clehrich (clehrich) wrote,

Simulating Cultural Phenomena

I started this blog by asking questions, primarily hoping to spark discussion. So here's another question:
In designing RPG settings, especially "fantasy" worlds (whatever you take that to mean), to what extent, and for what purposes, should one work toward simulation of such cultural phenomena as religion, magic, and arts?

I haven't read nearly as many games as most of you have, but it does seem to me that the "classical" gaming traditions of fantasy (D&D, Runequest, etc.) place considerable emphasis on simulation in certain respects. Physics and biology seem particularly important. We can certainly debate endlessly to what extent any given system or setting is in any sense accurate about the physics of combat, falling, strength, and whatnot, or the ecology and biology of species and so on; on the whole, these things are rarely especially accurate. But a surprising amount of noise gets generated about such "accuracy," with all sorts of homebrew "fixes" imposed upon subsystems seen as insufficiently "accurate" to "real-world" physics and the like. You know what I mean, I'm sure.

But I have rarely seen such claims made particularly strongly about religion, magic, and the arts. There are some exceptions, of course:
Ars Magica at times made some (weak) claims about historical accuracy with respect to "hermetic" magic and medieval European life.

E. Gary Gygax has made all sorts of claims about accuracy in AD&D, though it's worth bearing in mind that in his books Role Playing Mastery and Master Of the Game he also indicates that he thinks the level system is an accurate reflection of how people live and learn.

Some pieces of Runequest material suggest an attempt at accuracy about religion, although this is not (as far as I know) especially strongly stressed.

Nevertheless it seems that the traditional mainstream gamer is, or is perceived to be, more concerned with "real life" and "accuracy" as they reflect limited spheres of the hard sciences, especially physics.

Now presumably an enormous amount of this comes from the comparatively low standard of awareness about things like religion and magic and arts in a comparative, cross-cultural manner; that is, most people -- including gamers -- do take for granted that religion is "obviously" about faith and gods and so on, and that the arts are in some sense "obviously" a possibly interesting but nonessential secondary dimension of culture, and so on. Presumably part of it also comes from the apparently relatively high standard of technical education: computers, math, and so on seem anecdotally associated with "geek" culture, and certainly the large military faction of players would have a good deal of technical training as well.

But I wonder whether that's the whole explanation.

In any event, I'm wondering what you all think about the possibility and value of "accuracy" when it comes to cultural phenomena in fantasy settings. (Obviously this is something I've been thinking about for these very slowly developing chapters on fantasy religions.)
Tags: fantasy, magic, religion
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