I was watching the Newshour with Jim Lehrer tonight, and it triggered some "deep thoughts" about rpgs. The Newshour showed Alan Greenspan's testimony before Congress today about the economic collapse. Greenspan talked about his shock that his "ideology" had proven wrong - that his free market view of the world had led to terrible and unpredictable consequences. Of course, the media jumped on this, because who wants an ideologue guiding economic policy? But as a social scientist, I have much empathy for Greenspan. If you listen beyond the sound bytes, he was really talking about his theoretical model through which he views the world, which is supported by an ample amount of empirical and historical evidence (yeah yeah, his model involves some problems clearly, but that's not what this post is about). Really, theoretical models are one of the central tools of social science, and when one confronts problems with their basic assumptions, it causes serious shock. Greenspan indicated as much.
(Bear with me, we're getting to rpgs.)
This Greenspan stuff in turn reminded me of Greek tragedy, which I used to read and teach. One central feature of Greek tragedy (and the Iliad) is playing out what happens when humans meet their conceptual limitations - when they realizd that the most fundamental things they believe are wrong (you know, like when you realize that your lover is your mom). That's when shit hits the fan. Part of the point is that we're just human; we're not gods. And a key different between humans and gods is the ability to know or see the world for what it is. Our worldviews always have flaws, and as humans, we always need theoretical worldviews to organize and even form what we know and see. That just a fundamentally shitty part of being human.
(Here's the rpg part.)
I've had so much fun thinking about Greek tragedy over the years and seeing things play out similarly on the global stage in recent months (only from an intellectual standpoint, duh), that I wonder if these kinds of themes could be integrated into rpgs. In a way that's actually fun. Could I fruitfully play a character that this kind of tragedy happens to? Would it just be stupid?
In our "old school" game right now, this kind of game may not work. I'm playing a holy roller paladin with no doubt about his worldview, so he'd be perfect for this kind of tragedy at first glance. But I'm having the most fun gaming that I think I've had since I started playing with some of my current group a couple years ago. Much of my fun comes from kicking ass and talking in goofy voices - not deep philosophical intersections between gaming and tragedy. Also, we're using Savage Worlds, so there's no mechanical support for this kind of thing (is there anywhere and is it fun if it's out there?).
But here's another idea: It may be possible to implement something like this as a GM - somehow turning the basic assumptions of the world upside down in a way that creates a crisis for characters to deal with. (Pat - I'm not encouraging you to do this for our current game, because it's great like it is.) The rpg version of an economic crisis. That way, we could still have raucous fun without getting bogged down in the depression of it all. So it would still be fun. But would it have enough tragedy in the game to bring out the themes I'm interested in?
I just don't know, and I'm probably out thinking myself what this post. Maybe I should just stick to channeling my inner 13 year old.