The Cenk Uygur Model for Playing Your Character

Who is Cenk Uygur?

Cenk Uygur is the owner and host of the biggest news network on the Internet. The Young Turks. They now encompass quite a few channels, but the major draw is their unapologetic and often quite aggressively progressive stance.

But here’s one of his principles, which has nothing to do with politics, per se, I sort of love (and more people should probably live their lives by): If you don’t believe you can change the world, you will have effectively prevented yourself from doing just that. If you believe you can, that might not make it so, but at least you aren’t hindering yourself.

Basically, its like this:

Don’t believe you can change the world Do believe you can change he world
Can’t change the world No, really, you can’t Well, you still can’t
Can change the world You could, but won’t, so basically can’t YES, YOU CAN!

Believing in your ability is as much a precondition as that ability. At least in this case. And people have changed the world simply because they believed they could.

Remember how WWI started? Some radical shot an Austrian archduke and so they went.

Yes, someone believed they could change the world. The result wasn’t quite what he wanted, but there it was. One murder lead into death of tens of millions and took out the last real monarchies in Europe (sure, there are still monarchies, but they are all constitutional now). Still, if he didn’t think he could, he wouldn’t have tried and thus wouldn’t have managed to do it, for better or worse.

What I’m advocating here is being proactive with your character. If you sit back and follow the railroad, you aren’t really changing the world. You are just following the flow or being one more cog in the machine that moves the world from state A to state B, just like planned.

But it goes deeper than that. If you visit a slum, you could try to make the lives of those people better.

Here’s the thing: Games teach you many things. Its easy to point to how games promote math, or reading, or creative problem solving. My nieces know where major European cities are, because they play Ticket to Ride Europe regularly. But the greatest thing you can learn from games is agency.

Agency is our capacity to act. We all have agency, at least a degree of it. What changes from individual to individual is whether we feel we have agency. Lets say you need to get food. You might or might not have a capacity to act on this. You might lack funds to go and buy food, or you might be bedridden and therefore can’t do it yourself. Here you might lack agency, but you have a pretty good idea whether you have or not.

On the other hand, lets say you are a teen and you start to think about your future career. If your parents are unemployed, you don’t do well in school and there’s a depression going on, you might feel that you don’t have agency over this. Or maybe your parents are both teachers and want you to become one, you might not feel agency, because everything’s been decided for you. Or maybe you do well in school, have rich parents and are curious about plenty of subjects, which probably leads you to feel you have agency over your career.

People who feel they have agency tend to be happier. Whenever these people encounter obstacles, they (or we, actually, I think I belong to this group, but I won’t go deeper into that) don’t tend to become discouraged. Instead, what we tend to do, is try to find other ways to solve the problem or ways to overcome the obstacle, whatever the situation demands. We feel we have the power to act.

On the other hand, people who don’t feel they have agency, are much more likely to give up and become despondent. Their approach to life is fatalistic and they can’t really be motivated to do much since they are just waiting for failure anyhow.

Going back to the intro, there’s a lot of ways people come to feel they have agency (parents and teachers have a lot to do with this feeling or the lack of it), but the one most of us has access to, is games.

However, RPGs can be poor this way, if the games are railroaded and the GM doesn’t know another way to run the game, but I’m not going to go deeper into this here. Just remember, believe in your ability to act and at least you aren’t preventing yourself from acting.

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