A non-PC joke

David Rush

14 Feb 2016

Dichotomies are not very useful, nevertheless, they seem to form an integral part of our thinking. I’m going to indulge in one for a few moments that might throw a little bit of light on the notion of lila. Much has been written to explain the subject to westerners (and you can follow the linkies to read some of it), but a random thought came to me this morning which seemed relevant, in a backwards kind of way.

A lot of people have had the experience of role-playing games, either through computer and network mediated worlds, or in face-to-face groups dedicated to LARP, FRP, interactive storytelling and the like. There are a lot of deep concepts enacted in all of these artificial worlds. The participants agree to a set on conventions about how they will interact, the ideas to be explored, the attitude and emotional “tone” of the setting, just to name a few. Frequently there is also some central coordinator to arbitrate disputes between the players and otherwise provide structure to the social interaction.

There is a great example of these elements related in the story of Old Man Henderson. Go ahead and read it now. Or not. It’s a fun story and this post will still be here when you get back.

Assuming you read it, you probably noticed that there are really two stories being told: the first is the story of a group of people gathered to play a game; the second is the story they enacted within the structure of the game. For understanding lila, we need to look primarily at the story inside the game. Inside, there are a whole lot of people running around and doing stuff. Sometimes their reasons are inscrutable, e.g. Old Man Henderson’s first rampage against the cultists (to say nothing of why anyone would join a Mythos cult in the first place); and sometimes they make more sense, e.g. The Tanker Truck Incident. Some of the actions originate with the players, and some originate with the GM. In fact, you might notice that more people are conected to the actions of the GM than are conected to the players themselves. This is an integral part of the way that the central coordinator gives structure to the “world” where the story unfolds. In computer games, LARP and FRP, people whose actions are solely animated by the central coordinator are referred to as NPCs (or Non-Player Caharacters).

Now if we pull back to the “outer” story of the group which enacted (or enabled) the tale of Old Man Henderson, we can see an interesting dichotomy. When PCs (Player Characters) die, they are gone from the world, but the Player gets another chance to be in the story, although in a different form. On the other hand NPCs are mostly disposable; they only exist to give structure for the PCs.

Now think about what the inner life of the various characters might be. If you play such games, you know what the inner life of a PC is, because you have been a PC: a PC’s life is our life. But what might the inner life of an NPC be? I’ll wait while you ponder that.

This kind of role-playing provides a picture of lila. But we have a real problem, if we assume that our experience of the world is the one that is inside the game, we have no clear access to the rules of play. The only thing we can do is step up as a “player” and become the hero of our own story. Some religions promise access to the GM, but to believe that God will order the world in such a way as to satisfy one’s own desire is hardly different; it is only more arrogant in its emotional tone.

Ok, that was the introduction. Now for the punchline: What if the only way to tell the players from the NPCs is through the connection with the “outer” story? Think about it.

Om Shanti

This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.