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K is for Killing

It is an inconvenient truth that roleplaying games are, almost universally, violent in nature.  In fact, I would guess that by pure percentages RPG's are more violent thematically than video games, since video games feature arcade-like themes, sports, etc. while RPG's do not.  I think this would be more of an issue in society (parts of whom are taking a baleful look at video games) if it were not for the fact that playing tabletop roleplaying games has diminished into outright obscurity.

The violence themes in RPG's are often ameliorated by making our usual opponents monsters--orcs, aliens, vampires, etc. and by posing the conflicts in terms of good versus evil, but I'll freely admit that I have my moments of wondering how good it is for my son and I do engage in a hobby that frequently revolves around pretending to kill other things.

It is one of the reasons why I have been enjoying playing a superhero RPG, since outside of the Iron Age the general philosophy of comic book characters is that killing opponents was often the line that heroes wouldn't cross.

Side note: the obvious exception is Wolverine, who I think was and is a more compelling character when he is the moral outlier and not the norm.

It is also why I have been considering Star Trek and Doctor Who as possible games as well.  It's been difficult at times to go to work and promote things like Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream Study Guide with DVD: Building a More Peaceful World and then come home and wargame Vikings.

And RPG enthusiasts and wargamers are notoriously touchy about the subject when it comes up.  Just look at what happens on The Miniatures Page when people raise questions about playing the Nazi side in WW2 wargaming.

Yes, it's pretend.  Yes, I'm a mature, mentally stable adult who can distinguish between fantasy and reality.  But I also game with children, and I tend to think of myself as someone who abhors violence in reality. So I'd love to have a discussion on this, whether you are an active roleplaying game enthusiast or not.  Does it bother you?  What's your take on this?  Comments welcome.


  1. Good question - It doesn't typically bother me but playing it with the kids has caused me to think about it a little more. One thing it has reinforced is that it's good to have a variety of challenges in an adventure, whether it's crossing a desert in D&D or convincing an alien ambassador that Earth is an ally, not an enemy in a superhero game. Mixing things up is a good idea anyway, and this is just one more reason.

    Historically violence has been a popular entertainment for a while now. Even when my parents were kids those cowboys weren't using super-soakers on those Indians. Doesn't mean it's not an issue, just that it's not as new an issue as some might think.


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