Wait, what? Games can make you rethink how you look at the world? I never thought about this before, but the structure of Dungeons & Dragons implies a fallen world, in which people are picking through the debris of a collapsed civilization. It suggests that gangs of murder hobos looting the wreckage is a perfectly normal, ordinary way to see your culture.
In a nutshell, the argument is that—independent of campaign setting—the rules of AD&D imply the game takes place in the wake of some unspecified, civilization-ending cataclysm.
For what it’s worth, classic sword and sorcery fiction tends to make this same assumption. Conan’s Hyborian Age is perhaps the most famous, taking place thousands of years after “the oceans drank Atlantis.” Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique tales are more properly classified as Dying Earth stories, but the effect is the same: the last vestiges of humanity cling to superstition and sorcery on the Earth’s last remaining continent. Not to mention The Dying Earth itself, where technology and magic are both remnants of long dead empires, and are completely indistinguishable from one another.
Simply put, without the collapse of some ancient civilization (or several), the landscape wouldn’t be littered with ruins for the characters to go dungeon-diving in. But that assumption can hardly be called unique to AD&D. Later editions still feature plenty of ruined temples, lost cities, and dungeon delves, even if they are significantly less lethal than the old school variety.
I never noticed! I wonder if this might be a relic of a medieval way of thinking, where Europeans saw themselves living in the ruins of fallen Rome, and it was normal to live surrounded by bridges and aqueducts and statuary built in the past.
We Americans don’t have that — instead we have a history of belittling the constructions of our predecessors. Cahokia must have been built by wandering Hebrews, don’t you know, because Indians couldn’t possibly have accomplished anything. We have our own biases, though, and another game reveals that.
Would you believe Minecraft mechanics encourage colonialism? Also it’s another game where your ‘wilderness’ is sprinkled with dungeons and temples and lootable structures. This video explains the perfidious possibilities in a sandbox game.
I’ve played a bit of Minecraft, and I hadn’t thought of exploiting the villagers before, but I knew of the mechanics. The latest edition has some other curious additions: there are pillagers who will raid you or nearby villages, which lets you play the role of protector and patron, killing the bad NPCs and saving the good NPCs. It’s an interesting evolution of a game that once was kind of the digital equivalent of building ships in a bottle, or cultivating bonsai. It’s not a game unless there’s an opportunity for violence!
(Note: I am not saying D&D and Minecraft need to be policed for their violence, but only that it might be a good idea to be conscious of how the rules can create a bias towards certain behaviors.)