Thursday, 12 July 2012

Ill Deeds

I did a bad thing in a game once and I thought about it for a long time.

I was a corporate fixer for Gazprom in an alternate version of Liverpool run by the Militant. There was a girl working for an escort agency and my bosses told me that there would be a significant payoff if we delivered her. We were told she was involved in espionage. Which we believed to be the case.

I and some friends carefully planned the perfect abduction and carried it out. It took two or three sessions, so six to nine hours of my life were spent committing this imaginary crime.

In all the schemes our Cyberpunk characters had tried, this is the only one that went off perfectly. Its also the only one that was really very very immoral in an immediate sense.

All of the things we did were somewhat dodgy, we tried smuggling drugs, we got into gunfights with priests and went gambling. At one point my character had a security guy tied up in a basement and executed him in cold blood. He also betrayed numerous friends, including real people who were right there at the table in front of me.

But I never went home and thought about it much afterwards. It was only the imaginary girl. We did it without thinking about it. Only later, lying in bed in the dark did I start to wonder if I did a bad thing.

I decided that I was going to play my character as a fractured good guy from that point, which I failed to do, and he decided to rip off some gamblers, which he failed to do. He was shot by police. Which he deserved.

Maybe it's because it was a woman, or because we never really knew why they wanted her, or because we only met her once so she didn't really have any personality, she was just a cipher really. A blank space to read into.

I was reading a Zak S post on G+ and thinking about morality in games and if the things in games have any relation to the real world. I think they do, but the translation between the two is long, distant, inconstant and strange.

I imaging holding a long loop of very pure silk in my hands, it's evening and the silk is grey so it just reaches off into the gloom, you don't really see any particular point where it disappears, only endless fine gradations of darkness. And the silk is being pulled through my hands, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. It's so smooth that I can barely tell its moving at all. I have to concentrate on the sensation in my fingertips but I can never be certain. I could clamp down at any point and the silk would be still, but I don't.

I banned rape in my D&D games. And child abuse, and child endangerment. It's never actually come up with anyone I play with, so it's only a tacit rule, invisible and untested. But it's there.

The murders and thefts go ahead as normal, they don't leave any particular stain on my memory. I don't think about them while I walk home or before I fall asleep.


  1. Very thoughtful post.

    I think in Cyberpool my motivations were always to do what seemed right for the character at the time: it was never purely about "earning money to buy shinier stuff" - most of the time it was about survival.

    Whereas in D&D (I guess) it is assumed that the PCs are "heroes" in some sense of the word, I think Cyberpunk is much more grey-area about it. I never felt like a hero or an anti-hero playing Cyberpool. I didn't think that I was a "bad person" in it, just someone who was trying to find a way to survive.

    (most of the time Cyberpool felt like being in an episode of 24, you just know that something is going to go wrong no matter what you do, and so you live in the moment and try to meet the objectives that you set for yourself and try not to cross whatever line is the line that you should not cross)

    When you mention things that you have "banned" in D&D, is that just in D&D or is that in games you GM in general?

    Again, really great, thought-provoking post.

  2. Probably in general. Though there minght be a sliding scale there depending on the people I'm playing with and the game. Couldn't really 'ban' anything in Apocalypse World for instance. Either practically- regarding the shared dm responsibility or dramatically- since AW draws some of it's energy from potential dark emotions.

  3. Well I think it was really handled well in AW when Chaplain shot that boy at the roadside "ambush" - the dreams etc afterwards/psychic scarring were a great way of putting some consequences in.

    Hope we get the chance to get back to AW some time... I had such plans for Chaplain's sister (who would have been my new PC, following the "disappearance" of Chaplain)...

  4. This is a really good post, Patrick. No particular thoughts to add, except to say that I implicitly ban rape and the like in my games too, except perhaps as a vague off-camera thing. Or, perhaps put another way, I don't ban it - I just wouldn't game with somebody who would bring it up in a game.

  5. Great post, glad I found it. I am really taken with your analogy of the silk thread for some reason, very compelling. That said, I think any game in which you are prompted to continue thinking about what you (your alter ego) did and why those actions were done is a success. Fiction, be it a game, book or film that makes us question or selves as it relates to the world around us, even if only in the theater of the mind is powerful stuff and its what reminds us that we are human, and ethical, even if in or id-like fantasies we find ourselves traversing the dreamscape like Gyges himself on a bender.

  6. Finally reading this 18 months late. I agree with you the connection is distant and strange but should not be discounted. OTOH I'm in favour of discussing everything, and RPGs are above all a discussion.

    I go back and forth about what it means for us to be responsible for the things we imagine. But most of all I want to be responsible for my imaginings. The minute I run into someone who actually wants to censor my thinking I get really angry. I know that's a separate, and less delicate, conversation. But it's always bubbling right under the surface of this question: what should I not do? slides into what should you not do? so easily that the fundamental difference between the two questions is continually being lost.

  7. No worries and anyways I have been too consumed in 2077 lately to do anything interesting