Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Moral Stages of an AD&D Player

My brother was in town last week, and our reflections on our AD&D days of yore led me to think about how the ethical/moral assumptions of our gaming group changed over time--at least, in regard to how what sort of characters we chose to play in AD&D.

Starting out with a background of comic book superheroes, sanitized versions of Arthurian legends, and Tolkien, we tended to play Good characters (except for the odd Druid), because in our mind that’s how heroes were suppose to be. True, the actions demanded of characters can (from some perspectives) create a certain moral disconnect, but we were blissfully on troubled by that.  This era featured a large number of paladins and bards in our group.

Moving into high school, our characters spent more and more time bathed in moral shades of gray. Some of this was getting older and more “sophisticated”--in the sense that high school kids conceive the term. Another part was our influences changed: Conan, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, and modern movie heroes were the touchstones we drew upon. This was an era where there were few paladins played, but many thieves and barbarians, and the not uncommon assassin. Fairly antisocial acts were common, and downright infamous acts might be committed on occasion.

My assumptions on the next stage rests on less evidence, as my high school group is long disbanded and scattered, so I don’t know how they would have evolved in their character preferences as they moved into adulthood. However, I can say that the late twenty- to forty-somethings I game with now seem to have synthesized both of the previous styles. Characters don’t tend to be paragon’s of virtue--though this is “realistic” given the career paths they tend to follow--but there is little of the outrageous villainy or gleeful antisocial behavior that sometimes showed up in our late teens.

Anybody else see these similar sorts of shifts with time in their gaming? Or maybe different ones?


limpey said...

Absolutely; it is fascinating if you allow that the way you play might reflect the way you imagine the world at different stages of your life.
Teens often seem caught between multiple personal identities... I don't think a certain antisocial impulse is unusual and may be just a part of growing up. I notice that as teens we were probably less kind and respectful to each other (both in and out of game) than we tended to be later --- unfortunately, due to life changes, years spent not playing RPGs, etc., the only 'we' that is constant in my unofficial survey is me, but I'm just following a thought.
Certainly we were also influenced by the moral ambiguity of, as you say, what we as teens considered "more sophisticated" stories of moral ambiguity, but I also wonder if personality development is like trying on clothes --- we go through stages of selecting personalities for ourselves and "trying them on" for a while. Maybe RPGs allow us to "try on" some pretty extreme personalities with relative safety.
Interesting topic!

JDJarvis said...

Hmmm... evolution of player morality?

We had bad-ass action heroes in the old days, would-be kings for a few years after that and miscreants for the last 20 or so years.

Trey said...

Thanks for the response guys.

@limpey - I think your on to sometime there with role-playing sort of serving as a "safe" way for adolescents to try on different roles.

NetherWerks said...

Very cogent observation by @Limpey; RPGs are a 'safe' environment to try-out all sorts of things that might not (ought not?) be appropriate outside the game and away from the table. It's a lot like learning to be an actor--you need to leave the role behind once things are over. Learning that is part of being a healthy and well-adjusted adult, not a F*ed-up mess. Sshools avoid dealing or discussing the fact that we all take on various roles over the course of each day. RPGs let you come to terms with this process, explore it, and learn how to use it. The whole role-playing aspect of the game was derived from psychological techniques/processes, just as most marketing is derived from military psychological operations and Goebbel's pioneering of propaganda. This is not territory to just leave in the hands of miscreants and morons (a great name for a new RPG...). What makes it really work is how RPGs make Myth personal. Immediate. Intimate. So it's no wonder that a lot of us can track our respective evololution, maturation and differentiation efforts through the various stages that the games went through over the years. It would be incredible if someone were to study this process in detail and trackdown the way things have developed before it's too late and we've lost all the first generation of role-players...surely there are doctoral candidates and grad students out there with such an interest?