2014-07-29

Tribalism

Those who know me best know that I have a touchy temper and a tendency to want to go after all the stupid I see in the world around me. However, I also have a tendency to not want to suffer a self-induced rage stroke, so as a result, I stay well away from most controversy and politics online.

I am making an exception to this policy tonight.

There’s a story making the rounds about a group of gamers who really love the new 5th Edition ruleset for Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, they love it so much that they decided to show their love of the new game by gathering up a pile of 4th Edition books and burning them. Because there’s absolutely no symbolism there.

There’s video but I’m not linking to it. You can find it if you like.

I was talking to a friend (hey, John) who’s a non-gamer, and who was interested in knowing what exactly was going on with this display. For other non-gamers, a short version of the story: D&D has been around since 1974, and has gone through a number of different versions. 4th Edition D&D (from 2008 to about 2012) marked a very different take on the game from previous editions, and was highly polarizing. A lot of players loved it. A lot of players hated it. We’ll have to assume that this particular group of book-burners were in the latter category. But maybe they were just cold; I don’t know.

Anyway, in talking to my friend John, he used a phrase that struck an unexpected resonance with me, speaking about the sense of the ‘tribal and ritualistic’ in what he’d seen of the video. And in thinking about it, I realized that even more than the surface-level stupidity, that’s what bothered me the most.

You don’t like a game? Don’t play it. You bought books and ended up regretting it? Sell them, or give them away, or donate them to your local library. Destroying them is stupid. It’s decision-level stupid; it’s “Hey, this won’t make us look bad on the Internet, right?” stupid. Just plain stupid.

But roleplaying gaming is, at its most basic level, a positive social and tribal endeavor. That’s what sets it apart from other forms of entertainment, and even from sports (which is built around the idea of a winning side and a losing side — a concept that doesn’t exist in gaming). And to replace a positive tribalism of imagination and shared world-building with a negative tribalism of anti-imagination goes far beyond the merely stupid and pushes into darker realms.

That particular group of haters thought they’d show their love of the new 5th Edition D&D by burning 4th Edition books. I worked on a lot of 4th Edition D&D. I’ve worked on (and continue to work on) a lot of 5th Edition D&D. And what I have to say on the topic of people who would burn books to prove a point in the edition wars is that these fucking morons don’t deserve to play any version of this game.