Dames Don't Belong in Dungeons (unless they're bound and scantily-clad)

A few weeks ago (yeah, I'm really behind on my blogging) there was some debate floating around in certain dark corners of the Onling Gaming Blog Community (which I affectionally like to call the Ogbloc) about how closely role-playing games (and by extension, "fiction" and "history" in general) should or should not adhere to historical accuracy.  A quick glance at these blog posts - here and here, paying special attention to the comments sections - will either make you laugh with the absurdity of the argument, or cause your blood to boil with unbridled academic nerd-rage. 

Not writing for a while gave me the advantage of time to mull over my response to this phenomenon (or maybe just made me miss the boat completely). Originally I wrote a scathing, satirical argument about the whole thing (I won't tell you which side I took), but the light of reason (ie, my wife/editor) showed me the way back up out of the hole where the Internet trolls ply their trade, and I rewrote my post to be a little more balanced.

The main supporter of protecting history, actually made a valid point.  We often do forget elements of the past in our quest for a simplified, antiseptic and fun present and future.  History is full of ugly stories of the crimes men (and women) have committed against other men (and mostly women).  In our current world where scantily-clad heroines fight monsters and kick ass on a regular basis, we sometimes forget that for centuries in our own western society, the lady-folk were treated as little better than cattle.  If a woman actually showed up in battle, pretending or trying to be a knight, she would expect to be sexually assaulted, tied to the back of a horse and dragged back to her hovel where she starts cooking, spitting out babies and dying in childbirth where she belongs.  Ditto for open homosexuals, Jews or non-Caucausians.

We want our RPGs and history like we want our mayonnaise - white, bland, non-kosher and made by a woman who knows her place is in the kitchen.... I think I messed up that analogy somewhere.
Should we forget that such elements of our history exists?  Of course not! But do we need to be reminded of it constantly?  I really don't see why.  Games, stories, movies - they're all meant first and foremost as forms of entertainment.  Yes, they can be educational, and yes, it's nice when they treat topics truthfully and respectfully, but oftentimes it's much better to just have fun with the material.  Sure a game with a female warrior-empress of England or anachronistic weapons may not be accurate, but it could be a lot of fun.  Pirates of the Caribbean probably wasn't a particularly accurate depiction of pirate life in the 18th century, but that doesn't mean you're not allowed to enjoy it.  And hey, if Dan Brown's books and movies float your boat then more power to you.

(A little aside about Dan Brown:  When the Da Vinci Code hype exploded years ago, I was one of those guys who bitched and complained about him, about how the book was over-rated and his historical references were ripped-off, dumbed down and in many cases, wrong.  Over time, however, I have developed a healthy dose of respect for Mr. Brown.  This is a guy who has taken a so-so thriller and not only made a fortune off of it, but has pissed off countless people in doing so.  People have made careers out of debunking this guy, not to mention all the spin-off documentaries and copycat thrillers that have come out since then.  All of us wannabe writers should wish we could be like Dan Brown - a successful writer, instigator of employment and economic growth, someone who has single-handedly jump-started a generation's interest in art history, and the biggest fucking troll on the planet.  Let's see John Grisham pull that off.)

Also, anything that gets Audrey Tautou screen time is A-OK in my book.
I do think that with a mature audience, dark unpleasant topics should be dealt with from time to time.  Whether that's stereotypes, or being treated unfairly, or whatever, I'm sure it would make for a riveting game.  It makes for great books and film when done correctly.  But if the players don't want their character to have to deal with that, then they shouldn't have to. Again, it's a game.  You should have fun, not be made uncomfortable.

A long time ago I suggested that people should find like-minded people with which to play games, and I still believe that.  Some people like playing heroic, non-historical, anachronistic settings where a gay black Sir Galahad beats the tar out of Robin Hood.

And if you could somehow make Robin Hood a fox furrie, all the better.
Other people enjoy when every detail of their game is perfectly and historically recreated. They may feel you are not qualified to run a true medieval role-playing game until you have at least a PhD in European history and several published papers.  That every detail of shitty peasant life must be painstakingly recreated.  That every cousin and bastard child of every king has to be included, fully-fleshed out and statted, and role-played with the proper intonation, accent and colloquialisms for his social standing and geographical location.

For some people, that's fun, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Some people have weird definitions of "fun."
I think both opinions and styles can co-exist in this world - in fact I think they need to.  We need the fun, creative, entertaining and sometimes frivolous games and stories to make us forget the shitty stuff we need to deal with in our daily lives.  But we can't actually ignore the bad stuff in the past either, whether that's political history or those old-fashioned games that grognards like to play.  We need to recognize these things in order to learn from them and improve the future.  We need a healthy mix of irreverence and somber realism in order to maintain both our sanity and our intelligence. 

Feel free to agree or disagree - that's what the comments section is for.  I probably would have gotten more responses with the original post, though. ;-)

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