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Author Topic: On RPGs and Text [LONG]  (Read 34174 times)
clehrich
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« on: December 03, 2004, 10:18:00 AM »

In a couple of running threads, I’ve emphasized a radical divide between textual media and RPGs.  Ron has suggested that this may be dragging at least one of those threads away from its focus, and that as I have a lot to say maybe it would be worth my just stating it head-on.  So here goes.

First, in case someone searches for this later on, the threads in question:
    A Wild and Untamed Thing
    Revision and Interpretation[/list:u]
    First Principles

    The written word stands in a peculiar relation to the spoken, partly because of intrinsic reasons and partly because of the history of conceptions of writing in our culture.  I’m primarily going to focus on the intrinsic issues, because they don’t require a lot of background to debate, but I’ll mention some of the other points as I go along.

    When I speak, it is a normative convention that you not speak at the same time, although of course we know this is violated all the time.  But in what we might call the normative spoken situation, that of rational discourse, the speaker dominates the moment in time when he speaks.  When I have concluded, it is now your turn to speak, at which time you dominate and I am supposed to shut up.

    Further, when I speak my linguistic production exists in time and appears serially.  In order to know what I’m saying, you have to listen to it in order and at that time.  After the fact, only memory exists: if you misremember what I said, there is nothing to correct you.

    In addition, in an oral situation normally a conversational model applies.  If you don’t understand what I’m saying, you can ask for clarification, and I will construct a new linguistic production, a new saying-my-point as it were.  And over the course of the conversation, it seems that we will likely eventually come to some sort of clarity: we will agree that we have understood one another, whether we agree or disagree about the content.

    None of this is true of written text.  

    There is a normative convention to the reading situation, which says that you will read left-to-right and top-to-bottom, in that order (if we are talking about English, anyway).  But there is nothing to control this: you can, if you like, read backwards.  Of course, it may not make a lot of sense, but I can’t shout at you for violating the norm the way I can if you start to interrupt my speaking.

    Written text does not appear serially or in time.  It is[/b], a fixed object, a thing to be dealt with as you choose.  After you have read, you may read again.  You may read pieces, then put the book down and come back to it.  Any seriality or temporal bounding in text comes from the manner in which you choose to approach the text, not from the text itself.

    No conversational model holds for reading texts.  If you do not understand, the author is not present in the text to reply.  All you can do is try to read it again, to converse with yourself about the text.  You can of course write marginalia, or shout at the book, or write criticism or a letter to the author.  But none of this changes the text itself.

    Now all of this is generally accepted in the many academic discourses about writing, which range from linguistic philosophy to deconstruction to literary criticism to semiotics.  What was relatively new a century or so ago, largely in the work of Nietzsche, was the realization that this meant that there was no fixed meaning in texts, that text has no means of grounding itself because of its autonomy.  Thus “God is dead” is in part the moral or ethical implication of the realization of this total absence of fixity in text.  And this caused, in the 1960s and beyond, the various dramatic pronouncements about “the death of the author”: the point being that once an author has composed a text, the meaning becomes divorced from whatever the author intended because there is no means by which the text can incorporate such intentions.

    A Passing Note

    Computer-developed textual orality, you might say, such as bulletin boards like the Forge, have introduced new wrinkles into this old situation.  Some philosophical work has been done on this, but the main result as I understand it has been the recognition that the situation produced is really the classical textual problem which Jacques Derrida pinpointed and indelibly labeled the logic of the “supplement”.

    In essence, the point is that we all really recognize that orality is not actually the absolute communication we really desire, the meeting of minds, a point Plato already noticed.  So what we do is to supplement our orality to convince ourselves that really, we are communicating.  We keep on speaking, again and again, until eventually we claim that we understand one another.  But in fact we have no evidence of this: the only way we could have evidence is for one of us to produce yet another speaking — and that is just as open to interpretation.  It merely supplements one text with yet another, and so on.

    So the result is that it’s all really text, even when it seems not to be.  As Derrida put is, “Il n’y a pas dehors-texte” — there is nothing outside the text.

    Reflexivity in Fantasy Text

    One result of these various realizations has been the increased development of conscious reflexivity in text.  In the sense I mean this here, we have a lot of written texts which reflect upon their own status as texts, as peculiarly absent and autonomous objects lacking fixed meaning.  It has been said that the author “haunts” the text, and indeed one common trope of this reflexivity has been the literature of fantasy, particularly Magic Realism but elsewhere as well, in which the author works to capitalize on this strange absence to produce a sensation in the reader of disjuncture and alienation.  M. John Harrison’s Viriconium books and stories are good examples of this effect, as are Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of Arete and The Urth of the New Sun and John Crowley’s Little, Big and Ægypt.

    RPGs and Text

    RPGs arise within a conversational, oral situation.  Thus the haunting absence of language is not apparent the way it is in text.  It’s there, of course, because it always is in language, but it seems as though we understand one another.

    Furthermore, in RPGs we have all sorts of modes of supplementing the certainty of understanding.  Mechanics decide whether an event occurs, or the GM decides by fiat, or the group comes to an agreement.  Therefore we feel that we know whether the event has or has not occurred, that understanding and agreement have been reached.

    At the same time, we know from first principles that language is not capable of such certainty.  We have agreed on something, but what?  In order to answer this, I need to get a little bit technical for just a moment; I won’t go too far, but a little detail will be necessary.

    Syuzhet and Fabula

    [/i]Victor Shklovsky, one of the founders of Russian formalism, made a distinction between syuzhet and fabula that is importantly applicable here.  I’d like to point out, in passing, that such formalism was an essential groundwork for Vladimir Propp’s work on folklore, Roman Jakobson’s work on linguistics, and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s work on myth and ritual in the “savage mind.”  All of these are applicable to gaming, though I believe Lévi-Strauss is the most so; I’ll get back to that briefly at the end.

    [Incidentally, I have no idea how to pronounce “syuzhet” – I always hear it pronounced “soo-zhay,” like the French sujêt, but maybe someone who speaks Russian could help?]

    We can roughly translate fabula as “story” and syuzhet as “plot” or “discourse”.  To take one of many examples, the fabula of The Scarlet Letter is the story behind the events of the novel; that is, it is the complete story of what “really happened.”  But the novel does not actually reveal the fabula: we never know exactly what Hester has or has not done.  What the novel reveals, what the novel actually is, is syuzhet.  Thus fabula is the meaning we grasp after when reading a work of textual fiction, but it may or may not be available within the text.

    To take another famous example, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, we never actually know what has happened at all: is the governess crazy?  are there really ghosts?  We never know this.  And the attraction of the novel is in part the fact that we do not know.  The disparity between syuzhet and fabula creates a sensation of fascination and depth, of alienation and interest.  Once again, fantasy (for this is a kind of fantasy) often plays upon this disparity.

    By way of contrast, Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne (I’m working from the film here, but I understand that it’s pretty similar) in the end tells us what the fabula is: yes, the father did abuse the daughter, so almost certainly Dolores’ memory of him as an abusive beast is accurate.  This gives us a nice sense of closure, but makes the book a very different thing from The Turn of the Screw.

    RPGs, Syuzhet and Fabula

    I claim that the “text” that is constructed and negotiated in RPG play is fabula.  It’s the “what really happened” that we must negotiate.  After the game is over, we can debate and argue about the meaning, importance, or whatever of this fabula.

    In Narrativist play, the object is to construct a fabula that is morally and personally significant, by orienting it around a Premise.  This creates Story Now — or better, Fabula Now.

    In Simulationist and Gamist play, the criteria of value are not intrinsically rooted in the aesthetic qualities of this fabula, but in other aspects of that fabula: whether it is challenging, whether it adequately represents the source material, and so on.  Oddly, Simulationism actually has a further criterion, which is that the syuzhet not interfere with this formation, but that’s a subject for another essay entirely.

    Now all of this means that the disjuncture between syuzhet and fabula is not an intrinsic structure in RPGs.  Unless we formulate special rules that permit the violation of fabula in the syuzhet, it really makes no difference how we produce the fabula, so long as we come to agreement about it.

    Of course, the syuzhet is where much of the affective dimension of play occurs, the fun value and so forth, just as it is in literature.  We can recite the fabula as series of bald events after the fact, but without the experiential syuzhet that constructed it the recitation is not equivalent to the actual play.  So doesn’t this put RPGs back into the realm of the literary?

    Not at all.  What we have here is very peculiar, and I think relatively distinct, a special (though not unique) quality to gaming.  We have a double layer of syuzhet.  One is the construction of the fabula in mechanical terms (the die-rolling, the decision-making of arbitration, and so on) as well as the special social performances that are part of any human interaction (body language, eating and drinking, etc.).  The other is everything else that goes into the construction of fabula through exploration in gaming, the affective dimension.  In reciting the fabula after the fact, we make an automatic distinction between these two layers quite automatically, in most cases: we retell the fabula and try to pick up as much of the affective dimension of syuzhet as possible, but we usually drop as much of the first layer as possible.  Certain exceptions do arise — a very high roll at a critical juncture, a very funny bodily noise, etc. — but in the main we recite only the fabula with the secondary affective dimension of syuzhet.  In other words, a post facto retelling attempts to reconstruct the game as a work of literature.

    Now all of this entails that it is difficult, if not perhaps impossible, to approximate the reflexivity of postmodern fantasy within RPGs.  The inaccessibility of fabula which is central to such works is simply not possible for us, because without fabula there is no social agreement whatever and thus no game.  To render same effects possible, it seems to me, we would have to seek absence elsewhere—quite possibly between the two layers of syuzhet, though there are certainly other possibilities.

    The Problem of Myth

    By way of conclusion, I’d like to take up the Tolkien problem again for a minute.  I think it is not too gross a distortion to say that Lévi-Strauss argued that myth is very largely constructed out of an enormously complex system of fabulation (the construction of fabula) to which the syuzhet is not especially relevant.  More accurately, he would I think say that the syuzhet is terribly important but almost never accessible to the ethnographer or anthropologist.  Further, in order to understand even the fabula of myth it is necessary to make comparisons, and syuzhet is precisely what is not comparable among myths, in the same way that Ulysses and The Odyssey are really not comparable in a simple sense except at the layer of fabula, at which they become largely the same and their literary value (which resides in syuzhet) is lost; therefore it is necessary to analyze at the level of fabula.  This of course entails stripping myth of a good deal of its affective dimension, but it’s a question of getting much of what’s going on instead of getting nothing at all.

    Now I think what Tolkien (who was no Structuralist, if he even read Lévi-Strauss which I doubt) was trying to do was to recapitulate the special mode of fabulation that occurs in a certain kind of myths, primarily the Norse sagas and eddas—which I would argue aren’t really myths either, but works of literature, but that’s a side issue.  Insofar as he succeeded, it was by reconfiguring textual language to approximate these ends.  We can debate the nature of his success elsewhere.

    But one interesting point for us is that if fabula is the essential core of myth, in a way that it is not in literature, that is also the case in RPGs: we have seen that fabula must be formulated in RPGs or we have no game at all.

    Now based on this peculiar fact of RPGs, and the common fascination with essentially myth-oriented source material (Tolkien, sagas, Greek epic, Arthurian material, etc.), I would like to suggest that RPGs are really seeking to construct myth, not literature at all.  I am currently working on an essay that gets into the details of how and why this works, and the degree to which success might be possible.  But for the moment, I would like to toss the idea into the air and suggest that if this is the case, it explains exactly why so much discourse about gaming (here on the Forge as well as elsewhere) is so insistent on its ability to create stories and to generate “real” literature and art.  

    In our culture, myth has essentially been lost as a form; it simply doesn’t exist.  The only thing we’ve got in its place is essentially literary-like forms that have this potentially radical disparity between fabula and syuzhet (literature, film, etc.).  And so we think we’re striving to do what they do, but ultimately we never really succeed because our art form is not constructed that way.  I’d like to see gaming come to clarity on what it actually is, and what it can do that is special and unique to it.  I believe this is the mythic dimension, and a kind of revival of myth as an art form.  I do not think that gaming can ever really produce myths, but I do think that by understanding its relationship to myth, and the dialectical relationship between myth and literature, our art can generate something uniquely its own that is of real value.
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    Chris Lehrich
    Matt Snyder
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    « Reply #1 on: December 03, 2004, 11:20:40 AM »

    Fascinating, Chris!

    I got all excited when I read about fabula and syuzhet, but reading on I got confused. I was thinking that syuzhet could be the shared imaginary space -- the events we collectively picture in our minds together as we play and afterwards. But, a transcript of play would be the fabula -- the whole story of what happened.

    I then thought we could say that revisions happen to the syuzhet, but not the fabula. Cool!

    However, you later points seem to indicate that the fabula is not what I thought it was. So, I've confused myself. Any ideas on this line of thinking? I don't want to get too committed to those terms, because I've never encountered them before. So, if I'm misapplying them, correct me. We can use other terms or phrases -- that's fine with me either way.

    EDIT: Now, I'm thinking we can say we revise the "second layer" fabula, but not the "first layer" fabula -- yes?

    Quote
    In reciting the fabula after the fact, we make an automatic distinction between these two layers quite automatically, in most cases: we retell the fabula and try to pick up as much of the affective dimension of syuzhet as possible, but we usually drop as much of the first layer as possible.


    Interestingly, the Forge, and Ron especially, has made an effort to include the first layer when recounting these "stories." He rightly acknowledged that without this material we (1) knew nothing about what the game was really "about" and (2) without this first layer, we utterly miss what makes role-playing unique.

    (That's why I said, in another post, that I think this common lack of recognizing role-playing as a unique form is more of a pot-hole than an abyss. Of course, that's only a matter of perspective.)

    Also...

    Quote
    Reflexivity in Fantasy Text

    One result of these various realizations has been the increased development of conscious reflexivity in text. In the sense I mean this here, we have a lot of written texts which reflect upon their own status as texts, as peculiarly absent and autonomous objects lacking fixed meaning. It has been said that the author “haunts” the text, and indeed one common trope of this reflexivity has been the literature of fantasy, particularly Magic Realism but elsewhere as well, in which the author works to capitalize on this strange absence to produce a sensation in the reader of disjuncture and alienation. M. John Harrison’s Viriconium books and stories are good examples of this effect, as are Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of Arete and The Urth of the New Sun and John Crowley’s Little, Big and Ægypt.



    Plainly, I don't understand this, and I want to. Can you provide additional clarification? (Who knows if I actually will understand that, either. Derrida would be so proud! Heh.) Maybe you can use Urth of the New Sun as an example I'm somewhat familiar with?
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    Matt Snyder
    www.chimera.info

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    John Kim
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    « Reply #2 on: December 03, 2004, 12:15:31 PM »

    Well, I have to say that I'm pretty appalled at this.  I took on the issue of fabula and syuzhet in my essay for "Beyond Role and Play", http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/theory/narrative/immersivestory.html">Immersive Story: A View of Role-Played Drama.  There I used Gérard Genette's terms instead: discourse = syuzhet and story = fabula.  However, they have roughly the same meaning.  I would highly suggest this and it's predecessor, http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/theory/narrative/paradigms.html">Story and Narrative Paradigms in RPGs.  Both of these have visual diagrams of the relation between discourse and story which may be helpful (and the latter has diagrams for tabletop role-playing as well).  

    Quote from: clehrich
    I claim that the “text” that is constructed and negotiated in RPG play is fabula.  It’s the “what really happened” that we must negotiate.  After the game is over, we can debate and argue about the meaning, importance, or whatever of this fabula.
    ...
    Now all of this means that the disjuncture between syuzhet and fabula is not an intrinsic structure in RPGs.  Unless we formulate special rules that permit the violation of fabula in the syuzhet, it really makes no difference how we produce the fabula, so long as we come to agreement about it.

    Well, I am violently opposed to this.  What you're saying is that everything that happens during the actual game is irrelevant -- i.e. what dice are rolled, what the real people say, what the setting is.  That the "text" is the imaginary storyline which was produced.  So regardless of whether I play out a love scene in detail or just say "she seduces him" -- it's the same "text" to RPGs.  And regardless of whether I use D&D or Amber, the text is the fictional facts, not what was actually done at the gaming table.  

    First of all, there is no such thing as "what really happened".  The individuals playing will all have different visions of exactly what happened.  The "Shared Imaginary Space" (or shared diagesis) is a facade, an illusion.  Imagination is never shared -- it is communicated through imperfect symbols between individuals.  Markus Montola argued this in his essay "Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses" in "As Larp Grows Up" (2003).  

    That communication -- i.e. what actually happens among the real people at the table -- is vitally important.  There is no telepathy which happens at the gaming table.  Mechanics, voices, maps, music -- all of these are part of the art of role-playing.  These all create the discourse, the syuzhet, of play.  

    Quote from: clehrich
    What we have here is very peculiar, and I think relatively distinct, a special (though not unique) quality to gaming.  We have a double layer of syuzhet.  One is the construction of the fabula in mechanical terms (the die-rolling, the decision-making of arbitration, and so on) as well as the special social performances that are part of any human interaction (body language, eating and drinking, etc.).  The other is everything else that goes into the construction of fabula through exploration in gaming, the affective dimension.  In reciting the fabula after the fact, we make an automatic distinction between these two layers quite automatically, in most cases: we retell the fabula and try to pick up as much of the affective dimension of syuzhet as possible, but we usually drop as much of the first layer as possible.  Certain exceptions do arise — a very high roll at a critical juncture, a very funny bodily noise, etc. — but in the main we recite only the fabula with the secondary affective dimension of syuzhet.  In other words, a post facto retelling attempts to reconstruct the game as a work of literature.

    You're trying to make an arbitrary distinction here over the layers of the syuzhet.  But this same thing applies in literature.  For example, a written story may contain many asides by the author or narrator which are not part of describing the fictional action.  These are non-affective, but they are nonetheless an important part of the discourse.  

    I'm going to be harsh here for a moment.  This attitude seems typical to me of self-hatred in the arts.  For example, an early comic book writer might be ashamed of the chinsy four-color art and try to say that despite what is actually on the page, the story was really good.  In the same way, gamers are often ashamed of rolling dice and written character sheets.  They try to say that these aren't really what's going on -- that they're irrelevant.  They then make a big deal out of re-telling what happened without that stuff.  

    If role-playing is going to get anywhere, we have to accept what our text is.  Our text is what actually happens at the table.  The re-telling is not role-playing -- role-playing is what happens in the first place.
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    - John
    clehrich
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    « Reply #3 on: December 03, 2004, 12:29:13 PM »

    Quote from: Matt Snyder
    I got all excited when I read about fabula and syuzhet, but reading on I got confused. I was thinking that syuzhet could be the shared imaginary space -- the events we collectively picture in our minds together as we play and afterwards. But, a transcript of play would be the fabula -- the whole story of what happened.
    I'm not entirely sure these terms map like this, but my sense is that syuzhet should be something sort of like SIS -- but SIS in its totality, including all that it makes us think or feel.  Fabula is very much smaller.  To take the transcript example, suppose we go through and cut everything except the final decided events.  So to take the example from your cross-thread about revisions, we'd cut everything except: "Throd takes the candy."  That's fabula, sort of.

    When we go and reconstruct events in the retelling after the fact, fabula is the core we don't mess with.  It seems somehow a violation to retell events such that Throd doesn't take the candy, even if the total process of making the game happened debated this question intensively.  But of the remainder, that is everything in the game (SIS and otherwise) apart from this core of "really happened" events, everything is optional, a subjective matter of prioritization.
    Quote
    Now, I'm thinking we can say we revise the "second layer" fabula, but not the "first layer" fabula -- yes?
    Oops, unclear referents, Chris.  <whack!>  There are two layers of syuzhet, not of fabula.  Fabula is just the "what actually happened" at the core, the purest "narrative" without any purpose or meaning at all.  Throd takes the candy.  The girl cries.  Throd laughs.  The girl runs off.  That's fabula.

    Syuzhet in toto would in theory include absolutely everything that happened during play.  I mean everything, not just "Um, I take the necklace." "No, that sucks, how about you take the candy?" "Okay, I do that."  Also stuff like:
      Dave stuffs a handful of goldfish in his mouth.  Dave swallows.  Phil fake-burps.  George: "Ho ho, can we get back to the game?" Dave: "Um, I take the necklace." Phil rolls his eyes: "No, that sucks, how about you take the candy?" George nods vigorously, and judiciously pulls the goldfish away from Dave so he'll pay attention.  Dave cocks his head, thinking.  Dave: "Okay, I do that."....[/list:u]and so on.  Absolutely everything.

      But this doesn't include a distinction we actually make quite naturally, between what "counts" and what doesn't.  Even if we're trying to construct some sort of transcript, or a very rich account of what happened, we probably pass over Dave being disgusting.  So there's two layers here.

      The thing I'm not at all sure about is where system happens.  It seems to me that in retelling, it's usually in layer 1, along with burping and eating.  But it sometimes crosses the line, as with critical rolls or something that were exciting precisely at the level of gameplay.  That could also happen with the burping, but it's less likely.  So there's clearly a blurring here of layers.

      So to reformulate from the example:
      Syuzhet 1 (unavailable in literature)
      Dave stuffs a handful of goldfish in his mouth.  Dave swallows.  Phil fake-burps.  George: "Ho ho, can we get back to the game?" Dave: "Um, I take the necklace." Phil rolls his eyes: "No, that sucks, how about you take the candy?" George nods vigorously, and judiciously pulls the goldfish away from Dave so he'll pay attention.  Dave cocks his head, thinking.  Dave: "Okay, I do that."

      Syuzhet 2 (=syuzhet more or less in Shklovsky's sense)
      Throd, in a moment of greed and viciousness, grabbed the candy from the starving orphan.

      Fabula (not always accessible in literature)
      Throd takes the candy.[/list:u]This is very imprecise, but may give the gist.  What's missing from the example is any serious affective content, as in how the players feel about the events and what it's all really about, which belongs in syuzhet 2 and is in fact the most important part of it.

      Does that help?
      Quote
      Interestingly, the Forge, and Ron especially, has made an effort to include the first layer when recounting these "stories." He rightly acknowledged that without this material we (1) knew nothing about what the game was really "about" and (2) without this first layer, we utterly miss what makes role-playing unique.
      Taking "first layer" to mean the affective dimension, the stuff other than the burping and farting and mostly the raw mechanics, yes.  Exactly.  And in literature, that's exactly what syuzhet is: the stuff other than fabula that makes the text what it really is.  You can't retell The Turn of the Screw and just drop all of the syuzhet, because in that extreme case you don't really have anything left.  All there is is the affective dimension, what Shklovsky would think of as the literary fabric of the text.  What we definitely do not have in literature is the burping/farting layer, the "how I got there" part.  If Joyce was sitting around in the nude and picking his nose while writing Ulysses, this isn't part of the fabric of the text.

      I suppose you could call the three layers Authorship, Syuzhet, and Fabula, and get away with it with the lit crit gang.  Authorship isn't available in literature, is the point.  Syuzhet is what makes fabula meaningful, makes us care about it.

      In RPGs, we do have both layers and the fabula, always, which isn't the case in literature.  RPGs are in that sense very much thicker than literature.  And yes, by this logic retelling the fabula without including the affective layer of the syuzhet is not going to get at the creative agenda that made it meaningful.  Retelling it without the burping and farting, however, does not appear to make much difference.
      Quote
      (That's why I said, in another post, that I think this common lack of recognizing role-playing as a unique form is more of a pot-hole than an abyss. Of course, that's only a matter of perspective.)
      I meant an abyss between RPGs and literature, not an abyss in the middle of the road to understanding.  It's a pothole in the road, but an absolute divide between literature and RPGs as artistic forms.
      Quote
      Reflexivity in Fantasy Text
      Hmm.  Okay, well, you know how Severian never forgets anything?  That's very strange, even in his world.  But the thing is that texts never forget.  They're fixed objects; they can't just forget things, have them edited out.  What Wolfe is doing is playing with the fact that as readers, we encounter Severian's world through a lens that allows us to go back and re-read if we've forgotten, and that allows us also to go back and re-read from the start if we want to dig for other things, and so on.  Normal people cannot do this -- but Severian can.  And does.  Which is very strange.  And part of the point.

      By contrast, the Soldier of Arete (I forget his name off the top of my head -- Lycus, maybe?) always forgets.  So he has to write everything down in a journal, which he has to read every morning just so he will know who the hell he is and where and when.  And what we're reading is his journal -- but sometimes he doesn't get around to reading all of it in the morning, so his sense of where he is is off from ours; we have to edit the text in our minds to understand what the hell he's talking about.

      Does that help?
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      Chris Lehrich
      clehrich
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      « Reply #4 on: December 03, 2004, 12:39:42 PM »

      Quote from: John Kim
      Well, I am violently opposed to this.  What you're saying is that everything that happens during the actual game is irrelevant -- i.e. what dice are rolled, what the real people say, what the setting is.  That the "text" is the imaginary storyline which was produced.  So regardless of whether I play out a love scene in detail or just say "she seduces him" -- it's the same "text" to RPGs.  And regardless of whether I use D&D or Amber, the text is the fictional facts, not what was actually done at the gaming table.
      I didn't say that, John.  I said that insofar as we can talk about textuality in RPGs, all we have is fabula.  And that is absolutely different from literature, because in literature all we have is syuzhet.  But in fact, we don't deal with RPGs as text at all -- we deal with them through all the layers you're talking about.  Of course we do.  But those are not textual layers -- they are conversational.  I am trying to undermine the notion that RPGs are a textual medium -- they aren't.  Insofar as they are, they are stripped of the vast majority of what is valuable or interesting about them, such as why we enjoy them or care about them.
      Quote
      You're trying to make an arbitrary distinction here over the layers of the syuzhet.  But this same thing applies in literature.  For example, a written story may contain many asides by the author or narrator which are not part of describing the fictional action.  These are non-affective, but they are nonetheless an important part of the discourse.
      Those asides are part of the text, part of syuzhet.  Viz. Tristram Shandy, which is nothing but an aside.  The distinction I'm making is exactly the same as the "ritualization" dimension I made in my ritual essay: we, the players, make an arbitrary distinction between what does and does not count.
      Quote
      I'm going to be harsh here for a moment.  This attitude seems typical to me of self-hatred in the arts.  For example, an early comic book writer might be ashamed of the chinsy four-color art and try to say that despite what is actually on the page, the story was really good.  In the same way, gamers are often ashamed of rolling dice and written character sheets.  They try to say that these aren't really what's going on -- that they're irrelevant.  They then make a big deal out of re-telling what happened without that stuff.
      I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, John.  None.  You're claiming, apparently, that I'm denigrating RPGs for not being literature.  I am doing nothing of the sort.  I have, time and again, stressed that the form is distinctive, with its own characteristics and qualities, and that those qualities should be capitalized upon.  What I absolutely denigrate is the claim of the wannabe-author who desperately formulates special pleading to claim that his RPG production, the total experience of roleplaying, is a literary text.  That claim and that pleading is based on self-hatred.  It assumes that literary text is the only narrative "real art" and that only by claiming RPGs as literary text can they be "real art."  That is self-hatred.  It ain't literary text, period.  It is its own art form.  It can do things no literary text can do.  I cannot do some things that literary text can do.  Why is my denying that RPGs are literary texts self-hatred?
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      Chris Lehrich
      neelk
      Member

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      « Reply #5 on: December 03, 2004, 01:41:45 PM »

      Hi Chris, first thanks for making the effort to take this discussion somewhere good.

      Second, I basically completely disagree with you. :-)

      Basically, I don't think rpgs have a fabula. Another way of thinking about this is that I don't think there's any such thing as shared imaginative space. There's a whole bunch of stuff, most of which are inconsistent with each other and even with themselves -- here's a small selection:

        o the setting description in the rulebook,
        o the rules of the rpg,
        o the GM's notes,
        o the GM's improvisations and rulings during play,
        o the players' writeups of their PCs and background material,
        o each player's understanding of their PCs' motivations,
        o the actions players say their PCs are doing
        o the players' improvisations and understandings
        o any journals or logs any of the players or GM keep

      All of these are inconsistent, all of the time. The process of play is in large measure a negoatiation to resolve these inconsistencies moment-by-moment -- but such resolutions are NEVER final or total; we've just created more material that's potentially inconsistent with the rest. Play is a continuous process of citation, quotation, adaptation, and argumentation based on other texts, some of which we wrote and some of which we haven't, in written and spoken form.

      Personally, I find the notion that rpgs are more certain than, say, novels weird. A novel is usually the product of a solitary mind and is a unitary object; that's what makes it an interesting literary strategy for a novelist to meditate upon unknowability. By way of contrast, in an rpg we start in such a desperate and total state of uncertainty that it's artistically fascinating that we are able to have -any- unity at all.
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      Neel Krishnaswami
      Matt Snyder
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      « Reply #6 on: December 03, 2004, 01:51:38 PM »

      It helps, Chris. I'm still a little fuzzy on it, but mostly getting it. By that, I mean I suspect I wouldn't recognize it myself while reading a book, but sorta get it when its explained to me -- I hope I can think on it some more a better absorb the concept. And, then, recognize it in a text sometime.

      (And thanks for the other clarifications as well, by the way.)

      Ah! I just had a new thought on it, Chris. I may still be misunderstanding the matter, but bear with me.

      By creating Severian's memory and winking at the reader that the text understands "itself," Wolfe is creating meta-fiction (which I'm reasonably aware of in formal literature studies, but nowhere near as informed as you seem to be). That is, he's writing a text that is about text and what it means. All well and good (though my man John Gardner hates that stuff -- another aside, sorry).

      So, it would seem to be a really bad idea to take, say, Viriconium, turn it into a game that features as a major part of its "aboutness" text and words. Hence, Harrison's claim that doing so is a category error. I get that, even more so than when you first made the point in another thread. Hopefully, Viriconium is about other stuff, too. So, we might still have a pretty convincing game "about" Viriconium stuff, as well. Just not the textual commentary as much. Maybe.

      Anyway, what can we say about this as it compares to role-playing games?

      If we have meta-fiction, can we have meta-gaming? A self-reflexive game?

      I think I created one, quite deliberately.

      I wrote Nine Worlds explicitly to carry this idea. I think it is a meta-gaming role-playing game.

      Read this excerpt from an old thread (which is interesting, perhaps because I'm such an asshole in the thread. Yikes. Took me forever to find it, too.)

      Quote from: Matt Snyder
      THE MUCH DELAYED NINE WORLDS PREMISE:

      Nine worlds can be summed up thusly:

      Create or perish.

      The game's setting and mechanics force the players to craft creative solutions that go a step beyond "beating up the bad guy." Fail to do this, and you will cease to be, cease to exist in the game (as you're carted off by the Furies). The game codifies creativity in such a way that it forces players to solve situations to explain their incentified use of mechanics. Most importantly, in terms of mechanics, the game converts narration into a kind of winnable currency. This, as I see it, is the game's primary (perhaps only) innovation.

      Another take on the premise: How can you inflict your identity on the universe to save it from oblivion?

      This is a game about art, the creative processes of art. It's about creation, and therefore in its way, it's meta-hobby game. It's a creative game about creativity -- one aim (though not the only) is to examine the creative process, deconstruct it and parcel the process out in a challenging game format.


      The game changed considerably over the course of its design (I wrote the above on Nov. 1, 2002, almost a year and a half before the game's release!). But, I think that intent was always there -- it was a game about what it means to create imaginary things, who has the authority to do so, and therefore a game about what gaming is about! Crazy! No one seems to have picked up on that, at least not that I know. Not sure anyone needs to, anyway.

      Ok, enough with the ego surfing. What I'm interested in is seeing how other existing games and upcoming games might do the same thing, too. Interesting!
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      Matt Snyder
      www.chimera.info

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      clehrich
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      « Reply #7 on: December 03, 2004, 02:02:56 PM »

      Quote from: Matt Snyder
      By creating Severian's memory and winking at the reader that the text understands "itself," Wolfe is creating meta-fiction (which I'm reasonably aware of in formal literature studies, but nowhere near as informed as you seem to be). That is, he's writing a text that is about text and what it means. All well and good (though my man John Gardner hates that stuff -- another aside, sorry).
      Yes, I think you're on the money.  I'm not comfortable with the notion "meta-fiction" because I never know what it's being used to mean, but what you say here makes sense to me.  I hope you mean John Gardner the guy who wrote Grendel, not the guy who writes knockoff James Bond novels, though.  :-)
      Quote
      If we have meta-fiction, can we have meta-gaming? A self-reflexive game?
      Yes, absolutely.  But not on the basis of the text/speech divide.  This is what I meant about seeking out other absences and gaps in RPGs as a medium.
      Quote
      Nine worlds can be summed up thusly:
      I would need to see more of the text, but I think this is definitely moving in a reflexive direction, yes.  The game is aware that it is a game, and the characters know this in some sense that is comprehensible, parallel to the way the players know this, but at the same time weirdly different.  And the adequation between those spheres is part of the point of the game.  Sound about right?
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      Chris Lehrich
      clehrich
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      « Reply #8 on: December 03, 2004, 02:11:29 PM »

      Quote from: neelk
      Second, I basically completely disagree with you. :-)
      That's okay, I know you're wrong anyway.  :-)
      Quote
      Basically, I don't think rpgs have a fabula. Another way of thinking about this is that I don't think there's any such thing as shared imaginative space. There's a whole bunch of stuff, most of which are inconsistent with each other and even with themselves....
      Ah.  Well, I think on that one we have to agree to disagree, except that I think you're taking one extreme and I'm taking the other, and that means that we're talking flip-sides of the same coin.  I'm an old-fashioned positivist, you might be surprised to know, so I like to think in terms of things like SIS.  To discard that entirely is really the same as to express it in such extreme terms of certainty that it becomes well-nigh inaccessible.  I think I get where you're coming from, and we're on opposite sides of the same sheet of paper.  Make sense?
      Quote
      Personally, I find the notion that rpgs are more certain than, say, novels weird. A novel is usually the product of a solitary mind and is a unitary object; that's what makes it an interesting literary strategy for a novelist to meditate upon unknowability. By way of contrast, in an rpg we start in such a desperate and total state of uncertainty that it's artistically fascinating that we are able to have -any- unity at all.
      I think the notion of "certainty" is a little different between us, but not enough the point to debate epistemology.  Who cares, anyway?  Seriously, I do think that the fabula is analyzable and worthwhile for that purpose, in structural terms.  But what you're arguing here is I think consistent with what Clifford Geertz always said about Levi-Strauss: that he dropped out everything that was most interesting about myth in the first place.  I don't agree, but as I say we're on opposite sides of the same coin.  I think it is entirely possible and interesting to meditate not on unknowability but on what is actually expressed way down deep in the fabula, the completely meaningless (seemingly) isolated events; that gets us somewhere toward how we develop meanings or syuzhet around such structures and how we convince ourselves that we know what the hell we're talking about.  But the converse of that is that we can't really say a lot about the affective dimension, and I think you're arguing that the affective dimension is really what the game IS -- and I'm not at all sure I don't agree.

      Do you follow, or am I just being confusing again?
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      Chris Lehrich
      John Kim
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      « Reply #9 on: December 03, 2004, 02:21:58 PM »

      Quote from: clehrich
      Quote from: John Kim
      Well, I am violently opposed to this.  What you're saying is that everything that happens during the actual game is irrelevant -- i.e. what dice are rolled, what the real people say, what the setting is.  That the "text" is the imaginary storyline which was produced.  So regardless of whether I play out a love scene in detail or just say "she seduces him" -- it's the same "text" to RPGs.  And regardless of whether I use D&D or Amber, the text is the fictional facts, not what was actually done at the gaming table.
      I didn't say that, John.  I said that insofar as we can talk about textuality in RPGs, all we have is fabula.  And that is absolutely different from literature, because in literature all we have is syuzhet.  But in fact, we don't deal with RPGs as text at all -- we deal with them through all the layers you're talking about.  Of course we do.  But those are not textual layers -- they are conversational.  I am trying to undermine the notion that RPGs are a textual medium -- they aren't.  Insofar as they are, they are stripped of the vast majority of what is valuable or interesting about them, such as why we enjoy them or care about them.

      I'm struggling with what your saying here, because it makes no sense to me.  Yes, tabletop RPGs are oral rather than written -- just like plays or oral storytelling.  They are also interactive, as many performances are.  But that doesn't change the nature of what they are.  In the end, there is still a sharp distinction between (1) the words and gestures expressed at the gaming table by real people, and (2) the fictional events which are imagined to occur.  (1) is the syuzhet, and (2) is the fabula.  It is still true that the syuzhet is the only physical component, the only thing we "have".  

      And if we discuss play-by-mail or play-by-email games, then the parallel is even more exact.  There it is clear that just like in a novel, all we have is words.  

      Quote from: clehrich
      Quote from: John Kim
      You're trying to make an arbitrary distinction here over the layers of the syuzhet.  But this same thing applies in literature.  For example, a written story may contain many asides by the author or narrator which are not part of describing the fictional action.  These are non-affective, but they are nonetheless an important part of the discourse.
      Those asides are part of the text, part of syuzhet.  Viz. Tristram Shandy, which is nothing but an aside.  The distinction I'm making is exactly the same as the "ritualization" dimension I made in my ritual essay: we, the players, make an arbitrary distinction between what does and does not count.

      Sure.  Just like in a theater, noises from the lobby aren't considered part of the performance -- although they may still be distracting.  But you put the die-rolling and the decision-making of arbitration into the first layer of syuzhet which is ignored.   But the die-rolling is most certainly a part of the ritual.  It is a vital part of the text of role-playing, just as much so as the asides in a novel.  

      What I am concerned about is that you are trying to say that the "text" of role-playing doesn't include the very things which make role-playing distinctive: i.e. the dice rolling, the arbitration, and so forth.
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      - John
      Matt Snyder
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      « Reply #10 on: December 03, 2004, 02:36:17 PM »

      Hmm, well, I'm not sure how obvious my intention is, and therefore whether Nine Worlds fits the bill.

      The passage I quoted in my previous post is old stuff. The "new" premise of the game is: "Whose world will you live in? The one you create, or the one created for you?"

      Now, in-game, it's all about these Archon fellows working for and against the immortal gods of the universe in various ways. It's a game about authority. Who gets to do what, when, and how do they get to do it? Will they support the god who rules the planet? Or not? Will they use magic? Or will they do something else? Will they fail, and let others decide their fate? Etc.

      I don't know that I threw in any clever allusions to self-awareness in the game book. (I can't consciously remember anything in the game that's an analog Severian's memory, for example.) But, I really did think about how the Archons in the game and their actions are quite comparable to the process of the players "out of the game." That is, the players are deciding "whose world they will play in -- the one they create or the one created for them" (by a GM, for example).
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      Matt Snyder
      www.chimera.info

      "The future ain't what it used to be."
      --Yogi Berra
      clehrich
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      « Reply #11 on: December 03, 2004, 06:32:49 PM »

      Quote from: John Kim
      Quote from: clehrich
      I said that insofar as we can talk about textuality in RPGs, all we have is fabula.  And that is absolutely different from literature, because in literature all we have is syuzhet.  But in fact, we don't deal with RPGs as text at all -- we deal with them through all the layers you're talking about.  Of course we do.  But those are not textual layers -- they are conversational.  I am trying to undermine the notion that RPGs are a textual medium -- they aren't.  Insofar as they are, they are stripped of the vast majority of what is valuable or interesting about them, such as why we enjoy them or care about them.
      I'm struggling with what your saying here, because it makes no sense to me.  Yes, tabletop RPGs are oral rather than written -- just like plays or oral storytelling.  They are also interactive, as many performances are.  But that doesn't change the nature of what they are.  In the end, there is still a sharp distinction between (1) the words and gestures expressed at the gaming table by real people, and (2) the fictional events which are imagined to occur.  (1) is the syuzhet, and (2) is the fabula.  It is still true that the syuzhet is the only physical component, the only thing we "have".
      Yes, true, but I'm talking about literary textual products as opposed to RPGs.  You're apparently asking for the distinctions between RPGs and dramatic and other oral performances, some of them interactive.  That's a different matter -- a very different matter.  I have seen syuzhet and fabula talked about quite a lot in the context of film, which is certainly non-textual but nevertheless has this fixity; thus a textual formulation makes good sense.  But I'm not sure how those distinctions apply exactly to live performance.  And as to oral storytelling, especially of myth, I said before that I thought that was a great deal like RPGs.  As I said in the quote above, "insofar as we can talk about textuality in RPGs."  Which I think is a useful analogy, and an interesting one, but at base something of a category mistake.  This isn't text.  That's been my point from the outset.

      Of course, nor is a dramatic performance.  Now standing behind a dramatic performance, often, is a text -- the script.  But that relation is complex and distinctive to dramatic performance, just as the pure textuality of written prose or verse is distinctive to that art form, and just as the use of diegetic techniques in image and music and montage is distinctive to the film medium.  Every artistic medium has its own relations among production, meaning, performance, reception, and inscription; these are distinctive and should be kept so for analytical purposes.  The analogies are useful in trying to work out how one form works, by differentiation against another medium.  But I do not think it is the case that dramatic performance (for example) operates the same way as literary text.  For that matter, I also don't think that music and painting work the same way as literary text, or as dramatic performance, or as each other, or as RPGs.
      Quote
      And if we discuss play-by-mail or play-by-email games, then the parallel is even more exact.  There it is clear that just like in a novel, all we have is words.
      Probably so.  As I said on the other thread, I'm not really prepared to weigh in on this one.  I haven't seen enough of it, and I haven't got it straight enough in my head how it would operate.

      Quote
      Quote from: clehrich
      Those asides are part of the text, part of syuzhet.  Viz. Tristram Shandy, which is nothing but an aside.  The distinction I'm making is exactly the same as the "ritualization" dimension I made in my ritual essay: we, the players, make an arbitrary distinction between what does and does not count.
      Sure.  Just like in a theater, noises from the lobby aren't considered part of the performance -- although they may still be distracting.  But you put the die-rolling and the decision-making of arbitration into the first layer of syuzhet which is ignored.   But the die-rolling is most certainly a part of the ritual.  It is a vital part of the text of role-playing, just as much so as the asides in a novel.
      I'm quite willing to negotiate the distinction between layers.  As I think I said in this initial post, and as I'm sure I said in one of these threads, I'm not happy about how this distinction is formulated.  The best I can come up with is to say that there is an authorial or performative dimension that obtains at one layer that is not present in literary text.  Unquestionably that dimension can be important; indeed, at some level it is essential.  But I'm not at all clear on exactly where the division lies, or whether there are multiple layers, or whatever.  What interests me is the formulation of textuality in RPGs, which I think happens at a layer that is so deep (fabula) that it is almost meaningless to talk about.

      Furthermore, let's note that the distinction between annoying audience noise and performance is an arbitrary one, made by the audience themselves at the time of performance.  They clearly make this distinction, but it's not exactly clear how or where they do so.  Just so, a distinction of some sort is made between what is "really" the game and what isn't.  That formulation of a normative distance, a distinction between "really" the game and not, is what I've elsewhere called ritualization.  I am entirely willing to debate where system falls in this; my sense is that there is a considerable desire to suppress system in terms of what "counts," but your feeling is otherwise, which is fine.  I think that's a worthwhile debate.  But in any event I don't see that it has a lot to do with textuality -- it has to do with performativity, which is something literary text lacks entirely.
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      Chris Lehrich
      daMoose_Neo
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      « Reply #12 on: December 03, 2004, 08:11:42 PM »

      ...I kinda got lost, I'm just glad to see that you're going with the "we're trying to create Myths", which is what I was saying quite a time back ^_^
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      Nate Petersen / daMoose
      Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
      clehrich
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      « Reply #13 on: December 03, 2004, 08:41:42 PM »

      Quote from: daMoose_Neo
      ...I kinda got lost, I'm just glad to see that you're going with the "we're trying to create Myths", which is what I was saying quite a time back ^_^
      You mean just recently or before?  Can you provide a link?
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      Chris Lehrich
      Christopher Kubasik
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      « Reply #14 on: December 03, 2004, 10:56:01 PM »

      When Chris started his recent round of discussion about Text and RPGs in the "Wild and Untamed Thing" my gander got up (surprise!) and I started typing out notes for a new thread.

      This thread beat me too it and -- surprise! -- I misread where Chris was going and see now he was on the same bead I was on.  

      As far as I can tell, his obsession with comparing RPGs to Text forms is to draw out what is unique about RPGs.  And to this I say, "Good."  As long as we eventually stop using Text based forms as the form the RPG experience aspires too.  (For the purpose of this post, like Chris' comments, I am specifically dealing with Narrativist RPG play.)

      Since Chris is well underway here -- with cool new terminology, no less -- I'm going to simply run down my notes in the hope that they'll provide some new angles to view this matter.

      [By the way, I'm not claiming I'm agreeing with Chris on all points.  In part because he's making so many rejoinders to so many people, on occassion I'm not sure if I know what he's talking about.  For example, when he speaks of "retelling" the PRG sessions' story, I can kind of see the value in doing that -- but honestly, it holds no interest for me.  It's a case history, like a corpse I might learn something from.  But as far as I'm concerned, the living experience of the session is where the action is at.  For all i know, Chris thinks the same thing.  Even after reviewing his posts, I'm not sure where he stands on some of these matters.]


      Let the Text Go

      It's been my contention for a while that the RPG experience (in both the making of the session by the players, and the experience of the session as audience) has a lot more to do with the oral forms of drama and oral storytelling.  Everybody always references novels (well, Ron and I keep going to movies, but the Big Guns of Fantasy are what people usually grab for).  No one seems to have caved under my admonishments about this matter, but I'm hoping to see more headway on this because of this thread.  

      The conflict of the novel is so often an internal matter. This makes sense in terms of the novel's production (the lone writer), and consumption (the lone reader), all of the transfer of ideas, via text, taking place silently in the writer and reader's head.

      Not so RPGs.  To really make the conflict (and thus the action, and thus the -- you -- anything that's happening) engaging for everyone at the table, it needs to be in the public sphere.  That is, when we play RPGs we're pricking at each other (even if just in play).  If the situations are not rising out things said and done between and to characters you're in Turku land -- which is not what most Narrativists are looking for. It's the story revealed between characters that matters.  And that's the form of dramatic narrative (movies and staged plays), and epic poetry, folk and fairy tales.

      I believe people in the RPG world keep turning to big fat novels because a) we're a literate lot and b) they are some of the books that made us want to play RPGs ("Wow, a rich world that goes even beyond the story! I'd like to hang out there for a while!")  But I think -- again, in terms of Narrativis -- the delight of watching a stage play (a good one, of course), or hearing a really great fairy tale -- has more to do with the audience half of being in an RPG session.

      Also, I think we live in a time of Text Fetishism -- a time that's winding down.  And I think people aspire to making their games like Big Fat Books -- because that's the best thing one can aspire to.  Or so goes the common wisdom. I disagree. And I especially disagree about this matter for RPGs.  The games aren't like books.  They're like an epic poem told to a community that cares about the tale, where the audience adds in details that becomes part of the narrative woven by the Poet that night.  (A common practice once, for epic poets, and clearly a distant uncle of the Narrativist RPG experience.)


      Stop Focusing on All the Stuff

      Yes, there are character sheets. And yes, there are rule books and maps. But to say that's what an RPG is is like saying a movie is the camera, film stock and make up. You might view movies this way.  But I can guarantee you most audience members don’t.  And what at stake here, as far as I'm concerned, is the reception of the RPG play in his audience member half.  We do all the stuff with the dice and the maps to make something happen.  And that making something happen is receiving a -- well, I'm going to say -- story.  

      (I have to say, Chris' obsession with the turning and twisting of the concept of "Fiction" and "Story" leaves me a little non-plussed.  I'm not talking about a transcript text here resulting in a publishable story.  I'm just saying, in Narrativism, there are characters, doing things, with a piling up of details, that influence the next set of details. The fact that there's chatter doesn't change this, nor do all the tools and toys that let the game occur.  A film crew making a movie is the audience as well as the makers of a story in progress, with tons of "distractions" from the "story." BUT, if everyone is doing their job right, they're feeling their way through the story, even if it's shot out of context.  For some reason the idea that there's a compass called "The Story" that is the guiding element of all the actins (IC/OOC/Whatever) doesn't seem that complicated to me.)


      Myth -- the Real Stuff, Not the Dusty Stuff

      This occurred to me after reading the Moose in the City Actual Play thread posted after GenCon.  I didn't say anything about it, cause I thought no one would take it seriously.  But now seems the time.

      Ron, in one of the posts, commented on the thread, "Think about how much TV is crappy and how much everybody really would like to be able, week by week, to watch at least one excellent show. Think about how fast word spreads through our culture when such a show appears."

      I thought several things quickly reading that:

      1)   "Yeah, of course you thought it was great. You were your own focus group!"
      2)   "Yeah, of course great shows spread the word fast -- and then they're cancelled in three weeks." (One of the reason, honestly, I simply stopped thinking about TV as a fun thing to do with my time.)
      3)   "Uh.  You know. That focus group thing.  That's important.  There's really no way to believe Moose in the City would get enough audience nationwide to last on the air.  But it sure as hell meant a lot to these guys."
      4)   "Oh. Jeez. They are their own focus group. They are a community, at least for the duration of the story, telling a story, creating a story, with each of them having input, that creates a story that means a lot to THEM."
      5)   "Like myths use to do. Where the nature, subject matter and telling of the myth was defined by the community needs and desires."

      I realized then that hard-core Narrativist play is a form of "live-wire" myth.  Not myth in the sense of "here's a cool old story that's cool because it's cool," but myth as in, "This is a story that says what we as a people value."  

      The same story produced in play might be meaningless to other people. And that's fine.  And this is the Great Strength and Value of Narrativist RPG play over moves and published lit.  Movies and publishing, for the most part, mind you, strive to reach the greatest market possible.  And in striving for that, you often end up with the kind of TV that Ron decries the quote above.  Most TV gets by on technique, but not meaning that cuts to the heart of the viewer.  Narrativist Gaming can go directly to the heart of the audience, because the makers are the audience, and they have no responsibility to anyone but their own community.

      I'd offer that this is why playing with "one-person-removed" (those people who are actually people you like, like you, in your life) are the people you'll probably want to be playing Narrativist games with.  Because it isn't about using the rules "right," nor is it about getting the "details" right ("This is how you play Treck," "This is how the story is supposed to end").  It's about sharing and forming a unique tale on the fly that reveals what the group values -- as individuals and as a community.


      RPGS are Not Mass Media. Deal with It

      As noted above, RPG sessions are not geared to being reproducible commodities.  

      Good. That's one of their strengths.  

      They draw on traditions that existed before mass media became the ubiquitous goal.

      Like that performance of Hamlet opening night that everyone is still talking about 30 years later, the unique artifact is not an artifact at all but the experience of the event.

      There's no shame here.  It's just what it is.

      RPGs are also unique in that the makers are the audience.  But anyone who's acted in a play will tell you -- no big whoop.  I know (going back to what I said before about our fetish with Text and obsession with The Big Fat Book) we're used to thinking of story, or art, or whatever, being this "constructed" thing handed down from on high, received for consumption by strangers.  But the act of acting gives us another model.  

      I'm not talking about the audience's reception of the event.  And I'm not concerned about whether or not the performance was improvised or scripted.

      What I am saying is that to be on stage, in character, in the middle of a dramatic narrative, is at once to be In Character and Out of Character.  To be at once making the story happen and watching the story happen.  To be able to admire what your fellow actors are doing and be busy doing your job. To be alert to the needs of mechanical business ("Have to set that glass here," "have to catch my light here,") and involved enough to have a emotional life that compels your fellow actors, as well as the audience.

      And I'll invoke oral storytelling here as well.  We've been trained in the last century to be very respectful and polite when a tale is being told.  But the oral storyteller knows he's telling a story, and the audience knows he's telling a story.  There would be asides for the community of the audience, as well as, perhaps, specific references to people in the audience ("His hair was as fair as that baby's right there.")  The story was not "weakened" by this breaking of the story's reality, but the significance was heightened by the connection to the world of the people.  And -- as mentioned -- the audience would also call out details, or ask questions, "And what of Bearhand?" and the storyteller would take a side trip and build that as well.

      Remember that this fucking obsession with mimesis -- the idea that we're trying to reproduce the "reality" of the story as neatly as possible -- is a 20th century bugaboo in theater -- and only reinforced with the illusion of film to capture 'reality' and the high literary fiction's delight in the minutia of every day life.  Epic poetry, the language of Molieré and Shakespeare's plays, the staging of all theater up until the end of the 19th century and a host of other "false" conventions all depended on a poetic license (both oral and visual) to communicate their stories to the audience.

      [Quick notes: the transition from trusting poetic expression of narrative to the preference of literal presentation began centuries before the 20th century.  But the domination of literal presentation won out in the last century.]

      [For more contemporary but poetic storytelling performance, check out Mary Zimmerman's work with The Looking Glass Theater Company.  Their productions of "The Arabian Nights" and "The Metamorphosis" involve scenes played between actors who also slip in and out of character as narrators to the audience.  They move between being emotionally engaged in the story, and imploring the adience, with poetic words and motions, to be aware a stor is being told.  Again, I have no idea how Chris would see "story" fitting -- or not fitting -- in here.  But by god, the audiences weep.]

      RPGs have rougher conventions, but I don’t think they are deal breakers.  If the group playing Moose in the City could successfully touch each other's hearts so well, the Dice, Rules, and so on somehow served to support the narrative events.  They are part of the Narrativist RPG experience, but not the purpose.  The purpose is to share with the community of players -- a small group community, perhaps -- the intensity of bringing to the fore, "This is what matters. This is what we value.  This is what we create together."

      And how cool is that?
      Logged

      "Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
      Lemonhead, The Shield
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