The DM's Role as Apologist
1 November 2011
So I wrote earlier about using literary theme in your role as a DM. Today I want to expand on that topic and cover a topic that a lot of people have discussed but from a slightly different angle.
As the DM, you have the ability (and I would say, responsibility, but that might be a post for another time) to be an apologist.
To begin, let’s define what I mean by an apologist. It is simply one who give a defense. It comes from a Greek term, apologia, and you usually see the term in a religious context. In that context, it means to give a defense for a tenet of faith. See where I’m going with this? A DM has an opportunity to say something meaningful at his table: to give a defense for a particular belief.
Also, what I’m proposing here is more for a DM and his home campaign. I’m assuming that the DM is playing with people that he actually likes (or at least tolerates) and probably has differing views from.
I don’t think anyone would argue that the DM has the ability to do this, right? We all have the ability to believe a certain way and communicate that to others. That’s something that most of us do without even thinking about it.
The DM is a story-teller; in that role, he tells a story that may entertain, may frighten, may uplift. At the crux of that is the literary theme I blogged about in an earlier post. Let’s take that and deepen it a bit. What if it’s not just a concept the DM finds interesting? What if it’s something the DM believes to be true, not just for his campaign, but also for the real world?
I hear the troller-coaster firing up already. What kind of nonsense are you talking? This is supposed to be fun, why would I want to get into serious topics at the game table?
It gives a way for people to see a topic more clearly since their bias is gone due to the new context. For example, a racist may leave his prejudice at the door if we’re talking about a tribe of orcs fighting against a tribe of goblins. Maybe a sexist will consider the important differences between male and female if two societies on opposite ends of the spectrum clash. In my opinion, the best science fiction and fantasy does this. It helps people shed their preconceptions and see important topics from a fresh perspective. Will this always be successful? Of course not. But I think it’s a noble goal.
This is something that’s been weighing on my mind for some time. How do we use the gaming table to affect change in the real world? I’m a proponent of one-on-one, relationship-building to affect change (the bottom-up approach). I think the DM has a wonderful opportunity here, and I encourage all of you out there to think about it.
What do think? Is the gaming table just for fun? Can we actually change things, one gaming group at a time, at the table?
Definitely a cool way to approach DMing… I think it’s probably impossible to not reflect your views in your campaign in some way, so why not use that power for good!
Simon T. Vesper said:
What I find interesting is the examples you use. Racism and sexism are definitely wrong, and a right-minded GM or player certainly has a responsibility to expose those ideas as wrong to their friends. What’s the purpose of being a friend if you’re going to let someone continue to behave badly?
But what about religious views? For example, I’m a Christian, and I love talking with my friends about Jesus and what it means to be Christian. But I almost never approach these discussions just before or during game-time. (After is okay, because we’ve had our fun and no one individual is required to stay.) My reasons lie in the response most people have to Christianity: often, they just don’t want to hear about it.
Then again, maybe it’s how I approach the topic…
On the other hand, I do use Christian beliefs to inform alignment discussions in my games. Some of my players argue against using alignment at all, so we have to talk about what it means and whether to include it. At those times (again, not during the game, but in reference to it) I use examples from the Bible or from Sunday sermons to show how certain actions are good or evil.
So what topics should be explored at the game table? Some people think that homosexuality is wrong, but our society is moving toward a more tolerant stance. Racism has pretty much been proven wrong (socially speaking); different religions are more tolerated today than before, but there’s still confusion about basic belief structures. I guess it would mostly depend on the players involved…
I think that all topics are open for discussion at the table, as long as you know your players and they trust you, including religion.
I was wondering if anyone would make the connection, and you did. It’s namely Christianity and the gaming table that I was primarily thinking about as I wrote this article. I may write more on the subject, but I’d have to give serious thought on what I’d say and how to say it.