(continued from the previous post)
R: But the issue is, you get a bunch of people who see that, that's the medium of play is that imaginative context right there that I've just described, and they are also totally into it because of all the teen effects that I've talked about before and now they're convinced - some of them, some of them just blaze over all that reading stuff that had to do with story this and story that, they just want to make badass vampires and kick butt, that's fine - others, you know, they wanna dress up. They love Anne Rice, they wanna dress up like an Anne Rice character and act like an Anne Rice character and that's good too, especially if you can do it at the table then go off and do it at the LARP and maybe get laid that night. Whatever. But the deal is that neither of those are the only things that people would want out of Vampire. Some people reading those texts, of what amazing epic thematically significant stories were going to emerge from all this - and that's high art - they were impressed! And well they should be, if someone promised me something like that, I would jump at it! I get to do that with role-playing? Yea, baby! They sit down, they try to play it and what do they encounter? They never encounter that. They encounter at most story before and story after.
Well, I was a determined teen, I read everything imaginable - RuneQuest and Champions - with this determination of this particular kind of desire. And I read everything you could imagine of those games and many others, trying to cobble together some way to get that "story now" thing going. And occasionally succeeding. There actually are some secondary texts in both games that really are very inspiring and fully of really great instructions for that - and then there's a bunch of other instructions that are about other things.. but, the issue is that the game never told me that it was gonna do that. I was just determined to do it. Here, the game *is* telling you. So what's going to be the perfectly reasonable and rational response - especially if you're looking at people who are effectively the equivalent of young filmmakers and young musicians, and if it doesn't work out the first time, what reasonably and rationally are they going to try to do tomorrow? They're gonna try again. They're gonna try again, harder. They're going to buy into it *more*. And in the case of the White Wolf games, I mean "buy into it more" very literally, because of the extremely cynical supplement model those games were working with especially in the mid nineties.
And at that time, think about people in their teens who are struggling to do this, the more it doesn't work, and the more they find ways of arriving at story in some ways that really aren't all that fun, the harder and harder and harder they're going to glom onto their difficult solutions. Here's one of those difficult solutions: effectively sitting down and talking at one another - not knowing when to roll the dice at all, and that's where you get these anecdotes, the one I'm thinking about is where they spent 45 minutes with a vampire trying to operate a copy machine because they didn't have the skills for it and they were trying to use the dice to have this happen and they were just really frustrated because they didn't even really know when to roll dice and when not to, and so they're saying well we're gonna talk most of the time and then sometimes when we're supposed to we're going to roll these things. And that doesn't work out very well - what's the "sometimes"? When do you roll the dice? There's no reward system to go to, either. There's no way to look and say well, what is my payoff for playing, when are we going to get that epic story? Well, then you have another form of vampire play, which is the highly metaplot based one, which many many many of the supplements do that, and you read the supplements and they effectively just order the players to do this and that. You know. "Then the ghouls attack. After you kill the ghouls..."; this is the old D&D style of supplement making - "when the ghouls attack... after the players have killed them off they'll pursue the leader of the ghouls". It's very locked in, what the players are going to do. And in those groups you get this kind of obedience thing where they all become very very good at sort of opening their mouths like baby birds for the GM to drop in the next thing that they're supposed to do, and then they bust out their combat mechanics and stuff and dutifully fight the ghouls and nobody really seems to worry about whether somebody's going to go down or not because they never do - of course they'll get their asses kicked by the big NPC who comes along and teaches them a lesson once in a while. But that's the other form which is, effectively speaking, the group - or the people in the group who are inclined in that direction - just give up on the "story now" thing. Others take over and find dysfunctional ways, like for example somebody who says "well we are going to have a story here dammit, I'm going to basically emotionally and socially dominate these people until they accept my story!" And you find that - people who all insist about how Stan is the most amazing GM, he makes the best stories.
And so a lot of these things existed before the mid-nineties but I think in the mid-nineties is when we actually see it being demograptically settled into the minds of the people who are determined to find "story now". One of the nice things about the late seventies was the extremely broad array of mismatched game mechanics just scattered across a wide range of games, and the idea being that if the group was into "story now" kind of play, or into highly competitive play, or highly modelling-the-world-around-them play, or an imaginary world, you know, all those things, they could probably excise pieces of a variety of different games and glue other pieces together and come up with a way to play. That kind of house ruling - which was effectively rewriting and making your own game without thinking about it - was pretty common throughout eighties play. And when I think back to all the groups that I knew back in the eighties, most of them actually did pretty well in terms of having a great time. A number of them didn't if they ran into issues of, usually "story before" where somebody dreamed of writing his fantasy novel and then wanted to move all the characters through this fantasy novel but that was relatively rare in comparison. And people who didn't like being shoved around would grab a couple other people and start another group that was more to their tastes.
R: It was in the mid-nineties that I think, a bunch of people were hit at the right time with the right promises, the right subcultural context - and the wrongest possible game to attempt to satisfy it in such a way that they would sieze upon it and insist in their own minds that this *must* deliver, to make it deliver you have to do a whole bunch of things that are effectively not going to work. That sounds contradictory, to make it deliver you're going to do things that don't work, but that's effectively what happens. You get monstrous railroading, you get monstrous flailing about when to use or not use the resolution system, you get incredible social games to try to keep the group together - because if you can't keep the group together, then it's not working, so people will pull all kinds of head games on each other to keep the group together. Why is it specific to "story now"? Because the other itches can get much more easily scratched. You can ignore a bunch of stuff in Vampire and play a fairly highly competitive game and enjoy it. It can be done. It's harder - you've got to really give up on 50% of the stuff in the book to do it, it's harder than it would have been with a lot of the earlier games - but you can do it. But if you try to do that and get rid of a lot of the competitive elements in the game, you know, like in Werewolf for example there's many competitive elements, but you want to do some "story now" Werewolf so you slice out some of those competitive elements but what's left isn't going to work.
And so my claim, is that you get a number of people who are so internally and externally trained to play in a way that is impossible to satisfy. And the reason I call it brain damage is because it's ingrained at that developmental level of these people coming into adulthood.
I: So you're not talking about physicality, then?
P: Is behaviour physiological?
I: Good question.
P: Is behaviour physiological? Do you have hormones, do you have brain impulses, do you have electricity in your head? We do. And the way that those turn into what we call personality is through experience - that's a physiological process. If a person has undergone a serious trauma - say as a pre-teen - and their ability to cope with later situations that remind them of that trauma, or may not even be exactly the same trauma but they've got it so ingrained in them that they'll react to it as though it is - is that or is that not damage to that person? Did not the person who inflicted the trauma on that pre-teen cause damage?
I: Right... What I'm stumbling on, I guess is that, probably this would lead off to a debate that I'm not sure I'm ready to get into because that would take away from everywhere else that I'd like to go, but, um.. I think that you're completely right that all those things exist, and I also think there's a function of us - I think it's multi-level, multi-layered, and so I understand what you're saying that there's a level where the behaviour actually would make .. it does have some kind of thing..
R: Let me make it a little clearer. I wouldn't call it "damage" if we was talking about people who were experiencing all these phenomena I'm talking about at 25. Because that's when, I mean there are other things going on for the person but, on the average, people at the ages I'm talking about are putting together the kind of adults they're going to be.
I: Ok, let me try this again.. what's tripping me up, personally, if you take a stake and drive it in a guy's head that's obviously brain damage, I understand that, that's physical. If you were to jump across the table and grab me by the throat, and then I'm afraid to get near your house again or something, I understand there's some kind of basis there but that's what tripping me up - I personally don't see that as physical and that's why I'm having a hard time following.
R: I understand that. That's why we should probably focus on what I keep mentioning, which is the business of the teen mind developing into the adult mind.
I: Aahhh! That makes it more clear, because the brain isn't fully developed?
R: Right. Well, whether it's ever *fully* fully developed is one thing, it is continually added to, but there are definate windows and steps and things that will occur between the pre-teen phase and the earlier twenties that have a lot to do with what we might call values, habits, standards of behaviour and expectations.
I: Now, that is absolutely perfectly clear to me what you're saying now.
R: So with that in mind, we're ending up then with folks who in many cases are extremely obsessively hanging on to their loyalty to this particular game and/or games like it, or the standards of play that it represents, which of course are now widely imitated by many many others, and there they are trying to make this "story now" stuff. You see, everything I'm talking about has absolutely nothing to do with people with other priorities. The game may have served them well, it may have served them badly depending on how they used it, but they probably went on to something else if they didn't like it.
I: Right, I totally played the hell out of that game in the nineties and went on to other stuff.
R: Sure, and I'm not sure what particular kind of rewards and fun and standards of what you wanted you brought to it, but whatever it may be, when you realised that it wasn't really delivering on it you moved on. Or maybe it *did* deliver and you were done. I don't know.
I: It would probably be that, different stories.. different genres, different everything, right. Because I played the hell out of it.
R: What did you get out of it? What was fun?
I: For me I'm big into immersive play so a lot of the times we just ignored a lot of it and socially resolved things without a system.
R: Right, do you want my jargon for what you just described?
I: Go, jargon away.
R: Extremely strong character exploration. And if it didn't necessarily generate "story now" in the long run or the short run or either way, and if that wasn't really an issue, you just got to be, you know, Vlad..
I: Sometimes that's totally what I would be going for, right.
R: Then it would deliver. You would have to excise a good - I'm going to estimate based on my memory of first edition.
I: Probably a good 80-90% of it.
R: I was going to say actually 70, but you're probably right with the experience but a hell of a lot of the book has to get junked. You just read the cover text at the beginning and that's pretty much all you did.
I: Everything on it was just a guide, I mean, Humanity's just a guide, right..
R: Well, it depends. Is it just a guide or did you ignore it?
I: We used it for the roleplaying, so it wasa guide, but..
R: But as a mechanic it wasn't really a powerful thing?
I: It wasn't enforced, so I guess if you felt it was appropriate for it to go down then that's what would happen.
R: Now what I'm stating in this example is that with what you've just described, I wouldn't characterise your experience of the game of Vampire as anything like what I'm describing. I'm saying there's who knows how many people who came to Vampire, scratched their itch or didn't scratch their itch and either way we're done or either way continue playing, whatever.
I: No, I totally did get in games like what you're talking about and I didn't stick with those.
R: Right. Now the people who stuck with them were the ones who wanted the "story now" and were convinced that this was supposed to deliver.
R: And that would generate now, habits of play, habits of the sociality of play, and shall we say a protectivness over what they were doing. These groups often tend to become very private, they tend to become very very oriented toward "our special group because we make stories". And they also have tendancy to, well, display a whole lot of social fragmentation that no-one ever really wants to talk about. In many groups of this kind when I talk to people, or people with this play history, they'll talk all about their GM Stan or whatever and you kinda say "so what.. how did Stan get this going? How did you all get this going while, you know, Henry was running the game?" And they talk for a little while, and they say "well, you know, things didn't really work out" and a few sentence fragment and then they say "well, then Stan started doing *this*" and there was no transition, their transition's very incoherent, they don't talk about how there was this enormous power struggle between Stan and Henry in terms of whose story was actually going to rule. Stan was a player in the game who was really pissed off that he didn't get the story he wanted out of Henry's games and he basically pulled a coup.
(the podcast continue for more than 1 hour after this, but the transcript stop here)