More specifically: Should a question with moral/ethical components be presented in a balanced non-judgmental way, or should it be heavily slanted to promote an individual agenda?

The question

How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins?

derides games in which "PCs become inured to murder and other antisocial activities". This topic is as old as roleplaying itself; Dr. Thomas Radecki (and his National Coalition on Television Violence) railed against violence in the TV medium back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and added anti-D&D to his agenda.

Simplistic fantasy games (as well as first-person-shooter digital games) avoid the dilemma for the sake of fast and entertaining action-adventure. After the RPG industry matured, we saw a plethora of nonviolent games, so there are plenty of options for that. Meanwhile, there are still plenty of violent games.

In the question cited above, the author's ACTUAL question was "How can I give my PCs a respect for human life?" However, this is appended to a long anti-violence rant. The answer he chose as Best cites real-world ethical and moral situations, thoroughly mixing reality with fantasy gaming, and continues the anti-violence agenda.

I am moved to pose this in Meta because the cited question is extremely high-profile from one of the top forum members. Being an open sneer at certain gaming styles, is this one-sided tone appropriate for this site, or should questions of this sort be more balanced?

i'm curious what @mxyzplk will say –  DForck42 Oct 26 '11 at 20:25
@DForck42 me too! And I am a serial offender, I frequently ask questions about implementing my playstyle -… is another good example. –  mxyzplk Oct 26 '11 at 23:51
How do I get an impartial (and preferably higher-up) mod to take a look at this? My point has been about the offensive rant (and ensuing insults by this mod), not the validity of the question. –  ExTSR Oct 27 '11 at 2:27
What offense? What insults? You not liking a viewpoint is not the same as that. I'm sure other mods will chime in, in time. –  mxyzplk Oct 27 '11 at 2:54
@ExTSR If you want somebody higher up, then maybe a community manager could help? I think Grace Note frequents this community from time to time and they aren't the only one. –  sebsmith Oct 27 '11 at 18:12
sebsmith, thanks. But that doesn't seem to be necessary as cooler heads have mostly prevailed. But when I asked the #2 person on the whole site to tone it back and got the responses documented here, I wanted some other eyes on the problem. –  ExTSR Oct 27 '11 at 21:55
@ExTSR - I don't know why this is getting so out of hand. You answered the post back in May, why is it causing you to go on the warpath now? It's not specifically targeted at D&D; I note in the Q that it's a problem common to many RPGs. If you disagree that it's a problem with RPGs, and consider that a "false statement" that's fine. There are a lot of false statements on this site. When I find one I think is false, I vote it down - that's how it works. Something voted up doesn't mean it's objectively true - but you know what Churchill said about democracy being the worst form of government. –  mxyzplk Oct 31 '11 at 4:33
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6 Answers

There's a difference between 'deride' and 'advocate' you may be missing.

RPG Stack Exchange, like the other Stack Exchanges, has a wide variety of schools of thought represented even on a single topic. In this case, the RPG world has a wide variety of play styles represented. Luckily, there are well trod guidelines on how SEs maintain this diversity.

People will ask questions about how to perform their chosen play style, how to get better at it, and how to advocate it. If you do not agree with the questioner's choice of play style, the best approach is to not participate in that question.

I asked the question because I've played RPGs since the early 1980's - plenty of D&D among many others - and I am concerned about how many of them have encoded system or setting assumptions making violence and murder regular activities. I prefer to play games that simulate the real world more, and encourage realistic behavior on the part of the characters. Sometimes that IS murder, but I'd say in the real world it tends to be at a bit of lower rate.

Note that the question was not "violent games are bad, how do I stop others from playing them?" I didn't define any specific games as bad or advocate against them. The question is "in my game, how can I cure the players of the habits they sometimes get from these other games?"

I know that discussing morality vis-a-vis games is likely to be unwelcome among some folks, and that's fine - they don't have to discuss it. But clearly a lot of people are interested in that topic and do want to discuss it and come up with ways to achieve the same thing in their gaming groups, hence the high rating and number of answers.

So yes, I asked a question about how I can better achieve my personal playstyle (an "anti-violence agenda" to you) in my gaming group, and the best answer was obviously someone who understands how to "further my agenda." I don't want to ask a more "balanced" question because I am not interested in how to make my game more violent. You are, however, welcome to "bring balance to the Force" or whatever by asking a question along those lines, and those interested in your "agenda" may help further it in turn. I of course would likely choose not to participate in that question.

The point of a SE is to help solve people's problems - not what other people think their problems should be. If you don't like their choice of game or playstyle (or programming language or operating system) - stay away from questions about them then.

So if I take offense at false statements and bad language in a rant disguised as a question, the official StackExchange policy is "Stay Away From The Question?" –  ExTSR Oct 27 '11 at 2:29
There is no "official Stack Exchange policy" on avoiding questions that are not relevant to you as far as I know, but that's my answer, for everyone to vote their conscience on. If you wanted to point out any specific false statements or bad language in my post I'd take it under advisement. So far it's all vague innuendo. –  mxyzplk Oct 27 '11 at 2:56
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Some people are going to have a use for this question and its answers. Some people will not. I personally have no use for a lot of the questions and answers on this site, but otherwise have lots of use for others.

If it were not a real problem faced by a significant number of gamers, who would like a solution, the question would not be popular. Hence, it must accurately, to some greater or lesser degree, reflect a real problem.

I don't see any use in railing against the fact that people face a problem that one wishes they didn't face. I don't see any use in railing against their attempts to describe the problem in their own words, nor in the attempts to solve the problem.

Despite that, I think I understand the esteemed @ExTSR's problem with the question. I've been gaming long enough to remember meeting people, real people face-to-face, who thought my hobby was the work of the devil. People to whom I instinctively downplayed the violent and mercenary potential of the stories it could enable because that would be throwing chum to sharks. I haven't been playing nearly as long as he, but long enough to be caught by the tail end of the anti-D&D fear and at a very impressionable time of life. I couldn't comfortably admit to what I did for entertainment for years, and I'm still slowly undoing the internalised fear and marginalisation that keeps me from talking about my weekend roleplaying as easily as someone else might talk about the game of golf they played yesterday. I think I understand some sliver of what it must have been like to be a player through all those years, let alone someone who worked in the very industry being crusaded against by the likes of the late Mrs Pulling and the police departments she duped.

So when I say that we don't live in that world anymore, that we live in a world where the worst rumour that the last two generations have heard about D&D is that it's for staid, boring people who aren't up with the latest MageKnight knock-off, I speak as one who knows quite well what the alternative is. I look for the signs that people think I'm swinging around live steel in steam tunnels, and those people don't exist anymore.

D&D doesn't need its reputation defended anymore. The crusaders died, and were forgotten. Truth will out, and it did. Even Lego has constructable game-sets in big-box toy stores where you play fierce knights slaying dragons or evil warriors duking it out in an arena. D&D won, and it won so thoroughly that the world it was trying to win over has already forgotten where it got all the gaming tropes – violence among them – that D&D brought to it. Fantasy, including both violent and more peaceful varieties, have long since gone mainstream. D&D is no longer even a meaningful target among the immensely-greater profile Dragon Age and Warcraft (violence right in the name!) video game franchises, and it's time to come out of the castles after the long siege before we starve ourselves for fear of an enemy long dead and gone.

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First of all, I think I should establish that I do think this is an important question. No, I don't think RPGs need an across-the-board morality overhaul. Most of the articles linked are treating a plot device as though it were seriously intended. You could as easily say that the existence of a "common tongue" encourages an imperialistic viewpoint.

The purpose of both mechanics is not to teach behavior, but to move the game along and avoid repetitive hangups.

But more refined moral systems are something that is desirable to have for some people, some of the time. And switching to that mode IS difficult, particularly given that the games are designed to be played without it.

(As a corollary... I'm having problems getting my group to stop looting the bodies in a game I'm running. I don't think that looting the bodies is bad, in general, but I do feel that it doesn't fit my particular game)

So far as language goes... Rule one is to be respectful of others. However, in asking a question, it IS important to be able to articulate what you dislike and what you are trying to achieve. We, as a community, need to understand that sometimes people will say things that we disagree with when they ask a question.

On this axis, this is not an exemplary question. When I first encountered it, I found it a bit hostile, and moved away from participating in it. I don't have a problem with the title... But a few of the paragraphs within do seem a bit judgmental (particularly in the first and fourth paragraphs).

However, I don't think "people who use simplified morality systems" is a particularly sensitive group, in general. Mostly because it is the status quo, and it's easy for a commanding majority to tolerate dissent. And because I think a lot of people are aware that things are somewhat askew, and accept it for the game mechanic that it is.

In conclusion... I don't want to see many more questions with this particular tone. I'd like it if it was cleaned up a bit. But I see no reason to take action at this time, because I don't consider it to be "that bad," and because I'm not seeing indicators of widespread dislike for the question.

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Comment history

In my 35 years of roleplaying I've never seen a focus on the activities you cite. I also disagree strongly with your statement that "In most RPGs, PCs become inured...". If that's the way YOUR friends play and you don't like it, say so, but your slander on the RPG industry is unwarranted. And as an afterthought I think your terminology is either grossly inaccurate (claiming that most characters have thyroid conditions) or a highly offensive epithet inappropriate for this site. – ExTSR yesterday

Well Frank, I find that surprising, I think a lot of people have seen the same thing. I'm not really even sure it's arguable; again, there are many posts, essays, and even full RPGs like the ones I cite addressing the issue. I suspect you are, as in the second part of your objection, just playing definition games. If you are serious, look me up in chat. – mxyzplk♦ 23 hours ago

I guess I just run, and frequent, games that do not suffer these failings, for whatever reason. Whether or not most people do, as you claim, I'm relating my personal experience (or lucky lack of this type). Since you don't think your point is arguable, I think we're finished with that (by fiat). As to words and definitions, my works get quoted literally for years, and I can neither indulge in nor condone the terminology you employ. – ExTSR 19 hours ago

Well, just now I read this interesting quote linked off LotFP: "D&D does not easily lend itself to moralistic horror stories. The rules of the game directly reward getting rich and, if necessary, killing whoever gets in your way. As an emergent property it encourages operating from a position of overwhelming tactical advantage. These are sh*tty moral values if taken seriously: in the real world, they would be the values of a psychopath." - Has a point... Do you not run games like that, or just not take it seriously? – mxyzplk♦ 17 hours ago>

mxyzplk (most recent above): I disagree with every line of that quote from a discussion on Forge (not 'linked off LotFP' as you claim), and also reject as unanswerable your Loaded Question (a logical fallacy). As a Moderator, do you often lay such traps to ambush users of this site? – ExTSR 2 hours ago

Well of course, as I prefer playing rogues. SNEAK ATTACK! But more seriously, these comments should probably be migrated over to the meta question now. – mxyzplk♦ 15 mins ago edit

I must ask that someone explain to this moderator that users should be addressed by their user names. Personal names (especially when used as above, in conjunction with one of several attacks) would seem inadvisable. –  ExTSR Oct 27 '11 at 2:34
Dude, nobody's attacking you, and if you want me to call you @ExTSR then just ask me to. This is all coming across as a lot of "tell your mother I'm not talking to her." If you want to talk about the issues raised here (like violence in gaming) do that, or if you just want to discuss "procedure" that's fine, but stop circling around and decide what you want to stand by. I am not attacking you, I was rebutting claims you were making in an attempt to derail my question - a 6 month old question you answered already, back in May, without raising any concerns at the time. –  mxyzplk Oct 27 '11 at 4:00
@ExTSR The I must ask that someone explain seems a bit condescending. And I don't get where users should be addressed by their user names, and why real names (if known) are inadvisable. –  wraith808 Oct 28 '11 at 2:43
@wraith808: User names may be a separate meta question, but ExTSR could have a point here; SE sites are a little impersonal on purpose - SE is not a forum. (Of course, many people prefer to use real names as user names, but that's a deliberate choice.) In this case, extra familiarity can intensify the argument. It's very much a personal taste thing though; it depends somewhat on how formal a culture you're used to. –  Tynam Jan 8 '12 at 23:20
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I can see that there's some advantages to avoiding brash one-sidedness, but I can't help thinking this would mean, if carried out zealously, "don't communicate things the way you think about them, but censor yourself so that your post will be sufficiently bland to pass our rules about tone".

Anyway, the downvoting mechanism was in evidence when I made a brashly one-sided answer -voted +2/-2 at present- so I guess there is a community mechanic for murderous one-sidedism.

Well, I bumped you back up again. ;> Your post closely matches many of the thoughts of my late friend Gary. –  ExTSR Oct 27 '11 at 18:05
@ExTSR: That's a very nice thing to hear. Thank you. –  Alticamelus Oct 28 '11 at 17:53
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I suggest this as a perfectly acceptable edit. I won't do it, of course; a moderator (yelling in all caps here) is the one who posted it, and I won't encourage him to start an edit war.

Question: How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderers?

(Body text:) In some RPGs, characters may become accustomed to killing, even murder. Satirical treatments of the phenomenon exist, such Costikyan's "Violence" and Tynes' "Power Kill".

I'd like to have a more realistic in-game treatment of these issues: people getting wounded and giving up, taking and ransoming of prisoners, etc. I have compunctions about continually playing in games where the taught behavior is uncomfortably equivalent to the worst examples of human behavior we see on the nightly news.

How can I encourage my PCs to respect human life?

There's no need to insinuate that mxyzplk will abuse his mod powers. If you seriously think he has/would, you should start a meta thread and tackle this directly. If lots of people agree, then I guess we'd need to rotate moderators. –  Alticamelus Oct 27 '11 at 13:19
Personally, I think the example from Adventure Time is pretty important to the question... I'd hate to see it go. –  AceCalhoon Oct 27 '11 at 13:57
Alticamelus, a while back one of my questions was shredded by someone who started an edit war (and was subsequently banished), and I'm thus leery of doing ANY more edits. –  ExTSR Oct 27 '11 at 21:50
@ExTSR -- In case it helps; my general philosophy on edits: Make your edit in good faith. The post's author may roll it back. At that point, move on to other channels. You certainly won't be banished going that route. –  AceCalhoon Oct 27 '11 at 22:05
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