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Author Topic: And now, Plato  (Read 9302 times)
Christopher Kubasik
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« on: September 08, 2003, 08:33:11 PM »

The dead man wrote:

"And a third kind of possession and madness comes from the Muses. This takes hold upon a gentle and pure soul, arouses it and inspires it to songs and other poetry, and thus by adorning countless deeds of the ancients educates later generations. But he who without the divine madness comes to the doors of the Muses, confident that he will be a good poet by art, meets with no success, and the poetry of the sane man vanishes into nothingness before that of the inspired madmen."

I thought of this reading the "Who Cares?" Thread.

I don't think the issue at hand (for some of us, at least) is whether the character exists.

For some of us the issue is a matter of inspiration.  The question is, can you be inspired to create more than you "know"?  More than you can actively "choose" in the moment?

Whether we call it a matter of madness or inspiration, the point remains that in active, terrific creation, the best stuff, every decision made is not made in the kiln off rational thought built upon picking through rational, thoughtful choices.  I can guarantee you that the best actors don't know every motion, beat and intonation of line before they perform.  They "know" something -- through research, analysis of the test, exercising their body and voice to match the part -- that they release in the act of acting the part.

The same with other arts as well.  The painter who could actually know absolutey and truly know exactly how each brushstroke would react to pigments already applied would have to be God. (Or John Singer Seargent, perhaps, the man terrifies me with his loose precision), and so every painter is in a state of improvisation with what has come before, and shooting toward a completed goal in his mind he can never possibly reach.

I can't imagine that some role players don't manifers their characters with the same combination of purpose and inspiration.  And that means, yes, sometimes being surprised -- in the moment -- by what the character does -- which is, of course, a choice made by the player, but one he could never have anticipated until the moment arrived.

An example: playing Jesse's Gothic Fantasy game, my PC was a man who's son had left home without a word 20 years earlier.  In the intervening years he'd acquired a demon -- appearing as a young, golden haired boy -- who he doted on as his own child.  The Kicker was, "The Son Returns."

Jesse thought there would be a power struggle within my manor between the boy and the demon, with my PC caught in the middle.  I thought my PC would be caught between his desire to reconcile my love for each with each other.

But when the PC's manservant arrived and said, "My lord.  A man, claiming to be your son, is at the door and wishes to speak to you," I suddenly knew what my character would say.  "Send him away."

I had no idea that would happen.

Yes.  Christopher made the choice.  But I'm relaxed enough as a performer now to simply let choices, hopefully honest ones, come to me without anxiety and act on them without second guessing myself.

Some here might think this is a matter of semantics.  I know for a fact that many here are rationalists as a point of faith.  But I honestly can't reconcile this obsession with saying, "There is no character," with my own experiences in creativity.  

This does not mean there is a character as a living man.  There does not need to be. And I offer the quote from Plato as the blade to cut the Gordian Knot.  To surrender "control" when playing a character does not mean surrendering to the character.  From my experience it's a matter of surrendering to the Muses.

Do the Muses exist?  Call that moment of inspiration what you will, but it is an experience for many.  (I'm weary enough of arguments these days, and well-travelled enough in the world, to assume that that there are many, many different temperaments wrapped in human flesh.  One of the few things that still surprises me is that people keep insisting their way of living and percieving the world is the "human" way and everyone need only open their eyes and see it, get it, and finally leave behind ignorance.  I don't know what human means anymore, except, maybe, "variety".)

So, do I believe my character exists when, while on a film set in front of two hundred extras, I do something that is completely honest (and funny) for my character, but that I never could have planned?  Of course not.  But do I believe I tapped something that was far beyond a choice rationally made by me?  Yes.

Muse, Madness, Inspiration.  Call it what you like, but there's more than one way to make something up.  To be moved by something more than ourselves is how some of us know the act of creation.  I don't really see the conflict.  It's not a matter of being the character  It's a matter of being more than yourself.

Christopher
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Lemonhead, The Shield
Cemendur
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« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2003, 01:09:25 AM »

Christopher, I am not sure if you want a discussion of Plato or a discussion of inspiration. I am going with inspiration. (If this is deemed off-topic, please just delete this. I am willing to start my own thread at a later date.)

Andre Breton, in his Manifesto of Surrealism 1924* called this automatism or surrealism. "SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern. . . I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak. It is in quest of this surreality that I am going, certain not to find it but too unmindful of my death not to calculate to some slight degree the joys of its possession."

So for Breton and the surrealists, the creative act is achieved through tapping into Surreality (beyond reality) through a type of automatism called surrealism. So for our purposes this would be known as Surrealist Role-playing.

Christopher said, "To be moved by something more than ourselves is how some of us know the act of creation. I don't really see the conflict. It's not a matter of being the character It's a matter of being more than yourself. "
Exactly and I would believe the surrealists would agree with you.

I beleive their is a connection between these points and what Jungian psychologists call synchronicity or acausality, physicists call it acausality, and what Taoists call Tao (the way). I beleive its an acausal principle. Oddly enough, I am trying to create a model of acausality for my RPG which is akin to recreating the Tarot or recreating the I-Ching.

* http://www.tcf.ua.edu/Classes/Jbutler/T340/SurManifesto/ManifestoOfSurrealism.htm
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pete_darby
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2003, 02:47:14 AM »

This is touching on a couple of things in an article I'm preparing for Matt Snyder's e-zine, regarding using Keith Johnstone's Impro as a resource for role playing... as well as some matters arising from SteveD's review of MLwM. Specifically, the thread about people making up stuff for "The Horror Revealed" and being shocked by what they come up with.

Just to be a tease, I'll leave the meat of the article for the e-zine, but one of the main points is to relinquish your fear of what the contents of your mind are: you're not "responsible" for what your mind has lurking in it's forgotten corners, only for what you do with them when they come out.

With that attitude, you find yourself in the position of being as surprised by what comes out of your own head almost as often as what other people come up with. You also find yourself coming out with stuff you don't want to use, and instead of thinking "Jeez, what's wrong with me?", you can respond along the lines of "Hmm... that's odd, what's next?"

Stopping now to scribble the next bit of the article while the boss isn't looking
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Pete Darby
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2003, 04:43:32 AM »

Hi Christopher,

What puzzles me in your post is the insertion of "rational" into the picture.

None of the points that Ralph is making in the parent thread, or that I've made in some of the past threads linked from it, require that the creative processes involved in role-playing be "rational." To the contrary, I contend that these processes operate on a non-verbal level that creates art (or may do so) in the medium of communication.

So, poof - away with the mistaken perception that the phrase "Characters do not exist" advocates doing away with the feeling during play that characters exist. I am 99% sure that this mistaken perception is at the core of the shocked and indignant responses the phrase always generates.

This issue is related to my contention that Narrativist play is widely misunderstood to be some bloodless analytical "h'm, this Premise yields this Theme," puff on pipe, "What do you think, Alphonse?" sort of exercise. Whereas in reality it is marked by passion and what can only be described as creative ferocity. Another related misunderstanding is to mistake "playing in character" as Simulationist.

This may or may not surprise people, but I read Christopher's post as supporting "characters do not exist," not refuting it. I've said over and over, we are not discussing what role-playing feels like but rather what role-playing is.

When I say, "Your character is a function of yourself," I specifically include your capacity for creative potential and unpredictable inspiration that Christopher is talking about.

Best,
Ron
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2003, 09:36:53 AM »

Hi guys,

First, its good to be posting again.  (I've been reading the boards, but busy drawing path maps for zombies on the video game I'm working on, and unable to even think about playing, let alone posting about, RPGs, for a while.)

Ron, if I overstated my concern about things "rational" I apologize.  But this statement (an example) suggests where I split from you, Ralph and Pete in the act of creativity (or, at least, one practice of it): "But whether that idea gets realized in actual play is completely up to the player."

I just disagree.  To my ear Ralph's implying there has to be some sort of "judgement" mechanism that discerns what's coming out and what's not.   I considered that a "rational" quality.  I might be using the wrong word.

My point is that there are methods of creating, especially in the context of performance, where, if you've done you're homework, you're better off just letting it come out "un-judged."  My best acting teacher worked us through weekly improv exercises designed specifically to get us out of our heads when actually performing.  (His exercises were just published as a book, "Book on Acting" by Stephen Book.)

Neil Gaiman says, "Write now, Cringe later."  This is terrific advice for the writer.  The performer has no later.  He's simply got to act now.  Thus, the editing has to have been done when building the "character" into the body of the actor and letting loose in the moment.

That said, I've just realized I've set up a conundrum for myself.  You can't do any damned thing that comes into your head.  (Striking a fellow actor for real, for example, no matter how fierce the impulse.)  So clearly some editing is going on.  But the way I've experienced it is, I know the specific places I'm not allowed to go (actual violence, for example), and all else is fair game.  As long as I don't hit the "red" areas, it's good.

Let me quickly say I've no confusion about Narrativist play and passion, and that wasn't my point at all.  

To all, and Ron pointed this out, the real crux for the post was trying to remove the concern for whether the character "exists."  It just doesn't.  But something else does.

Finally, since Christopher has arrived, I'll be ChristopherK (if no one objects slipping a K onto my name), just for clarity's sake.

Take care,
Christopher
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2003, 09:44:47 AM »

Hi Christopher(K),

It's good to have you posting here again.

It seems to me as if we're on the same page ... but that's probably because we're taking the time to define "up to the player" a little better.

By "up to the player," I take Ralph to mean in any way, shape, or form. Whether he or she plays the character according to "rational thought," or wholly non-constructed intuition, or who knows what, sunspots perhaps, isn't an issue.

But I do see a judgment mechanism at work, in the very grossest sense of the concept. It's the same sort of judgment mechanism at work for any living thing engaged in social communication; I'm not talking about "rational" or "intended" or whatever else. When Susan plays her character Amoraliana the Elven Princess thus and so, as opposed to the multifarious other ways she might have played her, I call that a "decision." Or a "judgment."

And in direct opposition to the concept that Amoraliana exists in some kind of independent fashion, I say that Amoraliana's behavior is up to Susan. Again, all in complete obliviousness of whatever experience Susan might be having in doing so.

As such, I see John Kim's objections to Ralph's points as thoroughgoing red herrings.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2003, 10:36:38 AM »

Quote
My point is that there are methods of creating, especially in the context of performance, where, if you've done you're homework, you're better off just letting it come out "un-judged." My best acting teacher worked us through weekly improv exercises designed specifically to get us out of our heads when actually performing. (His exercises were just published as a book, "Book on Acting" by Stephen Book.)


Sure, but my point would be that this is just a construct you've created, one that through repetition has become habitual and comfortable.  But I imagine that if you polled 1000 actors you'd find many different ways and techniques of accomplishing this.  Point being that what you have is a methodology for making decisions about the character that works.  But you haven't excised yourself from the picture, its still you and all of the subconcious "baggage" that you bring to the role that determines what the character does.

The character is nothing more than a set of inputs that you the player process.  Just being a set of inputs does not IMO mean the character "exists" in any meaningful capacity.  That's what I meant by my "scribblings on a piece of paper" comment.  A character is nothing more than a set of inputs.  Having a process that one uses to transform those inputs to actual performance is great, and not what I'm talking about at all.
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John Kim
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« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2003, 12:20:55 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
The character is nothing more than a set of inputs that you the player process.  Just being a set of inputs does not IMO mean the character "exists" in any meaningful capacity.  That's what I meant by my "scribblings on a piece of paper" comment.  A character is nothing more than a set of inputs.  Having a process that one uses to transform those inputs to actual performance is great, and not what I'm talking about at all.

Aside from terminology, is there any disagreement, then?  No one actually means that the character is embodied in the physical world.  When I say that a character exists, I mean that it exists as a mental construct.  As such, it may have different wants than I do.  

There may be another way to phrase this, but I think this way is clear and understandable.  When I say the villian wants your character dead -- I just mean that NPC wants your character dead, not that I the GM want your character dead.  Is there anything wrong with my saying this?  Sure, the character doesn't physically exist -- but within the fictional reality, that is what it is imagined as wanting.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2003, 12:54:41 PM »

Hi John,

All that makes perfectly good sense.

But let's try a quick thought-experiment ...

Susan plays Amoraliana, Elf-Princess and so forth. During play, Amoraliana slays her own newborn infant with the Dark Vampire Sword, amidst much turmoil and grief. (Let's say there's all manner of dramatic context.)

Does this mean Susan would kill her own child in real life? Horse-puckey.

Does this mean Susan secretly wants to kill her own child in real life? Double horse-puckey.

Does this mean Amoraliana is entirely independent, as an entity, from what Susan "means," or (God forgive me for using this phrase) is "trying to say"? Here's my point: this is horse-puckey too. It is a valid, interesting, and worthwhile question for us as observers, and Susan as a person, to reflect on her own behavior as a player in having Amoraliana perform this act.

During play itself? Speaking for myself, probably not. Some would say, emphatically not; others, maybe they're OK with that sort of reflection interspersed with play. This is a matter of taste.

Best,
Ron
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #9 on: September 09, 2003, 01:32:09 PM »

Hi all,

I fear I’m going to come off as crazy here; or at least sloppy beyond belief, but here goes.

First, this is the thread where we don’t argue about whether or not a character exists as an entity comopletely independent of the player.  That was a vital premise in the first post.  The issue: does the character exist completely independently of the player isn’t up for grabs here.  There’s another thread for that.

That said, I’m as always grateful for all the input. It always makes me think through my assumptions to engage in conversation here at the Forge.

Now: The word I’m getting caught up on is the word “completely” independent from the player.  Because, clearly, the character does not exist completely independent of the player.

Since it’s not even the barest possibility, let’s let it go, shall we?  Since no one seems to be arguing this point of view, let’s let it drop.

But there is this: in my first post I suggest that the imaginative process asks us to be more than ourselves.  I suspect this is where Ralph and I part ways.  Ralph knows that the character is simply a set of inputs, and thus has no independent life of its own at all.

I differ in my understanding of this matter.  Since I lay no claim to knowing where all these inputs come from (sunspots being an option, for example), I’m left wondering on occasion, “Where did that idea come from?”

In other words, when you open yourself to the muses, you sometimes summon unknown inputs from unknowable sources.  (Again, my view.  Others might think differently.  And I would say they are wrong.)

That’s the first part of this discussion.  Where are the inputs coming from?  I suspect that some people think they are from a) the miasma of thought floating in the players mind, b) external, measurable inputs such as other people, a movie the player saw last week and so on.  I would have to add, c) I don’t know where the fuck it comes from, because I’ve been surprised too many times.  I really, truly mean that, and I apologize for the slipperiness of it as we work our way through these early years of the twenty first century.

In my view, the imaginative process summons something up that works independently of choices or thoughts I might have made about how to think things through if I hadn’t begun the process of creating a character in the first place.  So, in Ron’s last example, until I had begun the process of feeling my way through the fictional character’s feelings, the thought of infanticide might never have occurred to me.  By my lights, then, yes, there’s something independent of me out there.  Not “totally” independent, but not wholly me either.

The second part of the discussion is the translation of these inputs (from whatever source), into play.  (And we have to keep these two matter separate, or we’re going to keep getting tangled forever.)  There seems to be some sort of judgment mechanism going on.  But let’s say my judgment parameters are: “The first thought that pops into my head that doesn’t involve physical violence.”  That’s my thought experiment for the gang.  At this point, who’s at the wheel?  Clearly, we need only say, “You Christopher.  You’re the one doing the talking as the character.”  But if we allow the first point of the summoned “other” I say, “Not so fast.”  There is, in my experience, collaboration with this other. I find myself delivering information found through creative empathy.

I know.  It makes no sense.  Yet is it how I’ve experienced my best work in different media.  (And this, too, is why I brought up the word “rational” in my first post.  Not in the context of “emotions” vs. “dry intellect” but, essentially, well, madness and muses.)

Do I believe in a character I’m playing wholly independent of me?  No.  But when I played Harrod Whithersap in a game run by Mike Nystul, I found myself speaking in a manner, thinking in a manner I’d never bumped into before.  Yes, I chose to release it.  But to do otherwise would have been denying an honest impulse that was the only impulse coming from somewhere.

Chrisopher
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2003, 01:46:23 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
Aside from terminology, is there any disagreement, then?  No one actually means that the character is embodied in the physical world.  When I say that a character exists, I mean that it exists as a mental construct.  As such, it may have different wants than I do.  


Ahh, but you see, there's the rub.  Sure, when you ask someone point blank, of course "no one actually means that the character is embodied in the physical world".  To say otherwise would require professional care.

But, when you look at the assumptions people make about what "role playing is", about what playing "in character" means, about what "my character thinks or feels or 'would do'", about the difference between "game mechanics" and "metagame" mechanics  etc etc...

...you find that many people are discussing these things *as if* the character was a real independent entity with thoughts and needs and desires of its own.  

When the reality of the situation is that ultimately there is no such thing "what my character would do".   There is only "what I the player think my character would do"  Whether "think" in this sense is carefully calculated rational thought, or the impulsive improve ChristopherK was referring to, is ultimately irrelevant to the point.

Once you remove the wall of this false dichotomy you can begin to discuss game play, techniques, stances, mechanics, in a much more homogenous manner...which is the reason why I continue to make an effort to knock that wall down.

Its NOT a simple semantic difference.  Its a deeply ingrained, long held, oft repeated assumption that continues to color the way people think about role playing and its high time its revealed for the empty mantra that it is.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #11 on: September 09, 2003, 01:46:50 PM »

IMO, and what I was trying to get at in the other thread - the only thing that is wrong with saying the villain wants your character dead as opposed to I-the-GM-thinking-as-villain want your character dead is IF "the villian wants it" is used to close down options and divert "blame" from the (in this case) GM regarding the consequences of that choice.  "The villian wants it, *I* don't want it" only makes sense to me if it translates to "I can see no way that makes sense in our shared, imagined environment for this villian to operate except for him to seek your death, despite the fact that I don't consider that a good place for play to go from here."  Otherwise, you *are* saying I-as-GM want the villian to seek the characters death - I (the real person) think that's what this imagined construct would do, I (the real person) think this would make the most sense/most interesting situation/best story/whatever.  The way you arrive at that conclusion may be entirely "inspired" - it might not even feel like coming to a conclusion to you.  It may be important that it not feel like coming to a conclusion.  But that's what you're doing.

I consider this an important point because I've seen many game situations where there clearly were MANY ways in which an alternate conclusion could quite reasonably be made, that would have been "better" in the minds of most of the participants, but the "my guy wouldn't" (where my guy can be either another PC or an NPC) was invoked, and that was the end of it.  Remembering that there is no real "my guy" means the possibilities open up, rather than close down, and even if you end up at the same conclusion (due to individual and/or group shared sense of what's right), having alternate possibilities considered seems like a big deal to me.

Maybe it's misplaced paranoia - clearly the mere words "here's how my character responds" don't lead inevitably to a disfunctional My Guy defensiveness.  Old habits die hard, though, and if avoiding a particular language useage helps avoid a common problem (which I think I've seen happen in one game I play in), I'm all in favor of it.

By the same token, saying "here's how I'm gonna have my character respond" doesn't lead to a souless, un-inspired portrayal of a character.  It can/might, though, and I share enough of ChristoperK's experiences to agree that that's sometimes a bad thing.

I guess, another way of saying it - a "received" inspiration (which I assume is basically you talking to yourself, via channels you don't neccessarily fully understand) about a character action should be neither privlidged nor penalized for being received rather than carefully considered.

Hope that makes sense,

Gordon
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2003, 01:49:35 PM »

Quote
Do I believe in a character I’m playing wholly independent of me?  No.  But when I played Harrod Whithersap in a game run by Mike Nystul, I found myself speaking in a manner, thinking in a manner I’d never bumped into before.  Yes, I chose to release it.  But to do otherwise would have been denying an honest impulse that was the only impulse coming from somewhere.


That it came from "somewhere" seems to me irrelevant. It's an imponderable, I think. We as players don't much care if this comes from your subsconscious, last week's movie, or something someone else at the table just suggested you could/should do.

But that it came through you is entirely relevant. This is what "making a decision" is. You make "stuff" in the game happen through you character. You may have no conscious or earthly idea where the idea to do "stuff" came from, but you put it into motion.

Wonderfully, this happens in a communal manner, as Vincent suggested above (EDIT: whoops, Vincent mentiosn this in the "other" thread, Who Cares). Does the character exisit "outside" your understanding of that character? Of course. Everyone has their own mask they see when they perceive your character. Even more interesting to me is that everyone also has their own interpretation of what's going on in the session, especially after the session ends and we all sleep on it.

I submit that this act of interpretation is largely ignored in how people generally understand RPGs. It's a subtle thing. We're not talking about the facts of play, as in "I did X." ... "No, you did Y because you rolled a 12."

Rather, we're talking about things like "I recall Event X in last week's game to be particularly meaningful/insighful/rewarding to me." while the other person might say, "Huh, that's funny, I don't remember that being a big deal, but I sure thought Event Y was pretty important." This process is going on both Right Now, and as folks recall their experience and rewards after-the-fact.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2003, 01:49:39 PM »

Hello,

It may appear that Christopher's and Ralph's latest posts present wholly contradictory outlooks and conclusions.

And to most sophomore philosophy or literature classes, that would be that, and at the end of class, the prof would say, "Go ye forth and suffer in the still dark hours of the night about these and related issues."

However, to me, all is well. Why? Because Christopher still acknowledges that the process of bringing forth the inspiration into artistic form, regardless of its origin, rests with the real, human person.

Best,
Ron
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #14 on: September 09, 2003, 01:55:09 PM »

Hi Ralph,

When you make this statement...

" 'When the reality of the situation is that ultimately there is no such thing "what my character would do'. There is only 'what I the player think my character would do.' "

... is there just the teensiest chance that how you manifest the act of playing a character is different than how other people manifest playing a character? Or are you really, absolutely certain that you really know how everyone else goes about doing this.

I mean, we're talking about the act of sitting around making up people who simply don't exist.  The true nature of the creation might be kind of slippery...

Christopher
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