A Clash of Words

Often seen as a sign of madness, talking to yourself is one of those things that human beings do, but rarely admit to. We crack wise about it being a sign we’re going cuckoo or it being a sign we’re too stuck up –that we’re the only people who will listen to us. But let me, with the help of some really old rhetoricians, give you a reason why it might prove beneficial to yourself and your character to occasionally get into it with the voices in your head.

The principle is called Dissoi Logoi and it belongs to a group of rhetoricians who ended up calling themselves the Sophists. The Sophists believed that absolute truth wasn’t something we mere humans were capable of achieving, but that didn’t relieve us of the burden of thinking and coming up with the best ideas we could whenever there was a problem to be solved. Dissoi Logoi, or “contrasting words,” encouraged the would-be thinker to argue the position from the point of view of his opponent. Some Sophists even insisted that their students work to make whichever argument appeared the weaker to seem the stronger. This served two purposes: first, it made you empathize with your opponent, which hopefully reduced the general tendency to be a jerk (see: Plato). Second, if you fully understand your opponent’s position, and you still think he’s wrong, picking apart the arguments you just spent so much time ruminating on should be a snap.

So what does this have to do with you and some quality time engaged in self-argument? PCs surprise us sometimes. Sometimes we make decisions in game that, were we portraying ourselves, we would not have made. Sometimes we make decisions that, in retrospect, don’t represent our best selves. Turning on those decisions and arguing them out, from all sides, does the same rhetorical favor for us that it did for the students of the Sophists. More importantly, we begin to see where our PCs may truly differ from us, or if they don’t, which can lead us to discover things about what we believe.

Building just a ghost of the ethical superstructure that most living humans have (however slapdash) makes our characters consistent, and that strengthens the characterization. If your table is up for it, don’t be shy about challenging the worldviews of your fellow characters. Any idea worth having is worth defending, and exploring the ideas of people and professions, especially as their presented to us in the average game book, may lead to revelations about ourselves, about the game writers, and about the worlds they inhabit – maybe even a few moments of insight about the world we inhabit.

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