Clash of cultures

We played the penultimate game session before the summer break of my home-brew campaign Stories from Darkmoon Vale yesterday. The game’s main McGuffin was the demise of a tyrannical lumber baron. The session contained lots of interesting character-driven scenes and a lot of cloak & dagger -style manipulations and investigations. About 3/4 through the game session something very strange happened…

I really like character-driven scenes, that have a strong immersive quality. In my opinion this is the meat of a role-playing session, whereas game mechanics are just the potatoes. I have this habit of pushing my players into situations, where they are forced to act out their character’s personality and motivations. One of the players in my group is very much into mechanics, but he doesn’t know dick about character or drama, so for the past few sessions I’ve done my utmost to force a reaction (any kind of reaction, really) out of this player.

This player’s character is a nobleman who dabbles with arcane magic. The player has described the character’s personality as “rash and hot-headed”, so one would think pushing the character would be a breeze, right? Wrong. Permit me to elaborate. I started out easy with a few burly mercenaries quipping, throwing thinly veiled insults, and hinting about said nobleman’s sexual preferences. The player’s reaction was: “These guys are dicks. My character walks out of the room.” And here I was expecting fire and brimstone. Silly me.

During the game session I gradually increased the pressure on the player. The climax was a meeting with a fellow nobleman, an elderly gentleman wizard with a preference for young boys. I started with descriptions of light flirtations and sexual advances like touching hands and thighs. No reaction.

Later on, when the wizard was encountered in the bar of a brothel, I turned the heat fully on. The wizard was drunk as a skunk, and took to desperate measures to get the younger man into bed: He cast a dominate spell on the PC, who promptly failed his Will Save. Then he started to force himself on the player character. The poor PC was dragged upstairs to a room, and the wizard started undressing the player character. I gave the player a lot of wiggle room to get out of the situation his honor intact, allowing him new Will Saves about once a minute. He didn’t succeed on the save until the point when the NPC was down on his knees between the PC’s legs giving him a blow-job. Did I expect him to blast the old pervert with a lightning bolt? Yes, definitely. Did this happen? Nope. The player just sat there opening and closing his mouth like a guppy out of water. It took the combined efforts of two other player’s to actually get him to do anything at all: “Come on, blast him already! Your character’s supposed to be a hot-head!” and such. Eventually, the player got out of his stupor and started rolling his damage dice. Sigh. My experiment had failed miserably and I now consider this particular player a lost cause. There is nothing else I can do. Oh, almost forgot. I did get one reaction out of the player: He threatened to tear his character sheet in half if his character got one up the ass.

Another unexpected consequence of this scene was the strongly averse reactions I got from two other players. After the game session they berated me for including a scene, which (their words, not mine) made them feel extremely squeamish and uncomfortable. I replied with the question: “Would you have been equally uncomfortable, if instead of a homosexual old wizard, the seducer would have been a hot succubus with a huge rack?” to which one of the offended players remarked: “No, since that would have been funny and entertaining.”

This is how I read this: The players weren’t really that uncomfortable with a scene depicting explicit sexual acts. The problem was, that the scene depicted very explicitly HOMOsexual acts. Also, none of the player’s have any problems whatsoever with scenes containing graphic, gory violence. To me this smacks strongly of hypocrisy and homophobia.

I’d like to point out that I have no problems with people choosing what kind of content they want in their role-playing experience. As long as they tell me about it. If you have a problem with something, just speak up. Open your goddamn mouth and bloody well tell me if something I’m narrating makes you uncomfortable. I’m not a mind reader, after all.

6 responses to “Clash of cultures

  1. I’d like to point out, that I didn’t say “It would have been funny and entertaining.” I said I probably would have reacted with a bit more humor to the whole situation.

    That aside, I was surprised at how strong my own reaction to the scene was.

    • Duly noted. Thank you for the clarification. My main point is, I expect players in my games to speak up if they have issues. And I do mean speak up immediately. It would’ve been trivial for me to end the narration with a fade to black, or to narrate in a completely different direction.

  2. I was pondering about certain amount of homophobia, yes. Would it be a sin to be a bit homophobic? I dare not say so. I stopped watching Torchwood because it was just … there to shock people. Would I have a problem if this certain scene would have been done by both participants being willing and without certain overly pervent inclinations? Maybe, but less. The situation does count, it’s not just “oooh it’s homosexual, you are a racist”. Truth be told the scene there was literally a raping going on.

    As much as one would like to compare violent, gory battle and sexually explicit acts together, they don’t seem to mesh into the same context. There might actually be something scientific behind the matter why sexual acts have a larger impact, but unfortunately I cannot provide any facts on that.

    • Well, I suppose everyone is entitled to have an opinion. I have to disagree on Torchwood, though. In my opinion the sexuality of the male lead is in no way forced or “there to shock people”. In fact, quite the opposite. There is nothing about said character or his presentation that I find in the minutest offensive.

      I’m not sure what you mean by overtly perverse inclinations. The notion of gay sex? The age difference? I do admit, that forcing yourself on someone using magic is no different from forcing someone to have sex using other methods, and this is a sexual deviation.

      Yes, all of these are “adult” themes, and yes, sex ruffles more feathers than violence. Personally I blame this on Christianity. However, in my opinion role-playing is grown-up enough as a hobby to tackle this sort of issues.

  3. This and your report about the game session in Tampere made me think a bit about role-playing vs. game mechanics. Personally, I’m probably too used to being concerned with just the game mechanics, so I usually back up to them. I would really like to do actual role-playing more, but there are some complications with that. The biggest ones are probably my shyness, general social deficiency, indecisiveness and an obsessive need to minimize conflicts and resolve them in the most effective and painless way. I haven’t even tried to play characters that are very bold, charismatic, set into their minds or fuck around (figuratively (or literally)) with everyone, though I have tried to poke at some of those character aspects slightly. I’m not certain of my success. I don’t think I’ve had the proper opportunity to try out how far I could go. I have the tendency to go into stupor if I pushed hard for a reaction, as well. I can only assume that subtler encouragement and an easier situation would work better, since I’m often afraid of the whole game; if my character totally blows and does something really stupid or unforgivable or something akin to that, will the whole campaign/mission/relation be ruined? It’s very much a metagame issue, but important, or so I think… Though, I suppose the metagame fear translates more or less well into a character’s fear of reject, exile and death.

    Still, there was one situation that I handled quite well despite the problems that went along with it. The situation was fairly different, however, since I was the GM. The PCs kidnapped an NPC (when they could’ve just talked to her) and effectively ruined their chance to get the plot forward. Then they went ahead and tortured the NPC for info. They threatened to cut off her arm and did so, at least partially. I have a quite strong aversion to amputation, but I could handle it. Now I see it wasn’t that bad. Maybe it was a GM issue too, since I wasn’t that personally immersed with the NPC.

    Later, in another game, a character of mine got his hand eaten. I then decided to have the character run around, thrash about and cry uncontrollably, thinking that it was a very nice response to what happened. I don’t know if anyone else appreciated it, but I don’t remember complaints either. I’m not a very good actor, so I just described the frenzied actions of the character in relative monotone, though it was a fairly emotional event for me as well. The whole scene wasn’t played out very much, since everybody knew one could just go to the temple and get the hand regenerated. I actually didn’t for sure, so I felt annoyed at the character losing a hand and thinking what kind of difficulties he’d face and also about how it could make for great role-playing—if I only knew how to do it well. Either way, the characters then just went to the temple and had the hand regenerated.

    Online, in play-by-post games, I’ve been able to role-play much better, since I can think about the proper character response with time, and my writing skills are considerably better than social skills. Of course, I only think I’m better at it while writing since no one has ever told me anything quite straight. Still, I can remember right off the hat three incidents where I thought I was doing some great role-playing, but was met with player condescension and/or really strained and unintendedly impaired character relations. It’s a possibility that it was due to culture/language barriers since the other players and GM weren’t Finns (no, they weren’t Yankees either; mostly Europeans and South-Americans).
    I guess I do need that Finnish play-by-post game to test this culture thing. Or to find out if I really do suck that much…

    Hmm, I think I’ve refound a point. I only have big problems with the pressing social situations, even if they’re small, but can handle issues if they’re not very social, like amputation, no matter how much it disturbs me otherwise.

    Since the other comments touched Torchwood, I’ll say that I was first a little bit shocked about the sexuality (in general) and even that was in the very first episode. I can’t say what its purpose was (just natural, trying to gather more audience or the shock value) since I’m just not good at assessing things like that. In my mind, the sexuality became casual and well-done enough after the small initial startle. I should watch it again and see if I’m startled at all in the beginning now that I know it’s there.

  4. Pingback: A Short Campaign History; Red Box to Pathfinder RPG, part 4 « Blowing smoke

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