Just stop doing it.
It’s not helpful. It’s not heroic. It’s not edgy. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not revolutionary.
It’s stupid. It’s small-minded. It’s ignorant. Worst of all: it’s counter-productive.
Stop justifying things based on an either/or, us versus them mindset. Let go of the hatred and the fear, at least long enough to realize who it actually is you should be fighting. At least that long.
Stop making snap decisions - don’t spread aggression. If you spread aggression, ask yourself why you are spreading aggression. Ask yourself what the targets of the aggression feel when they receive it.
Question all of your beliefs. Question your morality. Question your ties to history, to family, to society.
Think before you speak. Think before you type.
Do not make assumptions about other people. Assumptions are likely to be misleading.
One post does not display the whole of the person behind it. Neither does one word.
Violence begets violence. It begs for violence. Violence feels good - but does it feel good to the victim?
Imagine yourself in the position of others. Imagine being scared. Angry. Frightened. Imagine their life.
Imagine your life. How scared have you been in your life? How angry? Imagine that everyone else feels just like that. They all experience the exact same fears and hatreds, joys and loves.
Belief does not define someone. Action does. Words can be actions. Actions can be words. They do not have to be.
Treat people with respect - especially when they are aggressive.
Trust in a better future. Trust in better humans. Work for a better future. Help build better humans.
Use your mind for better. Use your life to make the world better. Even if it’s just one person at a time - you can make the world better. You can choose to make the change.
Or you can remain angry. Filled with hate. Afraid.
The choice is absolutely up to you.
Today I’m going to talk to you about why Dungeons and Dragons is not a combat-focused game. Undoubtedly I’m going to take a hit for this viewpoint, but honestly I don’t give a shit, because you’re wrong and I’m right, and that’s all there is to it. Still, let me go a step further and actually explain my position.
D&D was based off of wargames - true enough. That is not however where its real strength lies, especially not in the modern age of high-graphic video games. If you just want to play a game where you destroy stuff, there are plenty of video games that allow you to do just that - and if you really want to get wargaming out of your system the old fashioned way, tabletop wargames are still pretty easy to find at local comic shops and the like (especially WarHammer). But again: that’s not what Dungeons and Dragons is all about.
“But Odin” I hear you whine, “I like combat-oriented D&D games!”
“Well” I say, “you haven’t played properly yet.”
See, D&D is all about roleplaying - which means literally “placing yourself into the role of the character you’re playing”. Depending on how different your character is from you, this can be pretty difficult - but it is also the most rewarding part of the game. Of course combat encounters will probably usually play some role - but they don’t actually have to, that’s the point here. And when combat does take place, D&D (especially 5.0) allows for it to be extremely fluid and cinematic.
Combat, at the core of D&D, is fun because of the choices you get to make as your character when a tense situation arises - not because you have a big sword and get to beat people to death. Games that revolve around nothing but combat tend to lose the interest of any but the most juvenile players pretty quickly. Likewise with games that are nothing but puzzle solving, or diplomatic subterfuge - they cater to personality subsets, but they miss out on the bigger picture.
D&D’s brilliance is in its ability to juggle little bits of everything while allowing the player to feel as if they are actually succeeding alongside their character. A really good game of D&D should be able to incorporate bits of combat, puzzle solving, and unscripted narrative improvisation, and never bore the players or make them feel detached from the game. How? Freedom of choice. D&D will always be able to do what video games can not - expand infinitely with the scope of the collective imagination of the DM and the players at the table. If I want to jump on a table, lob my sword at the orc, and try to swing away on the chandelier - I probably can. I may fail in one or all of those things, but I can attempt them. And if the roleplaying aspect has settled in, I get to take enjoyment from that situation even if I fail, because I’m involved intimately with the life and experience of the character I’m playing.
D&D is roleplaying made exciting by its virtually unlimited freedom of choice. The system provides rules to help govern the action and provide a way to manage danger and chance, but it isn’t designed to get in the way of freedom of choice or roleplaying - ever. If you find the rules are bogging you down, you need to readdress your game.
But jumping back to my original topic, I want to talk about why combat is not the key aspect of D&D, and why it can actually be a lot more fun to find alternative ways to navigate the game world.
Recently I was playing in a friend’s game, playing as a Druid - the second one in the party actually. Our group was hunting down the leader of this evil cult leader who worshipped a demonic blood god. In our quest so-far, we’d slaughtered a whole bunch of sleeping cultists, killed a few more while they were eating dinner, and eventually set a whole quarter of the town on fire when we destroyed the cultists drug stash. For a supposedly “good aligned” group, we were not exactly taking the highest available road (to be fair, my biggest contribution to the various slaughters was when I set our rogue on fire by accident).
Eventually though we tracked down the big bad boss in the cellar of a temple in the town, and it looked like things were going to get bad - there were about twenty cultists and their leader against the five of us. Not the greatest odds. But then, suddenly, the blood god decided that his followers were pretty much useless twerps, and turned them all into a host of random animals. Suddenly we were surrounded by badgers, goats, and a couple of apes. The cult leader was turned into a goldfish. It was sort of surreal.
Our bloodthirsty paladin wanted to rush in and kill everything, but myself and the other druid refused to just sit by and let the animals be slaughtered, since it was pretty clear that they had become animals in mind as well as body. We just didn’t think it was right. So we convinced our party to use non-lethal force only, I put the poor goldfish cultist leader into my water flask, and things started to get actually crazy.
Us druids were casting spells to calm and subdue the animals, and our paladin was tackling a goat. All of us were taking minute amounts of damage from a dozen little bites and kicks, but we just kept slowly retreating back the way we’d come (up through a manhole cover the animals couldn’t climb), all the while not badly harming even a single one of the animals. When we reached the top, where the city guard was bemusedly standing, I convinced them that the blood god wanted to use the animals as a sacrifice, and that not a single one should be killed. So the guards were forced to go and get a bunch of nets, and deal with the angry animals humanely. Which they did - concerned that I might be right about the blood god.
And that was it.
We declared a victory without a single death. After six hours of play, the great boss battle of the game was handled with completely pacifist gloves, and it was glorious - especially since the first part of the adventure had seen our party encroaching dangerously close to evil in some of its decisions regarding the dispatch of helpless enemies. I could see the looks of astonishment and confusion on the faces of many of our players, and our DM. Our DM in particular wasn’t sure what to think of the game, because it so drastically differed from his perspective of how D&D is supposed to be played. And yet the group enjoyed it. We gained enough experience to level up. We got to feel the fulfillment that comes from actually roleplaying our characters. Most importantly, we got to experience the best part of D&D - the freedom of choice. No video game would have allowed us to change the rules and alter the story to such a degree, but our DM did, because that’s how D&D works.
Granted, it would have been too easy for the DM to stymie our pacifist efforts, but he went with our choice, rolled the dice, grimaced as we reduced the encounter to virtual farm labor. And I think the game was considerably better for it. Better than it ever would have been if we’d just encountered another “meat grinder” style battle. Indeed - this was one of the most memorable encounters I’ve ever played in a D&D game, and I can assuredly say that would not have been so if we’d just hacked away at a bunch of nameless NPCs.
I know that this single instance is not enough to convince everyone that combat is not the core focus of D&D, but I hold to my statement. Combat is not the focus of D&D: roleplaying under the banner of freedom of choice is - and, when done right, makes the game take on a life all of its own. Trust me, if you strive for gameplay like this, you’ll never want to go back to standard kick-in-the-door gaming ever again. Leave that to the videogames, where it belongs, and let D&D do what it does best - put you in the shoes of your character, viewing the world through his or her eyes.
Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about the concept of love in American society, and how the modern definition has been shrunk and stripped of so much of its meaning. As most people has presumably heard of the Greek definitions of love (agape, eros, philia, storge), so I won’t go too into the history, but the point I’m aiming for should already be obvious - there is more to the human experience of love than what the mass media monarchs have decreed. I’m interested in discussing the concept specifically of the type of love reserved for friendships, a topic I’ve lately been mulling on, and I believe has stewed enough to be coherent.
Friendships are difficult animals to wrap the mind around. At first glance it seems obvious that most people will form bonds with their fellow human beings. we’re social animals, and we strive to build communities - it’s an in-built aspect of the animal brain that drives us to connect. Traditionally animals survive for longer if they exist within a herd structure, and humans are animals by nature - despite our ability to self analyze.
But striding away from the scientific, the question of actually forming friendships is not one easily grasped - or rather, the concept of love between friends is difficult to grasp. Friendships on a surface level are easier, but hardly qualify as much more than an acquaintance relationship. even here the definition becomes harder to deconstruct, as it seems that people can spend much time together, share most aspects of their lives, and still never realize a level of friendship which goes deeper than shared interests and exists on a level of mutual appreciation and respect.
Recently, in my own life, I’ve discovered a shallow pool of true friends who are not merely willing but actively demanding to enter my life. Certainly this has something to do with my personality and issues with depression and anxiety (subjects I plan on discussing later at length), but there is, i think, quite a bit more to it than that. For it seemed as if many of these friends and I had oodles in common with each other. We enjoyed many of the same films and television series, the same books, similar hobbies; we seemed to reflect similar views about the world, and yet I never felt connected to them on anything more than a superficial level. This came to me as quite the surprise, as I had always assumed that the main source of friendship was shared interests and activities. It made sense to me that if we both enjoyed, say, Star Wars, on roughly the same level, we’d likely have enough in common to maintain a friendship. Perhaps this is just naivete on my part (I’m severely lacking in many friendship-related social graces), but at the very least I’ve noticed similar levels of naivete in many other people, making it a widespread concern.
I realized that what I was lacking from these people was a deep, one might call it “spiritual” connection (though I don’t adore that term). We were lacking love the greek sense; lacking philia. Shared interests and activities are enough to maintain superficial friendships - as the friendships often acquired during highschool-type situations shows - but they are born primarily of proximity and that animal instinct to bond.
Philia however denotes a “mutual respect”; appreciation for the whole of another person. Thinking about this, I started to wonder what it might be that actually helps form that type of bond. Obviously harrowing experiences form a close bond - this is a proven social theory. However that is a relationship forged by an outside pressure, such as soldiers in combat, and does not necessarily need to apply to philia beyond the level of “ mutual trust”. Mutual respect, in a more common sense, seems to denote an understanding and connection deeper and more substantial - especially because it does not require outside pressure to coalesce (note here that my term “outside pressure” is a highly generalized and abstract idea, and could itself be subject to scrutiny within an essay format, but for the sake of my point, I’ll skip right along).
Then it occurred to me that I had already hit upon half the answer. In realizing what philia was not (mere sharing of interests and/or activities), I had gained an understanding of what it was. Philia is built upon the reasons an interest exists.
Everyone experiences life differently - this is the nature of individual consciousness. However, there are always going to be similarities in thought due to the way humans experience the world due to the nature of our innate perceptions. Here we find the basis for everyday human connection. Deeper in however, we have the personality individuals build based off of their lifetime of experiences, and this is where philia maintains its potential home.
I can love Star Wars, but my reasons for loving it will certainly be different than other people’s. My interest was formed based on my first introduction to the films, whether or not I played with the toys as a kid, how my friends and family reacted to my interest, and how that interest was perceived within the social setting of the culture I grew up in - which exerts some influence even if an individual is relatively cloistered. My experiences involving my interest shaped my interest, and formed the reasons why I connected to it in such a way. because of this, I might share an interest in Star Wars, but my interest is going to be based on different experiences than the wide scape of other fans. Philia comes in when people with similar interests and experiences come together, for then you have people who are sharing not the interest, but the underlying cause of the interest.
I think that this is one of the things people find very difficult to wrap their heads around, and is one of the principle reasons many friendships and relationships fail over time. A relationship built on shared interests is weaker than a relationship built on shared experiences. We still however have not reached an understanding of the concept yet though, for if the sharing of experiences - or similar experiences - was enough, than it would invalidate my earlier comment about highschool. More importantly, it wouldn’t be true. Experiences, like interests alone, does not create a bass for true mutual respect. What does? Well, I already mentioned it: shared reasons for an interest.
Experiences shape interests, but there is a step in between that needs to be looked at in more detail. I might love Star Wars because the person who introduced it to me didn’t ask my parents about it, allowing me to feel rebellious. Or maybe it was that I had been exposed to a very limited level of television up until that point, so Star Wars opened my eyes to a type of experience I had no previous knowledge of. As I grew older I formed more opinions about the world; because of experiences I had, I formed opinions about existence. Those opinions created further experiences, and were informed by further experiences, in a continuing cycle from cognitive awakening until death.
What I’m getting at here, slowly I think, is a realization that love between friends is a type of respect based upon mutual recognition of similar opinions. If interests are based on opinions formed by experiences, then a friendship with is focused solely on the interests will be weak, as will a friendship based only upon shared experiences. It is the reason an individual has for a particular interest that matters the most - not the product or the environmental source. What opinions do I have about Star Wars - why as I grew older, did I continue to find value in it. Why did I identify with it? That element is the true location of philia; that is the basis for a strong relationship: not similar beliefs or interests, or even the originating experiences driving those beliefs and interests, but the evolving reasons why those interests or beliefs exist in the first place.
This, I think, is the source of much of my woe involving friendships. Hopefully within this I can begin to alter the way I view friendships, and start aiming for the strong variety as opposed to the weak. Perhaps now I can begin to search for love in friendship. And maybe, after reading this convoluted mess, you can start thinking about your own friendships in a different light as well. Who knows what we’ll find.
Where I talk about learning to have confidence in yourself as an artist in a culture that does hold any respect for the arts.
Being an artist is hard. Wanting to be an artist is almost harder. The practicalities of trying to make art for a living are incredibly terrifying and overwhelming - especially when the greater portion of our society holds very little respect for the importance of art and artistic thinking. When a society chooses to devalue the importance of art however, I believe that it says more about the state of the society than the worth of the artist - and actually only serves to increase the importance of art in the society. Creation is at the deepest core of the human condition - it drives us, shapes us, as individuals and a society. When art is suppressed the culture suffers; when art is devalued, the culture suffers.
But like Vonnegut says, art is not a way to make a living. I would add that this is true only in an unhealthy society - which I suppose says a lot about my opinion of most modes of society for the past few thousand years. But I believe that this has to be the fundamental change we, as a society, need to begin to make if we are going to continue to survive and evolve; if the society we live within today is ever going to break its chains of conformity to supposed social imperatives. I understand art as a means for the self discovery of individuals, and through the individual, the society as a whole. I'm suggesting that the greatest test for any country is not just how it treats its weakest members, but how it treats its artists.
The fact that it is so very difficult to survive as an artist in our society means that our society is unhealthy - that its capacity for imagination and free thought is restricted in some way - in this case by the system of capitalism inherently a part of the modern social view, and ultimately just another human construction (though that is a different conversation I might write about later).
If you want to make it as an artist in this society you have to be a right tenacious bastard. You need to create art on the days when you work two shifts and feel like your eyeballs will roll out of your head. You have to create art in the car on the way to work or the way to class. You have to create art before you go to bed each night. You have to create art when you get up in the morning. You have to create art when you're browsing social media sites online. The goal is to reach a point where your contemplation of your art is a daily, minute-by-minute meditation practice that surrounds every single other element of your life. In a society that demands high-functioning indentured workers, you need to take the initiative in making time for your art. If your art isn't your priority in your life you're not going to get far as an artist.
If it seems like an awful lot of effort - it is. But it's also worth it, if, that is, you really feel the need to create art.
That said, simply bashing your head into the wall doesn't do you any good either. Life in our society is far too fast-paced and stressful to pile on a mandate that requires you to segregate yourself from anything not directly forwarding your art. Instead, begin to view every moment of your life as an experience worthy of artistic merit. Allow yourself to enjoy the little things; enjoy the simple act of living as you have to live, and let the art flow around your life, instead of blocking it. I think a lot of people become very bullheaded about the idea of reaching "success" as an artist, without settling into their work as an end into itself. They become too worried about sustaining themselves as an artist, and forget to live the art they want to create. Art isn't something you can machine press through sheer force of will - it's a mindset wherein you cannot feel satiated without actively pursuing your goals. That may not seem like that huge a difference, but trust me, it is. We're all just creatures of the mind, and how we choose to view the world creates our world - and the art we make might just help someone else see the world a little differently, or a little more clearly. In the end, that's the best we can hope for. Money, fame - all the rest is just set dressing for the body and the ego, and that's not what art is fundamentally about.
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