DPS is not a unit of happiness.

by waxbanks

This post is tangentially about roleplaying games.

Reading forum.rpg.net — rarely a good idea — you come across an odd sentiment, never stated outright but always floating around: the ‘better’ an RPG character is, the more fun it is to play.

And ‘better,’ in this usage, always means ‘higher damage output.’

The guys (it’s always guys) who seem to hold this weird belief paint a picture of D&D as a competition in which numerical superiority is a win condition rather than (as in old-school games) a strategic consideration. If your character ‘build’ is capable, even in a ‘white room’ test scenario, of inflicting massive amounts of damage per round in combat, then you’ve won the character design minigame. And yes, that game does in fact have winners and losers.

Daft, isn’t it?

I bring it up because this is only one (pathetic) specification of a general tendency that adolescents and overgrown adolescents have: to turn areas of negotiation, compromise, uncertainty, collaboration, free exploration, improvisation, into rigidly defined competitions which reward ‘creativity’ only in a narrow, employee-of-the-month sense.

(MIT’s biggest spectator sport is a robotics competition which is won as often by inelegant ‘degenerate’ strategies as by robust mastery of design art.)

D&D culture has shifted dramatically over the years; there’s been an element of PC/DM competition since before the game’s first appearance in the mid-70s, but the idea of the ‘character build’ and the charop (character-optimization) subgame truly came into favour in the new century — not coincidentally, the era of (online) video games — along with the 3rd edition of the game, created by Magic: The Gathering publishers Wizards of the Coast. There’s a bitter irony there: the lead designer on D&D 3e was avant-garde RPG designer Jonathan Tweet, the man responsible for Over the Edge and Everway, games which radically streamline character design and lean heavily on dramatic play and free-interpretive collaboration. (Everway ingeniously uses tarot card interpretation for both character creation and task resolution.)

It’s not just about mainstream influx into the precincts of ‘geek culture’ diluting the gene pool, either. There are clear generational shifts going on in RPG culture(s) which echo more general shifts toward learned helplessness and reliance on corporate creativity-by-committee. Just yesterday I saw forum posters insist that, because there’s no official WotC Warlord class for D&D 5th edition, there’s no such thing as a 5e Warlord — despite the existence of more than a half-dozen homebrew 5e Warlord classes of varying levels of sophistication. The ‘it’s not legal for organized play!’ canard is the equivalent of ‘Mom won’t let us’: an excuse for not doing the work.

Lego Stockholm Syndrome (Ages 4-99!)

There will always be kids who are temperamentally inclined to make their own fun, to ‘violate warranties’ (as the fashionable stickers say). Some kids are content with plain Legos, and don’t need every single Ninjago or Chima set. But those kids cut into corporate profits, and so everything about corporate culture is arrayed against them. Which is what you’d expect, of course, from a zoo full of sociopathic predators.

But the deep problem, as the rpg.net forum unpleasantly shows, is that kids learn to identify with corporations, and dismiss the folks who know better (or more diplomatically, never develop that defense mechanism). Everyone who refuses to do creative work because it is the domain of committees with budgets is part of the problem. And the problem extends far beyond buying toys games and gadgets.

Because the suits you trust with your leisure time run everything else in the world too.

And they hate us and everything else except money.