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Freud and Campbell

Myth, Archetype and Role-Playing

by Alldrew Ri lstone, Greg StafTord and J ames Wallis
This is a transcription of a moderated panel held on Saturda), 23rd
July 1994, dU1ing the Convulsion games convention in Leicestn
The panel consisted of GJeg Staffmd and Andme Rdslone, wllh discussion
moderated by H-rdlis, who also transcribed and edited Lhe recording. To
complicate matters, the session began with a role-plaJing conceit: Greg Stafford
took the mle oI]oey' Campbell J>: and Andreu' Rilltone /!laled 'Siggy' FII'lI.d the
second, the recentl), discovered offipring of theiT epoll)'mo1l$ and bellPr-known
parents. These roles were dropped as the discussion expanded bf!)'ond its o'rigmal
nTOugholll the Immcription, GS if G"g Stafford, ,1R is And"" Rilslone
and the occa.sional JW is James rVallis. iVfembers DJ the alldie11CI? have been
identified where possible: MC is Myles C01"COTan; Gll is Geoff Hogan; RH is
Ralph Honle)'; DR is David Renton; DS is David Scoll.
Andrew Rilstone {as 'Sigg;-' Fre-Ild}: I've been vety interestcd by this IlC\ ...
phenomellon of role-playing games, this use of a therapeutic tool in a
recreational contex!. Ir seems to me that you have peopl e who call them-
selves 'dungeon masters' or 'referees', \ .... hich I'm sure is hound up with
something very patriarchal, who put themselves in a thcrapeutic rela-
tionship to the players. It looks very much to me like a session of group
therapy. except thalthey seem to be doing it for fun even thollgh the
sexual and analytical overtones of what they're doing is obvious enough:
competition for experience and levels and magic swords, \ .... e could talk
about that aU night. But there's a game which I imagine Mr CampbeU
wil l have heanl of, Pendmgon', which has an appendix that talks in gen-
eral terms about the psychological bellefits of role-playing, although this
seems to be contaminated with ideas from Jung.
Greg Stafford [as ]oey' C"mpbellj: We feel it's about time that these thera-
peutic uses were liberated fi-om the hands of people \\'ho set themselves
up on the great phaUic piUar of wisdom, alld put into the hands of orcli-
nary people, into the general realm of experience. ' lhis sort of thing
does not need to be handled by professionals.
interactive fantasy 1.2 43
has v .. 1thill IhcmselH.'s the abiliry to interact with the ar-
chetypal plane in an ordinary manne,; without the leadership of profe,-
sionals. I lhink everybody's got it in their heans. I thmk everyone of us
has - well, not everybody: if everybody had thIS, everybody wonld be
role-playing. "mddn' , ,hc),' But among the vaneties of hllman beings.
there's a large number of us who are naturally drawlI 10 panicipate in
the mythic atmosphere. and I think that role-playing games are one of
the best outlets for it these days. In the old da),s 'hey had rituals. the,'
had ceremonies, they had a whole set of thmgs 10 do so that the), could
all be fed in Ihi s way, and these just don' t ex is! in Ihe modern world.
lhey've been prelty "'ell stamped out by Western culture. Christ i.ffl ty
has done a good j ob of stamping it OUI ; and science, as people Illink of
it., has gone further to stamp out a 101 of Ollr o\\'n innate contact \"ith ollr
drcam-worlds, \,,ith our OWll archetypal fantasy internal/extel11al selves.
And Illat's why I Illink people play rol e-playing games: because it's a
nalural and pleasant and enjoyable Illing, besides bemg fi.m.
AR: You talk about Il,e interaction with the archetypal plane, which ill-
volves 'archelypa]', a Jungian idea, and 'plane', wh,ch is some son of
mystical idea. Basically, wilhout my Freud hat on, I'm interested in the
statements in Pendragrm about Ihe game being hardwired into mydllc
archetypes, and how seriously this was from your point. of vieh,
and if so what does it mean?
I readJ oseph Campbell 's works, and he says Il,at reacting fairy-talcs
and myths is in itself a process of psychoanalysis. The process of psy-
choanalysis which h e",1 talks about - and indeed Jung. although he
was working wilhill a different rranlework - is a process which goes on
for years and involves unpicking all those ghastly thmgs ,hal have
happened to you, and transfeniug your relationship with YOllr father
onto the analyst. I walll to kllow in ,.,..hat sense playing PendTClgon or
reading ]ack alld the Bcanstalk' is analogous la lhal.l fed when reading
Can'pbdlll"" he is excellent so long as he is talking about relationships
between the difierent mythologies and recurrent motifs and such, but
when he geLS on to talking about whal they reall y mcan, he gets inlO
ideas like 'follow your bliss'. I didn't need to read two thousand pages of
The Masks o/Gnd and study every mythology ill lhe world to find our thal
a good way of heing happy is LO find om what Illakes you happy and
Il,en go and do it.
CS: I understand that the author of P",dragoll believes [audle/lce laugh-
ll!1j that we are hardwired to {his stuff, that the ract Ihat it call be used by
some tyranni cal {hCr3pisl to lme rheir pockets with your hard-eal11ed
mOlley ...
AR: \\11ich a game t.iesigncr would never do. .
CS: Ifyoll cOlllpare llIy annllal income Slal.ement 10 (hat lheraplsl
I know, you Will see thal this is ahsolutely uue. But I do believe that we
44 interactive fantasy 1.2
Freud and Campbell byAlldrew Ri/stone and Greg Stafford
are hardwired. I think that eyer since human consciousness was Spa\\11ed.
the alienation that is inherent , ... ithin our human consciousness requires
an ouuet, an interface \vith the worl d that we can no longer kIlO' '''; that <lll
of the archetypal mythic themes are real. Whether you wanlto deal "ith
it or not, the fact is that we're all going to die someday. In a hundred
years. no one in this room will be sitting in thi s room. The fact is that we
don't know everything, we're not even in (oman wilh our 0\\>11 emotions,
certainly not with the larger cosmos. 'nIere are things , ... c don't under-
and things \,,e can't understand, and we \\.:alH to have some under-
standing and relationship with these things. 1 tllink that' s hardwired
into us.
Our separation from naUtre, if that's an acceptable of the
fall, has widened tlle gap between us as modern people and the world of
nature. And we do live \\'i1..hil1 the ""orld of nature, \'y'hether we want to
cope with it or not. We still require fi..lfilling, feeding that part of our-
selves that lives \,,;thin nature. and this is done through story-tellillg, or
through psychoanalysis if you walllto do itm that manner. Role-playing
games do the same thing. You don' t need to kill something to under-
stand death. You don' t need to go out and burn down a village to expe-
rience the tremendous pleasure that we can get from destroying our
e.nemies. "Ve do it with our imaginations, which is much safer. And I
think thi s is what it 's all about: il's our opportunity to experience these
things. botll tlle particul ar and the universal.
AR: I'm much more in tune ",idl that kind of reasoning: the idea tllat
what's valuabl e in rol e-playing or in analysis is playing tlnuugh situa-
tions in some controll ed way - playing through things we haven't expe-
rienced, like burning down a village or being in a violent sintation. In
analysis it might be playing through a piece of a relationship with a
parent or something similar. -lhat is healing, because it helps you to
understand it.
What I remain to be convinced by is the idea that, when playing
& Dragons or Hmdragon, that ,,,'izards and knights have all
Innate power because they resi de in our collective unconscious some-
where - which seems to be J oseph Campbell's thing - and that just
these things changes you in some way. My experience with
plaYing Pendragon is that you're not acting out something mystical and
hardWlred because you're playing through the relationship of a kni ght
anda sql11re and lady; it' s a convenient code for exploring thi ngs about
(amtly hfe. A Pelldmgon campaign I ran for about eighteen months cen-
tred on a squire coming to telms ,,"th tlle fact that he wasn't going to be
as wonderful a knighl as his father. illat could have had the same effect
on. the players if I'd sel it up as a young executive realizillg he wasn't
to be as wonderful a businessman as hi s father, bur i( would have
en less dramatic,
interactive fantasy 1.2 45
cs: I think Ihal the fact is not that Ihes" images and symbols have a life
unto themselves, but that they are the interface through which we work
with the archetypes which do have a life unto themselves. \Ve can't mis-
lake the mask for the thmg behind the mask. I think Ihal it's absolutely
true that if you play a Pendmgon game you may - depending on your
game master and yourself - deal with thi s family thlllg: I think it's
inherent within the entire story, and because these things are built ilHo
the stories, they're built into the game as well. And you don't need to do
it consciously, that's one of the splenclid things. You may play Ihrough
the entire story alld not deal with it consciously, but unconsciously you'll
be understanding it.
AR: Ifit's true U1aI role-playing games have gotlhis hidden psychoana-
lytic or mind-expanding or whatever-it-is potential- thi s has been ad-
dressed directly in Pendmgon and in some of the Storyulle.,.' games -
isn't ulere a danger that by saying it's there and saying 'do it,' thal you
could actually be taking the potential away' With DungeollS & Dragons. I
think that all of this going down dungeons and gaining experience, it's
all undoubtedly bound tip with adol escence. Getlillg magic S\vords from
wise old wizards could not be more H-euclian, it couldn't he more - well,
not necessarily phallic in the old Freudian sense, but ill terms of an
initi ation into manhood, it's there. It didn'l OCUl r to us that it was ulcre.
To lots of people, playing this very superficial form of D&D may have
been very important to adolescence. I strongly suspeCllhat ifvou' d ex-
plained all this in the D&D rulebook it wouldn' t have worked.
CS: I think if you'd explained it in the rulebook it would have beell
ignored - 'Bunch of Illbbish, let's just go and kill something.'
JW: If Gal)' Gygax had explained it in the D&D rulebook, il would have
been unintelligible. IAwJiwc.e umghtl!1:}
CS: [ don't think that exposing the underpinnings of it is
going to undermine the game itself, certainly not the of it,
unless you have a real problem wilh Ihe whole idea and say, ' I'd never do
such a thing.'
AR: I'm not so sure. Campbell is very pro-religion and mythology but
very against the inslituLioTlalization of it. If you accept Campbell 's theo-
ries, someone making a sanifice to Cl god could he doing all sons of
crucial psydlOlogical things to thelllselves in terms of their rel ationship
to the natural world, death and their fatber, but I would have though I
that this would only work so long as uley aClually believed they wcre
really saaificing to a god.
People have faith in their gods, ami they perform rinlals whier they
believe have a place in the universe and a place in {heir relationship
with nature and the supernatural order. Campbell says Ulal's good, but
they shouldn'l lhink lhat lhey're actually affecting the universe or lhe
god; lhal this god isn' t real, it' s something inside them and they are
46 interactive fantasy 1,2
Freud and Campbell by Andrew Ri/stone and Greg StaJJord
acting out somethillg psychological. I "'Quid have thoughr that kno\\'lng
that would remove the faith and the panicipalion in lile myth. \\,hieh by
hypothesis is what', having the good psychological effect.
GeoJJ Hogan [frolll lhe audimeel: TI,e question might be about what's
useful abollt psychoanalysis anyway. and whether it 's interllal or resolu-
tion through transference, \V11at I think happens in role-playmg games
is thallhe transferring OCClIrs arlY','ay. so ,,-hat is therapeutic about some-
body sacrificing to thei r god is the u'ansference, Tnat happens "hether
the person's got insi ght or not, hut is actually more lIsentl if the person
hasn't got the insi ght.
AR: we talking about transference in tenns of COIning to regard [lie
analyst or the game's referee as a father-figure. or in terms of pUlting
aggression onto the anilllal that's being s<tClificed?
CH: Freud moves on to say dUll it's notneccssariiy insight that is thera-
peutic in the therapeutic reialjonship. \'V11at happens is that the worker
and [he client work on rhe transfert:nce between them and as that u-ans-
fere nce gets resolvetl the emotional conflicts, perhaps between child and
father-fif,'llre, get resolved. Certainly \Villllicott """ould follow on from
that by asking what are we going to do now with (his persoll. How are we
going to giYe them an experience. and arrange a t.ransference \vhi ch ""ill
help this person to.devdop better? SOIlle of this comes more from Eng-
lish psychoanalysis thall from Atnerican, but this does lcad me to think
that's what happens in role-playing games.
-Ille transferclIce happens right from the time ,,,,'hen the player <"Te-
ates their character ann gives it a name. \-Vhen I look at. the names of
characters who play in my group, one woman called her first character,
a priestess, Jezarene. \Vhich, in tenns of Freudian slips and paraJ-lraxia,
is a combinat ion of 'j esus' and 'Nazarene'. This character went on fO
fonn a church called 'The Guiding Light'. Of' course, Ihe player was
blissfully unaware of all this, but I'm sure that something resolved
for her through it.
AR: What. do you think would have happened if' you'd explained that to
CH: I don't think interpretation would have helped her at all. But I
think that the experience did, aIld I was uying to focus a bit more on
that. Transference relics on a blank S<..Teen and, as rhc games all
I can be is like a screen. I have a scenario that's a medium for people 10
approach, there's a plot with a beginning, middle and cnd, but I still
think of (he blank screen so people can bnllg their own personal objec-
tives to the group
AR: It's a blank screen which seems to be stnlCt.ured in a \'ery archetypal
way: I don't know what universe you' re in but it's probably full of caves,
ords, beautiful WOllH;.:n imprisoned by large reptili an things - it stlikes
me as being loaded IQ Slan with, I don't know how blank it really is.
interactive fantasy 1.2 47
GH: "I hat killd of sueen gives them unconditional positive regard as
well, because they kill the monsters, take u1e treasure and arc told that
that's fine. so we're giving them pennission to be all (iIose thillgs that as
parents we can't let our chi ldren be. 11."t is actually quite a healing
cs: I've been reflecting on .. \ndre\vs earli cr and was thinkll1g
that perhaps the fault in the COlI llll Cllt he had made was lhe confusion
about making the sacrifi ce, lO dunk Ihat it has no effcct out there, only
in the head; that psychologi cal assumption that there is no 'out there' ,
there is only 'in there' - that in ract if there is all 'out there' then your
statement is false?
AR: If the religious ritual - I suppose there are two things that go on ill
Joscph Campbel!'s work, .
CS: ['m negating Dad here.
AR: I was thinking about C"ml'bdrs idea - I think he borrowed it from
Kant - of there being ways of relati ng to the 'X', which could be the
unconsciolls, or could be God, or could be the spirit plane or \v'hatever.
If you believe that that 'X' is something real, that there arc spirits or
another dimension or whatever, then in performing the ritual you arc
interacting with this unknown. I think Illy criticism of Campbell is that
he assumes psychoanalysis a lot of the time: you're talking aboUl the
mythic symbols being masks, but when Cimpbell takes the masks off,
what he thinks is underneath is something very Freudian.
GS: Or Jungian. Something psychological.
AR: Yes, but it's something to do with the meaning of these myths beillg
to do with a descent into an underworld which contains a fiCILC father-
figure who you confront, who you either slay, or he gives you permission
to many the WOlJlaTl, or who you are reconciled with.
CS: Or else you just lop his nuts off. One or the ot.her, yeah. But yes. that
assumption is particularly psychological. Also J oseph Campbcll has the
problem of presenting individualization as opposed to indi vidualiol1.
the worship of the indisidllal over all else, a particularly Western disease,
in which the indi vidual is satl'Cd and everything else is secondary' to that.
And f think that the idea of ule personalization of the imagery and the
pnx:css is contaminatcd by this \Vestel11 ideal as wdl.
AR: \OU lhink the journey of the hero could be read in a more social
CS: I u1ink so. I think there' s a lot to be said for interpreting these
things not just as a totally individual Journey or trip. Even Campbell
says the cri ti cal point ill the journey is the relllrn, not the voyage, If you
don't come back with that u'easure to your Village or your castle, you'\"(.:
AR: 10 him the village IS ... ?
48 interactive fantasy 1.2
Freud and Campbell by A "drew Rilsto"e and Greg Stafford
cs: 11,e rest of your psyche. HO"'ever, [ don't believe that myself [ think
that this {s w_eping ge.lt1l1ej is our village. [f [ had gone off and done all
my Pelldragon or all Iny Gloranthan:
work and had it all locked up in my
cabinet at home. where is my artistic merit? If J haven't had the oppor-
tunity to share it \\'ith you and put it out there as something to be criti-
cized, to be played with: sometlling to be enjoyed, even adapted and
slagged oil; it has no value whatsoever. And [ personally don't think it
just has to do with the internal aspect of it.
Ralph Horsley {jiVII! the audience}: l'dlike to ask how you deal with the
aspect of sllccessful resolutions. Overcoming difficulties is admittedly
important, but the possibility that the character could be overcome is
also importa11l withill the stnlCtllre of the g'dlllt'. 00 think characters
should finally Q\'CrcOlllc their problems?
CS: No, not necessarily. I' ve had games where it took three generations
of characters to achieve a goal. So it's not the fact that the characters
succeed, but ultimately that the player succeeds. [ think that's an impor-
tant part, but it's not what I ahvays use. I'lll happy to ha\"e players fail.
RH: lfyou're using this psychological tool where the benefit comes from
resolving the conflict, does the benefit only derive when you achieve
that end, or sinlply from being in tha[ situation? Is it the participation or
the resolution?
CS: I think dIal success in a character is not actually important. It
pends on how you define success. [s the deatll of a character a failure?
Well, maybe. But ,f your character is the person who tums to the party
and says, 'I'll Slay here, I GUl hold them for five minutes. Say
to my wife for me,' and goes away, is dut a success or a failure? It
pends on the terms. I think in general the interaction is more
tant than the success, hut the story-teller in me wants some success.
AR: In all these discussions \ ... e're probably talking about a vcl)' small
minority of games, when the emotional commltment from
player.s and referees is actually going to have any effect at aiL But if
you're talking about a game in which you've invested a lot into your
character and they've become your hero-figure \."ho has embarked on
this quest., \.,'hich we're saying might have archerypal or Freudian signifi-
cance, and tlley descend into the underworld and confront tlus evil fa-
ther-figure - and the referee doesn't know this but the player is actually
very screwed up about their own father - and they confront the charac-
ter, roll a fumble and are killed ... [ don't kilOW, is that going to have
some less therapeutic effect or not?
cs: That's dependent on tl,e reaction of the individual. [f he suddenly
gets throws down Ius dice and says, 'Gocldamn it, just like myoid
man! /awJu-ru:elnughmj then that could be a very valuable insieht. It's
not up to us to Judge or even to arrange his success; I think that we'd be
interactive fantasy 1.2 49
cheating ourselves and him. But you did raise Cl point: how many peol,le
here play dlara<..:lCrs with no emotional commitment?
{Audience: C11es of 'sometimes']
JW: This leads to somethi ng I've been working on recentl y: the differ-
ence between role-playing games and character playing-games. The
former is what a lot of the academic work on role-playing has been
about. in which you play a role within society, for example in a u-aini ng
situation you might play tl,e Head of Marketing or the Secretal)' of
Defence, and you fill in the blanks of that person's character from your
own. Character-playing games, in which you actually act the part of a
rounded personality not yourself, arc far morc dramatic bUl paradoxi-
cally, because they're not dealing with archetypal roles onto which the
players can project themselves, the players are less emotionall y a ll ached
t.o the characters, despite the fact that the characters seen 1 1III.1ch more
[Audience: C"es of'bollocks''l
AR: You' re saying that in a character-playing game you visuali ze a char-
acter very different from yourself ~ for example. an old woman with a
terror of cats, sOlneone who is very different from I.he player, v,:lH..:rcas ill
a role-playing game I'd play 'a fighter' or 'a cleric' or 'a magic-user'.
GS: But nobody ends up "oth 'a fighter'. You end up with 'GlUg Ul e two-
sworded, six-toed fighter who's done this, that and the other'.
JW: Maybe YOII and J do, but when you're fourteen you start. off with 'Jirn
the fighter', and he's got a big sword and some cool armour, but essen-
tiaJly it's you inside that armour. You project yoursel f onto the arche-
typal character in the fantasy world.
RH: As far as characterization went, the role-playing I was doing when I
was fourteen was a lot CTIlder than what I'm doing now, but as far as
emotional anachment goes I was probably a lot more upset abollt a char-
actcr dying then than I would be now, because now I can appreciate that
a character dying while holding someone off on a bridge can he good
role-playing in itself. D&D ten years ago was a competitive game: )'ou
were playing a game, not role-playing, YOll were trying to achieve some
success. YOtI were not necessarily u)'i llg 1.0 heal the other players hut
trying to beat the system, it was you against the person 1111l11ing the
Myles Corcoran [from/he audience}: More importantly, at tl,e age of four-
tcen, when you fail in a role-playing game it's as much as anything a
failure in YOllr everyday life. 'Ve're more used to failing because we've
got older and failed a lot more otten. At fourteen it', more of a shock to
YOll because you are confronted with the fact that you are not going to
live forever in the role-playing game, but althal age you "re not necessar-
ily sure that you're not going to live forever in real life as well . Br the time
you reach ,,"venty-five, thirty-five, forry-five you've had failed relauon-
50 interactive fantas 1.2
Freud and CampbelJ by A "drew Ri/slo"e and Greg Slafford
ships, failed working situ<-ltiOll s, failed everythillg. \Vc're lIsed (0 the fail-
ure, and we nm .... kno\\" lhat wc calJ learn frOllllhat kind of failure, so it's
useful to fail in a role-playing game as lIIudl as iL's lIseful to fail in allY
other activity.
Audietlce member 1: Can I ask the two eminent panellists, when you play
these games, to ""hat extent arc you playing ' .... 'iUl therapeutic functions
and towhar extent as game masters are you putting people in touch \, ... ith
the unknown or whatever you want to call it? And do you think that a
game master needs to notice that they're doing this consciousl); or do
you think it just happens? I'm concerned that you might have to be a
trained therapi st to nm a game.
AR: \Vhen I run games, I alii not cOll scio1.l s1y plluing lIIyself ill a t.hera-
peutic role at alL In some o[the games \,,-hich I would rate as good ones,
I have increasingly become alarmed by types of relationships and situa-
tions breaking out in the group which seem to have some son of anal-
ogy wit h therapeutic situations.
I can remember a Pendmgon character, all eight - or Ilinc-year-old
squire who was going to become a major character. and \'i C started talk-
ing through this character's childhood, one on one, in quite a lot of
depth and it was becoming a quite personal, in-depth discussion. It \,,'as
a very powerful piece of role-playing and the subsequent playing of this
character as an adult was incredibly real. Bw it su""U. ck mc that somethi ng
was going on (here, there is an analogy with therapy. and should referees
be aware of the psychological potential of these games' llle 510lelll'1'
system says yes, the point of these games is the exploration of the dark
side of yourself. 11,e majority of role-players would say don't be sill y,
they're just games. I don' t know_
RH: You're almost drawn into it subconsciously anyway. I play with a
group that's been together about fi ve years. I kllOw that they're quile
good role-players, they can play in characte.; but they're still essentiall y
playing themselves, and I know that certain things will upset certain
players but won' t upset other players, I can do things to certain charac-
ters and their players will be happy to role-play those situati olls, whi le
other people "ill feel that they're being P'<l upon. You've got a social,
emotional sinlation which you can't get away from, and it can be quite
difficult someti mes because you're aware of that, whether vou want it to
be there or not. '
CS: That's a responsibility that games masters have and it's not neces-
satiJy psychological in focus. \-Vhen I even whell I writ.e
g3.!lles. I never sit down and go, 'Okay. I'm going (0 rnakc this one so we
can deal "\-vith o;lr fa.thers.' I care about that. If my players have
some lssues, 1 don t bmld scenanos around that. On ule other hand u1e
responsibility that everyone has as a game master QI'just as a friend 'is to
try not to deliberately provoke or hun your friends. It's lIot a psycho-
logical orientation, it's a social onc.
There is a responsibility: I don't think you need 1.0 be conscioLls of
it, I don't think you neecl to know that this has a potential for doing this
or that in a psychological realm, butjusI be aware of your o\,,'n po\\er as
an individual. I think the cmpowcrmel1l of the individual as a game
master or as a pl<lyer is a major issue here. It comes .. vith the terrain.
AR: about the first part of the question: do you consciousl), en-
courage your players, or ellable them, to interact with the mystical un-
known as you sec it? Do you consciously do that or do you just tell a
cs: I don' t know if I could tell a story without doing that. I cia it, but not
CH: On the subject of responsibility, my game's been running for aboul
ten years and ""ice in it I think I'ye actually got it wrong. and I think it 's
because someone once said to me that as a referee I have the power to
make mher people (Ollle illto my dreams. Dreams resolve things lor me
that arc cliffimlt to resolve normally. Rather than simply dream, [ create
scenarios Lhat resolve issues for mc, and I let other people resolve it for
me: I watch and they talk about it to me, and 1 feel better and illspin.:d.
My example may be a bit extreme, bUl. I think that as referees we do
have a responsibility to help people rcmientate into reality after the game.
[ u-l' to have a half-houl; to do something to reorientate the players.
AR: Yes, I think (here are too [eh' referees who worry abollt grounding
players aftenvards. If you're just playing for fun then tbat's bUI if
you are plotying an intense game it does worry me if people then ha\e to
leave inU11ediately. I'm n01 saying that people are going to go otT ancl
have llervous breakdowns, but it doesn't seem like a vcry kind thillg to
cs: I agree. It's a great compliment to be a game master in a game
",here YOLl can emotionally engage people in a real ',,-'ay. but it' s a real
Audience member 2: ' \'e've all been aware of times whcn , ... c\c perhaps
accidentally stepped on a player's problem, and you think, 'God,
what a galle! What have I done' How am [ going to make it righl again"
You can see from the tact that they' re a little bit upset - perhaps they've
got one arm and their character gets theIr ann chopped off. We've all
done it, and sometimes they're upset and SOllletlllles Lhey're nOI, but
you ah..,ays think they are. But the next week they're fillc - it's all just Cl
AR; I've never ulIderstood what Ihat expressioll means. l e:" ir's just a
game, it's not a game and a banana.
!'i2 interactive fanc:asv 1.2
Freud and Campbell by Andrew Ri/stone and Greg Stafford
cs: \ \113t you mean is that the triviaJiz31ion of 'game' ill the phrase 'oh,
it's just a game' is an artificial consUuct. It's just a 'game' - but it's a
Audience member 2: It's something you say to protect yourself. If you get
in thal state ofm.ind, you can say, 'Jt'sjust a game.'
AR: If we mean 'don't confuse this with reality', I don't believe there's
anyone in the history of the world who's ever conn.lSed a game with
JW: When you were two or three years old you played ' let's pretend'. It's
a role-playing game, and you knew it \\'as a ganle, but it helped you learn
about the real world.
David Scott [from tlu! audience): \,\,Then i5 a game not a game? \\,11cn does
it star! to overlap with reality too much, and where is tJIC lut-ofTpoint? I
don't ulink you can say 'it's a game'. \'v'hatever you're doing, even if it's
just in yourself, you're taking on some part of the real world. Even if
you're just slaying monsters, if you have this feeling and have to get it
out, then it's not a game; it's something you really feel you have to do at
some subconscious level. I come away from monster-bashing and 1 feel
really good: you come away "ith a buzz, you don't think, 'Oh yeah, I was
really upset about killing the monsters', you think, 'That felt really good,
I really enjoyed myself.' Perhaps the enjoyment is the release that we get,
so perhaps it's not. a game at all. Is role-playing a game?
CS: As David says, what do we mean by 'game'? i\ game is real. It's not as
real as this {knocks on table} but the experience, the emotional charge you
get can be real. It's not something you can throwaway like an old piece
of paper and forget about it, it's a real thing. Children play games to
practise reality.
I have a friend who was messed up psychologically. His girlfriend
had dumped him, he had a c.Tisis in faith, he was flunking school and he
couldn't deal with his parents, so he did what half the people in America
do. Half take drugs, the other half join the military. Hejoined the Navy,
and became involved in Dungeons & Dragons. He was on a nuclear sub
{audience laughter} and they would go out for months and never surface.
This was a great time for Cl game, and tlley had very loug and intense
gaming sessions. And at one point he said, 'You know, I'm a pretty un-
happy guy.! wonder what I'd need to do to be happy" So he consciously
constnlCted his charact.ers to test out personalities - 'I think I'll be a
bastard with this guy,' and lIled it out; 'I think I'll be a really friendly
guy on this,' and tried it out through the games and really got iIlto
It, played them in character and tried to hold to it. He used it literally as
a t;st for ,his And he's a pretty nice guy these d;ys,
he s got a \'I1fe, he s okay WIth hiS parents, he finished school and _ well
he became a fundamentalist Christian [audience laughter} but you
have it all .
interactive fantasy 1.2 53
But this was play! 111at's the whole poinr. He was conscious or it as
play, but it had real efIects. It 's I1otjUS( a gallic, as if galtliJlg is a trivial,
unimportant and unreal thing. It has real effecls. It's got its own reality.
It's nO( the same reality ''''here we earn our paycheques. you can' t eat
game-food and live, but nevertheless il has its own validity and reality.
AR: 10 a small child, " play-world can be much more important thall
the real world. 11,cy'rc not confused aboUl which is which, but they might
be much more worried about ",that they're doing with their toy soldiers
than what u1cy' re doing at school. I think there are probably role-play-
crs in Ihar situation as well.
1 think people role-play for three reasons, and the most important is
to have fun ,,,,ith your mates, the social thi ng, to (hillk beer and eat
peanuts and mess around. Tl1e second reason is 10 cxpelience a fUll
story, to entertain yourself, to he ofT u',e edge of a cliff by your
fingell1ails. '1l1e third reason is the more intense character insight
and that tends to come along when you've been doing good, fun, excit-
ing stories ror a long time, and you've had all the adventures.
A mistake that I've made and which some cOlllrnercial systems are
pushing to\vards is staningwith the charaoer insights, saying. 'Hey every-
body, design the,e really detailed characters, put a lot of insight into
them, and we're going to have !.his really intense session.' \Vhat actually
happens is you don't have the fun stel)', -you don' t have the messillg
around with peanuts, alld everybody's bored. TIlere are games which
say that the purpose of u1e game is to discover the nature of evil and
explore your dark side, bur that could aCfUally prevent itself from doing
the very thing it's setting out to do.
JW: The moment you say, 'We're going to get together to do some vet)'
purposeful escapism,' you're taking that away, because the players \\ill be
thinking about what they're doing rather than just doing it.
DS: If I could ask our two eminent panellists, do they tJliuk thaL referees
should have a responsibility to channel the results of role-playing into a
morc positive line? \,\11cnever you finish a game, ,vhether it be a hack-
and-slash or an ell l0Lional release, people come out happy. GeofTllogan
was talkillg abotl[ a wind-do,,,,) session which I think is a Vel) ' good idea.
hut do you not think that there is a need for rererees to be responsible
and actually have these wi nd-down sessions at the end?
AR: Certainly there's a need for referees to act responsibly. I like the idea
of a comedown session vel'\' much, but I would shrink away from a ses-
sion of silting around and ' '''''ell, " ... hat have we all learned from
Ihi s? How Gill we 1l0W apply il to our daily lives'?'
Audience member 3: \"'hat's '''Tong with doing that?
CS: Because it's not appropriate to the sit1lation. Dogma fails at some
lime, always, alld you Ileed (Q adjust LO the circumstances. [fit 's a hi ghl y
charged, emotional si tualion, I would say yes. lI)' to ground it down,
54 interactive fantasy 1.2
Freud and Campbell by A1!drew Ri/stone and ereg Stafford
f,TJ"Olllld it out a bit before , .... c go homf. I \,'ould hate to set it as dogma.
David Renton [from tJle audience}: you've 1l1CIIliollCd that people COIII(, 10
games for all sons of reasons. Some come to have fun, some bring their
emotional hang-ups and explore them as pan or the game. 1l,e rereree
will 11.111 the game but they' re not a psychoanalyst. it' s not lheir responsi-
bility to find out why people are doing what they're doing and to help
them along their lives. If ther want to come, let them explorc ",hat they
want to explore. \our role as referee is to provide an adventure selling.
\rVhen lhe players leave lhe game and go away, maybe they've learned
something. maybe not, maybe they're going to bring it hack next week:
but it's that individual' s problem. Ir they're resolving it in a role-playing
context that's their 0,,"'11 personal thing. 111cre's no reason \'>'hy every-
body else in the game and the rereree has to have the responsibility to
help them.
AR: 111ey do have a responsibility not 10 do anything harmful, though.
DR: You let them explore what they \vant to explore, you don't start
attacking them or telling them what they should do.
AR: TI,e problem is that for me, some of the things that peopl e define as
good games are the ones \vhere players have had a really good experi-
ence, a really intense experience, which can Tllcan an elIloLiOllally dlllrll-
ing-up experience, The referee could say, 'TI,e bit in the game where the
guy's father was ntt up on the battlefield, that was a really good session,
he really seemed very moved and upset by that,' and then remember
that the player's father is in hospiLal wit.h cancer - thaT might not be a
very good thing to do, even though it gave a really good cxperience,
DR: You still dOIl't have the skill to know whether that person is going to
be damaged by that experiellce or heartened from ir.
CS: I with you there,
JW: Once )'ou've accepted that role-playing games are inherclllly psy-
chological or psychoanalytic - because they are, you can't get away
from it, they are abollt archetypes alld acting out fantasies - you call ' ,
then ignore that. You uon' t have to act on il , bill YOII can' t say, ' I
don' t wam anything to do with it. '
CS: \Ve're not therapists, but onc thing I knOl" is that you can trust the
process. If it's (he mythological process that we're activating, it has its
0\\'1.1 solution and resolution within it, whether we're <I",'are of il or 1I0t.
You may tweak tl1is person and provoke S01ne ill-feelings bll1., you know,
that may be just what they need. \'Ve can (rust the process.
AR: Do you think that the nature of mythology IS such that it can by its
nature never go badly wrong?
cs: Oh no, it can go badly wrong, but it's not our responsibility ir it
does, Sure, you can manipulate it and intentionally be extremel\' cmel
and hwtful in a game, I can see the possibilities for thi s, but n Ol
interactive fantasy 1.2 55
,.,,"hat we"re talking about. Sure, it can go badly 'wrong. intentionally or
not, bur ill general I think the process is trustworthy.
Greg is Ihe C1mtor oJ r;/oralltha alld Pendragon, alld oJ
Clwosill1ll games.
A IIdrell , Rilsloflf editor of Interactive Fantasy.
Jar!!es Wollls il director oJ llogs/tead Publishing Ud.
'King A1'tJwr PendragQlI by Greg Srafford, pllblished by Chaosiulll Inc., JOX5.
ISBN 0-933635-59-1
2StolJlplln is (l name used to cover the range of role-playing pnxluLls pmduccd
by \\' hitc \VoIL including lampi?"/? { I J, Wereu"Olf[ 1992], Mage [ 1993]. Il'rmth
[1994J alld SI'-"tfigliler [19941
sGloramlia is the detailed imaginary world in which thc Runeqllfst role-plil)"-
ing game is sct.