Sunday, October 09, 2011

Ethics and role playing games

Fudge Dice (Moo ratio)

One of the few hobbies that I've kept is playing role-playing games. Alas, it has been a while since I've played with real people, so I tend to play over the internet, with people I don't actually know in real life. For those who only know of games such as Dungeons & Dragons by reputation or only know of electronic versions such as video games, the important thing about role-playing games done right is that they are shared storytelling. The story can be dark, flashy, primarily physical, primarily social, gritty, hopeful, serious, silly or anything else that the participants require. While the organizer sets the environment and milieu, it is the job of the other players to decide how the story goes within the setting.

There are plenty of motivations for doing this. People just enjoying each other's company, wit and humor; those who want to try out what the world looks like from another point of view; writers who want some practice (or who are still working on getting their 1 million words of bad prose out of the way). But one thing I get is the opportunity to think through how to deal with moral issues that do occur in real life.

My wife jokes that I have a habit of playing characters that are like myself. Or more precisely, I take one aspect of me, and make a character that is built on that. Like what beginning writers are told to do, write about something you know. It could be thought of as exploring what ifs. Of course, currently, I am trying to break this by playing a modern day Buddhist monk, Jesuit priest, and paramedic along with a technician in an early industrial setting. (well, I think my wife will call me out on one of these, but I was not trying too hard building that character). But the games I get into tend to be on the grittier side. And one of the effects is that they go into moral issues. Over the past couple years the games I have been in have dealt with racism, class divisions, prejudice, counter-insurgency, and the application of torture. To play well, it means you have to think about the motivations of your character, and the consequences of traits and decisions made along the way.

The groups respond in various ways. For some, it becomes repulsive and they want no part in it. Which is frankly how a large part of the real world is like, where moral guardians declare their righteousness and destroy the possibility of intelligent discussion. Others play things out, and let their characters respond to see how things lead (of course, there are often characters who are moral guardians in play, but this still means that things play out).

And that is probably one thing that I get in gaming that I don't get in real life anymore. I am no longer active in communities that have learned that a lack of transparency, honesty, and openness leads to failure and death. It has been a few years since the last time I was part of a conversation that included a discussion on how a decision would be made to accept the death of some of those present. In its place is a world where moral outrage is a practiced art form, and moral guardians reserve for themselves the right to have these discussions, and shout down others who may want a say.

Not knowing most of my playing companions in person, I have no way of knowing if these are questions they think deeply about, or if these are things that only come up in their lives in the context of games. But I do know that when we are talking about life and death, generally I find that the time to think about it is before you are faced with it for real. Then things tend to work out better. And this is one place to do it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

PSO Blog: Mommy and daddy need to go to a PSO concert

[Originally posted at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra blogs] Daddy, you should go to the Pittsburgh symphony concert We achieved one of those major milestones in parenting this weekend. Leaving baby with a caregiver not related to us. ( Yes, we did check in during the course of the afternoon). The occasion, a PSO concert of pieces by Beethoven featuring the Eroica Trio playing the Triple concerto, as we were reminded by a mailer a couple weeks before.
I have a recording of the Triple Concerto at home. And I've been asked why I would go to a concert when I have a recording of some of the greats. And there is something to be said about the fact that every performance is unique. But there is also the fact that there is more to a piece than the notes written by the composer. There is the interpretation of the work. And when you have a group like the Eroica Trio who have been playing together for decade you get the collective interpretation of the work.
With in the first minute of the first movement I was hearing aspects of the piece I have never heard before. A good part of this can be attributed to Honeck balancing out the orchestra so that the right part has focus at any point in time. But another part of it is probably due to the fact that the Eroica Trio has played together for so long. The recording I have is by three acclaimed musicians with another world class orchestra. But the three soloists are known as soloists, not as an ensemble. And there is a difference between musicians playing together and musicians who know each other playing a single piece. It shows in the way the Eroica Trio could play off each other, more a conversation of old friends rather then a few technicians working together. And it felt more that we were privileged to bear witness to it more than just being in an audience.
When I was in graduate school I had remarked to a pianist friend that I thought a duet she was performing probably could only be mastered by pianists who were family members, because there was so much potential in how the parts worked with each other that could not be expressed by performers who knew each other in passing. This weekend's performance is the reward of having artists playing together who not only know their craft, but each other.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Parenting Month 11: Let's play a game - feed mommy and daddy

This past week we have been having lots of fun playing feed mommy and daddy. Because T knows that he likes being fed and he wants to do the same for us (we think). We also play give mommy/daddy ___ alot now.

On the not so nice front, we are declaring defeat on the ear infection that has been with us since early August. So this month tubes will go in. It seems to be widespread in this region, and by all accounts the tubes seem to work (a four year old gave us a full description of what it was like to get them, but it seems he was sleeping for most of it. Obviously it was not too traumatic.), but he does seem young for this sort of thing. But he has been bothered by it, especially at night since he wants to relieve the discomfort, but he cannot reach inside his head to get at it. On the other hand, for a sick child, he is remarkably good natured and happy when awake. It fools all the doctors who think it cannot be too bad, But we're hoping it gets even better once the fluid drains from his ears.

And now for a gratuitous cute picture. I really like playing piano