Thursday, February 17, 2011

Opinion, Fact, and RPGs: Part 1

I’ve read a few blog posts in the last couple of weeks that have really brought a certain topic to the fore of my mind again. First there was this post: Why Do RPGs Suck?

To summarize, the author claims that…well, read the title of the post: “Why Do RPGs Suck?” One immediately knows there’s going to be an argument in the making, no?

And then there was this post: Are Joe Abercrombie’s Novels “Poison to Both the Reader’s Mind and Culture?”

In this instance, a man named Leo Grin (who apparently was the mastermind behind the late, great Cimmerian blog, which I loved) wrote a “scathing indictment” of fantasy literature. He even went so far as to directly attack current author Joe Abercrombie, the creator of the First Law trilogy. Now, I know that this is not gaming-related per se, but it will serve to illustrate my point, when I get to it.

Yes, these posts caused me no shortage of frustration. Sure, since I’ve been reading and contributing to the RPG blogosphere (about a year now), I’ve read a lot of posts where people criticize other people, or game systems, or editions of games, etcetera. In the literary world, there are book critics, and it stands to reason that the RPG world would have its own. Criticism is part of human nature, of course, and it’s all too easy to do.

So could my post be a musing on the role of criticism in human civilization? I won’t go that far. But if I did, whatever I wrote would be my OPINION, put forth as something for the reader to consider, i.e. a different perspective to ponder.

Criticism has its uses. It may help change the subject matter being criticized. It can cause a person being criticized to strive to improve themselves. It may even cause some people to adopt the ideas of the author. Thus we have persuasive writing. And I have no problem with any of that. I wholeheartedly support and enjoy vigorous, fair debate. It makes us better thinkers and may even foster respect for others, among other things.

But, as some may agree, criticism all too often slips into a less-than-constructive form. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that the criticism displayed in the two blog posts I mentioned earlier is “destructive” criticism, per se. I think that both authors are intelligent and coherent writers. They structured their posts well, and they may even have been very persuasive.

I take issue with these blog posts for one primary reason: the authors both seem to believe that what they have written is FACT, rather than their OPINIONS. This is something that I cannot understand. These authors, like so many others in our variegated species, apparently cannot—or choose not to—grasp the basic concept of the difference between opinion and fact. To my eyes, as evidenced by word choice, tone, and other factors, they seem to be assuming that anyone else who reads their words will take their arguments as fact. I may be wrong, so I challenge you to read their posts and judge for yourselves.

Just because these authors wrote a lot of words, put a lot of research into their words, and have a lot of experience with their subject matters does not make them the final arbiters of truth on said subjects. I know this sounds supremely obvious, but I wonder if it is obvious to the authors themselves. From what I’ve read, it seems that they may not. But again, that’s my opinion.

So, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt. I’m not going to assume that these authors are egomaniacs. But I am still disturbed by the positions of “false authority” from which they seem to be writing. False authority is one of the fallacies in the discipline of rhetoric. Also, it could be argued that the “Why Do RPGs Suck?” post by Malcolm Sheppard also uses such fallacies as generalization and ad populum (attempting to prove a conclusion on the grounds that all or most people think or believe it is true).

I of course am just as prone to the inability to determine my opinions from fact. It seems to be a knee-jerk reaction for human beings. But human beings, especially adults, have the ability for self-reflection, self-regulation. And this allows us to think about what we are saying, and realize that most of what we believe on a personal level is our opinion, and the many other people around us have their own beliefs. And beyond that, we should also realize that every individual is allowed to have their own opinion.

Since the mid-1990s, when I was in college and the Internet as we know it today began to take shape, I quickly came to this conclusion:

The Web had the potential to be a whole new medium for the human tendency toward demagogy to flourish in a way it never had in all of history. No longer was a demagogue’s audience limited to those who could hear his/her voice. Now he/she could spread his/her words across the world. And this would, potentially, only fuel his/her rhetoric, creating a vicious cycle.

I know my thoughts on this may sound pedestrian, and that you may think that I’m simply restating common sense. But if opinion versus fact is so basic a concept, why do I seem to come across so many blogs where the authors blatantly ignore the difference between opinion and fact?

I’m going to stop there for now, having created a background for my eventual point (and I do have one!). I didn’t want to cram all of my thoughts into one monstrous post. I’ll wrap things up in my next post on this topic. Thanks for reading! And in the meantime, I'd like to hear any thoughts you might have out there!

9 comments:

  1. Good post. IMHO, the internet has too many people that just want hear themselves. But that is just my opinion. The other side of the opinion vs. fact coin, again IMHO, is the elitist/know-it-all-ism/you're-doing-it-wrong crowd. Being a new comer to the Traveller RPG and after taking a 15 year hiatus from D&D, the prevalence of this type of gamer makes me wonder if I should take up trains or crochet instead.

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  2. As you haven't wrote the second post, just one interesting point, that came to my mind: If your idea of opinion against fact is true; and in my opinion at least it is (sic!); and most blogwriters I read are substantially aware of that fact (I think, hehe), is not a blog a medium to transport opinion instead of fact per se? And these, like the two authors you linked above, who are not able to tell the difference, in the minority; maybe not in tone, but just in their awareness?

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  3. @JOHN - If I may convey my OPINION in a Joesky manner:

    >I AGREE I ALRADY NHAVE ALREADY BOUGHTA TELESFCOPE CUZ TEH STARS DON:T MAEK A BLAH-BLAH_BLAH SOUND

    -NUNYA

    P.S. - U ARE ALSO TEH GAY

    :P

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  4. @John: Thanks! But remember, as the old saying goes, illegitimi non carborundum!Translation: don't let the bastards grind you you down! Keep on gaming!

    @rorschachhamster: yes, I agree that these types I discuss are probably in the minority. But unfortunately they seem to be a very VOCAL minority, which sort of offsets said minority. That's why I feel it's important to meet their verbosity with equal measure!

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  5. Ha ha, awesome! I do believe my blog has been paid a visit by the mastermind behind "Your Dungeon is Suck" (i.e. NUNYA). I guess that means I've arrived!

    http://yourdungeonissuck.wordpress.com/

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  6. No, I am not the trollking...I am only his lowly servant.

    ALSOS, DON OT LINK TO HIS WEBSTIE CUZ MAYBE U WILL SUMIN HIS ALFUL PRESENDCE HEAR!!!

    -Nunya

    P.S. - You're website is becoming gay...more happy-happy playtalk, less blah-blah-blah ok? thanx

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  7. Right, got it. More play, less gay.

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  8. I dunno. Aren't blogs, opinion pieces in newspapers, and all these other texts that people write and sign with their name opinions per default? I find that texts where every paragraph is prefixed by "I find that" or "in my opinion" etc. to be worse from a literary stand-point.

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  9. @Alex: I agree, they are opinion by default. And I have no issue with anyone being passionate about their opinions. That leads to good debate, which helps improve things usually. And I agree that it is clunky to keep restating "in my opinion," but in the case of this post I was doing it blatantly to make a point.

    What I'm concerned about should become clearer, I hope, when I post my secont post this morning.

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