Monday, June 13, 2011

Nihilistic RPGs, really?

Nihilism, I don't think most of the critics know what the hell the word means.
Being an evil bastard isn't nihilism. Neither is being a selfish dick. The charge of nihilism has of course been raised as a condemnation against some RPGs lately and that charge being leveled against the DCC-RPg and LOTFP-WF RPG are what got me to write this post. I feel the charge of nihilism leveled against both titles is inaccurate to say the least. The very fact the DCC RPG and LOtFP-WF RPG's have alignment systems makes both by definition non-nihilistic.

Nihilism claims life is without objective meaning or is a philosophy that suggest the negation of the meaningful aspects of life. There is no point to existence, no necessary norms in a nihilistic view. Some describe Nihilism as a lack of faith in faith. Nihilism is seated in the rejection of all moral principles and that all endeavors are devoid of meaning. Neither RPG presents itself as nihilistic.

Sure in LOTFP-RPG alignments have nothing to do with morality, except of course for how PC's may relate to their alignments. Lawfuls are looking for guidance and justification to their actions. Chaotic may be haunted by their alignment. Neutrals exist between those extremes and many willfully find the extremes undesirable. The PC isn't a central element in the plans of the universe, as far as they know. Nihilism doesn't support a universe of the victimized and ill-fated, destiny has no hand in the actions of man to the nihilist and the universe is moving in no direction and is without meaningful motive or destructive forces.

In the DCC-RPG alignments matter. Sure the game proclaims "you're no hero, you're a seek gold and glory ...and you shall have them.." and then it provides rules where moral choices have an impact on the game and the character. There most certainly is right and wrong in the universe and it has a direct influence on how the universe treats it's occupants. The PC isn't a central element or gifted with any reason to expect they will achieve much at all but their choices will matter and may indeed have an impact.

Neither game system mires itself in nihilism. Sure in the Lamentations of the flame Princess Weird Fantasy RPG Grind-house Edition the imagery is horrifying and grim but few tales are told abut those who restrict themselves to polite conversation at tea, planting flowers and petting puppies and even less challenging adventure is forthcoming from the later situations.

To me how a lowly common man rips and tears his way to the middle and then makes the decision to rise as a hero or fall into villainy is far more interesting then starting out a hero from day one. Nihilism follows neither path and there is nothing to strive for.

Want to pretend to be a hero in an RPG: pretend to be a hero. Want to pretend to be a villain in an RPG: pretend to be a villain. Want to pretend to be a selfish jerk in an RPG: pretend to be a selfish jerk (don't actually be one).

This post over at the Aldeboran blog got me typing all of the above. I almost typed it as a comment but figured it would be an awful waste of a timely blog post.


  1. Thank you. I duly add you to the column of "voices of sanity."

  2. I think when the term has been used lately it means that the game lacks any moral direction in the mechanics. i.e. the game is amoral.

  3. @greg, by that definition DCC-RPG certainly isn't amoral. L-of-the-name-is-too-long offers direction also as magic-users and elves are chaotic in alignment since they deal with magic as they do, that's a pretty objective stance.

  4. An interesting post. I've seen far too many reviewers and players talk about nihilism in games and I have to say that for the most part I agree with you. I would change one thing though, nihilism states that there is no intrinsic value in life, that doesn't mean that one can't find extrinsic value. Many nihilists see the philosophy as an exercise in freedom. Without the fear of moral absolutes they can find and decide their own path in life.

    However I would agree that any game with an alignment system is taking an objective moral stance, and ergo cannot be nihilistic.

  5. At the kernel of every religion the two main cults are fertility and death.
    The imbalance where the death cult is way too high tends toward nihilism.
    neoliberalism where the invention called money is held in importance above people, i.e. is ungoverned, and is thus accelerating our species to the brink of the ecological abyss is reskinned nihilism.