Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Random Thoughts: Are RPG's Anti-State?

So I had the thought about how rulers act in RPG's. Read my thoughts below and let me know what you think. How do your games usually paint the ruling class?

They presuppose that the rulers and government are, at best, incompetent. Why would the townsfolk need random murder-hobos to come fight evil monsters or bandits instead of organizing their local militia or calling on the government? I say they are "at best, incompetent" because in many games, the local rulers are actively working against the people or plotting for their own benefit regardless of what collateral damage it causes. This common trope could result from normal towns not having access to the skills and resources necessary for fighting supernatural or evil forces. In most game worlds, evil is at least common enough to allow a group of heroes to make their living from fighting. If they are that common, why would the local government not adequately prepare? It would be like a town along a large riverbank not preparing for semi-annual flooding. Maybe the rulers tried to prepare but they couldn't attract any heroes. All that means is that the rulers aren't offering enough in return for the service they expect or that they do not provide a favorable environment to the existence of heroes, again a damning conclusion.

Zoinks Scoob! These +1 Scooby Snacks are great!
Perhaps this whole thing stems from a bad assumption on my part, evil in these fictional towns is an intermittent problem and the rulers are solving that rarity with the occasional quest. However, most games I've played in are not Scooby Doo adventures where random, distant towns have one-off troubles beyond their abilities to resolve. An adventuring region has numerous, constant problems of a range of difficulties such that a group of adventurers can handle successively larger problems to level up their skills. Shouldn't the rulers at least be able to handle the low-level bandits, goblins, and aliens that lower level heroes are called on to fight? A competent ruler would effectively knock out the bottom rungs of the adventuring ladder. If larger and more complicated threats are common, competent rulers should have a standing force of stronger individuals to deal with these problems. It is the standard operating procedure in RPG's that the rulers are incompetent in the most fundamental area: protecting their citizens.

The government in the Resident Evil movies must be criminally negligent or complicit.
In gaming, rulers often go beyond incompetency into overt corruption and evil. I don’t know many films, books, or songs where government* employees are heroes. The few government heroes that do exist are the ones that break or bend the rules to do what is right. The only notable exception is when Our Soldiers fight against Their Soldiers, where We are good for following orders and They are bad for following orders. Government is never painted as the best possible option in the realm of ideas, but the best in a series of worse options among realistic possibilities. People often vote for the same reason, invariably picking between the lesser of two evils. Maybe voting is the realistic thing to do, and one of the elements that makes a fiction more enjoyable is not having to pick the best of many terrible options.

I am an anarchist, and I disagree with that lesser of two evils nonsense. The arguments for anarchy are philosophically and historically convincing. Now I work on outreach and agorism. (More agorism here)


*For this purpose, evil big corporations are also government. Look at how they act just like governments: acting without consent, having strict and unyielding rules, acting callously towards the individual, and initiating violence against the peaceful. Let’s not even get into the whole argument that governments created corporate person-hood to benefit their well connected friends with the gift of limited liability, government granted monopolies, barriers to entry for their competitors, vast subsidies, and a state bureaucracy that imposes flat costs on all companies (which is a larger relative burden on smaller businesses).
**Disclaimer: I've long been anti-government in some fashion since I've played RPG's, so maybe the type of people I play with are also against government when they can help it? I'd love to hear about your experiences too, but I guess that if you are reading a gaming blog that talks about anarchy that you are at least sympathetic to anarchism and will likely have similar bias in your RPG's.

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