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Author Topic: [PTA] Happy Endings  (Read 13067 times)
TonyLB
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« on: March 16, 2006, 01:24:04 PM »

Strange thing happened in our final episode of Bountiful.

Jen played Brigit, a faerie (well, y'know, it's in space ... so a space-faerie, I suppose) whose Issue was her exile from her own kind, finding her place and discovering (or not) her self-worth.  Sydney played Weiss, ex-military, whose Issue was originally Honor and then mutated (after a brutal spotlight episode) into Power.  That pretty much tells the tale on Weiss.  I played Mason, a criminal and perennial loser.  He wanted to find people who would hang out and share his loserhood, and whose skills would enable him to stay afloat as a bounty-hunter.  His problem is that he saw the potential that these two were suppressing, and being a decent guy he felt impelled to help them realize it.  His Issue was "Are you doing right by your friends?"  The finale was his Spotlight episode.  I had assured in the previous episode that Weiss and Brigit were both offered deals that would take them away from Mason to something better.

So we did our little formalized (and, I suspect, mildly destructive) pre-play at the beginning of the episode, asking what things people wanted to see in the episode as it evolved.  Jen said, since it was our last episode and we weren't looking to play the characters again, that she wanted a happy ending.  I got a real bad feeling and asked "What exactly do you mean by a happy ending?"  And she explained that she wanted to assure that the characters would be together, as a functioning and happy team.  So my real bad feeling was justified.

Pretty quickly I said "That's deciding my character's Issue by fiat.  I'd rather be free to deal with that through play," and she said (quite reasonably) that she wouldn't enjoy a game that ended on the down note of everyone going their separate ways, and we just hung there, quite unhappy, for a while.  Like, half an hour, back and forth, repeating the same things in slightly different words.  But, for me, that was just time needed to get my emotions in order.  I was pretty sure from the moment the conflict arose that we weren't going to find a compromise:  I wanted the possibility of a miserably unhappy ending, and she couldn't be satisfied with it.  Eventually I just gave in and said "Okay, we'll guarantee a happy ending.  Let's just play."

So the game was actually fun, and we had a happy ending that ... yeah ... it was a little contrived, but fine.  But it was all pretty wierd.

There's the destructive pre-play issue.  I think I understand that.  We should never have been having that discussion in that way.  But would Jen have felt ambushed if I revealed that a happy ending was optional only when the sad ending was a fait accompli?  Hard to say.

The bit I don't quite understand is the absolute insistence that an unhappy ending where people don't succeed could not be a satisfying end to the story.  Mason could have abandoned the other two characters, for their own good.  It struck me as his most likely course.  He knew he was holding them back.  In my mind it would have been really cool to have him deliberately piss them off, them go off to their happier lives with consciences clear, and Mason end up back in the gutter.  It would have been satisfying on many levels.

At the same time, I recognize that it can be harder to find satisfaction in that sort of story.  It's a lot less certain as a formula.  I wonder why that is. 

Why is "Failure, failure, failure, VICTORY!" a classic, easy, satisfying story arc almost every time when "Victory, victory, victory, FAILURE!" isn't?
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dunlaing
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« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2006, 02:28:36 PM »

Why is "Failure, failure, failure, VICTORY!" a classic, easy, satisfying story arc almost every time when "Victory, victory, victory, FAILURE!" isn't?

Tragedy has mostly gone out of fashion.

It's hard to find a properly tragic movie or tv show--I doubt that Hamlet would have the ending it has if Shakespeare were writing for Warner Brothers--and those aren't things that you experience as personally as an rpg.

That having been said, I've had rpg campaigns that ended in failure that everyone enjoyed. And I've never even played Call of Cthulhu.
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Georgios Panagiotidis
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« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2006, 03:20:24 PM »

Why is "Failure, failure, failure, VICTORY!" a classic, easy, satisfying story arc almost every time when "Victory, victory, victory, FAILURE!" isn't?

It's a different kind of satisfaction. A happy ending is re-assuring and cathartic whereas a tragic ending leaves you with questions; forcing you to deal with whatever unresolved emotion you happen to be struggling with. Catharsis is a very common and familiar effect of a narrative, it's also something that many people can intuitively relate to. In fact, it's what most people think of when they talk about escapist entertainment. Thus, it's not that big a stretch to want an roleplaying session to deliver this catharsis. A narrative game that fails to do so, could be seen as a let down. It promises one thing (catharsis), but delivers another (emotional struggle).
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2006, 04:31:19 PM »

Do you think this is why the problem cropped up so forcefully in the last session?  That people who are planning for next week are able to look at the emotional questions that tragedy raises and say "That's good fodder for next week," but people who are at the end of the game don't see the same value?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2006, 06:24:16 PM »

Hi Tony,

You've never faced having to do something unpleasant in life (though you know it was ultimately good for you), and promised yourself a treat afterwards for getting over the hurdle?

That reminds me, I need to make an appointment for a wisdom tooth removal....urgh...
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Mikael
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« Reply #5 on: March 17, 2006, 01:17:20 AM »

Hello Tony

Have you played Polaris? Do you have a similar problem with the pre-determined tragic ending there? If yes, ok, you´re consistent. If not, why not?

Cheers,
+ Mikael
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contracycle
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« Reply #6 on: March 17, 2006, 01:58:36 AM »

Strange thing happened in our final episode of Bountiful.

Why is "Failure, failure, failure, VICTORY!" a classic, easy, satisfying story arc almost every time when "Victory, victory, victory, FAILURE!" isn't?

Because the tension and suspense in the action rise toward a climax in the former, and descend toward a denoument in the latter.  The first form is very common, because of the cathartic effect described above.  The latter is less common, and usually based on some concern other than the action of the story, such as the demonstration of heroism in the face of doom or the futility of hubris, or something.

But also, looking at these characters, it seems to me their goals were conflicted in this regard.  The happy ending gives Jen's character exactly the outcome desired - a new home and self worth from the group.  And it would also have met your characters initial goals of finding people with whom to share his loserdom had this goal not morphed into a tragic rejection of that success after it had been achieved.  In fact both ends could have come out by having a climax scene in which the happy faux-family is established followed by a denoument in which the loser alienates these allies.  It looks to me as if these two stories needed endings at different times.
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Alan
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« Reply #7 on: March 17, 2006, 03:08:09 AM »

Endings make important statements.

It might be useful to separate the success or failure of the overall endevor from the personal judgement on the character(s) involved.  In a classic tragedy, the endevor may succeed or fail, but the judgement leaves the character in a worse personal place than when he started. (Oedipus succeeds at learning who his is, but learns doesn't feel very good about himself afterward.)

So your character might fail to life himself out of the gutter in the end, but be redemed by feeling good about what effect he had on others.  Failure with judgement good.

A pure "happy ending" is of course success with judgement good.  Everything works out.

I think you were going for the failure with positive judgement, and falling into the tradition of the martyr -- giving up something, but havng a positive impact on others.  This actually has potential for good counterpoint against the other character's successes.  (It's a tradition in ficiton, especially fatnasy epics like LOTR that the big resolution involes loss of something as well.)

Anyway, I think you actually had an ending for your character in mind, but the group process headed it off.  And maybe this is what should not have happened.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: March 17, 2006, 05:15:32 AM »

Have you played Polaris? Do you have a similar problem with the pre-determined tragic ending there? If yes, ok, you´re consistent. If not, why not?

I don't have a problem with Polaris's tragedy, because Polaris never says "You, the player, will decide whether the ending is happy or tragic."  Forcing it to be tragic is in no way infringing on anyone's rights to author the story-choices that the game offers ... those choices are all about which tragedy comes out, and what it says about the participants.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #9 on: March 17, 2006, 05:18:49 AM »

Because the tension and suspense in the action rise toward a climax in the former, and descend toward a denoument in the latter.

I don't get that.  Why is it a "climax" if the protagonists win, but a "denouement" if they lose?

But also, looking at these characters, it seems to me their goals were conflicted in this regard.

Okay.  Why does this matter?  The characters are fictional.  We can fulfill their goals or leave them unsatisfied, as we choose, and still be satisfied as players.  Can't we?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: March 17, 2006, 05:22:25 AM »

Alan:  Oh, I do like that distinction between success/failure and judgment.

So your character might fail to life himself out of the gutter in the end, but be redemed by feeling good about what effect he had on others.  Failure with judgement good.

Or he (the fictional character) might still feel like he's a piece of crap, but we the audience feel strongly that he is a good man.  I think you're right that I wanted that potential out there on the table.  I wanted Mason to be doing the right thing even though it was probable (not just fictional-probable, but really at-the-table-probable) that it would lead him to misery.
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contracycle
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« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2006, 08:26:07 AM »

I don't get that.  Why is it a "climax" if the protagonists win, but a "denouement" if they lose?

I don't think theres a difference like that, thats not what I meant.  But you can have a denouement that is very very short, and comes hard on the heals of the climax.  Say, like the Die Hard movie where at the end Willis staggers out to his wife, a few words of dialogue and roll credits.  At other times the denouement can be very long, like the last LOTR film in which in fact I thought it was too long.

So it would have been possible to play these characters in such a way that there was a climax and short finale for two of the characters, and a final scene to the piece showing your characters' tragic isolation.  That way both stories could have been brought out, and even juxtaposed with one another.

What happened IMO was that the need for a simultaneous ending meant you either had to drag them into your final tragic scene, or play had to stop short of that event to remain climactic.

Quote
Okay.  Why does this matter?  The characters are fictional.  We can fulfill their goals or leave them unsatisfied, as we choose, and still be satisfied as players.  Can't we?

I meant, the player goals for which they are constructed.  One is an outsider looking for a home, another is/becomes someone who can't be happy in one place.  Hers is a story of winning the confidence and love of others, yours is a story of biting the hand that feeds you.  The characters - as dramatic vehicle rather than ficitonal people - have opposed needs that can only spark off each other.  Either they must seperate or one must be transformed by the events of the story.
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Danny_K
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« Reply #12 on: March 17, 2006, 09:01:14 AM »

I think you deserve some good karma for sacrificing some of your vision for the game to let your friend realize her vision. 

I think it probably has a lot to do with expectations, both in general and the specific expectations each player brought to the game.  What kind of shows were you using as reference points?  It's well known in Hollywood that American audiences are suckers for happy endings.  That why I don't watch many mainstream Hollywood moves -- the tacked-on happy ending kills my enjoyment of what has come before. 

How important was the "team" in your concepts?  I get the feelng that your friend thought the team was pretty important to the story, and the story was about how the team brought these disparate people together and they'll take care of each other from then on.  That's a very strong, life-affirmng theme. 

On the other hand, it sounds like you ultimately wanted the story to be about the separate arcs of three different people, some of whom go on to greater glory and some of whom stumble and fall.  Since your character was the stumblng kind, you wanted to stay true to that conception of him. 

It might not purely be a matter of happy endings versus downbeat endings, it mght also be a very interesting queston of which story is more important, the story of all the characters as a team, or the individual stories of each of us?  You might not realize until the end that each player has answered this question differently. 
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TonyLB
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« Reply #13 on: March 17, 2006, 03:14:06 PM »

How important was the "team" in your concepts?

Very.  I think you're quite right.  Jen, in fact, talked about how the story had been about how the people didn't work together as a team, but that once Weiss and Brigit had overcome their problems she felt that the conclusion had to be about how the team now did work.

I think, in addition to the idea that you can tell stories about the team or stories about the individuals, there's also the question:  Who determines what the story of the team is?  Can you resolve such questions in the rules, or do they have to be resolved outside of them?
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dunlaing
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My name is Bill


« Reply #14 on: March 17, 2006, 05:13:59 PM »

Jen, in fact, talked about how the story had been about how the people didn't work together as a team, but that once Weiss and Brigit had overcome their problems she felt that the conclusion had to be about how the team now did work.

Did Jen notice that your character was in the campaign? Because you're kind of making it sound like she didn't.
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