Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

For the Guidance of Wise Men

I took my daughter to the beach today. I set up my beach chair near the water's edge, and prepared to enjoy a little Vance while watching her frolic in the water.  Alas it was not to be.  An officious teen-age life guard made her get out of the water and told me that she couldn't go back in without an adult in the water within arm's reach. This might seem reasonable, except that in this circumstance she has had two years of swimming lessons, was splashing in knee-deep water while wearing a floater jacket, and I was only a few meters away watching.  There was no possible harm that could have come to her, but that doesn't matter.  Rules are rules and must be strictly obeyed, right?  Apparently, Surf Nazis really do exist.

This whole thing got me to thinking about how our society is becoming increasingly regulated by 'zero-tolerance' policies.  A common example that frequently irks me is school buses.  Whenever a school bus embarks or disembarks passengers a battery of flashing red lights signals the imminent demise of the world and a big stop sign is displayed to drive the point home.  There is even a big long bar that swings out to physically prevent kids from running in front of the bus and into the street.  All traffic in both directions must stop until the lights stop flashing.  Again, a reasonable precaution.  In some circumstances.  But, more often than not, the bus ends up bringing four lanes of traffic to a grinding halt on a main thoroughfare at rush hour for the sake of one child whose parent holds her hand while she gets on or off the bus.  There is no possible threat to the child from street traffic unless said parent physically hurls her in front of a passing car, yet everyone must still stop.  This continues on from pre-school right through high school, and I sat waiting a few weeks ago, for a group of seventeen and eighteen-year old students some of whom have the right to vote, but can't trusted to get off a bus without killing themselves.

I could cite many other such examples of ridiculous safety precautions to protect us against non-existent or extremely improbable threats, that I'm sure exist, primarily, to increase my blood pressure.  It isn't just the inconvenience that annoys me, but also the social implications of artificially selecting for stupidity by weening common sense out of the gene pool and raising a generation of narcissists who have been taught their whole lives that the world, literally, stops for them.  But, every time someone dies of improbable circumstance, the Maude Flanders' of the world embark upon crusades to make sure that it never happens to anyone ever again.  The end result is that we are plagued with yet another 'zero-tolerance' policy.

Now, I'm all for rules and guidelines, but I have absolutely no patience for stupidity, and in my experience zero tolerance = zero brains.  The people whose job it is to enforce rules usually fall into two camps; they either are not allowed any latitude in applying the rule, which is likely the case with bus drivers and officious teen aged lifeguards, or they lack the wit to understand the rules they are paid to enforce, which covers most bureaucrats and administrators, though some are just bullies who like to bludgeon people into submission, wielding a rule book like a truncheon.  I ran into into far more than my share of these latter two types of administrators during my years in the navy, and I'm sure that anyone in any branch of civil service has as well.

Stand by for segue in 5....4....3....2....1....

 For nearly as long as role playing games have existed there has been conflict between rules-lawyers who insist on strict interpretation of the rules and are quick to jump on the slightest infraction, and those who prefer to wing it and use the guidelines to adjudicate situations on a case-by-case basis using common sense to modify the rules to fit the circumstances.  And, yeah, just like those administrators, there are game masters who just don't understand the game or who are bullies who empower themselves with the rules.

But it occurs to me that a sort of zero-tolerance policies are making its way into modern game systems, creating a third type of rule-Nazi; game masters who are not allowed any latitude in the interpretation of the rules.  Games like 4E have such complex tapestries of rules, designed to cover every situation without the need for much thought or common sense, that even if you wanted to, winging it would only cause the tapestry to unravel.

It is interesting that our hobby parallels society as a whole, and that as our lives become increasingly regulated by rules that often don't make any sense, so do our games.  Coincidence?  I don't know, but it's interesting to ponder.

I was confronted by the rules-as-written vs. rules-as-intended dilemma just other day while playing in a Warhammer 40K mega-battle.  We're running a huge multi-session battle with three teams of six players and no less than 12,000 points worth of miniatures on the table.  At one point my partner proposed firing on a group of Space Marines and Dark Eldar who were locked in close combat.  According to the rules you are not allowed to shoot into close combat, but the rules assume a fight between two sides and the intent is that there is too great a risk of hitting your own men to shoot into a melee.  In this case, because the melee involved two enemy forces, it would make perfect sense to shoot at them, because no matter who dies, we win.  There was strong objection by one of the Space Marine players who argued that the rule was the rule and should not be broken (though I doubt he would have mounted such a ardent objection had it not been some of his troops involved in the melee), and it is another interesting example of rules applied when it doesn't make any sense.

Now, I'm a 'spirit of the law' kind of guy, both in life and in gaming, but obviously not everybody agrees with that philosophy.  So, I guess all you can do is try not to let the bastards get you down and take heart in knowing that some day, even Surf Nazis must die.


Don said...

Totally with you on pretty much every count. The school bus thing is really silly at times. I'm stopped on a regular basis by a bus disembarking a wheelchair bound girl who rolls off the ramp directly on to her front yard and yet traffic in all directions has to come to a stop for about 5 minutes - as though theres some chance the wheelchair is going to accidently roll back THROUGH the bus and into traffic!

Just curious - where do you guys hold this massive Warhammer game? Sounds like a pretty huge undertaking...

Sean Robson said...

Hi Don: yeah, we're subjected to a lot of down-right silly safety precautions. We're playing our Warhammer campaign in the basement of one of the players, who has 6'x6' table and a whole lot of terrain.

Nykster said...

While I completly agree that there are far too many "stupid" safety prcautions and rules in the world, I fee it's not the ones who enforce the rules, or even the one who create the rules who are entirely to blame. It's the idiots who need the rules that make this world even more difficult to live in.
In your case at the beach, I guarantee you that there was some parent who was not watching their child, and when the lifeguard, who is required to keep and eye on far too much beach for one person to handle, was not able to make it to the child in time... well, it's unfortunate. Well the parents need to blame someone, else they will look like bad parents. So the lifeguard takes the blame, which then causes more rules to be created.
Another case in point, hair dryers have a warning not use them in the shower, irons have a warning saying not to use on the clothes you are wearing, packages of peanuts have a warning saying that this bag may contain nuts. WHY!?!?! because some stupid person was burned, elecrocuted, or went into anaphelactic(sp?) because they were stupid.

Again with the school buses. I can understand your point of view. Having to wait needlessly while some kids, who won't even be crossing the street, get off the bus.
In this case I disagree to a point. Having grown up in the country, I have far too much knowledge of kids getting off the bus to run across the gravel road and get hit, or narrowly avoid getting hit, by a vehicle passing the bus. While it may be needless in many scenarios, the stop sign automatically opens when the door does. This is not to say that the stop sign can be manually operated by the bus driver when he/she deems it's needed.

As a side note, the arm that extends infront of the bus is so that kids have to move into visual range of the bus driver in order to cross in front of the bus, again i've personlly know kids who have been hit or run over kids who are standing in front of the bus waiting to cross the road and the driver can't see them. The bus then begins to move, thinking all the kids crossed or that the kid went around to the back of the bus.

Anyway, there are many pointless rules in the world, but they are there to protect the stupid. Why we feel that we need to protect the stupid is simply because if we don't, the stupid will find a spart person who will sue us.

Sean Robson said...

While I completly agree that there are far too many "stupid" safety prcautions and rules in the world, I fee it's not the ones who enforce the rules, or even the one who create the rules who are entirely to blame.

Agreed, but....

Having grown up in the country, I have far too much knowledge of kids getting off the bus to run across the gravel road and get hit, or narrowly avoid getting hit, by a vehicle passing the bus.

Here lies the crux of my argument. In some circumstances such precautions are reasonable to protect the stupid from themselves. But in 90% of the instances in which I've seen traffic grind to a halt there was absolutely no chance of danger (i.e. one child escorted by a teacher or parent). My objection here is that there is no leeway in allowing people (e.g. bus drivers, lifeguards, etc.) to exercise common sense in the enforcement of the rules.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

This post reminded me of the fact that at least one chainsaw has the warning "Do not attempt to stop chainsaw with genitals", as though there was any danger of someone doing so (or at least, anyone that wouldn't significantly improve the gene pool by doing so... :D).

Sean Robson said...

@C'nor: LOL! I've seen warnings not to stop a chainsaw with your hand, but with one's genitals? This suggests that someone once did this then sued the company.