I just got back from the dog park with Angus, my westie. If you don’t know westies - they are fantastic dogs - as cute as the dickens but very rambunctious. They love to play and run around and roughhouse and while they may look a bit like lap dogs do not be fooled. They are alpha dogs to the core. If there is any complaint about the breed it is that people often think they are getting something quaint and docile but…. Nope. Westies may be small dogs, but they are no less of a dog than any other breed out there.
(okay, so maybe he does like his naps, just like any other dog)
Anyways, Angus is getting up in the years so he is not nearly as rambunctious as he used to be, but we still like to head to the park to kabitz with the locals. He was having a good time today playing with the other dogs. One dog in particular enjoyed playing with him, a dalmation puppy about four times his size. They did the usual things - sniffed butts, ran in circles, barked at each other with their paws splayed out before themselves - two dogs having fun, nothing I haven’t seen a thousand times before.
“Hey Asshole!” someone shouts.
Was that shouted at me? I think while turning around to see who it was. About twenty feet away a woman is getting up from the picnic table, grabbing her dog’s leash and a few notebooks. She is probably a college student (it is a college town) white, stringy dark hair, glasses, sweats, probably about thirty to forty pounds overweight.
“You and your asshole dog shouldn’t be here,” she continues, “He’s too aggressive. There are other places, you know. You should take him there.”
At this point, I am kind of flustered. I really don’t know what she is talking about. I have been taking Angus to this park for over eight years. I know from experience what overly-aggressive play looks like and this is not it by a long shot. Yes, there have been a few times when I have pulled him out of the park, but usually because of other dogs playing too aggressively with Angus.
(Admittedly, he does look a bit like a fluffy bunny)
So she calls her dog over and snaps a leash on him. Things start to click together in my head and I slowly realize that she is accusing my dog of attacking her dog. Her dog who has spent the last few minutes running circles around us, tongue hanging out, about as happy as a dog can be.
“Hey! Hold on,” I say but she’s not listening, “you know what? You stay! We’ll leave!”
I am actually getting quite angry at this point. I am seething with derogatory terms spilling between my ears - thin-skinned liberal snow-flake millenial micro-aggression micro-manager - and I don’t like that either. I don’t want to be in the same park with her and so I pick up my leash grab my dog and shoot for the other exit, the one she is not heading towards.
And that is how it ends.
A perfectly good afternoon spoiled because somebody doesn’t understand what healthy play looks like. I was having a good time. My dog was having a good time. Her dog was having a great time. At one point he even jumped up and licked my face. She was the only one not having a good time and my best guess is because in her mind she was seeing nothing but violence, dogs attacking one another, threatening to rip each other apart like wolves, the downfall of civilization, the fascistic juggernaut of Trump’s America paving the nation over like a steam-roller. She may have even been wondering where my MAGA hat was at. Did I leave it in the pick-up with my confederate flag? I being a beardless white guy in my late 40’s living in Florida, of course.
For the record, I may live in Florida but I’m from New York. I drive a Honda Fit. I have an English Degree and voted for Clinton. Not exactly MAGA material.
But that’s what we have come to in this day and age. Suspicions are running high with a Nazi uniform hiding in every closet. So I took my dog for a walk around the lake and while doing so I couldn’t help but think about that boogie man of the gaming industry - toxic masculinity.
When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s there was no toxic masculity. The people who trumpet the term would probably say that I was too steeped in it to notice. But. No. That was simple masculinity. We had macho jerks and bullies and kids who didn’t know how to play right. Actual assholes. They were not who they were because of an over-abundance of masculinity. They were who they were because they were genuinely bad people.
Masculinity is not a poison whose toxicity stands in proportion to its concentration.
You can be super-masculine and still be a nice guy. You can also be an effeminite little twit and be as evil as Nellie Olson (yes, that is a Little House on the Prairie reference, ask your parents kids). But when you trumpet the phase “Toxic Masculinity” you are basically labelling the whole male side of humanity as something which is ultimately corruptive. Something which is only tolerable through a lack of intensity.
(Yes. Nellie Olson, the Darth Vader of Walnut Grove.
Look into those eyes and relent!)
Look into those eyes and relent!)
If you look back at our entertainment from those days. Yes. It was very violent and hyper-masculine. To play Car Wars you put guns on hot rods and blew each other to pieces. With Battletech you put guns on giant robots and blew each other to pieces. With Axis & Allies you fought WWII over and over and over again without a single tear to shed for all the millions who died. When a character kicked it during a game of D&D? It was actually pretty funny - all because it wasn’t real - you looted the corpse, its player rolled up a new character and jumped right back into the game. People who did not play these games, who did not understand them, who just watched from the sidelines, probably shook their heads and wondered why it was so violent. Why did we seem to enjoy fighting and killing each other?
Here’s the answer.
The delight comes not from violence but from an exercise in strength, power and craftiness. If anything it comes from learning to recognize the worst possible situation and deal with it. The aggression and gore is there to make it seem real. On some primative level, play is a preparation for the future. It inspires confidence while erasing that fear of the unknown, of what might happen if this, that or some other thing should come into our lives. All without ever putting anything real at risk.
That is the nature of Play.
Whether it be in the dog park or at the gaming table. It may not seem very engaging or even healthy from the sidelines, but if you get off your butt and get in the game you might find that it is a lot more fun than it looks.