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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 76 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Microfiction-Style Roleplaying  (Read 3642 times)
Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #15 on: April 02, 2003, 12:56:40 PM »

Quote from: Paganini
So far, this thread is dealing with the design of such game, making the assumption that once the game exists someone will want to play it.


Um, this isn't a Game Design thread.  It's a Theory thread.  It sounds like you want me to give you a Premise and a reason for playing a game based on a microfiction style.  If I was speaking of a specific game concept, I could do that, but I started this thread so we could theorize about what such a game would look like.  I'm just beginning to visualize what kinds of structures are possible, so giving you a reason for playing any particular one of those is hard.

I thought I went over some general ideas in my opening post (and many have been suggested since), but to be more clear:

-- in the longer narratives of traditional roleplaying, Players are generally limited to dealing a single set of characters per session (or per campaign, for longer games).  in a micro-rpg, you could have a new set every 15-60 minutes, perfect for short attention spans and keeping things interesting.

-- you'd never have to worry about who showed up for a game.  you could play anytime, anywhere, with anyone that was there, because each new narrative arch would be completely seperate from previous ones.

-- you'd be able to get right to the point.  none of this meandering around.  none of this "hero's journey" mess.  right into the action.  it's like fast-forwarding through a movie to watch the good parts.

-- focus is definitely put on the present, on the action that's currently taking place.  no planning for the future when the end is coming in 15 minutes.  no messing around with continuity or things that happened previously in the campaign.  no background knowledge required for new Players.  all the important stuff is what's ahppening right now.

-- easy for people to dabble in, without being a dedicated gamer.  how easy is it for a group of non-gamers to have fun with "Baron Munchausen" or "Universalis" because they are isolated, one-time things and don't require a ton of time and commitment?  pretty easy.

-- interesting design possibilities, for providing some unity to a session or campaign.  maybe you have a Narrativist Theme that carries over all of the scenes.  maybe you have reoocuring archetypes.  maybe you're describing isolated memories of a single character, or their dreams.  whatever.  fun things to play with.

-- a succinct, clear, message and goal.  look at Jason Blair's "Insects of God" (which Ralph reminded me of recently).  you get a person's last 5 hours played out over 5 hours.  a micro-rpg could do the same thing in less time: deliver a soundbite of meaning.

Is that better?  Is that the kind of thing you were asking for?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #16 on: April 02, 2003, 01:03:11 PM »

At a certain point, Nathan, you have to just accept that somebody wants to play, and that whatever their reasons, that as long as the game is well designed that they'll be satisfied. There are infinite numbers of reasons why anyone might want to play this or any other game. To try to cater to them all would be crazy. In point of fact you cater to the desire to play a particular game by simply creating the game.

Look at Jonathan's reasons above. How would you change the design to cater to any of them? You don't, you just create the game.

Mike
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Paganini
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« Reply #17 on: April 02, 2003, 01:17:04 PM »

Quote

-- in the longer narratives of traditional roleplaying, Players are generally limited to dealing a single set of characters per session (or per campaign, for longer games). in a micro-rpg, you could have a new set every 15-60 minutes, perfect for short attention spans and keeping things interesting.

-- focus is definitely put on the present, on the action that's currently taking place. no planning for the future when the end is coming in 15 minutes. no messing around with continuity or things that happened previously in the campaign. no background knowledge required for new Players. all the important stuff is what's ahppening right now.]/quote]

Yeah, cool, that was exactly what I had in mind. Seems like these two are probably the most important items. Unversalis can already do the others, even though microfiction play would definitely have those properties as well.

Actually, the idea of Micro Universalis is kind of cool. A simple gimmick, that the game ends when the scene is closed would be all you'd need. Probably want to have a smaller number of coins than normal, maybe 5 to 10. It's sort of like the Story Now! idea taken to an existential extreme.

A couple of possible difficulties:

It'd be hard to identify with a character over such a short time-span. Drama comes from a character caring so deeply about something that he won't back away from the issue . . . it will be decided. But the drama is only dramatic if we, the players (or observers) actually care about it as well. If it's something trivial, we couldn't care less about it. This kind of identification takes time to build up.

A potential fix would be to focus on color rather than character drama (which I think is what a lot of actual microfiction writers tend to do.)

A more difficult problem is that of multiple characters. Multiple characters tend to have overlapping networks of relationships and conflicts. If you want resolution, multiple characters will cause problems with the tiny scale. I'm not sure how this could be fixed. I suppose one way that might work would be to define the conflict of the scene, and only allow the creation of characters directly related to that conflict.
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szilard
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« Reply #18 on: April 02, 2003, 01:24:01 PM »

Quote from: Paganini

It'd be hard to identify with a character over such a short time-span. Drama comes from a character caring so deeply about something that he won't back away from the issue . . . it will be decided. But the drama is only dramatic if we, the players (or observers) actually care about it as well. If it's something trivial, we couldn't care less about it. This kind of identification takes time to build up.


Huh.

I don't think that character identification is at all necessary for developing characters with deeply-held beliefs.

In fact, there are times when people feel reluctant to put characters they identify with into all sorts of situations that would be extremely dramatic.

Your point, though, seems to be that without identification the players won't observe the scene as a dramatic one. I don't know that to be true. Can microfiction be dramatic? I'm pretty sure it can. Does one identify with the characters in microfiction as much as one does with the characters in a novel? Not unless you are very strange. Where does that drama come from, then?

Stuart
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Paganini
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« Reply #19 on: April 02, 2003, 01:35:25 PM »

Quote from: szilard

I don't think that character identification is at all necessary for developing characters with deeply-held beliefs.


Hmm. You're right that identification is not necessary for characters to have deeply held beliefs.

My thought, though, is that players need to care about the character - or, really about the conflict that the character is pointed at - in order for there to be drama. If the character is unimportant to the player, it seems likely that that character's conflict will also be unimportant, meaning that the resolution will be trivial rather than dramatic.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #20 on: April 02, 2003, 01:46:39 PM »

Quote from: szilard
Where does that drama come from, then?


Situation, I'd argue.  Characters in microfiction tend to either be A) iconic archetypes, or B) an avatar of the reader.  Part of the power is seeing yourself in the situation of the microfic character.

Quote from: EXAMPLE
"I love you," she said, a teary smile growing on her face."

"No you don't," I replied.  "Love died a long time ago.  I bludgeoned it to death with the hammer of my hatred and the strength of my rage.  There's no such thing as Love anymore.  I killed it."

"Fair enough," she returned, "Love may be dead, but the memory of Love remains.  And try as you might you cannot destroy a memory."

"What good is a memory?" I asked.

And then she showed me.


Not great, but the best I could come up with off the top of my head.  Feel free to analyze this little chunk, because that's what I'm going to do.

First, we don't care about why the "she" in the blurb loves the speaker, but we can all empathize with her because we've probably been in love with someone who didn't love us.  Also, we don't really care about why the speaker killed Love.  Doesn't matter to the narrative, but it still resonates as a powerful image.  It's the situation that's important.  The characters act almost as avatars of the reader, which wouldn't be possible if you knew more about them and could say, "well, maybe s/he's not like me after all."  The characters aren't seperate individuals so much as voices or elements for moving the brief narrative along.

Surely, this kind of thing could carry over into roleplaying.
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szilard
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« Reply #21 on: April 02, 2003, 02:20:18 PM »

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Quote from: szilard
Where does that drama come from, then?


Situation, I'd argue.  Characters in microfiction tend to either be A) iconic archetypes, or B) an avatar of the reader.  Part of the power is seeing yourself in the situation of the microfic character.


That sounds reasonable.

Personally, I don't think that this is a big problem. In some ways, characters in microfiction are more amenable to identification than characters in novels (particularly insofar as there aren't features to those characters that scream, "This person isn't me!") - there is typically less attachment, though.

Stuart
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #22 on: April 02, 2003, 02:44:32 PM »

Quote from: Jonathan Walton

Same thing goes here.  Why play a roleplaying session composed of unrelated single-scene narratives?

That's the thing, mate. I read a couple of those pieces on the links you'd provided and microfiction is not necessarily a single-scene story. It's just a very, very brief story but the timeframe can span years.
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
"I'm leaving, you worm!" she shouted and she slammed the front door. He sat down, unable to follow her. He stared at the door, unable to sob. For nine long years did that, staring at the door hoping she would return. With each passing moment he soured inside. Then one day, the door opened. It was her, he thought and he fired both barrels of his shotgun. Then to his horror he realised he had grown nearsighted and the ladylady had paid the price.

I have no qualms about playing a single scene. In fact I had been toying with a game design that would have a scene be the basic unit of play and guidence for playing only a single scene.

But that's not necessarily microficition like the above is microfiction regardless of the merit of the above. So the question is, how do you propose to play that?
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #23 on: April 02, 2003, 03:13:22 PM »

I don't know, Jack.  What you wrote looks like a single scene to me.  I mean, in Universalis terms is might be more than one (intitial encounter, souring period, final conflict), but there's nothing about it that necessarily makes it multiple scenes.  Think about a play.  All the action could take place without changing the set or dimming the lights, partially because it's so abstract.

Let me switch to a rpg-style script, since we're not really talking about actual microfic.

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
GM:  Jack was known throughout the lands: Jack Giant-Killer, Jack o' the Lantern, Halloween Jack, One-Eyed Jack.  But Jack felt incomplete.  There was something missing from his life and he didn't know what it was.

P1 (Jack):  I believe I'll travel to the four corners of the world to seek what I am lacking.

GM:  So Jack roamed far and wide, until he came across a girl by the name of Jill.  With Jill, Jack felt complete.

P1 (Jack):  Ah!  Now I finally have what I was missing.

GM:  However, Jill soon began to feel that she was lacking something essential in her life.

P2 (Jill):  I believe I'll travel to the four corners of the world to seek what I am lacking.

GM:  So she did.  

Etc...


Isn't that all the same scene, regardless of the globe-wandering going on?  The location of the action is basically the same throughout (the wide world) and the characters are consistent.  I don't think time and space really matter so much in defining scenes.  Universalis generally implies that scenes are consistant action taking place at a particular Location and Time, but there's no reason to stick to that definition, even in playing Universalis games.  If I want a scene where a rock passes 10,000 years in absolute loneliness, how many scenes does that take up?  I'd say one.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #24 on: April 02, 2003, 03:22:53 PM »

Ah, the light comes on. The question put to you is 'how do you intend to roleplay that?' Keep going. you're doing fine.
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Paganini
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« Reply #25 on: April 02, 2003, 03:47:33 PM »

I don't see the time thing being much of a problem. Even in Universalis there's no specification of exactly how long a scene must last. Let's say you've got a scene. You pay a coin to create a component: a Rock. Then you pay another coin for an event: "The rock sits and does nothing for a thousand years." Then you pay another coin to fade to black. Woohoo. You just had a thousand year long scene.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #26 on: April 02, 2003, 03:59:19 PM »

OK, I think my point about microfiction not necessarily being one scene is getting lost somewhere, and I know my own little example was no damned help, but what do you want for 90 seconds? Tolstoy?

Way I see it, microfiction is like a single page of a comic book. What is on it? Whatever you want. Sort of like Life In Hell by Matt Groening. No sequiter is possible.

But then thinking about it, I think the idea needs more work, really. It's like roleplaying poetry. How can you do that and what makes roleplaying it appealing compared to simply composing it even spontaneously while sitting around the living room?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #27 on: April 02, 2003, 04:18:36 PM »

Hi Jonathan,

I'm concerned about one thing - and it's a big thing, really, the very thing that sometimes tempts me to hurl texts across the room.

Examples taken from the text of my (1st edition) copy of Nobilis; the author of both is R. Sean Borgstrom.

This one is not a story:

Quote
The angel shed his guise. It was just as well ... easier to be certain that way. Seven or eight feet of wing spread on either side of him. A golden sword was in his hands.

In a single clean motion, the six of us aimed our submachine guns. The moment of firing was an epiphany: six thunders roaring at once. Six ripples of pain upon the angel's flesh. Those wings began to move as he staggered back. That was okay. They'd never support him, never lift the one sixty pounds of him into the air.

Except they did.


This one is indeed a story:

Quote
"Once upon a time," he said, "there was a very foolish King, who woke up every morning before the rooster's crow."

"Yuck."

"He would tiptoe up to the top of his highest tower, and when the dawn had turned the sky the right color, he would cry out, 'I command you, sun, to rise!'"

"That does sound pretty foolish."

He nodded. "Yup. But no one wanted to tell the King that. At least, not until he fell in love with a more sensible woman and brought her to the palace to live."

"And she wondered why the bed was empty every morning?"

He nodded again. "And when she found out, she told him just how foolish it was, and that he was probably going to get a cold. No man likes looking foolish in front of his wife, of course, so he immediately vowed to sleep in the next morning."

"And?" I asked.

"And the sun didn't rise."


The first example describes an event. There is no conflict. There is no agenda evident in any element of the piece, not even that of the narrator, and no emotion/passion can thereby be associated or invoked. To force it into a story, or into the shape of a piece of a story, the reader has to do all the work, and thus will see in this hypothetical "story" anything he or she puts into it, and nothing else.

The second example contains conflict and resolution, in fact, at two levels. The "core" level concerns the king and queen as people, and issues of power. The slightly more "meta" level concerns what constitutes foolishness, whether the king's (he was foolish to listen to the woman, not foolish to perform his ritual), or the first-person listener's, who chimes in during the telling (who is foolish to pass judgment on the "meaning" of things without knowing enough to judge).

Now, as to me, I care very little about the length of a story, or the number of scenes in it, but I care greatly about whether what I'm reading/etc is a story. If it's not, I'm deeply pissed off.

Granted, that's just me. However, I'm curious: are you drawing this same distinction regarding micro-fiction, or not? Or is it merely a matter of length and some degree of "event" or evocation involved?

And if such a distinction is important at all, how would that apply to role-playing in (or resembling) this medium?

Best,
Ron

P.S. Betcha that some substantial theory might be found on this whole matter regarding the content of haiku.

P.P.S. Commercials on television often offer astounding micro-fiction, in the story sense, as acknowledged by many filmmakers.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #28 on: April 02, 2003, 05:45:58 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
This one is not a story:


Actually, it looks like a story to me, Ron, but I'm not going to argue it.  Your point is well taken.  I grant that it's quite possible to have microfiction that isn't a story.   However, I don't think this issue has to do with microfiction persay.  You could have a 400 page novel that isn't really a story (though it would be hard to write that much without creating some kind of story by accident).  It's just easier to spot a non-story in microfiction because of the length.

Do you mind if I break this off into another topic?  I think "Non-Story-Based Roleplaying" could be another topic in and of itself.  Systems built to simulate surrealism like Co9C might be tweaked to support freeform narrative without an agenda.  But why don't we assume that this topic refers mainly to dealing with the LENGTH of microfiction and not the possibility of roleplaying non-stories.  Cool?

P.S.  Actually, "Poetic Roleplaying" would be a good way to describe non-story-based stuff, assuming its even possible or enjoyable.

P.P.S.  Commercials exemplify both story-based microfiction and non-story-based stuff.  Think of the car commercials that just show images and try to evoke feelings, without any of the elements in the commercial possessing an obvious agenda.  Poetics without plot.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #29 on: April 02, 2003, 06:19:06 PM »

Hi Jonathan,

You're missing my point a bit, I think. What I'm saying has nothing to do with length of the text. You're absolutely right about that.

I'm talking about conflict and resolution, as well as about Premise in the Egri sense (extended outward to all narrative rather than restricted to playwriting).

Without that, text is prose, but it's not a story.

I should also point out that "story" is not a medium, it's a matter of content. A poem may or may not be a story, a song may or may not be a story, a picture may or may not be a story, a length of text may or may not be a story, and so on.

To repeat, it also doesn't matter if we're talking about a little eeny picture or one which covers a wall, and it doesn't matter if we're talking about 100 words or a 1000 page novel.

... And, before anyone gets pissed off by my tone so far, I say this: none of this post is meant to convince anyone of anything. I'm clarifying my contrast between the two passages, and that's all.

So ... do I gather correctly that you are not concerned with the story-or-not issue (as I've defined it, regardless of whether you agree) in reference to micro-fiction?

If that's the case, then the only distinctive feature about micro-fiction is its length, correct? Or more clearly, that it evokes (in that short length) some kind of "feeling"?

Translating that to role-playing would seem pretty easy, given that story-content's not the priority. It'd be neat to see a framework or rubric to prompt or organize it, though.

Best,
Ron
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