IF Workshop: A Work in Progress

Last month I volunteered to coordinate an email-based writers’ workshop for folks who are creating interactive fiction (the hi-falutin’ term by which we dignify text-based computer games).

A dozen authors and prospective authors signed up. We’ve shared some unfinished works-in-progress, discussed a few ideas for games that haven’t reached the coding stage yet, and so forth. After an initial rush of enthusiasm, the participation seems to have tapered off, but I’m hopeful that the participants will get some good out of the process. I’m very much in favor of encouraging other authors and talking about creative issues.

The idea of the workshop is to discuss everything other than writing code. Writing code gets most of the action on rec.arts.int-fiction, though game design discussions transpire there as well.

We’ve had one official dropout. This individual, whom I’m not going to name (in any case, he goes by a handle; I don’t even know his name) took grave offense to some comments that I made about another person’s game concept. The person whose game I commented on didn’t seem to feel my comments were out of line, nor did others in the group, but somehow I managed to toss a lighted cigaret into this one guy’s fuel tank.

I wouldn’t have thought it worthy of public comment at all, if he hadn’t used his own blog to accuse me of applying a “cat-o-nine tails” to his back. Since I don’t even own a cat-o-nine-tails, and wouldn’t know how to wield it in an email if I did, I’m pretty sure he has been engaging in self-flagellation.

The essence of this particular unfinished game (and I hope the author finishes it so you can find out for yourself) has to do with the player’s need to make moral choices or offer moral guidance to other characters in the story. That being the case, attempting to workshop the game without bringing moral choices into the discussion would have been … well, it would have sounded rather Orwellian, wouldn’t it? So I offered some perspectives on the moral choices that the author was proposing to include.

I mentioned, inter alia, that viewing pornography and visiting prostitutes were both harmless activities.

This seems to have been what blew this guy’s gaskets. Apparently (though he didn’t own up to it in so many words), he felt that my perspective on moral values and moral choices was not conscionable. He said this in his blog entry: “…the workshop admin [that would be me] was flaying the skin off some guy’s game because the game wasn’t morally ambiguous.” Hmm … flaying the skin, cat-o-nine-tails, yeah, I’m sensing a pattern here.

More to the point, I wasn’t advocating moral ambiguity at all. I was giving voice to unambiguous moral views that were different from his. I don’t know what his religious affiliation is, but I’m guessing that “moral ambiguity” is what folks who believe in the absolute correctness of the Bible think the rest of us are guilty of. It looks like a code term for “not Christian.” Since they’re willing to acknowledge only one possible source of moral values (an ancient document that I will not, at this time, characterize in detail, though I have an opinion about it), anyone who disagrees with them is, ipso facto, attempting to tear down THE moral values of the Universe, and is therefore trying to foment an anything-goes, hedonistic lifestyle in which morality is up for grabs. The idea that others might have moral views that are both unequivocal and better grounded in reality is not something that fundamentalists are equipped to understand.

It’s their way or the highway.

But rather than engage in a rational debate on the subject, this individual chose to fly off the handle and then out the door.

This is all too typical in public life today, and it’s most typical of those at the conservative end of the political rainbow. Having neither right nor intellectual acumen on their side, they’re ill-equipped for rational debate, so they quickly resort to anger, name-calling, deliberate mis-characterization of the other person’s views, and a blithe disregard for the facts.

A reasoned dialog is all too rare. But I haven’t given up on the workshop. The rest of the participants seem to be willing to chat about subjects of mutual interest (very few of which involve moral values, as it happens). There haven’t been a lot of disagreements, but I’m pretty sure most of us will be able to disagree in a civilized and constructive manner.

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