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Handling Hangups

August 8, 2012

Do you have a hangup with a gaming setting that you want to play in? I’m not talking about rules or presentation, but issues with actual aspects of the setting that are a hurdle to enjoying it. This seems to be becoming a more and more common problem thanks to the nagging guilt of political correctness that something might be offending someone somewhere, and is a particular problem when it comes from historical, alternative historical and historically-derived/-inspired settings, where, naturally, cultures and attitudes are different to those of today. So, what can you do when confronted with themes in a setting that you are uncomfortable with? My suggestion is to try the following steps before giving up completely – and, most importantly, involve the entire group where possible.

  1. Think it over. Sometimes, due to a kneejerk response, we think something is a problem when it really isn’t; or, you may be assuming that someone else in your group will take offence when they won’t. Equally, attitudes and experiences are subjective, so you might find someone has a big issue with something that might seem minor to you due to personal issues. If there really is a problem that has to be dealt with, move to step two.
  2. Can you struggle against it? Just because an element exists in a setting doesn’t mean that you have to embrace it – you can have great fun playing characters who are challenging the status quo or even struggling with their own worse natures. Obviously, not everyone will be comfortable with an issue being included, even as a bad thing, and not everyone wants their escapist gaming session dominated by moral questions, so this is not for everyone.
  3. Can you minimise the presence of the element? Is it possible to play character who are not affected by it or set the game where it is less prevalent? Essentially, many issues can be more-or-less ignored if they just don’t impinge on your game. In particular, areas with a pioneer spirit often pay lipservice to the cultural norms of the dominant group, but honour them more in the breach due to the need to put survival first. This will not always work if certain players are committed to playing specific types of characters in every game, no more than a game of social interaction andpolitics will work with a player dedicated to playing a psychopathic killer in every campaign, although that then leaves you with the question of whether to boot the player or change the setting, if you are unable to resolve the issue with steps four or five.
  4. Can you easily remove it? Some elements might seem prominent in an era or a genre of fiction but are not actually that important in defining it or setting the mood, meaning it might be possible to remove it without damaging the broader setting and its themes and mood.
  5. Finally, we reach the point where removing the element would seriously alter the setting. In this case, you have to ask yourself what it is about the setting that you actually like, what actually made you want to play it in the first place. Perhaps, you might be able to shift your focus to a different era or country where the problematic element did not exist to the same extent, but which contains the elements that you do like. Or, you might be able to find the elements that you do like in a fictional setting that doesn’t include the things that bother you, or even create your own fictional setting developed from the points that did grab your attention.
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