CAN PLAYERS BE RESPONSIBLE
Discussing role-playing games for a quick moment, as a GM, I’m often annoyed at my players’ lack of attachment. Like a first-person shooter, they only care about what lies in their narrow forward vision and feel if it cannot be stabbed or shot at, it should be disregarded. Unless the undeniable noise of a demon-mecha-zombie is skulking behind them, they’ve no desire to turn around. Like so many open-sandbox games, they do what they like, when they like, how they like, content, and comfortable that at no point will their normal lives be affected by what happens.
Certain emotional reactions are widespread in games-—anger, laughter, the satisfaction of drilling a bowie knife into said demon-mecha-zombie—but trying to evoke an emotion like sadness or, heaven forbid, guilt is like trying to convince Hannibal Lecter to cut down his intake of human spleens.
My Amethyst campaign, which had been running nearly uninterrupted for eleven years, ground to a close not too long ago. Three sessions before the curtain, I revealed to one character/player that he had been responsible for everything that had occurred until then, but simply couldn’t recall the acts in which he committed. And these weren’t like “everyone was late for work because he forgot to set the alarm,” or “clicking on a link for the latest Kardashian side-boob shot allowed the network to be infected with the latest monkey poop-flying virus” but a rather severe case of planetary genocide. Once I’d managed to make my case that the player couldn’t absolve himself, my player turned around and took the amnesia defense—that his lack of remembering the event equated his innocence, that since he couldn’t remember either committing a crime or remembering his motivations for committing it, actually committing the crime was incidental. He wasn’t like that person and, as such, was not responsible. The player immediately followed up (backed by no objection by fellow PCs that had been screwed over by the revelation) by claiming that there had been a precedent in our modern criminal justice system.
Without pausing the game to immediate call on the veracity of this player’s claim, I let the moment pass, re-affirming publicly my joy this was my last game with that player. Just to heed the warning to those of you out there that enjoy being a DM/GM: Don’t populate your game group entirely with tabletop wargame aficionados.
Anywho, the next day, a five-minute search on Google and Wikipedia revealed that unless your amnesia was a side effect of the same condition that committed the crime, you can’t use amnesia as your defense, even if you’re able to prove the memory loss. This is backed up by numerous cases. Proof that you committed a crime has no bearing if you can’t remember it. If you pile-drive an elderly lady into the Starbucks because you had a few too many long-island ice-t’s but can’t remember the evening, it doesn’t change the fact you pile-drove an elderly lady into the Starbucks. About the only time this ever worked was that famous sleepwalking case and the guy that stabbed his buddy to death because he hadn’t enjoyed a Snickers bar the hour before. (I’m not kidding, this is actually true)
But I digress. The bankrupt ethics of my players notwithstanding, I came to realize that most players, regardless if it’s in a tabletop role-playing game or a narrative, campaign-driven board game, would never accept personal responsibility for anything their characters ever did, even if they had a hand in the creation of their characters and their personality. This is why if you ever write a novel based on your game (like I have), replace the player characters with your own creations, because who wants to read about a bunch of shallow glory hounds who only care about themselves and spend the whole of their time in the obviously lucrative profession of gut-punching puppies until they spit out gold.
I’ve already stated that the argument of amnesia is no way to absolve one’s guilt, but apparently, it also absolves someone of responsibility. Even when I made the argument that even if the player may not be guilty, he was still responsible, the player instead got upset. Why? Because by his claim, it wasn’t his job to fix the very problem that an earlier version of himself had committed. As a GM of 30+ years experience (takes a moment to cry inside), I’ve seldom been able to evoke a negative emotional reaction other than anger. Players rarely have been affected by the loss of an NPC, unless that NPC granted some insight bonus for being in combat, and players rarely weigh the consequences of seemingly foolish acts.
Two years earlier, the same group of players imprudently tried to disrupt a bunch of terrorists with hostages firmly clasped in hand and firearms brushing their temples (the temples of the hostages, not the terrorists, as that would be silly). The plan was incredibly irrational and short-sighted, and when it failed, several terrorists escaped. All but one of the hostages was killed. Instead of being angry at themselves or sad at the loss of the hostages, the players initially became hostile to me—for not allowing them the capacity of solving every crisis with bullets—and then later at the families of the victims because the players were being blamed for the loss of their loved ones. One player absolved himself with the psychic assumption that the hostages would have been killed regardless. At the same time, another one simply countered that the family should have done more to help.
Heroes, I say.