For Thwithby Aeon
For Thwithby Aeon
For[thwith] with great pain his varlet brought him to the castle, and there Sir Hemison fell down dead. When Morgan le Fay saw him dead she made great sorrow out of reason; and then she let despoil him unto his shirt, and so she let him put into a tomb.
In the spirit of what's become an unofficial "Con" week here at RPG.net (quite unexpectedly, truth be told), I've opted to set aside the "For Age" column I had planned in favor of this more thematically appropriate (and to the delight of many, a much shorter) column.
So what's a "Thwith"?
Nothing, really, except an attempt to be clever. Although amusingly, if you type "thwith" into a search engine, you'll discover a lot of people are very bad spellers. Sir Thomas Malory among them. Of course, in the above quote, he really meant "forthwith," meaning "immediately." But wrapped in those two sentences, he also hints at a heck of a lot of one of the most overlooked facets of the role-playing experience. Which is to say, the concept of "with."
Be forewarned; this column is not solely RPG-focused (although the concepts discussed within certainly have plenty of relevance to the topic). And as with previous columns in this series, this essay is not intended to come to any specific conclusion, but rather to provide food for thought, to give you new ways to think about gaming. If you think you can handle all of that, read on.
With Us or Against Us
"Over time it's going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity. You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."
"Thwith" is, of course, nonsense, but "with" is almost as funny; like many of the words I've discussed in this series it's packed chock full of paradoxical meanings. I doubt Mr. Bush was aware of the nature of the word he was using; after all, the phrase he used is so cliche that when someone brings out the "war talk," it's almost taken for granted that someone's going to say "with us or against us."
The amusing part, for those of you staring blankly at the screen, is that the word "with" originally and primarily meant "against." It's derived from the Old English "wither," from the Old High German "widar" ("against" or "back"), from a Sanskrit word meaning "apart." Nowadays, we generally think of "with" as representing unity, togetherness, cooperation, but even the dictionary is "against" us in that regard, placing "in opposition to: Against" first on the list of definitions for "with."
Of course, the reason the word "with" can work like this in the English language is that it's not just a noun like apple or aardvark, or a verb like "to run" or "to fight," but it's a conjunction of sorts, used to combine thoughts which explain themselves within the context of the sentence. "With" can represent presence and substance; if I come to you with money or an idea or a big jagged rock, "with" lets you know what I'm carrying. "With" also represents conjunction, connection; if I hit you with my sword, "with" tells you what I hit you with. But if I say I'm "fighting with my friends," are they by my side, or at the end of my sword? And does it matter? You have a fight with your enemy, and yet you go with your friends to fight with your enemies.
You're either against me or... you're against me. Pro or con.
Con can mean to know, to learn, to memorize (akin to "ken"), as well as to inspect, examine or study in order to know, as in your enemy. But con can also represent the enemy you wish to understand. To "con" someone is to trick them, to pull the wool over their eyes, to deceive them. But no matter how clever the trick, the "con" is meaningless without the presence of the trickee. The "con" is neither the person nor the prank nor the victim; the con is the whole shebang, the "with" without which there'd be none of the above. "Con," as in "convict" or "con job" has less to do with being "against" society or law, and more to do with being in opposition to the needs and desires and wishes of others. "Convict" is particularly interesting; it comes from the Latin "convincere" which means "to refute," or to prove a finding is wrong or false, and yet when you convict someone of a crime you're attempting to prove that your case is true.
Con, com, col... with. Convince, consent, conflict, constriction, congregation, consideration, conversation, connection, companions, compatriots, collaboration, collective, column. This column is a collection of words which is useless without others to read it; if a column falls in the forest and there's no one to read it, was it ever written? Conspiracy is a particularly nifty word, meaning "to breathe together," as in a group of gamers huddled over a table in the basement, conspiring to ransack the wizard's tower. The compatriots conspire and converse about the upcoming conflict. If things don't work out, they might all wind up burning together in the wizard's fireball--a real conflagration.
Lest this verbal assault lead to confusion or contusion (literally, "with a beating"), I'll unload the "con" that we've been discussing here on RPG.net all week long, and proceed to the point forthwith:
The Con Game
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I have the only gun on board. Welcome to Con-Air."
A convention is not necessarily a bunch of gamers gathering together to talk shop and play games, although it is that too. In a broader sense, a convention is an agreement, a social contract representing two (or more) sides setting the rules by which they will abide. Social convention is accepted custom, practice and technique, the rules by which society abides, one person agreeing with another (spoken or unspoken) that they will all follow certain general guidelines. A gaming convention, then, is an agreed-upon gathering set at an agreed-upon time for the purpose of allowing those who agreed upon it to gather in said place and follow the rules, schedules and guidelines previously laid down.
The point of all this is that the rules, laws, and agreements mean nothing without the presence of the "with," of the "con," of the parties involved in the contract. If you throw a convention and nobody comes it's not a convention, it's an empty hall. Conventions, indeed, all "cons," require a "with," require the presence of others, for better or worse.
In short, the sort of RPG'ing that most people engage in (i.e., involving other people) is a convention. Yes, it's a group of individuals agreeing to meet at such-and-such a time, agreeing to roll up characters in such-and-such a way, and so on and so forth. But while the rules and the time and the place can easily all exist without the presence of the group itself, the game itself cannot exist without the "with." And it's this need for others that so many take for granted.
Your novice gamer (and this refers to even veteran players who exhibit the same primal tendencies) focuses on himself, his own character. He wants to kill the goblin to earn the experience to gain a level so he can kill the dragon and gather the treasure and buy a bigger sword so he can kill a bigger dragon. And this completely misses the point of gaming with other people, which is to interact with others, to convene, to connive and conspire and connect.
There's a reason that the first act of most fantasy and sci-fi stories begin with a gathering. Tolkien adds hobbits and dwarves and elves and humans and a wizard and gives us the Fellowship of the Ring, and the story that ensues is not about a ring, but about the Fellowship, its rise and fall, and the interactions of the characters within; rings come and go and fall into Mount Doom, but the people involved in the story live on. The Dragonlance Chronicles begin by introducing the eight companions whose actions and interactions will shape the course of events for the next several years; the Dragonlance itself hardly matters.
How much emphasis do your own gaming sessions put on the companions of the story? What company (literally, "to break bread with") do you keep when you're hanging out in the tavern swilling ale? What comrades (literally, "to sleep in the same room with") do you share your hotel room with when you're resting in between adventures?
Are you playing a game, or are you playing a "con game?"
Next Time: For Age