Monday, March 10, 2008

Fears of a hobgoblin holocaust

An article at Slate.com devoted to knocking down the reputation of the recently deceased Gary Gygax hits upon the an interesting theme: the secret core of fascism hidden deep within the geek psyche. First observe that the article's author observes the mainstream culture's shear terror of the contemporary geek:
And lo, what a fascinating and tortured bunch we are, with our tales of marathon role-playing game (RPG) sessions in windowless basements, our fingers hardened to nacho-cheese-encrusted talons, and our monklike vows of celibacy.
Like an indigenous people in some remote portion of the rain forest that the Christian mercenaries have yet to discover, the young geeks live their lives on their own terms in their own self-contained, squalid little universe. Rightfully so, it seems, for were they to make contact with the culture of the wider high-school world, they would only be ostracized and rejected by a superior culture that exalts the captains of the sports and cheerleader teams over the poor, pathetic geeks. The Good News of this wider world is that all that is good in men and women is derived from a single-minded pursuit of an ever-increasing ability to obtain the carnal affections of the opposite sex; despite the widespread belief in it's universal applicability to all mankind, there is still a lingering feeling that the geeks might be better off living in ignorance of it.

Secondly, the article also observes that geek culture has also embraced a practice that reeks of pure evil (embedded hyperlink removed):
So while it's one player's job—the so-called Dungeon Master—to come up with the plot for each gaming session and play the parts of the various enemies and supporting characters, in practice that putative storyteller merely referees one imagined slaughter after another. This is not Tolkien's Middle-Earth, with its anti-fascist political commentary and yearning for an end to glory and the triumph of peace. This is violence without pretense, an endless hobgoblin holocaust.
In other words, Hitler was a geek! The young Hitler had all of the geek warning signs. There was the passionately intense yet seemingly trivial interests (Hitler's obsession with things like architecture and Wagner's operas), the repulsively gauche lifestyle (Hitler's bohemian, painter's life in Vienna), the self-imposed, monklike vow of chastity (Hitler was notorious for this), and the lingering connections to occultism (for example, the Thule Society). Was the Third Reich nothing more than a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that, you know, got a little out of control?

The article really wants to nanny instead of sounding the moral alarm, so it finds itself forced to pull back from the brink and conceed that our modern day geeksters would never become quite so depraved as to actually embrace "the banality of evil" (embedded hyperlink removed):
For decades, gamers have argued that since D&D [Dungeons and Dragons] came first, its lame, morally repulsive experience system can be forgiven. But the damage is still being done: New generations of players are introduced to RPGs as little more than a collective fantasy of massacre and greed. If the multiplayer online game World of Warcraft is the direct descendant of D&D, then what, exactly, has Gygax bequeathed to us unwashed, nerdy masses? The notion that emotionally complex story lines are window dressing for an endless series of hack-and-slash encounters? There's a reason so many players are turned off after a brush with D&D. It promises something great—a lively (if dorky) bit of performance art—but delivers a small-minded and ignorant fantasy of rage, distilled to a bunch of arcane charts and die rolls. Dungeons & Dragons strips the "role-playing" out of RPGs; it's a videogame without the graphics, and a pretty boring one, at that.

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