Join the Fantasy Confrontation League

In my recent piece on the necessity of kicking out incorrigibly disruptive players, I briefly mentioned geek culture’s fear of ostracizing behavior. JS3’s comment on the post has me wanting to consider that in a little more depth.

The idea that geeks don’t separate themselves from fellow members of the sub-culture due to their own experience being shunned in the wider world has achieved truism status. However, as the sub-culture increasingly becomes just plain regular pop culture, it’s one that could use some examination.

I’d argue that the narrative of our collective instinct against ostracism is largely an after-the-fact rationalization of something much simpler and near-universal: the desire to avoid confrontation. Audiences at GM masterclass panels laugh delightedly when I say, “kick ‘em out” because they wish they had the wherewithal to stand up to that toxic, disruptive player in their group. But most of us will put up with a lot before launching into an unpleasant interaction. Not just introverts, either—you have to be kind of toxic yourself to enjoy confrontation.

This of course is what toxic, manipulative people depend on; this natural impulse lets them get away with their hijinks.

That’s one of the big emotional roots of Donald Trump’s otherwise surprising appeal. Lots of us would love to yell “You’re fired!” He’d kick that inveterate rules lawyer out of the group in two seconds flat.

(As GM, that is. As player, he’d be that rules lawyer.)

But just as no halfway empathetic person enjoys the sickly adrenaline rush of a touchy personal interaction, we also don’t like to admit that to ourselves.

That’s not just a geek thing either. Confrontation avoidance rules the day in most social environments, covered up with one justification for inaction or another.

But when we sidestep a messy interaction, we create a narrative around it that makes sense to us, the fable of anti-ostracization. If we didn’t have that explanation we’d find another.

That’s a big part of Hillfolk’s appeal. DramaSystem lets you fantasize about telling people off in exactly the same way that D&D encourages you to vicariously slay monsters. Through its rules structure and the distance afforded by playing fictional characters, it lets the confrontation-averse safely yell, browbeat, protest, issue stark demands and, yes, even storm off, slamming the imaginary door on the way out.

I’m not proposing a Hillfolk series as a cure for emotional reticence. But it sure provides a sweet vacation from it.

Original image by Gage Skidmore, under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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