What brings this on? Two things, actually.
First, Doctor Who went off Netflix at the end of January, so I was binge-watching quite a bit of it over the weekend. Doctor Who is pretty much the ultimate in romantic science fiction that suggests that intellect and personal character are superior to violence (especially the mindless variety).
Second, I don't talk much my work as a clergyman or religion in general because that's not what most people come here for. But every three years in the Revised Common Lectionary (a list that dictates what passages of Scripture are read in Episcopal Churches, not to mention several other Protestant denominations) a certain rather obscure reading from the first epistle of Paul to the church in Corinth comes up. This passage is 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and concerns, of all things, the question of whether or not it is appropriate for Christians to purchase meat from animals that have been sacrificed to pagan gods. You see, temples back in Paul's day would sell the meat from butchered sacrifices as a sort of fundraiser, usually at below-market value since the animal was donated by the faithful. Sort of a polytheistic Costco. Paul, who isn't a big person on dietary restrictions, says that since the gods in question aren't real, there's no spiritual peril per se in eating meat sacrificed to them. Except, he then adds, unless the patronizing of these temples for meat could be construed by novitiates to the Christian faith as an endorsement. Even though buying and eating the meat isn't technically sinful, leading people astray in their faith is.
Not too relevant to today's world, it might seem, until you think about fictionalized violence. I know that when I watch a violent movie or play a violent videogame no one is really getting hurt. It's fiction, and entertainment. But there are been studies about the effect of viewing fictional violence on the developing brains of young people, including desensitizing them. This really isn't that big an issue for most gaming groups, but I've got three minors in mine. The youngest doesn't like violent TV programs or movies, and I'm often confronted with a moment of self-awareness when she says, "that's really gross/scary/horrible" and I have to acknowledge that she's right.
The prevalence of combat-as-solution adventures in my gaming life is probably three parts game system, gaming group, and my own laziness regarding creating game sessions. D&D, for all its nattering about roleplaying, still breaks things down into "encounters" which connotes that you're supposed to be meeting monsters and likely battling them. They haven't really created a sourcebook full of NPC's with which to interact, have they? My group seems to favor combat-oriented games, although that might be a chicken-and-egg situation of that being the kind of game with which they have most often played.
Then there is my part. Combat encounters are easy to plan. You pick monsters, cobble up a semi-interesting environment for them to live in, and then lead the PC's there. They'll see the monster, rarely talk to it, and after you do that five or six times you've killed an evening with hack-and-slashery fun. There's an old Knights of the Dinner Table where B.A. (the GM of the group) has the PC's bump into an obnoxious guy in a tavern. A fight is picked and ensues, and as the players begin tossing dice around B.A. thinks "ah, the old tavern brawl. Just the thing when you haven't planned anything for this session."
I'm not going to flagellate myself too strongly about this. I'm a very busy person with a huge gaming group that meets three weekends out of four now. During the time I was hoping to do most of the campaign planning, I got the flu. Now I'm playing catch-up.
But I also know that this is one of the reasons why I hate fantasy sometimes. It's so easy, and so expected, to do a combat-heavy game. In science fiction, for example, there's enough variance in the general sense of style and plot in the genre to be able to field a Star Trek or a Doctor Who or a Warehouse 13 where the answer is out-thinking or problem solving or whatever else other than just guns-a-blazing.
Well, enough rambling, what are your thoughts?
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