I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons with some friends for the last couple years. It’s my time to get out, hang with friends, escape daily problems, think about completely fantastical and solve them. It feels good to solve a problem! For example, resolving the digital divide in America is a hard problem, but killing the evil necromancer terrorizing the village is a 3-hour adventure with a satisfying conclusion.
Since I’m a grown-up, my adventures tend to be more intricate. Most recently, I was exploring a scene out of the classic satire, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. I had read the whole thing when I was in college and, it’s way more intense than you may have thought. In this scene, Swift makes satire at the expense of the medical sciences of the day. Viewer discretion is most certainly advised:
I was complaining of a small fit of the colic, upon which my conductor led me into a room where a great physician resided, who was famous for curing that disease, by contrary operations from the same instrument. He had a large pair of bellows, with a long slender muzzle of ivory: this he conveyed eight inches up the anus, and drawing in the wind, he affirmed he could make the guts as lank as a dried bladder. But when the disease was more stubborn and violent, he let in the muzzle while the bellows were full of wind, which he discharged into the body of the patient; then withdrew the instrument to replenish it, clapping his thumb strongly against the orifice of then fundament; and this being repeated three or four times, the adventitious wind would rush out, bringing the noxious along with it, (like water put into a pump), and the patient recovered. I saw him try both experiments upon a dog, but could not discern any effect from the former. After the latter the animal was ready to burst, and made so violent a discharge as was very offensive to me and my companion. The dog died on the spot, and we left the doctor endeavouring to recover him, by the same operation.Gulliver’s Travels, Part 3, Chapter 5 : Page 3
I made my character with that scene in mind. From an email I sent to my game master, I aimed to create a character “… maybe an Early-Enlightenment Age scientist with a big stick. Pre-steam-punk (definitely!), post-dark-ages (bit only barely). Lawful-evil by a modern definition but you’ve got to break a few necks to make an omelette, don’t you agree?”
I wanted to highlight the absurdity of pseudo-science, and at the same time allow for the notion that the “great physician” in Gulliver’s Travels was performing “proto”-science. He was making an effort to use science to cure ills, in the above case with disastrous results, but he was making an effort in a world that doesn’t even recognize that science exists. I thought of my character as being in a high-minded, low-brow farce.
To make the character work, made him a bit of a sociopath with little regard for right and wrong and ignoring the feelings of others. Can you can guess what a dark hole this went down?
I talked to my game master about some weird and dastardly plans I had and he came back with a reality check “That’s getting awfully dark too there Lee. Wow. ” He also had an apology. “Yeah, the world is still ramping up the weird and awful. It’s part of why I couldn’t run the game last weekend.”
It was at this moment that I realized: now, 2020 in America is not the time to be bad. It’s not the time to talk about being bad. There is enough bad in our world. Our world is in turmoil. It’s been 155 years since the Civil War and the wounds have never been more fresh. I don’t want to fantasize about figuring out what is good and right. I know what is good and right and now is time to be good and right.