If you’re of a certain age, intelligence, and social otherness, then you are familiar with the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. More specifically, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, a game based around seemingly infinitely sided-dice, graph paper, and a young boy’s greatest gift, imagination. The game took hours if not days or weeks. It was the dullest ‘board game’ ever designed. I hated playing it, I loathed talking about it, and I detested friends or acquaintances talking about it.
What attracted me to this game was the possibility of storytelling. Above all, AD&D was about narrative—not killing or exploring or knights or medieval weapons or castles or labyrinths or demons or monsters. The game was about telling a story, you created a character and then inhabited it. The others playing with you created the context where the character could flourish. The backbone of this character creations were the books issued—the player’s handbook, the monster manual, and the dungeon master’s guide. These books were full of illustrations and descriptions that, for a young kid obsessed with Star Wars, Tolkien, and dystopian literature, created the necessary parameters that allowed my imagination to run wild.
Again, I hated playing AD&D. It bored me. I didn’t want to kill things on graph paper. Fortunately, I also grew up in the early years of video gaming. My generation grew up knowing Hyrule inside and out, playing Ultima, Final Fantasy (before it got weird), and The Bard’s Tale; we graduated from choose-your-own-adventures to reading Terry Brooks before discovering Robert Jordan; we were the geeks that created fantasy baseball leagues using baseball cards and newspaper stats; and we devoured zombie movies delineating the best methods for survival and the inventory needed. Essentially, we were the original beta-testers.
Being a gamer was something I was never comfortable with but nearly everything about gamer culture I found appealing. I couldn’t get into comics yet I still have fading copies of Neil Gaimen’s Sandman series as well as a substantial amount of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. It wasn’t until I was out of college that technology caught up with what I wanted. Discovering World of Warcraft was brilliant and obsessive. It led to briefly playing a slew of other MMORPGs. Yet I soon discovered something—I didn’t want to kill anything. I want a game that mixes The Sims, Elder Scrolls, and Civilization. I just wanted to create a world or, more specifically, I wanted to narrate a character throughout a world.
It’s certainly a kind of escapism. As someone who made the conscious decision to go to college for philosophy then get an advanced degree in poetry, it is par for the course. When I play games, I find myself not only creating characters but also using them through which to write a story. I think of gaming as a method for fiction.
Part of this narratology is figuring out the personality of your character(s). As an aside, a very good book on this and similar subjects relating to fiction is, Jean-Marie Schaeffer’s Why Fiction?
In the role-playing game world, personality is determined by alignment. Alignment is a moral and ethical matrix each with three axes; morally there is good, neutral, and evil, and ethically there is lawful, neutral, and chaotic. This allows you a firm starting point for thinking and acting in the persona; this allows you to start playing.
So, here is the plain set:
For some quick explication, there’s this:
As a better illustration of this system, the Internet has birth an alignment meme. This is one of the few memes to actually be utile (rather than just weird, snarky, or cute), in that it wants to make it clear to you what it stands for while at once participating in the nostalgia fetish. So here’s the alignment matrix filled in with Sci-Fi & Fantasy heroes from pretty much every corner of the geekery—Superman, Firefly, V for Vendetta, Star Trek Next Generation, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, Alien, The Dark Knight—
These memes, although helpful and plentiful, are still imprecise largely due to the subjective tastes of the meme generators. To my mind, the best way to understand the basic alignment system is by figuring out where you would fall in this matrix. I was able to find three sites that provided easy to answer questions that didn’t take long to complete.
This first is more D&D based, the second seemed entirely a fanboy creation, and the third appeared to be some kind of old psychology study. When I took the quizzes (and I took each twice answering the questions as honestly as I could—meaning not what I would like to think I would do but what I would actually do), each determined that I was Neutral with some slight tendencies. The first gave me Neutral straight up, the second put me at Neutral-Neutral with slight leanings toward Good and Lawful, and the third, which I believe to be the most accurate, had me as Neutral-Good with a touch toward the Chaotic.
When I think of Neutral, I don’t imagine an ‘undecided’ person or someone that is waiting to be swayed nor do I imagine an opportunist, but rather what comes to my mind is indifference. To my mind, being Neutral is akin to being apathetic. The description given by the third test based on my answers was,
You do the best good that a person could be expected to do. You are devoted to helping others. You are willing to work with authority figures, but you do not feel any particular allegiance to them. You are the stereotypical ‘Benefactor.’ You believe in doing good without any particular bias for or against order.
I think this fairly falls in line with my own moral-ethic system. I don’t believe that people are inherently bad or selfish, I aspire to altruism and consider it easier to say “yes” than to say “no.” I’m a pacifist and often come at situations from the perspective of “Why wouldn’t I do this?” rather than “Why should I do this?”
So it would seem Neutral-Good is my default setting which will occasionally bleed into Lawful-Neutral. Lawful-Neutral is simply someone who doesn’t want the hassle. I loathe hassle. There have been times when I have walked away from things simply because it was too much of a bother—no bitterness about it, to residual resentment, I put it out of my head because the hassle makes it not worth the effort. This is a realist, path-of-least-resistance kind of stance. Perhaps the best expression of this alignment is that of practical pragmatism. It simply means a high level of adaptability due to having little desire for partisanship. Someone who is Lawful-Neutral just wants to get things done as quickly, easily, and simply as possible for themselves certainly and, yeah, sure others, why not.
I must admit, I shade toward the Evil. Not too much, so don’t worry. I’m sarcastic and cynical but that is often to simply cloak my own idealism. On the other hand, perhaps the sarcasm and cynicism grows out of the idealist in me being frustrated by what I perceive to be needless obstacles, irrationality, and misplaced/misguided concerns. When my frustration flares up, I tend to dip into the fascist pool—’you deserve what you get’ or the paternalist notion that ‘I know what’s good for you and I will force it on you.’ Thing is, both of these stances are evil—mild evil—as in neutral-evil and lawful-evil.
Selfishness, that is unapologetic egoism, and a lack of scruples define Neutral-Evil. This alignment willfully though not maliciously treats people as means to an end (thus violating Kant’s Categorical Imperative). Neutral-Evil won’t go out of its way to accomplish anything for anyone unless there is some benefit to itself. Laws, customs, and social mores are mere conveniences or, in some cases, inconveniences to be worked around or disregarded without guilt. This is my ‘You know what? Fuck all, y’all. You deserve what you get’ attitude.
When a mood darkens further, it’s not a far journey to the Lawful-Evil stance. This is the fascist, one who knows that proper organization and discipline makes exploitation easier. Obedience is key as well as the near pathological belief in the rightness of one’s own will. Like Neutral-Evil, there is little loyalty or guilt. However, unlike Neutral-Evil, there is a strict belief in laws—but the laws have to one’s own, inflicted upon others, and only relaxed or trumped by the individual Lawful-Evil person itself. Disregard of others takes on the paternal ideal, others don’t have rights or freedoms or do but only insofar as they are granted (and thus tentative) by the Lawful-Evil person. The authority of others is something to be taken away or challenged, but not for the benefit of other but rather so that the one may impose their own subjective set of laws. This stance is fascist in its extreme and, perhaps most disturbingly, libertarian in its banality.
Yet when it comes down to it, I know that my own ethos points me toward being Chaotic-Good as the highest ideal. Meaning, this is how I would act if unfettered by constraints social, cultural, or legal. So, what then is Chaotic Good? It’s someone who does for others without hesitancy or calculation, expecting no reward or regard for what they do. Kindness is the bedrock of this stance, but it is a kindness that comes out of someone who is entirely individualistic, yet not egotistical. How is this possible? Chaotic Good has no sense of shame—that is, no sense of shame before others. What others or a community think of the Chaotic-Good person has no bearing on their sense of self-worth or their actions. There is nothing but utter confidence in the Chaotic-Good person, a certainty that is similar to the Lawful-Evil individual but differentiated in that the actions of the Chaotic-Good person are for not just others but the whole with little regard for themselves. In addition, a Chaotic-Good person is constantly revising their personal ethos, always doing a self-diagnostic because they only answer to themselves.
This is why I consider this the highest ideal, because a Chaotic-Good person is forever holding itself accountable, articulating the laws that only they must follow, and doling out punishments for offenses determined by itself for itself. To my mind, this stance epitomizes the Greek notion of autonomos—self-law—from which we get the concept of autonomy. What I know is that I have to do better in thought, action, and deed every day than I did the previous day. I fail at this more than I succeed but that hardly matters, what does matter is the continual process.
According to this little article from Science Daily, my introversion guarantees me low fertility which I am quite happy with since I detest the notion of breeding. It would seem my pondering of alignment is moot. That is, if one wanted to be cynical about it. I would rather view it as an evolutionary advantage in that I am putting in the time to help (in a very microscopic way) others understand just how their own and others personality manifests, delimits, and adapts.
Or, whatever. Maybe I just wanted to buy some t-shirts that I thought were cool & felt the need to justify the purchases…