Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ruminations RPGs and Adolescent Power Fantasy

I'm still reading up on the definition of the 'adolescent power fantasy', but I've seen it applied to some RPGs and other media (like super-hero comics) and trying to pull apart what it means. We tend to hear these phrases a lot, but we seldom ask what they mean -- and if they mean the same thing for everyone.

And do women with guns factor into that power fantasy? Is this part
of that monomyth that Joseph Campbell talks about?
Anyway, I removed 'male' from the phrase 'adolescent male power fantasy' because, surely, if men can have power fantasies, women have them too. But even limited to the male gender, surely that power fantasy isn't going to be the same for all male adolescents?

I've seen the phrase applied to D&D characters, often targeting characters who've achieved high power levels through gameplay. I've seen the phrase applied to superheroes in superheroic RPGs as well. These two don't strike me as the same.

The former often takes place in a lawless frontier, where might makes right, and where PCs tend to hold themselves apart from society -- except when they need to replenish supplies and sell treasure. The latter tends to take place in civilized society, where things like laws and public opinion tend to matter. Of course, in both, PCs have access to greater power than in real life and can abuse said power. But the scale and acceptance of human(ish) society in these two RPG genres is very different.

Surely they're not the same adolescent power fantasy?

When I play games like Call of Cthulhu, do I pat myself on the shoulder for not indulging in a childish endeavor? Because calling something not just a power fantasy, but an adolescent one, screams that it is an activity not worthy of adult attention. That perhaps I should pursue more adult hobbies, like bowling or knitting, which never seem to be accused of either the adolescent tag, nor the power fantasy one.

As gamers, we also have derogatory terms for styles of play -- like the cutely named Monty Haul and the disturbingly named Rules Rapist -- but surely this happens in sports and literature and other endeavors all the time.

And what is wrong with indulging in power fantasies, as opposed to fantasies?


  1. I personally don't think there's anything wrong with power fantasies alone. But, power fantasies that are based on harming or objectifying others... that kind of sucks.

  2. And that's where we draw the line, certainly -- and I like that you were precise in calling out power fantasies that are BASED on harming or objectifying others.

    Because there are gray areas where folks being harmed are incidental.

    I think that as we grow up, there is that hope that we begin to see how simplistic (and dangerous) aspects of these fantasies can be.

    Bah, too much rambling on my part and not enough clear thought.


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.