contract, which means that it depends not just on you but also on everyone else.

We all know these things should be discussed up front (as Lisa and Jason have indicated the rules of the Roach require), but we also know that people's self knowledge is incomplete; sometimes you don't know something will bother you until you actually experience it, and therefore don't really have any hint you should avoid the experience in the first place.  In a Dust Devils game I ran at GenCon, one player made the statement at the beginning of the game that he was uncomfortable with rape.  I thought, "wow, that is incredible self-knowledge, I need to make sure I ask a question regarding boundaries before every session of Dust Devils I run with strangers."  But at the same time I thought "wow, what had to happen in a game for him to need to state THAT up front?"  I can truthfully say I've never had rape even hinted at in 20+ years of gaming.  It would never have occurred to me to mention it as a boundary I didn't want crossed.

That's a funny story to me. When I first started thinking about boundaries in RPGs a couple of years ago, the very first boundary I thought of was rape. I knew it was a boundary I did not want to cross, even though I've never encountered it in my gaming. So maybe that player didn't have a bad experience; maybe he just knew for sure what he would not want to see.

I think this is a common issue in RPGs, because RPGs allow an infinite number of choices. You never need to worry about boundaries in Monopoly or Risk, because the choices are finite, you can see all the possibilities immediately, and so boundaries don't need to be stated; you can decide if this crosses your boundary as soon as you read the rulebook. RPGs don't have that benefit.
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Ricky Donato

My first game in development, now writing first draft: Machiavelli
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #25 on: August 18, 2006, 10:33:14 AM »

I'd love to play in a Roach game where the switch for moral engagement was definitively, explicitly on.  It'd be a very different game, and much harder to play I suspect. 

In terms of boundaries, I tried to make it clear in the rules that if someone articulates their desire to establish a line or veil, that is to be honored without further comment.  I recognize that "I will not abandon you" play is both possible and laudable, but I don't think The Roach is the game in which to explore it.  When I play, I always say "sexual violence against women or children" as a hard line, because I don't want to see it, ever.  Once that is out there, and knowing what everyone else has issues with, I can push 110% on whatever remains, which is always plenty.

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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #26 on: August 18, 2006, 12:34:46 PM »

No, it's not that we condone the acts. I've had characters do heinous things that I would never, ever condone. No, it's that we're enjoying the suffering of others that's problematic. That we're reveling in villainy. Yeah, sure, we're also making commentary that what the characters are doing is heinous. But, as I said, after you say that once, after that, why are you continuing to say it? Message recieved, over and out. Anything after that is exploitive of our own feelings about the darkness that we're discovering in ourselves as we come up with the depraved things that happen.

You know what's interesting? I hadn't actually assumed on reading the game that this sort of horrible thing would happen constantly. Oh, to be sure when controlled by the roach, characters are forced to do some things that are bad. But the player still has some control over what happens. When I played my demo, I thought I was getting out of hand when I had my character deliberately try to injure somebody. I'm a piker when compared to most players, it seems.

I think that a much more "civilized" game of roach could be played that doesn't end up like most of Lisa's sessions. OTOH, maybe it's just my inexperience with actually playing the game.

Mike
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oliof
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Harald Wagener - Zurich, Switzerland


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« Reply #27 on: August 20, 2006, 02:21:40 AM »

Mike,
the horrible things described in the AP reports don't happen constantly. I assume (and my experience with dogs support that assumption) that AP reporters are mostly very creative, colorful and extroverted people. That also means that they will go to the extremes a game offers them often, so we see them here.

I have already linked to my Roach AP account, which is much less vile, satanic and brutalizing than most of the stories I've read here. Nonetheless, it was a game where people followed the roach orders, where being roached was a bad thing that gave you the extra power you needed, where professors competed for reputation, and all that jazz. We even hat ancient east sumerian architecture, engineering and art on topic. On top of that, we had plagiarism, student-professor relationships, police investigations, ...

I promise you another "civilized roach" AP report before the end of the year. Keeping it "civilized" also adds to the tension between the roach commands and their disconnect with "modern society".

Regards,
    Harald
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Hans
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Posts: 576


« Reply #28 on: August 20, 2006, 11:04:48 AM »

Keeping it "civilized" also adds to the tension between the roach commands and their disconnect with "modern society".

This seems like it would be one of the coolest features of a toned done, gentile Roach game.  Played either for laughs or for horror, making the Roach commands truly alien would be a great outlet for creativity.
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Josh Roby
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Category Three Forgite


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« Reply #29 on: August 21, 2006, 09:21:17 AM »

Couple thoughts:

On the toned-down "civilized" Roach game -- I find that con games sort of encourage the depravity, due to the quickened pace and the anonymity.  A con game is a venue where you can experiment going further than you might normally with friends that you're going to play another game with next week.

On applying Calvinism to the Roach -- first off, I think my eyes crossed when you described your character's rapture to heaven.  To me, that seemed to be a pretty profound departure from the game's intended content; I'm not surprised at all that it was hard to shoehorn in.

On the difference between playing and condoning -- the point-man for this discussion is Lolita.  Nabakov wrote the novel to explore what would make a man trespass so far from cultural norms.  There's value in exploring that territory, because crossing boundaries is the only way we ever understand the nature of the boundaries themselves.  We aren't saying that it's okay to cross the boundary, we are exploring why the boundary is there and whether or not it should be there.  Personally, I think it's important to at least consider the possibility that the boundary is not a valid one; without that possibility a great deal of the exploration is simply impossible.  In Lolita, you have to consider whether it's possible that Humbert really can love Lolita, or if his attraction is wholly depraved.  If you go in with an answer pre-prepared, you miss a great deal of the novel's impact.  The same goes for games that offer big, hard moral choices -- it's got to actually be a choice, otherwise you're missing the bulk of the game.

On moral choices in games -- one of the best things I've seen in recent games is the trend towards placing big, tough moral choices in the context of specific situations full of conflicting details and compelling characters.  Dogs is awesome in this regard, in that the game can make the Dogs question nearly any of their beliefs when presented with loving, hurting, desperate people who are struggling with those beliefs.  That's why I find Brett's BE game fascinating (fascinating enough for a separate thread, Brett -- get posting!), because the game sits there and presents the players with a conundrum.  Here's your antagonist: he's morally superior to your protagonists.  Now deal with the situation.  Roach has a similar conundrum: how far will you go to get tenure and recognition?  Sure, the question is easy when it's presented like that; it's much, much more difficult when you've got a fully fleshed out character in front of you, in a rapidly escalating situation complicated by other player characters who are also fleshed out with their own motivations and goals.

To me, Roach can get played in one of two ways: it can be played for cheap laughs, or it can be played pretty hardcore.  It's hard to play the second at a con game to start with -- it requires a little more investment and social support structure.  However, for the second you've also got to leave your absolutist faith in anything at the door.  The purpose is exploration, not exposition.  If you go in with an answer already determined -- or decide that you've got it all figured out in the first 15 minutes and don't need to test your hypothesis -- you're short-circuiting the game.  It's like walking into an Uno game deciding that you're the Uno Champion, and disregarding whether you win or lose each hand, denying that anything that happens in the game has anything to do with your Uno Mastery.

All that said, Hans, I don't know if either mode -- cheap laughs or hardcore exploration -- is the kind of play that you're interested in.
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