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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: GB Steve on November 30, 2004, 03:10:27 AM



Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: GB Steve on November 30, 2004, 03:10:27 AM
M. John Harrison's postion on roleplaying (http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/show.html?ey,viriconium,1), is that:
Quote
"What would it be really like to live in the world of .... ?" is an inappropriate question, a category error. You understand this immediately you ask it of the inscape of, say, Samuel Beckett or Wyndham Lewis. I didn't want it asked (and I certainly didn't want it answered) of Viriconium, so I made that world increasingly shifting and complex.


Mind you, he does know that I have run a Viriconium game, although he's not happy with the idea. But then it really depends on what kind of game you're after.

I think there are issues here as to what the creative agenda is. Not all games have one, but that's not to say that they can't. And for those that do, they aren't necessarily asking MJH's question. The game world might just be somewhere that facilitates the answering of some other question, much as how it is with literature.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: TonyLB on November 30, 2004, 04:47:22 AM
Okay... thanks for the information.

Do you have a question for anyone to discuss?  Because as it stands, this quote really only lends itself to people trying to support or (more likely)refute it.  And I'm pretty sure we've been over that ground (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=13331) before.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: GB Steve on November 30, 2004, 05:30:42 AM
I'm not quite sure what you mean. MJH is an author (Viriconium, Light, various Jerry Cornelius stories...) whose position is stated in the article. I found it interesting that an author would speak out so strongly against the roleplaying of fiction and thought others might be interested.

I've talked to MJH a bit about his position and when he found out that I'd roleplayed in Viriconium he said that he'd tried to write it in such a way that this would not be possible.

Do you think that, given this, writers and roleplayers can never have the same creative agenda? I don't. But then I'm also not sure about what it is that roleplaying creates. Is it too ephemeral to stand against literature as an act of creation? Is it too disjointed for it's creation to be understood, in any common way by anyone, even those who did the creating? I think there are lots of interesting things worth discussing here.









*There is, incidentally, an old article  (http://ptgptb.org/0011/gf.html)on PTGPTB that denies gameable fiction, but from a roleplayers point of view. I don't agree with that either.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 30, 2004, 05:37:40 AM
Hello,

Well, hold on here. I think Steve's bringing up an issue that we'd do well to reflect on, although I also think it's too sprawling and painful to resolve in one thread, or in a brief span of time.

I've spent a lot of time with comics professionals and filmmakers, and a bit of time, not a lot, with professional novelists. Aside from a core group of "gamer authors," they are unanimous in their contempt for role-playing, most especially those who've experienced it.

I think there are two factors to consider, both of which are completely absent from any "how to reach the mainstream" discussions I've seen outside the Forge.

1. Any new art form requires decades to be recognized at all, and then more decades to be recognized as more than just a cobbled-together bastard of other art forms.

Many years ago, I took a film theory class with a really key, central dude in the field. His take on "story" fascinated me, and his discussion of techniques and how they related to themes made a lot of sense, or at least enabled me to piece together some thoughts about it. I also recognized that comics had actually solved some of the problems he considered insurmountable or historically unsolved by film.

When I brought this up to him, he instantly dismissed the topic - because comics were "just comics" and had nothing to do with real stories or artistic expression, beyond mere technical proficiency. I just blinked at him, because the first week of class had been devoted to the short-sighted dismissal of film by theater and literature communities in almost exactly the same language.

On a related note, I also think that what we call "role-playing" today does not actually map 1:1 to the phenomenon of the new, developing art form. But that's for another thread one day.

2. By definition, most fiction writers are oriented toward what, in role-playing, I call Narrativism. Since combinations of techniques which overtly facilitate Narrativism are historically rare in rules-sets, and since historically Narrativist play is often halting and closeted, I can see why they would recoil in horror from Simulationist play - especially the "story oriented" kind. Writers see this sort of play as their worst nightmare: fans scribbling fanfic and gleefully proffering it up as "real writing." The more effort and care that's put into it, the more horrifying it appears.

Frankly, I share that reaction with them. It's been a long hard road for me to accept that Simulationist approaches to what I call a story are anything but a debased form of imitative fandom. I still squint very sharply at the Social Contract in which such play is embedded. As many of you know, I consider the basic Social Contract of much "traditional gaming" to be nothing less than pathological, and a lot of the play that goes on within such situations happens to be Simulationist. (I now recognize that the reverse does not hold, that Sim play does occur in more functional and fun contexts.)

I strongly recommend, to anyone, to read Karla Speed MacNeil's Dream Sequence, which is part of her comic series Finder. It absolutely, perfectly, and clearly captures the conflict (and utter incompatibility) between Simulationist and Narrativist priorities, especially as it pertains to the professional and social role of creating stories. It will not surprise anyone that I identify very strongly with the Monster character.

It would also be interesting to examine the case study of Thieves' World, which was initiated by younger authors with a history of role-playing, but included a number of older and well-established authors. The rough seams among the creative products of the series, and the very clear problems with "the story" are illustrative to the plight of the role-player who wants to "make story." It is doubly illustrative to consider that many of the series' bumpy or openly broken features were solved in the comics, which seems very much to me like the retroactive "wow that story was cool" perception which gamers develop of their bumpy, broken play-experiences via selective memory.

Best,
Ron


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: GB Steve on November 30, 2004, 05:58:21 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
It would also be interesting to examine the case study of Thieves' World, which was initiated by younger authors with a history of role-playing, but included a number of older and well-established authors.
Thieves' World is a favourite of mine. It's interesting to note that MJH was part of the New Worlds crowd who, along with Michael Morcook, had a similar project of collective creation with Jerry Cornelius.

Even if MJH was writing on his own, he would still have been aware of the creations of the other authors and would have to take a stance against them. From reviews of the JC stories (I've not read many of them), it's also clear that some work and some don't. The project did not deliver the smoothness that you might associate with a single work from a single author.

I think many of the issues about gameable fiction are really about ownership. JK Rowling does not want a Harry Potter rpg because she doesn't want to relinquish control of the character. Jasper Fforde says the same thing about Thursday Next (from The Eyre Affair (http://www.jasperfforde.com/)). And, of course, roleplayers don't like to lose control of their PCs.

It's a complex situation.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: contracycle on November 30, 2004, 06:17:03 AM
I don;t see any problem responding to this.

I can sort of see the point MJH makes, in that any attempt to make a game of something as ostentatiously allegorical as the Pilgtims Progress would be a bit silly, with 'geography' like the Slough of Despond.  The only purpose such a game sould serve is much the same as the book, the delivery of that allegory.

What I think MJH is missing is the "monkey see, monkey do" effect.  I always remember the kids pouring out of the cinema I used to frequenct as a child, smacking each other with sticks after Star Wars and launching flying kicks after Enter The Dragon.

Does anyone know if LOTR's first imprint included the map of middle earth?  That would IMO rather undermine MJH's idea that the place was not meant to be thought of as real.  While Tolkiens wolrd is definitely "mythic" in a sense I'm not sure it is not rather seen from the inside by the characters, and the sense of wonder on the part of the reader at the "sights" revealed is not accidental.

It may be true that viriconium - which I know nothing about - was not conceieved as a "real" place but I still feel the argument is rather over-extended; it may be true for some books, it may be true foir this book, but whether it is true for all books seeoms open to doubt.

I have just (last night) finished Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds.  I enjoyed it greatly, and while described as space opera nothing about it strikes me as being allegorical in any sense.  I can't see MJH's argument applying universally.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: TonyLB on November 30, 2004, 07:23:24 AM
Cool!  Questions!  Much easier for me to get my mind wrapped around the direction of the thread now.  Thank you very much for humoring me.
Quote
Do you think that, given this, writers and roleplayers can never have the same creative agenda?

Hrm... this seemed to have an obvious answer when I started writing, but the more I wrote the more I questioned.

There's an issue there about the distinction between deliberately trained authors and amateurs... and, I think, between deliberately trained roleplayers and amateurs.

Any artist (including, for the sake of discussion, a roleplayer) who has studied the structure and theory of his medium approaches it in a very different way than does someone who has not undertaken the same study.

More, an amateur writer often lacks the mental tools to perceive that the difference between their work and the work of a professional is more than a matter of word choice and imagery.  Without a grounding in elements of... ah, heck, I'm not a writer, this will be embarassing... pacing, plot tension, thematic address and so on the amateur cannot bring the structure underlying quality work into focus in their minds eye.

That sounds horribly elitist, but I think it may be an inevitable truth:  People study and practice so that they will get better.  That's the whole point.  It should not be surprising if they achieve something through that study which amateurs cannot reproduce without much the same effort.

So, amateur writers and roleplayers can have the same creative agenda.  That's a truism.  I can't tell you how many roleplayers I've seen who considered it "writing by other means".

But, can deliberate, studied writers and deliberate, studied roleplayers have the same creative agenda?  Possibly not.  They're different art forms.  It is hard to imagine, for instance, a writer saying that they were attempting to portray the same creative vision as the work of a sculptor.  And in many ways writing and sculpture are much closer than writing and roleplaying.  They are both author-intensive, uni-directional works, perceived but not participated in by the audience.

I agree with Ron that a story-oriented writer and a Simulationist roleplayer (whether deliberate or accidental) are never going to be on the same page.  But I begin to seriously doubt, in my mind, whether a story-oriented writer and a deliberate, Narrativist roleplayer can be pursuing the same Creative Agenda either.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on November 30, 2004, 07:45:47 AM
A few things strike me as odd here.

First, is my tired old reference to Yogi Berra: "If people arent' going to come to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?"

That is, why does an author even bother to make his creation unassailable as Harrison suggests here? Who the hell is going to stop anyone from asking that question? Not Harrison. Just ask GB Steve! That smacks of ridiculous, paranoid ownership. If a writer has such misgivings about anyone exploring "his" world, why the hell bother publishing it in the first place? Crazy. Get over yourself, already!

Second, I really have to support what Ron is saying here. I do think that many, many hobbyists have a poor understanding of what a good story is all about. I say that paradoxically. I have studied literature seriously, and I love literature. I also have played role-playing games, and have a fondness for them. In my opinion, the latter harms the former. I have a poorer grasp on analyzing and creating stories of the kind that might be literature because of my excited attempts at dazzling my mind's eye with lasersharking and other geekery.

I think Ron has demonstrated many, many times a very keen understanding of literature and story. And, I think he's dead on here. People "outside" this hobby have every reason to observe some role-playing phenomenon and walk away with a foul taste in their mouths. I don't blame them, really.

But, I have this little fantasy where I believe that the hobby is changing now, and for the better. I have the idea that games emerging over the last five years or so might one day be remembered fondly as the "New Worlds" crew of this thing called role-playing.

Am I right? Who knows. Maybe we'll never have the critical mass to make that matter. But I like to think that the emphasis on creating worthwhile stories in role-playing (with games like, say, My Life With Master) will change the stodgy attitude of writers ... and -- better yet -- people in general.


Quote
I agree with Ron that a story-oriented writer and a Simulationist roleplayer (whether deliberate or accidental) are never going to be on the same page. But I begin to seriously doubt, in my mind, whether a story-oriented writer and a deliberate, Narrativist roleplayer can be pursuing the same Creative Agenda either.


Ooh! Third thought before I sumbit:

This reminds me of another way I like to think about gaming and writing, though I'm sure I'm not the first. I use a favorite analogy: Writing is like song writing. Gaming is like jazz.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Valamir on November 30, 2004, 08:38:01 AM
Quote
But I begin to seriously doubt, in my mind, whether a story-oriented writer and a deliberate, Narrativist roleplayer can be pursuing the same Creative Agenda either.


I disagree.  In fact, I'd say the only significant difference (other than the medium of the output) in the process of the writer and the Narrativist roleplayer is that the writer is roleplaying Solataire while the roleplayer is relying on the collective input of the other players.

The same awareness of how a characters words and actions ripple throughout the setting and effect other characters is required.  And the same judgement as to whether any particular set of ripples is desireable or not is required.  Both the writer and the narrativist player will have a character perform an action in large part because of the statement that is made by having that character perform that action at that time in that circumstance.

I could be wrong, but I have trouble envisioning any quality writer asking "what would the character do next" and feeling obligated to abide by it.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: lumpley on November 30, 2004, 08:50:19 AM
"A category error" exactly. I'm so happy to read that!

His rejection of roleplaying is the same as mine. We need to abandon other peoples' creations. We need to stop it with the roleplaying "in" Middle Earth nonsense. More, we need to hold our own creations to the same high standard Harrison holds his: it's not a real place, they aren't real people. They're made of words. They illustrate what we mean.

-Vincent


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: ethan_greer on November 30, 2004, 09:11:35 AM
For me, writing fiction and roleplaying are completely and fundamentally different activities. Writing is building a road. Roleplaying is driving a car. Tangentially the two are related, but they're totally different.

The activity of Roleplaying and that of writing fiction can certainly interact; each can be canniballized to provide a flawed version of the other. But, as Vincent has pointed out, why would you want that?

I'm with Matt, though - getting bunged up about people role-playing your fictional creation is pretty pointless. People will do what they want, and you can't stop them. You said what you had to say. Let it go.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: MR. Analytical on November 30, 2004, 09:38:07 AM
Well let's also bear in mind that 'literature' also looks down its nose at science fiction.  Even people like Atwood who actually write science fiction.  So as such I don't feel that gaming is as much a persecuted activity as it is lower down the litgeek hierarchy and shit always flows downwards.  Mainstream writers dump on scifi writers, scifi writers dump on us, we dump on people who write for videogames.  *shrug* c'est la vie.


I'd also like to AOL a "me too" on Lumpley's point and say that one of the most annoying things as far as my concerned is attempts by one medium to look like another.  Videogames try to look like films and RPGs try to look like action movies, scifi novels, types of film and lots of other things.  What's wrong with RPGing looking like RPGing and having its own tropes, its own aesthetics and its own creative priorities?

I actually think that the whole "old school" phenomenon that's been around since the late 90's is a nacent form of this.  People are trying to strip away a lot of the newer ideas and get back to REAL roleplaying.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Alan on November 30, 2004, 09:38:21 AM
Quote from: ethan_greer
For me, writing fiction and roleplaying are completely and fundamentally different activities. Writing is building a road. Roleplaying is driving a car. Tangentially the two are related, but they're totally different.


I held this opinion until a few years ago, when the only RPG theory I knew was heavily GM-directed.  Now, with exposure to the new wave of games, I've come to a realization.  What happens in the process of a co-authored rpg session parallels or recapitulates my own unfolding process of composing a story in written fiction.  It's as if the different players are different aspects of my own creative impulse.  Writing fiction has became easier as I accept that it's a dynamic process which I can't plan completely from word one.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: TonyLB on November 30, 2004, 09:39:03 AM
Ralph, I completely agree with your statement, except the part where you say that it contradicts mine.  Heh.

The important (IHMO) difference between the story-telling tradition (from which writing is largely, but not totally, derived) and roleplaying is that story-telling is solitaire and in roleplaying everyone participates.

That means your output and goals are completely different.  Storytellers aims to create in others the experience of hearing a good story.  Roleplayers aim to create in others the experience of telling a good story.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: joshua neff on November 30, 2004, 10:13:45 AM
Quote from: MR. Analytical
What's wrong with RPGing looking like RPGing and having its own tropes, its own aesthetics and its own creative priorities?


Well, again, this is a very young artform. A lot of filmmakers have attempted to film a movie as if it were theater, rather than taking advantage of the fact that they were working with film. Early live TV was like this, too. Hell, most sitcoms are still like this, with actors acting "towards the back of the theater" and everything being staged towards "the fourth wall."

Quote from: MR. Analytical
I actually think that the whole "old school" phenomenon that's been around since the late 90's is a nacent form of this.  People are trying to strip away a lot of the newer ideas and get back to REAL roleplaying.


I think this is exactly right. And it will be interesting to see where gaming goes in the future.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: simon_hibbs on November 30, 2004, 10:17:16 AM
This thread reminds me of something a friend of mine said a few days ago. he's running an SF game, and aferwards he was telling me about how liberatign it is to run a game in a game world entirely of his own devising. Ok it's got a lot of loan stuff from other game worlds, but he's got his own ideas about how everything should fit together. Too often RPGers stick with established game worlds and rules simply because they're there and it's easy, rather than because they actualy serve any useful purpose "in this game we're playing right now".

When a novelist sits down to write a new story, it's standard practice for them to start from scratch with new characters, new settings and new story elements. Sure some writers develop ongoing sagas and consistent worlds from one book to the next, but actualy this mode is the exception rather than the rule.

The Forge is all about breaking out of the rut of playing the same old games the same old ways over and over, and I think that's what keeps bringing me back here.  I think it's contributing enormously to the maturation of the Roleplaying hoby in this regard.

Another idea that struck me reading this thread is that RPG writing is much more like playwriting than novel writing. Plays are inevitably interpreted and developed by the director and the cast, who have considerable creative input. The closest comparison with RPGs is probably scenario writing, but I think the analogy hold pretty well for game writing as well.

Simon Hibbs


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: John Kim on November 30, 2004, 10:38:30 AM
Quote from: lumpley
 His rejection of roleplaying is the same as mine. We need to abandon other peoples' creations. We need to stop it with the roleplaying "in" Middle Earth nonsense. More, we need to hold our own creations to the same high standard Harrison holds his: it's not a real place, they aren't real people. They're made of words. They illustrate what we mean.  

Well, I reject these delusions of originality and ownership.  "Your" creations are not your own, nor should you despise others for taking "your" creations and doing something new with them.  If you don't want other people to steal your creations, don't publish them.  I do roleplay in Middle Earth (as well as the Buffyverse, Star Trek, and other settings), and I actually agree with M. John's assessment:
Quote from: M. John Harrison
The moment you concern yourself with the economic geography of pseudo-feudal societies, with the real way to use swords, with the politics of courts, you have diluted the poetic power of Tolkien's images. You have brought them under control. You have tamed, colonised and put your own cultural mark on them.

That's damn straight.  I'm putting my own cultural mark on what I do.  And when I publish my interpretation or analysis of Tolkien, my fan fiction, and/or my role-playing game logs -- I am screwing with the purity of that vision.  Tolkien's original words are still there, but now my mark is out there as well.  And I consider that a good thing.  I call that dialogue.  

As for economic geography and the politics of court, I call that imagination.  Maybe some people are content to just let words wash over them and never think about the words as anything more than words.  Not me.  I think about what I read, and I will imagine in my mind parts which aren't literally there in the words.  So I will consider economics and politics and religion and more.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 30, 2004, 10:39:19 AM
Quote from: Valamir

In fact, I'd say the only significant difference (other than the medium of the output) in the process of the writer and the Narrativist roleplayer is that the writer is roleplaying Solataire while the roleplayer is relying on the collective input of the other players.


BL>  This is untrue.  Writing and gaming are wildly different processes.  Indeed, writing is a unique process which every writer approaches differently.  That said, there may be contained within the world a single writer (or even a handful) who approach writing like you approach Narrativist play.  But I seriously doubt it.

I state this as the product of some experience, not only being a writer, but knowing a great many writers and having gamed with them.

yrs--
--Ben

P.S.  Myself, I would relate RPG play of any sort more to fortune telling than to writing.  The creation of meaning from external input and all.

P.P.S. Also, I agree with Vincent.  We need to start valuing our own creations more.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: lumpley on November 30, 2004, 11:38:21 AM
John: Did you really read me to be defending Harrison's property rights? Because I'm not.

I'm saying: you can regurgitate Tolkein's answers to Tolkein's questions, or you can abandon Middle Earth. If you have anything worthwhile to say, you'll have to do the latter in order to say it.

I'd say the same to someone wondering whether to write fiction or fanfic.

-Vincent


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: John Kim on November 30, 2004, 12:06:30 PM
Quote from: lumpley
I'm saying: you can regurgitate Tolkein's answers to Tolkein's questions, or you can abandon Middle Earth. If you have anything worthwhile to say, you'll have to do the latter in order to say it.

I'd say the same to someone wondering whether to write fiction or fanfic.

And I flatly disagree with that.  

I'm not even sure I understand your position.  Are you saying that the Lord of the Rings is nothing but a regurgitation of the questions and answers which are in the Hobbit?  If not, then how can you say that any other story set in Middle Earth is necessarily a regurgitation of the questions and answers which are in the Lord of the Rings?  

It seems patently obvious to me that a shared world between two stories doesn't imply regurgitated content.  Heck, by that notion, all stories set in the real world are regurgitations of each other.  It just doesn't make sense.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: lumpley on November 30, 2004, 12:15:38 PM
I'm saying that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings variously transcend and reject one another.

Which Middle Earth do you play in, The Hobbit's or The Lord of the Ring's? Neither, of course - you play in your own game's.

You gotta remember that there's no there, there. So then why do you need the baggage?

-Vincent


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: ethan_greer on November 30, 2004, 12:18:03 PM
Vincent's talking about theme, not content overall.

I think the rubber hits the road somewhere between Vincent's and John's stated viewpoints. I think meaningful stuff can happen in roleplaying that is set in, for the sake of the ongoing example, Middle Earth. That is to say, stuff that Tolkein didn't say, and didn't envision. On the other hand, I don't think that's real likely to be the case - I think the majority of Middle Earth role-playing and fan fic (or Star Trek, or Star Wars, etc.) is pretty pointlessly derivative. That doesn't mean it's not fun.

Edit to note that I cross-posted with Vincent.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Sean on November 30, 2004, 12:24:06 PM
It's funny - when I was reading Harrison's article, I thought this: "I see what he's saying, but he doesn't get it. The phenomena he's describing make Viriconium exactly the right sort of world to roleplay in, because it's not all already decided for you."

I mean, I have on certain occasions been guilty of liking Middle Earth, but I never even remotely considered roleplaying in it. Tolkien made his statement about power with those characters and that world already - we're going to muck about with a few leftover dwarves in the fourth age? Now, I know that e.g. Jay and his crew see something in ME I don't, and it's possible that someone steeped enough in a Tolkien-like worldview could find cornices of the edifice to sculpt out. But that's not me.

On the other hand, a shifting, polyvalent world with a general philosophical statement and color and the possibility for endless iteration - that's where I would want to roleplay, if I was taking setting from elsewhere. You could still do something with Viriconium because of the author's self-conscious choice to keep the thing alive.

Undoubtedly there are serious logical flaws in the preceding paragraphs - I have no illusions that I'm doing much besides recording my feelings here. Still, the structure of those feelings may have some trans-subjective relevance, even if attitudes towards different source materials and their possibilities may vary. John Kim brings up a responsible counter-position, treating the art object itself as a token in a dialogue rather than as a self-sufficient object. Taking that up seriously would require doing philosophy of art though, so I'll demur.

Footnote 1: In thinking I saw what Harrison was saying, I thought I saw sim assumptions about roleplaying conflicting with ongoing-wrestling-with-material assumptions about fiction writing.

Footnote 2: Whatever its false assumptions about roleplaying, Harrison's essay is a useful corrective to Poul Andersen's "On Thud and Blunder", which is wrong in its main thesis.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Valamir on November 30, 2004, 12:26:03 PM
Quote from: Ben Lehman

BL>  This is untrue.  Writing and gaming are wildly different processes.  Indeed, writing is a unique process which every writer approaches differently.  That said, there may be contained within the world a single writer (or even a handful) who approach writing like you approach Narrativist play.  But I seriously doubt it.

I state this as the product of some experience, not only being a writer, but knowing a great many writers and having gamed with them.


This portion of the conversation was in relation to the idea of having compatable Creative Agendas.  Clearly there are as many different approaches to writing as there are approaches to a Creative Agenda.

The issue I was discussing is whether the literary author shares a kinship with the Narrativist agenda.  I believe they do.  The same issues that a writer wrestles with regarding the statement he is trying to make with the story and how the actions of the characters in that story reflect that statement are the same issues that a Narrativist wrestles with.  

That is to say, they both understand and embrace the desire / need to address premise.

The assumptions of what purpose a character serves in the story, the desire to engineer the situation to climax at a dramatic moment where that premise is at a crisis point are common to both the literary writer and the narrativist.

Ron noted above that many writers find role playing abhorrent.  His point (which I agree with) is that this is because most likely the roleplaying they've encountered is "Simulationist" in nature, and the needs / desires / and motivations of what makes for a good sim game  are completely alien to writers used to crafting literature.  The devotion to verisimilitude common across most Sim play has far more in common with fan fic than actual writing.

What I was pointing out is that these authors (if they could be convinced to give it an honest second look) would likely find Narrativist roleplaying to be much more familiar, and something they would be much more likely to appreciate as an endeavor.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 30, 2004, 04:50:12 PM
Quote from: Ben Lehman

BL>  This is untrue.  Writing and gaming are wildly different processes.  Indeed, writing is a unique process which every writer approaches differently.  That said, there may be contained within the world a single writer (or even a handful) who approach writing like you approach Narrativist play.  But I seriously doubt it.

I state this as the product of some experience, not only being a writer, but knowing a great many writers and having gamed with them.



Quote from: Valamir

The issue I was discussing is whether the literary author shares a kinship with the Narrativist agenda.  I believe they do.  The same issues that a writer wrestles with regarding the statement he is trying to make with the story and how the actions of the characters in that story reflect that statement are the same issues that a Narrativist wrestles with.  

That is to say, they both understand and embrace the desire / need to address premise.


BL>  I think if you talk to most writers, you will find that their concerns are much more prosaic than "what grand point am I trying to make?"  Most of the authors I know are much more concerned with "How can I make enough words today?  Were there really Irish fishermen off Vinland in the 1300s?  If not, can I fake it?  How do I tie together these two plot threads?  I had this plan that these two people were going to fall in love, but they haven't even met and it's already Chapter 6.  What is that word that starts starts with c and means 'to falsely consider identical?'"  These things can be brushed over in gaming, because the goal of gaming is not to produce a refined product for consumption by others.  They cannot be brushed over in writing.

Can you agree that writing and gaming are, at their heart, fundamentally different arts, and that comparing the two is roughly like comparing, say, gaming and ballet choreography?

Quote

Ron noted above that many writers find role playing abhorrent.  His point (which I agree with) is that this is because most likely the roleplaying they've encountered is "Simulationist" in nature, and the needs / desires / and motivations of what makes for a good sim game  are completely alien to writers used to crafting literature.  The devotion to verisimilitude common across most Sim play has far more in common with fan fic than actual writing.

What I was pointing out is that these authors (if they could be convinced to give it an honest second look) would likely find Narrativist roleplaying to be much more familiar, and something they would be much more likely to appreciate as an endeavor.


BL>  Well, let me talk about my experiences with writers and their contact with role-playing games.  They fall into roughly five types:

1) Writers who also game.

2) Writers who say "That was a lot of fun, but I can't keep playing that, because it'll suck up all my writing time."

3a) Writers who have Prima Donna or Typhoid Mary tendencies and, realizing that gaming is collaborative, have to supress them, and thus don't enjoy themselves.  To these people, it seems like gaming is a lot of extra effort to do something that you could do better alone with a typewriter.

3b) Writers who are like the above, but not polite about it, and run roughshod over everyone else.  The reaction is the same "what a complicated way to do what I already do."

4) Writers who see gaming is just a totally different thing, and not a thing they do.

5) Writers who see gaming as part of the "deplorable cultus" aspect of F/SF, associated with fanfic, cosplay, and stalkers.  Writers in this group have most often never played an RPG, and only have vague ideas what it is like.

I'd like to note that these are pretty much seperate from the CA of the game being played.  Nothing in the writerly consciousness seems to uniquely dispose them to Narrativist play.  Tom Clancy is a wargamer.  Mark Oakley, author of one of the greatest fantasy comics ever, plays D&D dungeon crawls.

Saying that "they just haven't gamed my way, if they gamed my way they'd like it" about a blanket group of people strikes me as deeply misguided.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: M. J. Young on November 30, 2004, 05:45:29 PM
Clearly writing and role playing have similarities and differences. I think we've discussed those before, but perhaps it's worth discussing again--on a different thread.

Given that narrativism owes a good part of its conception to Egri, who is discussing how to create good story in writing drama, which is in turn a particular form of fiction, it's pretty evident that the creative agendum of some role players is at least closely analogous to that of some writers. Whether the creative process itself is similar is very much dependent on individual approaches.

Focusing back to the initial topic, however, I think that Harrison's statement reflects something of a concept of ownership that some writers have in relation to their intellectual property and others do not. Agatha Christie so wished to prevent others from "spoiling" her detective Hercule Poirot that she wrote his last case, Curtain, and kept it put away with instructions that it was to be published when she died, so that Poirot would die with her. Arthur Conan Doyle, on the other hand, invited anyone to do anything they wished with Sherlock Holmes (whom he detested), answering one American playwright who wished to have him marry in a particular play, "Marry him, murder him, do anything you like with him."

Sometimes we create worlds, or places, or characters, or objects which we feel we know so intimately that we could not possibly express everything we know about them. Were someone else to do something with our idea, they would almost certainly get it wrong. As a writer of role playing game materials, one of the toughest things I had to accept was that other people, people I didn't know and probably would never meet, were going to take these things and do things with them which would be completely unlike anything I intended or expected. The temptation is to try to give them more information, to try to create in such detail that they are locked in to your vision. The better answer is to provide a sufficient framework and feeling that those others might be able to build on what you've done in unexpected but exciting ways.

People who just write fiction don't have that in view. We write to tell the story we are telling, and in doing so we create the world to suit the story. We usually attempt to create the impression that there is an entire universe out beyond the bounds of the story we tell, but the details of that universe may be sketchy. We might know what's out there, or we might not. Either way, there's a significant degree to which the world we created exists to tell our story, and it's a bit jarring in some ways when someone tries to tell another story in it. I know. I've taken worlds I've created in books and used them as the basis for play, just as I have done with the books by others. The odd thing is that when I use someone else's story I have no trouble letting the player craft his own story within the framework of the major events and places I've extracted, but when I use my own story it is much more difficult for me to go with the flow, to let them write a story that is different from the one I wrote, even though that's what I intend. The idea that someone else could tell a better story than mine in my world is a sticking point. I have to accept that it's fine for them to tell an inferior story; that's easier in a lot of ways than trying to persuade myself that their improvised story might be better than my crafted one.

So I suspect that there's this conflict in the author's mind, in which he sees the world and the story as intimately intertwined to the point that a different story would ruin the world.

--M. J. Young


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: daMoose_Neo on November 30, 2004, 05:52:32 PM
Quote from: Valamir
I could be wrong, but I have trouble envisioning any quality writer asking "what would the character do next" and feeling obligated to abide by it.


Maybe I'm taking something out of context, I dunno, but I really have to disagree with this.
I'm not a 'professional' writer, but I've been writing for ages, reading for ages, and most of my education in HS and College has been of the literary or english/writing variety and I can't sit at the keyboard unless I can wrap myself around a character and get inside their head.

Final Twilight's stories I consider to be the backbone of it. Maybe the wrong thing for a CCG, but I do. I have drafts of the original stories from my attempts to write it out in like middle school (I've been at this for a while) and they SUCK. I look at the current versions and there is a marked difference, in my belief because I did alot of "What would he/she do in this situation?"
I start out with a blueprint of things I want to happen and a set of characters. As best I can, I guide the characters through these hoops, but many times I do end up sitting back and saying "Wait a second...he wouldn't do that!" And spend the next couple minutes/hours/days trying to figure out, from what I've written and from what I've sculpted, just what this character would do in this situation. Its changed many courses of my writing, the characters begining to, in my mind, interact, react and bounce off each other.
The events of Trinity, the first story, totally changed how I approached Entropy, my next story and set. One of the characters, a vigilante, realizes at the end that yes, life IS precious...and he was letting his slip by. And thus, he decides to walk away from his own decision to defend the innocent. My original draft the guy was just recouperating at the start of the next story, not totally and willingly out of the loop! Also, the villian of Trinity was slated to make a return...only as I'm writing I realize theres no way that the planned set up would happen, he was A) too weak and B) to self rightious to allow it to happen as I wanted, which added a new element to the story.
Trinity also took on its own, weird little moral or "grand point" without my even touching it...it just popped out at me that a fair portion of the story dealt with being who we are and accepting others as they are...the understanding of which ALSO changed how the story ended.

Maybe I'm not "quality", but chapters of Trinity have won awards and earned the game recognition almost a year before it was actually released. I like my approahch, I think it works, and I think more writers could benefit from that perspective.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: John Kim on November 30, 2004, 07:39:55 PM
Quote from: lumpley
Quote from: John Kim
I'm not even sure I understand your position.  Are you saying that the Lord of the Rings is nothing but a regurgitation of the questions and answers which are in the Hobbit?  If not, then how can you say that any other story set in Middle Earth is necessarily a regurgitation of the questions and answers which are in the Lord of the Rings?

I'm saying that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings variously transcend and reject one another.

Which Middle Earth do you play in, The Hobbit's or The Lord of the Ring's? Neither, of course - you play in your own game's.

You gotta remember that there's no there, there. So then why do you need the baggage?

Isn't this again finding fault with what Tolkien did?  From your description, Tolkien was just accepting pointless baggage by setting LotR in the same world as The Hobbit.  He clearly would have done better to create a new world.  

My reaction is that the world isn't pointless baggage.  The world adds greater context which can be used to generate depth of meaning.  It is another layer of meaning which is cast over the elements.  It can be transformative, as well as commentary on the original, or perhaps shedding new light on the changes.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: John Kim on November 30, 2004, 07:50:41 PM
Quote from: Valamir
I could be wrong, but I have trouble envisioning any quality writer asking "what would the character do next" and feeling obligated to abide by it.

I'll quote a bit from Ursula Le Guin's essay, "Dreams Must Explain Themselves".  It was republished as part of the book "The Language of the Night" -- a collection of her essays.  
Quote from: Ursula Le Guin
If William is a character worthy of being written about, then he exists.  He exists, inside my head to be sure, but in his own right, with his own vitality.  All I have to do is look at him.  I don't plan him, compose him of bits and pieces, inventory him.  I find him.
...
The Farthest Shore is about death.  That's why it is a less well built, less sound and complete book than the others.  They were about things I had already lived through and survived.  The Farthest Shore is about the thing you do not live through and survive.  
...
In any case I had little choice about the subject.  Ged, who was always very strong-minded, always saying things that surprised me and doing things he wasn't supposed to do, took over completely in this book.  He was determined to show me how his life must end, and why.  I tried to keep up with him, but he was always ahead.  I rewrote the book more times than I want to remember, trying to keep him under some kind of control.  I thought it was all done when it was printed here, but the English edition differe in three long passages from the earlier American one: my editor at Gollanec said, "Ged is talking too much," and she was quite right, and I shut him up three times, much to the improvement of the whole.  If you insist upon discovering instead of planning, this kind of trouble is inevitable.  It is a most uneconomical way to write.  The book is still the most imperfect of the three, but it is the one I like best.  It is the end of the trilogy, but it is the dream I have not stopped dreaming.

So, strictly speaking, she didn't feel completely obligated to follow what Ged said he would do.  But she was strongly lead by it, at least.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on November 30, 2004, 07:54:17 PM
John, I'm not sure where or how you and Vincent are disagreeing. Can you or Vincent clarify? Vincent seems to be saying that the meaning is the thing Tolkien's after, not the world. The world is the vehicle, the means to revealing that meaning.

You are, too, apparently, when you say "The world adds greater context which can be used to generate depth of meaning."

I don't think Vincent is saying that the world is pointless baggage, so long as it's your world.

The argument, I think, is that the world itself is not the destination. It's mistaking the vehicle for the destination that prevents many gamers from recognizing what story is and does and what story is worth.

Wouldnt be the first time I've read folks wrong, but that's what I'm seeing.

(Obviously, by story here I'm referring to it in the literary sense, rather than the, say, episodes of events sense)


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on November 30, 2004, 08:00:43 PM
Quote from: John Kim
So, strictly speaking, she didn't feel completely obligated to follow what Ged said he would do.  But she was strongly lead by it, at least.


I don't like the term "strictly speaking" because, strictly speaking, she's making romantic nonsense of the work that goes into writing. Ged does not exist. She does. When she says things like Ged lead her somewhere, she's fooling us and herself when she makes it seem like "Oh, no, dear reader! I've nothing to do with Ged's decisions!" Baloney. You are the sum and total of ALL of his decisions. Saying otherwise is merely making it seem more poetic, more artistic and meaninful. Strictly speaking, she's pretending she doesn't have powers and choices that she in fact does.

I think this touches somewhat on where you and Vincent had disconnect. It's much like the arguments a while back on whether characters "exist." Unsurprisingly, I came down on the side of "Of course they don't" because people seemed to be cherishing this notion of independent thought in characters and personas. I see that a nonsense and/or fun and romantic notions of the "spirit" of the character and such. In the end, everything is up to the person behind the curtain (or, as it is, at the tabletop).

In other words, there is no there there, as Vincent said earlier. It's only the people fooling themselves into thinking they are some kind of Gepetto and the independent characters a real boy. (When they do, their noses grow.)


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: madelf on November 30, 2004, 09:42:33 PM
Matt,

Have you never sat down to write without a clear idea of where your story is going? And written anyway?

But rather than arbitrarily chose a path, you just write whatever occurs to you. You pick a character and you just go through the excercises of what that character is doing or thinking, and things you never expected begin to fall into place, and suddenly you've got a story developing right before your eyes?

Certainly this isn't some other entity moving this character around, the character is part of the writer. Each character is some splinter of ourselves. But that doesn't mean that there is no value in the intellectual excercise of "lets put this fictional  person, who is like me in these ways and different than me in these other ways, into this situation and see what it seems would be most appropriate for the character as I go. This can easily be romanticised as the "character guiding the author along" (especially since I suspect most fiction writers are likely to have a romantic streak anyway) but it is a method than can generate some interesting results, and often some that the author didn't originally expect. So there is some basis for that romanticism, besides self delusion.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: neelk on November 30, 2004, 10:13:25 PM
Quote from: Matt Snyder

I don't like the term "strictly speaking" because, strictly speaking, she's making romantic nonsense of the work that goes into writing. Ged does not exist. She does. When she says things like Ged lead her somewhere, she's fooling us and herself when she makes it seem like "Oh, no, dear reader! I've nothing to do with Ged's decisions!" Baloney. You are the sum and total of ALL of his decisions. Saying otherwise is merely making it seem more poetic, more artistic and meaninful. Strictly speaking, she's pretending she doesn't have powers and choices that she in fact does.


I totally disagree. Characters are every bit as real as the Pythagorean theorem or the State of Arizona, both of which are (just like characters in a story) purely intellectual and social constructions, and which certainly merit being called "real". When someone says "the character could only do such-and-such", this can be a true statement in precisely the same fashion that the sum of the squares of the sides of a triangle equals the square of the length of the hypotenuse. I see no argument denying the potential truth-value of the first claim that will not also deny the truth of the second.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: greedo1379 on November 30, 2004, 10:25:49 PM
I stumbled across this inadvertantly and thought folks might find it interesting:

Quote
This enticing ambiguity probably influenced Tolkien's idea that a great story never gives the reader all the answers. He wrote: "Part of the attraction of the L.R. is, I think due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed." The Kalevalah was collected into a single story in 1849 by Elias Lönnrot.


Tolkien's quote sounds kind of similar to what some of you were saying earlier.  I found this at http://www.jitterbug.com/origins/lotr.html if you'd like to see the whole thing.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: John Kim on November 30, 2004, 11:04:13 PM
Hi, Matt.  

My disagreement with Vincent is over setting.  Vincent, agreeing with M. John Harrison, thinks that games and stories should not be set in Middle Earth, Viriconium, or other previously-existing settings.  I think that it is fine that they do.  In my opinion, it is no worse or better than pretending that your creation is 100% original.  

In practical terms, I see nothing superior to playing in some homebrew fantasy world with Ridegals and Thrantos and Fonshicks compared to playing in Middle Earth.  Sure, most shared-world fiction is crappy -- but then, most of any fiction is crappy, and shared-world publications are put in a lower class because of legal difficulties which don't apply to my personal gaming.  On a personal level, I am quite enjoying the Buffy RPG game I'm presently in, and still think of my Star Trek campaigns as among my favorites, artistically speaking.  

My disagreement with Valamir, and I guess with you, is over writer's following their imaginations.  
Quote from: Matt Snyder
I think this touches somewhat on where you and Vincent had disconnect. It's much like the arguments a while back on whether characters "exist." Unsurprisingly, I came down on the side of "Of course they don't" because people seemed to be cherishing this notion of independent thought in characters and personas. I see that a nonsense and/or fun and romantic notions of the "spirit" of the character and such. In the end, everything is up to the person behind the curtain (or, as it is, at the tabletop).

In other words, there is no there there, as Vincent said earlier. It's only the people fooling themselves into thinking they are some kind of Gepetto and the independent characters a real boy. (When they do, their noses grow.)

Well, I'm fine with calling this a basic disagreement.  My point is just that fools like me are in the company of other fools like Ursula Le Guin.  I'm happy to be counted among these fools.  What I don't like is when people suggest that our foolishness is somehow anti-story, which I think is self-evidently ridiculous to anyone who has read Le Guin.  Our foolishness is just a different approach to story than your foolishness.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: GB Steve on December 01, 2004, 01:36:17 AM
Quote from: Sean
It's funny - when I was reading Harrison's article, I thought this: "I see what he's saying, but he doesn't get it. The phenomena he's describing make Viriconium exactly the right sort of world to roleplay in, because it's not all already decided for you."
That's exactly why I ran Viriconium Waits. There was space for me to do my thing whilst still riffing on similar themes to MJH. In fact, I couldn't do that, I wouldn't have bothered.

You can read some MJH on his website  (http://www.kcd86.dial.pipex.com/nonficcontent.htm). In his work he tends not approach things directly but sidles up to it by overlaying a series of impressions, overheard dialogue, description and tangential activities. He does a lot of mood.

To get a mood in RPGs you need to work at it and you need the players to be singing from similar hymn sheets. It can be done quite easily if you're game, but is not necessary for enjoyment. It only takes one player not on message for it to not work.

The mood from a book requires only that he writer succeed. Obviously not everyone will get it (and you might well not like MJH) but for literature to meet its goals does not necessarily require anyone to read it. RPGs are defined by communal action. It's probably harder to accomplish things that you might with a book and not all groups will manage it, but that's not to say that it can't be done.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ian Charvill on December 01, 2004, 04:43:55 AM
Quote
Question: E. M. Forster speaks of his major characters sometimes taking over and dictating the course of his novels. Has this ever been a problem for you, or are you in complete command?

Nabokov: My knowledge of Mr. Forster's works is limited to one novel which I dislike; and anyway it was not he who fathered that trite little whimsy about characters getting out of hand; it is as old as the quills, although of course one sympathizes with his people if they try to wriggle out of that trip to India or wherever he takes them. My characters are galley slaves.


The list of authors, both genre and mainstream literary, who talk about their characters dictating plot developments or having some form of separate existance is exhausatingly long.  From Pinter (you just take two characters who should never meet, put them in a room together and let them speak) to David Foster Wallace ("When I finished my first book, I really felt like I'd fallen in love with my main character and that she'd died. You have to understand, writing a novel gets very weird and invisible-friend-from-childhood-ish, then you kill that thing, which was never really alive except in your imagination, and you're supposed to go buy groceries and talk to people at parties and stuff") to Patricia Highsmith to Henry James to Igor Turgenev and so on.

Now, one might presume to know what's going on with a writer better than the writer does, but I'm going to suggest that unless one can back that up with a great deal of clear evidence it would be the worst kind of intellectual dishonesty.

There's a far bigger and more obvious division between gamers and writers: the use of dice*.  Did Faulkner and Hemingway ever had a big todo over whether you should use a d20 or a d6 to decide plot events (one supposes Hemingway would have preferred the d6, the d20 being too fancy and latinate)?  Is there even a case of a high-profile writer regularly using a coin toss to decide the course of events in a novel or play.  I don't suppose it's impossible -- the cut-ups method essentially randomizes text -- but can anybody cite people on the level of Pinter, Le Guin and so on doing it?

  • that should extend beyond fortune to karma as well -- I doubt Shakespeare ever sat down and thought: Hamlet has a 6 in fencing, augmented to a 7 by his desire to impress his mother; Laertes is a 5 augmented to a 6 by his desire to avenge his sister's death.  But Claudius can burn his Poisoner descriptor to raise that to a 7.  Hoo boy -- both sevens. There's going to be a lot of blood tonight.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: GB Steve on December 01, 2004, 04:54:43 AM
Quote from: Ian Charvill
There's a far bigger and more obvious division between gamers and writers: the use of dice*.  Did Faulkner and Hemingway ever had a big todo over whether you should use a d20 or a d6 to decide plot events (one supposes Hemingway would have preferred the d6, the d20 being too fancy and latinate)?  Is there even a case of a high-profile writer regularly using a coin toss to decide the course of events in a novel or play.
Not just that, but the plot is mostly known in advance when writing a book but much less so in RPGs.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 01, 2004, 05:51:43 AM
Quote from: neelk
Quote from: Matt Snyder

I don't like the term "strictly speaking" because, strictly speaking, she's making romantic nonsense of the work that goes into writing. Ged does not exist. She does. When she says things like Ged lead her somewhere, she's fooling us and herself when she makes it seem like "Oh, no, dear reader! I've nothing to do with Ged's decisions!" Baloney. You are the sum and total of ALL of his decisions. Saying otherwise is merely making it seem more poetic, more artistic and meaninful. Strictly speaking, she's pretending she doesn't have powers and choices that she in fact does.


I totally disagree. Characters are every bit as real as the Pythagorean theorem or the State of Arizona, both of which are (just like characters in a story) purely intellectual and social constructions, and which certainly merit being called "real". When someone says "the character could only do such-and-such", this can be a true statement in precisely the same fashion that the sum of the squares of the sides of a triangle equals the square of the length of the hypotenuse. I see no argument denying the potential truth-value of the first claim that will not also deny the truth of the second.


Neel, I understand what you are getting at, but those analogies aren't exact.

First, those things you've described occupy no imaginary space. They are not fiction. I think that stretches the analogy to the extreme. The State of Arizona doesn't physically exist, but it is not fictional. THere are clear cut rules, down to the inch, on what Arizona is, where it is, and what happens to people who live there.

Similarly, are you saying that characters are exact as a mathematical construct? God, I hope not! We can prove, and everyone can agree, about sides and hypotenuses. Anyone who disagrees with the numbers is an idiot.

We can also agree about whether a character should have done this thing over here. Anyone who disagrees, and believes the character should have done that thing over there, is not an idiot. He is an interpreter of literature. There is no right answer. There may be absolutely wrong answers that everyone agrees are stupid. But there are lots and lots of possible right answers that contradict each other. It's hardly mathematical. It's judgmental.

But that neverminds the point that it's the author who decides, ultimately, what happens. Sure, others might influence -- like an editor. But, the author determines the choices the character makes. Not the other way 'round, which is my point. The character has no will, no soul, no actual, non-fictional choices to make. Only the human beings directing and writing the story do.

Saying that the character makes those choices "inevitable" also neverminds the fact the the human beings are the ones who set that character up in the first place. So, again, the character didn't do a damn thing. The humans who created him did. They said, "Look, Jack is like this, not like that. So, later, when we have to make a choice about him, it's nobody's fault but ours. Jack is just an idea; he has nothing to do with the choices we make about him because we made him like that!"


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: lumpley on December 01, 2004, 07:01:30 AM
Hm. Sprawling, yet painful.

John: I think that Tolkein was in a privileged position with regard to Middle Earth, a position which you or I can never be in. The important difference between Middle Earth and, say, the setting of my group's Ars Magica game isn't the details - it's my relationship to them. Tolkein made Middle Earth to say what he wanted it to say. He could make it exactly how he wanted it. He changed it to suit the moment, both within his books and between his books. (He then had the luxury of going back and fiddling with things to make 'em fit together better, which we don't have.)

Every moment of attention you spend trying to replicate "Middle Earth" is a moment of attention you don't spend saying what you mean. The only person in the entire history of humanity for whom this was not true was J.R.R. Tolkein.

Now look - I'm talking about creating setting to play Ars Magica. As you know, Ars Magica is "set" in a European Middle Ages where there's an Order of Hermes, magic, dragons, the works. Our Ars Magica game is too.

It's Harrison's "category error," though, to think that we're playing in somehow the same setting as any other Ars Magica group out there. If we were to try to maintain the illusion of that - by restricting ourselves to the published covenants in the Transylvanian Tribunal, by trying to incorporate the in-game events of other groups, by God forfuckingbid following some crappy metaplot - we'd have no time left for saying what we mean to say.

I assert that insofar as your Star Trek or Buffy game said anything interesting, it did so outside the bounds of published Star Trek or Buffy material. It did so, I'll go so far, in defiance of published material. It did so on the sole strength of your and your fellow players' own creation.

That's unless you're willing to tell me otherwise: what interesting thing your group had to say, how you said it, and how the published material was fully and wholly vindicated therein. That'd be a thread, as always, for Actual Play.

Also, count me in the Ursula LeGuin camp. I experience the process of creation overwhelmingly as a process of discovery. My characters regularly shock and startle me; if they didn't, I'd worry that they were dead.

Everybody should go back and notice that Matt's objection is to "strictly speaking," not to LeGuin's experience.

-Vincent


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 01, 2004, 07:08:43 AM
Quote from: lumpley
Everybody should go back and notice that Matt's objection is to "strictly speaking," not to LeGuin's experience.

-Vincent


Thanks, Vincent. What he said, folks. I'm not criticizing LeGuin's process. I'm criticizing an apparent attempt to bring her words and process somehow close to literal truth. Strictly speaking.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: lumpley on December 01, 2004, 07:28:43 AM
Ian: We don't really use dice to determine what happens. We use dice as part of negotiating what happens with our fellow players. Sole authors don't have to negotiate, so don't need dice.

Authors collaborating on a project do have to negotiate. I'd be interested to see more concretely what kinds of tools and techniques collaborating authors use, out in the real world. I'll bet that they sometimes even flip a coin - that's not too hard to imagine.

-Vincent


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ian Charvill on December 01, 2004, 07:32:54 AM
Hey Matt

I'd agree with you that Le Guin's words don't represent the literal truth of the process.  I didn't choose the Nabakov quote by accident and "trite little whimsy" seems an accurate summary of the position.  But if you look at Ralph's original:

Quote
I could be wrong, but I have trouble envisioning any quality writer asking "what would the character do next" and feeling obligated to abide by it.


I'm guessing that people are conflating what you wrote with Ralph's original point, which original point I think is clearly contradicted by the evidence presented so far -- irrespective of what the underlying motives of why they are doing what Ralph described having difficulty imagining, clearly they do it.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ian Charvill on December 01, 2004, 07:43:51 AM
Hey Vincent,

It's funny, I'd see collaboration is pretty much the SOP of "solo" book publishing.  Writers get edited -- and that editing is usually more far reaching that changing a comma and correcting spelling.  Subplots get cut, sections get expanded for clarity, and so on.  I suspect who gets to decide what is more down to relative power and prestige than anything else there.

But yeah, I'd accept even a single example -- even anecdotal if sourced -- of coin tosses being used to decide a plot-point in a co-written book (I'd even drop Ralph's "quality" in favour of simply "published").

Ian


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 01, 2004, 08:08:16 AM
Hello,

People might consider this idea: that to a dedicated and competent author of fiction, the very notion of what we call Narrativism is already, entirely internalized as the agenda.

Therefore to articulate it is so irrelevant, such a waste of time, and for that matter so potentially distracting that it seems alien to that person, to do so.

If forced, they might say, "But that goes without saying." You might recognize that phrase from Creative Agenda type discussions with fellow role-players, especially those who deny that diversity of such things would even exist.

So when such authors are asked, "Hey, what's the point, what's the experience, what's it like to do it, how do you feel when you do it, how do you do it," and so on, they always answer in terms of aesthetic experience, not in terms of what the necessary priorities are. Those priorities are so overwhelmingly present in the person's mind already, that he or she simply feels no need to express them separately from doing the work in the first place (and may well cannot).

This is why I favor Egri's treatment of the topic, rather than multiple others'. He's one of the few who step out of the personal, interior experience of writing to look at what it's composed of, regardless of what a given individual actually feels and experiences while doing it.

It's also linked to my frequent claim that people who read about Creative Agenda in role-playing are always going off the beam when they try to understand the idea through checking into their personal, interior, isolated sensations while role-playing.

And lastly, role-playing is unique in terms of creative/fictional media in that it requires author/audience roles to be shifted and combined, socially, during the event itself (much music performance does this, but it is not fiction, not directly anyway). Novelists, playwrights, film directors, and so forth are not familiar with this phenomenon at all - to them, Premise and Theme are interchangeable terms because to commit to the former, for a given work, is also to produce the latter. When they create characters, situations, and outcomes, the sense of discovery and shock may be present - but not in terms of the transition from Premise to Theme in any kind of attenuated, socially-interactive way.

Again, that's why Egri's ideas are useful, because he tries to nail that particular transition as a key creative step - his ideas are unnecessary for authors who have no difficulty with it, but very helpful to "stuck" authors who can't figure out why they can't make a story. And, as it turns out, equally useful to artists/authors who turn that transition into the essential motor of creativity, which is to say, us.

So I see two reasons to understand, without any difficulty, the creative disconnect between role-playing and authoring fiction (which I think, historically, has polluted fiction badly in the last twenty years):

1. The Creative Agenda diversity issue, which I articulated in my previous post and extended slightly in this one; and

2. (even if Narrativist priorities are held constant) The difference in medium, in which the actual crux of "what we do" while creating the work, i.e. Premise, has shifted from a given to an open, socialized question.

Best,
Ron


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 01, 2004, 08:20:38 AM
Quote
So when such authors are asked, "Hey, what's the point, what's the experience, what's it like to do it, how do you feel when you do it, how do you do it," and so on, they always answer in terms of aesthetic experience, not in terms of what the necessary priorities are. Those priorities are so overwhelmingly present in the person's mind already, that he or she simply feels no need to express them separately from doing the work in the first place (and may well cannot).

This is why I favor Egri's treatment of the topic, rather than multiple others'. He's one of the few who step out of the personal, interior experience of writing to look at what it's composed of, regardless of what a given individual actually feels and experiences while doing it.

This is exactly what I have been trying to get at with my comments about LeGuin. As ever, Ron does a much better job than I can at putting the ideas into words. LeGuin can't help herself from waxing poetic about the process. She turns describing work into telling art! That's not especially helpful to those of us who aren't in her shoes, have never written successful novels, and can't identify with her metaphorical language. What if her isn't aren't ours? Then it is utterly useless to us as instruction. Boy, it sure sounds good. And we might feel good about her words, even identify with them in the sense that we hope our creations will be similarly poetic and noble endeavors. But we don't really have any good grasp at all on how to fucking do it.

If we did, we'd be arguing with our editors at Random House, rather than typing furiously on the Forge.

Me? I sleep better knowing that, even if I never get to be that author I always dreamed of being, at least I designed role-playing games worth playing. And I certainly played games worth playing, in the literary sense.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Valamir on December 01, 2004, 08:54:18 AM
Quote from: Ian Charvill
Hey Matt

I'd agree with you that Le Guin's words don't represent the literal truth of the process.  I didn't choose the Nabakov quote by accident and "trite little whimsy" seems an accurate summary of the position.  But if you look at Ralph's original:

Quote
I could be wrong, but I have trouble envisioning any quality writer asking "what would the character do next" and feeling obligated to abide by it.


I'm guessing that people are conflating what you wrote with Ralph's original point, which original point I think is clearly contradicted by the evidence presented so far -- irrespective of what the underlying motives of why they are doing what Ralph described having difficulty imagining, clearly they do it.



I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with Ian.

I did not say that authors never think about "what would the character do next".  What I said was that they don't feel obligated to abide by the answer.

In other words "what would the character do next" is always tempered by "what will make this story worth reading".  That leads to the revised turn of phrase of "what could the character do next that is both believable and:  Interesting/dramatic/makes sharp social commentary".  However loudly the character "speaks" its always within the context of what's required to make the novel work.  The parts where a writer lets their focus narrow too far on a character are typically the parts that the editor (starting from the big picture perspective) will take the axe to.

Traditional, highly immersive Sim play is quite different.  The goal of play is to limit ones focus to exactly what the character would do next with as little pre-consideration to the bigger picture as possible.  

In narrativist play, however, the big picture: the character's place in it, and the effects of the character's actions on it, are always in the back of the mind.  The player is aware of these things and takes them into account when choosing their characters actions just like an author is aware of these things and takes them into account when choosing the actions for the character in the novel.

As for authors who like to couch the creative process in terms of "letting the character speak" or "the characters took on a life of their own" thats all just a different way of describing what a professional athlete would call being "in the zone".

If you're an athlete, how do you describe what happens to you when everything you do on the field just works to perfection?  You can't really.  Its an experience that transcends description which is why they simply call it being "in the zone".  This happens to authors too (and game writers I can attest).  Some authors prefer to describe being in "the zone" more poetically and that's where we get flowery metaphors like le Guin's quote above.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ben Lehman on December 01, 2004, 09:04:31 AM
Quote from: Matt Snyder

This is exactly what I have been trying to get at with my comments about LeGuin. As ever, Ron does a much better job than I can at putting the ideas into words. LeGuin can't help herself from waxing poetic about the process. She turns describing work into telling art! That's not especially helpful to those of us who aren't in her shoes, have never written successful novels, and can't identify with her metaphorical language.


BL>  Pardon me, but who are you and Ron to say that she is speaking in metaphorical language?  Most authors I know treat that sort of thing as quite literal indeed.  The characters really do feel like they are making decisions, etc.

As someone who is not a writer with a differing view of creativity, one can look at this and say "Well, that's interesting, someone has a creative process different than I would expect," or one can say "that does not match my theoretical constructs, hence must be metaphor / misguided cloudy-headedness / wrong."

As someone who is a writer, one can look at this and say, "Well, that's different than my creative process.  I guess that creative processes are diverse."  Or one can say, "That does not match my creative process / theoretical construct, and so..."

I'd also like to raise a point:  Isn't it a load of claptrap to use Creative Agenda talk in discussing some other form of art?  Writing isn't even social -- there isn't even a Social Contract -- so why the hell are we talking about CA?

Quote

What if her isn't aren't ours? Then it is utterly useless to us as instruction. Boy, it sure sounds good. And we might feel good about her words, even identify with them in the sense that we hope our creations will be similarly poetic and noble endeavors. But we don't really have any good grasp at all on how to fucking do it.

If we did, we'd be arguing with our editors at Random House, rather than typing furiously on the Forge.


BL>  Please do not assume that all gamers are frustrated writers, or even that all game designers are frustrated writers.  I find the fields sufficiently differentiated that I can pursue both without contradiction.  Many do likewise.  Of course, I am also at a point in my life where taking 2-3 artforms seriously is something that I actually have the time to do, and even participate in theoretical discussion for one of them.  This may change in the future, at which point I imagine one will become more frustrated.

But I think it is a grave error to say that "If we did {understand}, we'd be arguing with our editors at Random House."

yrs--
--Ben


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: TonyLB on December 01, 2004, 09:23:48 AM
I will back Ben up to the point of making myself a specific example.  I design and play games.  I take that very seriously.  I have no ambition to write literature.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 01, 2004, 09:33:12 AM
Ben, if she is not speaking metaphorically, then would you agree she's speaking literally? If so, I have doubts about people's grasp of reality when they believe that fictional characters really do make them do things, rather than understanding that they have simply created a device in their minds to help themselves make decisions. Characters can't do anything at all. Human minds can.

I'm not saying she has not right to speak or think or do things this way. I'm saying that taking her words literally is, frankly, crazy.

In fact, my creative process has some similarities to hers. But I'm not stupid enough to suggest that the denizens of Nine Worlds actually make me do things without my total say so or control.

Also, I don't assume gamers are frustrated writers. I was being hyperbolic. Obviously, one can type on the Forge and be a novelist. I don't think it's an error, I think it's a humorous point to demonstrate that not everyone knows how to write like Ursula LeGuin.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: neelk on December 01, 2004, 09:36:58 AM
Quote from: Matt Snyder

Neel, I understand what you are getting at, but those analogies aren't exact.


I don't think they are analogies. I think they are identities. More below --

Quote

First, those things you've described occupy no imaginary space. They are not fiction. I think that stretches the analogy to the extreme. The State of Arizona doesn't physically exist, but it is not fictional. THere are clear cut rules, down to the inch, on what Arizona is, where it is, and what happens to people who live there. Similarly, are you saying that characters are exact as a mathematical construct? God, I hope not! We can prove, and everyone can agree, about sides and hypotenuses. Anyone who disagrees with the numbers is an idiot.

But that neverminds the point that it's the author who decides, ultimately, what happens. Sure, others might influence -- like an editor. But, the author determines the choices the character makes. Not the other way 'round, which is my point. The character has no will, no soul, no actual, non-fictional choices to make. Only the human beings directing and writing the story do.

Saying that the character makes those choices "inevitable" also neverminds the fact the the human beings are the ones who set that character up in the first place. So, again, the character didn't do a damn thing. The humans who created him did. They said, "Look, Jack is like this, not like that. So, later, when we have to make a choice about him, it's nobody's fault but ours. Jack is just an idea; he has nothing to do with the choices we make about him because we made him like that!"


See, these things absolutely occupy imaginary space. That's all they are! Arizona, as a political concept, is a fiction that people care enough about to kill and imprison one another over. So are Allah, Rama, and Jesus. (Even if you are a theist, unlike me, it's hard to grant concrete physical reality to more than two members of that list!) And I'm not saying that characters are as exact as math; I'm saying that mathematics is a social process too. The Pythagorean theorem isn't true if you don't adopt all of Euclid's axioms -- and the axioms people use to do mathematics are a matter of human social convention practical human needs rather than absolute Platonic necessity. (I speak as a mathematician who belongs to a tradition that doesn't accept all the axioms of mainstream mathematics, so this isn't just a purely philosophical point for me.)

In precisely the same way, we can come up with some cluster of ideas that form a character, and we can name them "Hamlet" or "Oedipus" or "Aragorn". I think it's a totally well-formed idea to say that a character is real -- they have their own internal logic and structure to them, and they are real. The author of a fiction can't make a character do "anything", because there are plenty of things that are not consistent with the idea-structure of the character. It's just like how I cannot be in New York and Arizona at the same time, even though both are purely political, imaginary constructions.

When I, as a storyteller, say that "the only thing the character could have done was X", I can really mean it. No lie! Ideas aren't concrete physical objects, but they are real in their own way and they have their own integrity. Now, as an author, I certainly have the power to change the character into a different one that would do something different, but now I have a genuinely different character. Whether doing so is a good or bad idea depends on my goals, social and artistic, but I don't find it helpful to claim that this activity doesn't exist.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 01, 2004, 09:47:50 AM
Neel, where on earth have I suggested this activity does not exist? Were I to do so, it would be synonymous with saying writing itself does not exist.

Of course this process exists. My point is that it exists only in the minds of the human beings who are doing the creating. Saying that it literally exists "outside" the author (say, in the "mind" of character he created) is factually untrue. Indeed, it exists ONLY "within" the author's mind, and later in the reader's mind. The character has no mind at all, no will. The author who created him does.

We're really not disagreeing. I have only and ever been raising concerns about the language used to describe this process, not the process itself. Why are others not recognizing that in this thread?


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ben Lehman on December 01, 2004, 09:58:34 AM
Quote from: Matt Snyder
Ben, if she is not speaking metaphorically, then would you agree she's speaking literally? If so, I have doubts about people's grasp of reality when they believe that fictional characters really do make them do things, rather than understanding that they have simply created a device in their minds to help themselves make decisions. Characters can't do anything at all. Human minds can.


BL>  My point is this -- I would really like it if everyone would stop telling writers their business.  Who am I to say that she is not visited by spirits?  Who am I to say that her psychological state when she writes is not one where she percieves individuals controlling her writing?  Who I am to say that those characters are not reified as true people inside the confines of her study, and she interviews them?

When people here make incorrect analogies to physics, I try to correct them, simply because I think it's important to clear up some of the misconceptions about physics.  Most people shurg, maybe say "thanks," maybe laugh at the somewhat anal scientist, and move on.

When people here make incorrect analogies to writing, I also try to correct them, beceause there are a lot of misconceptions about writing as well.  Yet, it turns into a giant pissing match.  I cannot for the life of me figure out why.

I don't think to talk about the process via which a long-distance trucker drives his truck.  I don't imagine that I could talk about how an anthropologist does research.  I have no clue about how a painter goes about his business.  But yet, people everywhere seem to think that they know what writers do, and how they do it.  And it cheezes me off.

I'd like to offer up a suggestion as to what people are tripping over:  Narrativist play feels something like reading a good book.  Since it feels like reading a good book, and we all created it, then "hey, this must be what writing a good book is like."

In fact, it is not at all similar.  To use yet more analogies, one doesn't imagine that eating a gourmet meal is anything like cooking it.

This is not an argument particular to you, and I do not mean to unload on you for the sins of many.  But these misconceptions are really quite troublesome.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: ethan_greer on December 01, 2004, 10:04:53 AM
Quote from: Matt Snyder
But I'm not stupid enough to suggest that the denizens of Nine Worlds actually make me do things without my total say so or control.

I can't help but smile about this. See, the thing is, Matt, you can't be completely certain beyond all doubt that that isn't exactly what's happening. For all we know, we are puppets of our creations. If we were, and the string-pullers didn't want us to know, we wouldn't.

Hopefully, that made some sense. To put it another way: Claiming that fictional characters aren't real is no more or less ludicrous than claiming that they are real.

To put it a third way: I don't think the argument that you and Ben (primarily) seem to be engaged in has any possible conclusion. I don't think either side is going to have any success convincing the other.

But as long as we don't lose sight of that realization, a sharing of viewpoints can be a good thing.

Edit: And, just to be clear, I'm not smiling in amusement at Matt's claim, rather I'm smiling in pleasure at the realization that Nine World's denizen's really could be running Chimera Creative. I don't believe that, but I can't in good conscience deny the possibility.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 01, 2004, 10:08:41 AM
Ben, we can definitely agree on one thing: Neither of us understands why this is a pissing match. And, worse, I think this thread has lost site of its original intent. We've focused so much attention on this silly issue of the reality of fictional characters that I'm having trouble bringing it back around to the point involving Harrison.

I've said my piece, probably too often. Thus, I'm comfortable with my thoughts here. Hopefully, someone can bring it back around to the discussion better than I have.

EDIT, FOR CROSS POST

Quote from: ethan_greer
Quote from: Matt Snyder
But I'm not stupid enough to suggest that the denizens of Nine Worlds actually make me do things without my total say so or control.

I can't help but smile about this. See, the thing is, Matt, you can't be completely certain beyond all doubt that that isn't exactly what's happening. For all we know, we are puppets of our creations. If we were, and the string-pullers didn't want us to know, we wouldn't.

Hopefully, that made some sense. To put it another way: Claiming that fictional characters aren't real is no more or less ludicrous than claiming that they are real.


Oh, cripes. Look, if we can't agree that this idea is supernatural nonsense, then I'm not interested in discussing it. You're digging into matters of belief. I really don't think that position is supportable in any way, shape or form. I do "believe" the position that I'm tauting IS supportable with evidence, nevermind common sense. I'm not interested that discussion. There is no evidence to suggest this nonsensical idea. It's poetic, wishful thinking of an unhealthy sort, I think.

LAST EDIT:

Ethan, for the record, I am absolutely certain, beyond all doubt. I'd literally stake my life on it.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: John Kim on December 01, 2004, 10:31:40 AM
Quote from: Matt Snyder
Of course this process exists. My point is that it exists only in the minds of the human beings who are doing the creating. Saying that it literally exists "outside" the author (say, in the "mind" of character he created) is factually untrue. Indeed, it exists ONLY "within" the author's mind, and later in the reader's mind. The character has no mind at all, no will. The author who created him does.

We're really not disagreeing. I have only and ever been raising concerns about the language used to describe this process, not the process itself.

Hold on.  There is zero disagreement about the objective facts of the situation.  As far as neurons firing, muscles moving, and pen changing -- Le Guin's description is 100% accurate.  Her hand moves and writes out the story.  She describes quite plainly that the character is only a mental construct within her head.  It is not supernatural in the least.  It is psychological.  

What you're apparently trying to do is gussy up a subjective description and pretend that it is fact.  You're trying to say that her description of her internal process is wrong.  But you have no leg to stand on.  There is no objective proof of free will or autonomous identity.  Rather, you're simply trying to impose your social and/or philosophical norms.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ian Charvill on December 01, 2004, 10:35:07 AM
Hey Ralph

Quote from: Valamir
I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with Ian.


Specifically, I'm saying that there are writers who plainly say they would feel obligated to abide by the answer.  That Forster, for example, has said that his characters are in charge, not him, at certain points in the writing process.  LeGuin isn't a poster child for this: the quotes John gave clearly describe her as overriding her character's "wishes".

I have to say the whole LeGuin literal/metaphorical thing strikes me as something of a red herring.  I don't think it addresses the issue of why some writers look down on RPGs and whether that would be affected by them being more familiar with certain RPGs.

I think the idea that writers look down on RPGs because some players look at their characters and vocalise their reasons for doing X or Y as 'that is what the character would do' is misguided because so many eminent writers are making the exact same statements.

I'm going to assume for the next paragraph that the whole Egrian address of premise thing is correct.  If writers, writing, addressing premise, can speak in terms of "my character made me do it" couldn't narrativists, playing, addressing premise, speak in those same terms?  If narrativists wouldn't speak in those terms, how can writers, unless they are engaged in a fundamentally different activity?


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: lumpley on December 01, 2004, 10:45:47 AM
For what it's worth, Ian, I for one have no problem saying that Narrativist play can happen on "my character made me do it" terms (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=125952).

-Vincent


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: ethan_greer on December 01, 2004, 10:46:45 AM
Shrug. Whether or not you stake your life on it, it's still a belief, and you could still be wrong.

In any case, Matt, my comments were well meant. I think I can tell when someone's told me to fuck off. Which, in this case, I have no problem doing.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 01, 2004, 10:53:19 AM
Hello,

Tempers have flared. I suggest that this thread is in danger of spiralling into competing polemics, rather than the meeting of minds.

We've been here before, back in the "do characters exist" discussions that crop up now and again. And again, people are mis-reading various points, finding unreasonable ways in which to interpret them, and then arguing against those.

This forum does not exist to prove or to protect any statements about the authors of fiction and their experiences, although our various thoughts on these issues are welcome. As soon as people start defending those statements (and by extension themselves, as authors), then the thread goes awry.

John, in particular, I think you are assigning certain claims to others that they have not made. Ben, in particular, I think you are posting defensively and from a sense of personal mission regarding authorship. Matt, in particular, I think that a value judgment on your part ("baloney") has become your point, rather than anything anyone else can assess, which provokes defensiveness. I'm naming you three because I expect you all are capable of backing off on those points and returning to the actual thread topic when I ask you to.

It's been an excellent and difficult thread. Let's all keep it that way.

Best,
Ron


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ben Lehman on December 01, 2004, 11:26:53 AM
I would like to apologize to all the readers of the thread (including Ron, but not Moderator Ron, who doesn't like apologies, apparently) for getting off topic.  I'm done now.

Looking over the rest of the thread, I see that I have pretty much contributed what I need to say.  In brief, my experience in talking with fiction writers about gaming and gaming with fiction writers has been that their reactions to the subject are about as broad as any other creative person who already has a preferred outlet.

In terms of people using their worlds for gaming or fanfic or any such creative pursuit, most writers don't really like it, both because they feel defensive about their creations (and most people get it wrong, of course), and because they feel that their fans' creative energies might be better expended on something original.

And that's really all that needs to be said.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Russell Impagliazzo on December 01, 2004, 11:36:19 AM
I'm not sure that anyone has actually picked up on what Harrison is actually saying.

In my opinion, he starts with a statement about fantasy worlds that I agree with, but draws
a fallacious conclusion
about role-playing in fantasy worlds based on a limited understanding of role-playing.

I think what he is saying is that what makes a fantasy world distinct and gives it meaning and flavor is not a list of ``mythical facts'' about the world, but how myth is evoked to create a mood and  heighten the reader's awareness of issues that are taken for granted in everyday life.  For example, a key ingrediant of Middle Earth is the awareness of history and legend hidden within language and everyday life.  A story without this awareness might take place in a dark forest  called Mirkwood,  be populated with wood elves and hobbits, and involve an evil Necromancer, but it still would not be ``set in Tolkien's Middle Earth''.  There have certainly been a huge number of fantasy novels (even some good ones) that utilize
Tolkienesque features without feeling at all like Middle Earth.  

In this sense, the creation of a fantasy world is not very different from the work an author does in creating a work of ``realistic'' fiction.  Faulkner's South is as much a fantasy world as Middle Earth, in that another author could write about similar people and events, but would use them to evoke a different mood and highlight different issues.  

Since a fantasy world is a way of creating mood and awareness, and not a list of facts, some factual questions about the world are moot.  ``What is the dwarven word for smokeweed and why?'' is a proper Tolkienesque question for Middle Earth.  A story (or even a pseudo-academic appendix) answering this question
could be set in Middle Earth.    ``If a Balrog fought a Dragon, who'd win?'' is not really a
Tolkienesque question, so a story whose point was to answer this question would not
be ``set in Middle Earth'', even if Balrogs and Dragons both exist there, and both get into fights.  A story set in Middle Earth might contain a fight between a Balrog and a Dragon, but it would have to be addressing a different issue, such as, ``How would such a fight be remembered in local legend after 1000 years?''

So far, I believe that I am restating Harrison's position, and I agree with it.  He then goes on to implicitly reason that a role-playing game supposedly set in such a world must answer improper questions for the world, and hence that such a game cannot possibly be set in the world in the true sense.  I think this is false.  While role-playing games can and often do get lost in the minutia and lose the flavor of a fantasy world, this is not inevitable.  Role-players are aware that mood and issues are key to the flavor of a fantasy world, and sometimes successfully create a game that invokes the same mood and issues.  It is hard work, but it is possible.  (For example, I think John Kim's American Vikings game did a very good job of invoking the mood of the sagas, although I only played once.)   Even if improper questions get answered iincidentally n a role-playing game, that doesn't necessarily mean that the game is about these questions.  So providing stats for Balrogs and Dragons doesn't mean that the game is about which is more powerful.  

This leads to the obvious question:  what system elements or other role-playing techniques can assist in bringing the flavor of an author's world to the game?  

Russell


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: John Kim on December 01, 2004, 12:56:57 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
John, in particular, I think you are assigning certain claims to others that they have not made.

Sorry.  I think I should back up to just this:  Le Guin did not state that there was some supernatural thing outside her head which was controlling her.  She was very clear that the character was inside her head.  So as far as I can see there is no factual error in her description.  She described correctly the objective reality, and presumably accurately described her subjective experience.  

I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth.  If anyone thinks there is a factual error in her description, then I'm curious to hear what it is.  However, that should probably go to a different thread.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Mark Woodhouse on December 01, 2004, 01:08:28 PM
This is not a tightly reasoned or theoretically rigorous response to the thread. Perhaps it is not entirely on-topic, I'm not sure.

It seems to me that the essential difference between creating a work of fiction and doing roleplaying in a fictional world is the process of negotiation.

An author crafts an entire, self-contained Thing, and releases it into the wild, where readers then interact with it. They interpret it by reference to their own particular library of signs and symbols, and construct their own "version" of the text. Perhaps they discuss this private version of the text with others, and adapt and revise their experience of the text by comparing notes. But the text remains. All the negotiation is after-the-fact, and necessarily subjective. The author has already committed their own meaning-making. They may approve or disapprove of the meanings made by readers, perhaps even participate in the process of shaping those meanings, but the text is there.

Gaming is a constant, iterative process, in which meaning is built publicly, in a shared space between multiple "authors". Meaning may even be created retroactively in imaginary time, as things that were not imagined by any single author are redefined by later input. There is no text that is authoritative, except that Social Contract makes it so.

I despair of much commonality between the creative process of writing fiction and the creative process of doing roleplaying. The closest parallel might be in workshopping a story - or better yet, a film or TV script - in that a proposed text is subjected to line-by-line, scene-by-scene deconstruction/reconstruction-by-committee. I know of few writers who really enjoy that phase of the creative process.

This is pretty notional. Does it inspire any insights by wider heads? Does it in fact address the topic usefully?

Best,

Mark


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: John Kim on December 01, 2004, 01:20:41 PM
Quote from: Russell Impagliazzo
So far, I believe that I am restating Harrison's position, and I agree with it.  He then goes on to implicitly reason that a role-playing game supposedly set in such a world must answer improper questions for the world, and hence that such a game cannot possibly be set in the world in the true sense.  I think this is false.  While role-playing games can and often do get lost in the minutia and lose the flavor of a fantasy world, this is not inevitable.  Role-players are aware that mood and issues are key to the flavor of a fantasy world, and sometimes successfully create a game that invokes the same mood and issues.  It is hard work, but it is possible.  (For example, I think John Kim's American Vikings game did a very good job of invoking the mood of the sagas, although I only played once.)

While I'm grateful for the note of confidence about the Vinland game, I'm not sure I agree with what is stated here.  It depends on what one considers "proper".  If there is any point to role-playing in Middle Earth, then it has to say something different than what Tolkien did.  Otherwise, you might as well just reread the books.  The point of the game comes from how it is different from Tolkien, not from how it is the same.  

So, to my mind, it is good to be improper.  As I stated in my minor rant earlier, I want to screw with Tolkien's vision.  That was, for example, very implicitly a part of, say, when I played Gudrid in the LOTR campaign.  She was a Beorning, a descendant of the clan of Beorn's wife.  This was a deliberate break from Tolkien -- filling in the role of women that is absent in his vision.  In principle, by how I played her, I was filling in my own statements which expressed themselves via context with Tolkien.  i.e. My statements were highlighted by how they contrasted with what happens in Tolkien.  Now, as it turns out, the campaign was something of a dud.  But I still believe in the principle.  

While my Vinland game kept some of the mood of the Icelandic sagas, it was also line-crossing.  I mixed American colonial legends (like the New Jersey devil and the headless horseman) with Algonquin and Iroquois legends with Icelandic sagas.  This is, I would argue, inherently improper.  Now, a game can try to be close to the original in many ways, and indeed the original author might even approve of the game.  (I suspect Le Guin would be intrigued by Mellan himmel och hav.)  But Harrison is right that the game is always going to have some screwing with the mood and issues of the original.  If it didn't, then it would indeed just be regurgitation as Vincent charged.  I largely agree with him about what is happening, but I consider it a good thing.  Tame animals are OK.  Tigers in zoos aren't a substitute for tigers in the wild, but they aren't inherently bad things.  

Quote from: Russell Impagliazzo
This leads to the obvious question:  what system elements or other role-playing techniques can assist in bringing the flavor of an author's world to the game?

Well, I talk some about the rules which I used in Vinland here:
http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/vinland/about/
This goes into why I chose RuneQuest vs other rules sets, as well as the changes which I made to it.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: clehrich on December 01, 2004, 09:51:26 PM
My goodness, you turn around for a minute and all this happens!

For the record, I have read M. John Harrison, most of his books anyway, and I think he's one of the best fantasy writers around.  I also think that his fiction is weirdly, disturbingly unlike genre fantasy.  It riffs off of a lot of stock tropes and then twists them in truly strange ways, in part because it's not really about those tropes at all; as he says, it's about failure, loss, and degeneration of language and certainty.  One of these days we really have to get a panel going: Harrison, Gene Wolfe, and John Crowley.  Oh, and Iain M. Banks.  Now that would be something to hear!

Okay, so about gaming.

Well, first I think Mark hit the nail on the head.  A work of fiction is an object, a fixed thing, and you interact with it, challenge it, encounter it, in your own way and on your own time; at the same time, it doesn't talk back.  It does what it does, and you can't change it.  So you interpret, to try to make it change, and maybe you're successful and maybe you aren't, but it's still waiting for you when you get back, and maybe this time it's not quite the same.  And so on.

RPGs are not like this.  All this stuff about story and narrative really is a category mistake at this level; I've always thought this was the great abyss in the middle of RPG theory and I still think so, and I think further that Harrison has spotted it clearly -- as has Mark.  See, here's the thing.  You're not going to like this, some of you, but this is really very important.

A work of fiction is not a story.

Got that?  It may have a story, or tell a story, which are not the same thing, but it is not a story.  It's words.  That's all, just words.

Now if RPGs want to tell stories too, that's great, but that doesn't make them works of fiction.  That's not a question of good or bad; it's not that RPGs are bad fiction.  It's that they are not fiction at all.  This is what Harrison means by a "category mistake": it's a complete mismatch.

To take a deliberately somewhat silly example, but one that has some content nevertheless, consider the RPG fiction stuff that pads out a lot of games we like to pillory.  I think we can mostly agree that this stuff is crap fiction.  But why doesn't that bother the writers?  Why do they publish it anyway?  Why do a certain sort of gamers lap it up with their games?

Because all it is is story.  It just tells some things that happen, and expresses certain aspects of the world.  You know, how bits of the magic work, or the shtick of werewolves, or the Premise of the Great Battle, or whatever.

So let's put that together.  You've got a story.  You've got characters.  You explain the intricacies of your world through that.  You've got some inventive ideas about cultures and creatures and whatnot.  You've got a Premise to address.  You string it all together in a cohesive narrative.  Congratulations, you now have a book of fantasy fiction.

Okay, but guess what?  It's crap.  I don't have to read it.  Put together in that way, it's crap.  Because what never for a moment mattered in that construction process was the one thing that fiction can never, never, never lose focus on: words.

Now you may say, "Yeah, sure, but you know what?  RGPs happen entirely with words too."  True, and no I'm not going to make noises about body language and so on.  No, the thing is that the words don't matter.  It just doesn't matter whether your sentences, as you speak them in the moment right now, are graceful, elegant, and make people think about how they work.  It doesn't matter whether each and every character speaks in a peculiar and distinctive way, but ever so slightly, and that maybe if you look very deep you can see subtle resonances of Phil in the voice of Phil's son Matt.  None of that matters.  And a good thing too, because who can do all that on the first try?  Nobody!

Consider this: how come you can retell, with some effectiveness if you're good and you choose the right events, the story of a game?  You don't provide a verbatim transcript, you retell it.  Why?  Because the words do not matter.

See, we also don't revise.  And if you look at the way people talk about writing, all too often, on this thread for example, you'll notice that people forget about the most important part, which is revision.  By the time a text is really done, most of it probably doesn't look anything like it did the first time.  And maybe nothing has changed but the words -- but they're really all that matters.  The rest is just instruments for making the words resonate.

That is not true in RPGs.  And it never will be.  Get over it.
Quote from: Ron
1. Any new art form requires decades to be recognized at all, and then more decades to be recognized as more than just a cobbled-together bastard of other art forms.
If you want your art form to be recognized as valid, don't sell it as another art form.  If film hadn't had a bunch of maniac artistes who decided that this new medium required completely new techniques and from that generated a completely new artform, it would have been stuck with filming plays, and basically sucking.

Your film teacher who thought comics were stupid was an idiot, or rather, a bigot.  He decided that there were only certain limited measures of artistic success, and on the basis of probably very limited data decided that comics didn't match up.  Well, nor should they.  They're their own art form.  And when I hear comics described as "great literature" I want to vomit: they're comics, damn it.  Sit up and be proud of comics, and do something with comics, and make them Comics.  I think the reason Japanese manga have in part succeeded at this is that they don't have this inferiority complex, that "oh god, what if we don't get recognized as really serious literature?"
Quote
2. By definition, most fiction writers are oriented toward what, in role-playing, I call Narrativism.
By whose definition?  I think this is flat-out nonsense.  Egri may have been interested in that, but who's Egri?  One guy who was apparently pretty good at teaching creative writing.  You can't tell me that all Ulysses is about is Premise.  Or V.  Or The Odyssey.  If it's all about Premise, what's the difference between The Odyssey and Ulysses?

Take Tolkien for a minute.  Consider the films and the novels of LOTR.  They tell the same stories, have the same basic Premises (mostly), and so on.  But they are very much not the same thing.  My favorite example of this is the scene when Gandalf "cures" Theoden of the repulsive influence of Grima Wormtongue (and through him Saruman).  You saw the flick, you saw the special effects.  Didn't you just want to hurl?  What a total misunderstanding -- or rather, no.  Actually, the thing is, the scene in the novels is not filmable, because it's about words.

See, Tolkien, as you recall, was a world-class expert on Norse eddas and sagas.  And he knew perfectly well that those things are very much about words, and are weirdly reflexive texts (weird because unusual in a culture as so-called "archaic" as that).  Now the Rohirrim are about as close to Vikings as you can get in horsemen, and what Gandalf does is to act exactly the way any decent edda hero wizard ought to: he uses words to play with truth.  He claims simply that it is already true that Theoden isn't old, just weary.  And he makes this whole stirring speech about putting one's hand on the hilt of a sword, and all that.  Meanwhile Grima Wormtongue (note name) has been feeding poisonous words into Theoden's ear, soft, sweet, womanly words about "you're old, you need a rest, take a load off...."  If I'd filmed it, Theoden would have looked exactly the same physically before and after, except that the lighting is such that in the dark, musty light he looks weary; when Gandalf opens the window and calls him (in words) to action, he straightens up and stands, and you see that he never really was decrepit -- it was all lies.

The scene is fully about words, and it's beautiful, one of the best scenes in the whole series, if you ask me, because it perfectly takes up the themes and issues of eddas and sagas and makes them live again in new words.  Tolkien's prose is weird: nobody ever really talked like that, but they talk in a way special and peculiar to Tolkien's world.

And in RPGs, you can take up the themes and such, but you really cannot do this with words unless you can go back and edit.

Get over it!  RPGs are not literature.  If we're ever going to take this art form forward, we've got to stop trying to pretend to be literature writers.  We're not.  If we were, you'd have seen a lot of games already that aim to construct poetry.  You don't, because that's simply not the point.  We use words to do things.  Literature is words.

What I'd really like to talk about, incidentally, is Harrison's fascinating comments on encountering a world as fundamentally alien, and his follow-up that attempting to live in that world is colonizing and thus destroying it.  He's right, but until we can swallow the apparently bitter pill that RPGs are not literature and never will or should be, we can't talk about that intelligently.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: John Kim on December 01, 2004, 11:33:38 PM
Quote from: clehrich
Consider this: how come you can retell, with some effectiveness if you're good and you choose the right events, the story of a game?  You don't provide a verbatim transcript, you retell it.  Why?  Because the words do not matter.
Quote from: clehrich
The scene is fully about words, and it's beautiful, one of the best scenes in the whole series, if you ask me, because it perfectly takes up the themes and issues of eddas and sagas and makes them live again in new words.  Tolkien's prose is weird: nobody ever really talked like that, but they talk in a way special and peculiar to Tolkien's world.

And in RPGs, you can take up the themes and such, but you really cannot do this with words unless you can go back and edit.

Get over it!  RPGs are not literature.  If we're ever going to take this art form forward, we've got to stop trying to pretend to be literature writers.  We're not.  If we were, you'd have seen a lot of games already that aim to construct poetry.  You don't, because that's simply not the point.  We use words to do things.  Literature is words.

Well, on the one hand, I agree with your emphatic "RPGs are not literature" point.  However, I think your point about words is totally wrong.  And furthermore, by denying the value of words in RPGs, you are doing damage to RPGs as an art.  

Sure, you can re-tell what happened in an RPG game.  But just the same way, you can re-tell what happened in Tolkien's scene.  And in both cases, the re-telling does a disservice to the original.  You imply that somehow the re-telling of the game is just as good as the game.  i.e. The original words were irrelevant.  I think the words are relevant, and the re-telling is just as violent a change as Tolkien's scene.  

The fact that you can't go back and edit doesn't make the words irrelevant, any more than being unable to erase makes the lines irrelevant in drawing.  The spontaneous words are the role-playing, at least for online play -- in tabletop and LARP you add in bodily components of expression.  But role-playing is still an act.  The words, the gestures, the maps, the miniatures -- all of these are elements of the art, and they all matter.  Being spontaneous doesn't make them invisible or irrelevant.  

I'm not entirely sure about this, but my impression is that you are siding with M. John Harrison that role-playing in Middle Earth is bad.  Is that right?  Your comments about the movie sound like a purist argument.  i.e. Bands shouldn't do covers of older songs, they should write new songs.  Similarly, movies should come from original screenplays, not remakes or adaptations.  I'm curious if you could clarify.  For what it's worth, I didn't puke at the scene.  Yes, it was different than the book.  Yes, it devalues words.  However, the movie was... a movie.  It is a visual medium, not a textual one.  Trying to film a book literally is a category error.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ian Charvill on December 02, 2004, 12:53:17 AM
Chris

A certain amount of what you wrote really works for me, but some of it has me confused.  You wrote that a work of fiction is not a story, it's just word.  Now, I'm guessing here, you meant something like, a novel is not a story it's just words.  Silent films can be works of fiction, and can contain no words whatever.

So are you saying that role playing games are not works of fiction like novels?  Or are you saying that role playing games are not pure works of fiction.  I mean in the sense of pictionary is not a drawing, it's a game part of which is to produce drawings.  In that sense roleplaying games wouldn't be works of fiction, they would be games part of which would require the production of fictional passages, dialogues and so on.

Ian


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Erling Rognli on December 02, 2004, 05:14:46 AM
I said a lot of what I had to say about this topic in lumpleys Shakespeare-thread, but reading this, and in particular Chris' last post rang a bell or two for me. The notion of roleplaying as art in certain ways challenges the very concept of art. The artform that roleplaying might become will possibly be the first artform where the art-object is totally indivisible from both the acts of creation and appreciation. It represents quite a radical break with certain central features of art in the sense the word is used today.

The art-object of roleplaying has neither a performer/spectator-division nor features of relative permanence or reproducability. It's also interesting to consider how important equality of status and non-profit as part of the social contract is for functional roleplaying. Can roleplaying be professionalised and turned into a service without becoming something entirely different? (I have no idea what might actually be the case concerning the last question, but someone else might have relevant experiences?)

Anyway, I fully agree with Chris on the point that the question of roleplaying as an artform cannot be framed on the terms of another, entirely different form of art. Further I think that roleplaying, should it become an artform, would be so much more different from established forms of art than it struggling predecessors once were, that becoming so in the first place would be very, very difficult. If you see what I mean. When we also take the culture surrounding the phenomena today into consideration, things look kinda bleak.

Further, on the bleak train of thought: If roleplaying does becomes art some time, I'm afraid several things will have happened. The division between roleplaying as games and roleplaying as "expression within collaborative social context" - thing will have widened, to the point where these are different phenomena altogheter, probably with different names. Roleplaying as the latter will have become more professionalised. The conceptual links to fantasy and science fiction will have been severed. In short, I think that roleplaying would conform to art, being changed in the process, to a much greater degree than art would be changed by roleplaying. One of the most powerful ideas within art is the idea of the Artist and the audience. I am not sure that roleplaying would be able to resist the influence of that idea, given the prevalence of ideas about the GM as the artist. In the end, I think that the roleplaying-art that would result would be far less interesting than some of the roleplaying we see today.

Then again, I might be overly pessimistic and frustrated about the state of art in society.

-Erling


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Erling Rognli on December 02, 2004, 05:15:05 AM
Damnit. Double-posted. Sorry. Please delete.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: ethan_greer on December 02, 2004, 05:58:23 AM
John, you missed something. Chris didn't say that retelling a role-playing session was just as good as the original role-playing session. He said that retelling the story that resulted from a role-playing session can result in a story that is just as good as the one produced in the original role-playing session. Why? Because really it's the same story, told with different words. That's how the words "don't matter."

Words matter as elements of the art form. They don't matter to the particular story that gets told. The same story totally reworded is still the same story.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Valamir on December 02, 2004, 07:15:51 AM
Chris, a nice solid rant...but I'm wondering what its relevancy is to this thread.

I don't see anyone saying RPG playing and Literature writing are the same thing (or even all that close).

Rather what has been commented on is whether or not writers as people and potential roleplayers would have (based on their authorial background) have more in common while roleplaying with certain Creative Agendas over others.

The hypothesis that was put forth was that most writers abhor roleplaying because most roleplaying they will have encountered is Sim and the Sim CA is highly incompatable with the way writers think about stories.  While those same authors may well have / have had a better feeling about roleplaying if they had encountered Narrativist Groups because the Nar CA involves away of thinking about characters and story that is more compatable with the way authors already think about such things.

No where do I see anyone saying that roleplaying and writing are the same.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 02, 2004, 07:54:20 AM
I note a key distinction in Ron's first requirement. Note that he deoesn't say it takes years for a thing to become art. He says it takes years for a thing to become recognized as art.

I think we have art here and now in role-playing. I'm not waiting around for PhDs to stamp it with approval or whatever. It's art, right here, right now. We just don't have a lot of people in the world agreeing that it is.

So, I guess the question might rightly be, What is the definition of art, and does it require a certain number of people to accept it as art? I say, no way. Others may say otherwise.

If I'm right that role-playing alread is art, then we're waiting around for people like Harrison to come around to us, not for role-playing to come around to them. I say that's an important distiction, and it has implications for what games we're designing, playing and talking about here on the Forge.

Note that when I say role-playing does not need to "come around" to Harrison (or whatever skeptic), I'm not talking about getting My Life With Master in his hands physically so he knows it exists. I'm saying that, should Harrison ever encounter a game like that, he would hopefully change his mind about this stuff ("come around" to it). The games are already here, though there's certainly more to come.

Also, I think Chris Lehrich is not saying role-playing can't be something like literature, it's just that we may be making mistakes to compare the activity 1:1 with literature. If I read him rightly, he's saying that role-playing can be an art on par with literature, in the sense that it's as "valuable" an art to those who experience it. Chris?

Chris, I'll note one other thing -- I think revision can and does happen all the time in role-playing, both during play and after play as we recount events. I've made posts on this previously, and Ron has made even more about this topic. I think these kinds of revisions are quite comparable, but not exact, to a writer working with an edtior, or even just revising his own text.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: daMoose_Neo on December 02, 2004, 10:06:55 AM
Might I also add that the focus on words...seems awefully wrong, especially when looking to Tolkien's inspirtations. Tolkien himself, yes, his writing was about the beauty of his words.
However, Tolkien's words were inspired by the very thing you're saying RPG's are...retold, word-specific-less tales. The versions of nordic, celtic and other tales he referenced in creating Middle Earth were simply the latest, recorded, versions. Countless versions existed before that, before it was recording in fixed form.
Storytellers existed long before "literature" and writing, their stories changing with each retelling and with each person, some more flowery, others less. What you have in RPG PLAYING is a kind of 'discovery', after the fact you have a work of fiction, a story. It is told to others, much like the old legends passed from mouth to mouth. Alot of that became the basis for the written versions of the legends which Tolkien turned to when developing Middle Earth. He was a storyteller, same as say a tribal keeper of legends or a gamer telling of his defeat of a dragon. What Tolkien is, that they are not, is a writer, fixing one version of the story with a particular set of words.
Words do and don't matter. They do create a distinction between what Tolkien is and what we, as gamers, are. The medium will always be different, however both of us are Authors, Storytellers, Artists. Some gamers can be writers as well. If a gamer were to record a series of sessions, and fill it with flowery word-portraits and fill gaps, he would in that sense be no different from Tolkien taking the traditional legends and adding his own twist to it. Is the gamer, in the act of gaming, doing what Tolkien is? No. After the fact, however, could he? Possibly.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: ethan_greer on December 02, 2004, 11:11:27 AM
Nate, you seem to be forgetting Chris's main point - That a work of fiction, literature, is not a story. Creating a story and creating a work of literature are two very different things. Tolkien may have been a storyteller, but he was an author also. The two are far from being the same thing.

To a work of fiction, and the author, the words are the most (if not the only) crucial element.

To a story, and the storyteller, the words are incidental.

Tolkein was a storyteller who produced literature. The fact that he retold some classic tales relates to his skill as a storyteller and isn't really connected with the fact that, as an author, he produced literature. A gamer is a storyteller too, but if he or she transcribed and gussied up a series of roleplaying sessions, it would not be literature.

So, the focus on words is crucial to Chris's point. At least, as I read it.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: SlurpeeMoney on December 02, 2004, 05:14:15 PM
Well, as I've been tooting her horn for a few days now, particularly having just finished her latest half-novel, I thought it might be interesting to note that I got an e-mail from Jacqueline Carey today. In response to my bridging the topic of role-playing in an author's established, published world, she said:

Quote
Gaming is a difficult issue for authors, due to the rights involved. However, my unofficial position is that I don't mind people having fun in my world, as long as they treat it with respect!


Just thought you folks might like to know.

Kris
"Going off to make my Cassaline Brother character now."


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 02:14:32 AM
Lots of good stuff to respond to.  I’m going to do this in stages, because my first draft was 6 pages long.

Quote from: John Kim
I'm not entirely sure about this, but my impression is that you are siding with M. John Harrison that role-playing in Middle Earth is bad. Is that right? Your comments about the movie sound like a purist argument. i.e. Bands shouldn't do covers of older songs, they should write new songs. Similarly, movies should come from original screenplays, not remakes or adaptations. I'm curious if you could clarify. For what it's worth, I didn't puke at the scene. Yes, it was different than the book. Yes, it devalues words. However, the movie was... a movie. It is a visual medium, not a textual one. Trying to film a book literally is a category error.
In my post previously,
Quote from: I
Didn't you just want to hurl? What a total misunderstanding -- or rather, no. Actually, the thing is, the scene in the novels is not filmable, because it's about words.
We’re not disagreeing on this point, at least.  The scene in film is not the same as the scene in the novel.  My point is that the mediums are quite different, and that has significant ramifications for what one can and cannot do readily.  As it happens, I dislike this filmed scene a lot, but my point is really that because the two mediums do different things and are about different things, film being visual and novels being textual, a "purist" filming of the scene would at the least be very difficult, and perhaps impossible.

As a related point, note that one of Jackson’s choices in making the films was to eliminate to a large degree the strange speech-patterns of Tolkien characters.  I think this was a wise choice; a film audience would not as readily have stood for such odd word-use.  The reason being that the film medium is not at base a textual one.

Quote from: Ian Charvill
A certain amount of what you wrote really works for me, but some of it has me confused. You wrote that a work of fiction is not a story, it's just word. Now, I'm guessing here, you meant something like, a novel is not a story it's just words. Silent films can be works of fiction, and can contain no words whatever.
I should have been clearer on my terms.  I meant that a work of fiction, by which I mean a short story or novel, may make use of the narrative mode we call "story" or it may not; in any event it is made up of nothing but words.  Silent films are not works of fiction; they’re films.  They are made up of images, not words.  I think we’re on the same page, though; your remarks on pictionary confuse me a tad but the rest seems more or less what I was on about.

Quote from: Ralph (Valamir)
Chris, a nice solid rant...but I'm wondering what its relevancy is to this thread.
It’s relevant because I think this is what Harrison was talking about.  He’s saying that there is a grave mismatch between textual fiction and RPGs.  He wants his works, as works of textual fiction, to be experienced through text.  He does not want them displaced into another medium; for him, that’s missing the point.  Note his references to postmodernism and whatnot: in a sense, he’s saying that Viriconium’s medium is its message, and thus to transpose his work into a radically different medium is to do it a grave disservice.  He thinks, as I understand it, that an RPG that puts the characters and indirectly the players into Viriconium is intrinsically impossible: it wouldn’t be Viriconium, because Viriconium is exclusively a world of words, something that can only be experienced through the odd alienation of the written word.  And I think, on that basis, that much of this discussion of what authors have against RPGs has missed his basic point: that the two mediums are utterly different.  This is the "category mistake" to which he refers.

You mention the question of CA, and the hypothesis that Harrison (and presumably other authors) object to RPGs because they’re thinking Sim.  What I’m saying is relevant because I think that hypothesis utterly misses the point.  It doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference if we are talking about Narrativism, which produces Story Now, because Viriconium is not story: it’s textual fiction, and that is not the same as story.  I think if you re-read the thread, you will see that there is a lot of wishful thinking.  People are trying to convince themselves that if somehow they could show Harrison that they’re constructing stories, then he would change his opinion.  I doubt this very much, because I think that misses his point entirely.

Quote from: Matt Snyder
Also, I think Chris Lehrich is not saying role-playing can't be something like literature, it's just that we may be making mistakes to compare the activity 1:1 with literature. If I read him rightly, he's saying that role-playing can be an art on par with literature, in the sense that it's as "valuable" an art to those who experience it. Chris?
Correct.  It is an art form that lives in a very different medium than does literature.  What I think Harrison is saying is that his world, Viriconium, is a literary world, and that in order for it to be Viriconium it cannot be displaced into another medium.  In other words, Viriconium is a world not only made up of words but also about words.  By displacing it into a medium that is not about words, we end up constructing a world that is not Viriconium at all.  To whatever extent we call it Viriconium, we genuinely do a disservice to Harrison.
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Chris, I'll note one other thing -- I think revision can and does happen all the time in role-playing, both during play and after play as we recount events. I've made posts on this previously, and Ron has made even more about this topic. I think these kinds of revisions are quite comparable, but not exact, to a writer working with an editor, or even just revising his own text.
I’d be interested in links, Matt, but I’m rather doubtful.  Mark Woodhouse hit the nail on the head: RPGs do not produce a fixed product.  Literature, like almost any medium that produces a singular product, is capable of continual manipulation and revision up until the moment when it is "released" to the public (or whomever).  At that moment, the work of art becomes its own discrete object, autonomous and demanding interpretation but no longer capable of response.  RPGs, it seems to me, have this point rather more in common with dramatic performance: they only have a fixed product in a purely temporal sense, as in when the session is over one cannot go back except in memory.  The art-object does not remain available for constant re-interrogation.  On the other hand, during its construction/performance, it has a participatory relation to its audience that is not the case with a work of textual fiction (for example).


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 02:24:28 AM
Quote from: Nate (daMoose Neo)
However, Tolkien's words were inspired by the very thing you're saying RPG's are...retold, word-specific-less tales. The versions of nordic, celtic and other tales he referenced in creating Middle Earth were simply the latest, recorded, versions. Countless versions existed before that, before it was recording in fixed form. ... Storytellers existed long before "literature" and writing, their stories changing with each retelling and with each person, some more flowery, others less. What you have in RPG PLAYING is a kind of 'discovery', after the fact you have a work of fiction, a story. It is told to others, much like the old legends passed from mouth to mouth. Alot of that became the basis for the written versions of the legends which Tolkien turned to when developing Middle Earth. He was a storyteller, same as say a tribal keeper of legends or a gamer telling of his defeat of a dragon. What Tolkien is, that they are not, is a writer, fixing one version of the story with a particular set of words.
Ah, I was hoping this would come up.  You’re making an important distinction between myth and literature, one that I think is valid and essential, and that I think gets at the heart of how RPGs work.  But where you’re going wrong, if you’ll pardon my putting it this way, is in thinking that Tolkien’s sources are the vast mythic resources of the Norse cultures across time.  Not at all – his sources are composed literary products, in fact products of a partly dying culture.  As I said in my post, one of the oddities about that particular literature is that, unlike its obvious parallels in the early literature of dying-through-reformulation-and-assimilation cultures, the Norse literature is oddly reflexive, oddly aware of itself as a textual product.  This is something that usually crops up only after centuries of literary culture – and I mean literary, not stories or myth but text on a page.  One of the reasons for this is that Norse myths and such appear (we do not know, of course, but we have good reason for inferring) to have been extremely focused on word.  This correlates very well with the use of runes in the sagas, the emphasis on the nature of words and their implications, and some early legal material about curses and lies.  That’s not a unique quality, because nothing is quite unique – we see something like this in Sumer, for example, which almost immediately became a literary culture – but it is extremely unusual.  And one of the effects is that the Norse sagas and eddas, as literary products, are immediately aware of the displacement of the medium, and they play with this reflexively.

Tolkien is well aware of this, but Tolkien is also a romantic.  He really wants to believe that one can recapture the purely oral voice that stands behind and before those literary products.  And, as you would in some ways expect of a man of his generation and cultural situation, he attempts to recapture the oral voice of the sagas by composing them in one of the latest-developed purely literary forms available: the English novel.  Thus Tolkien is in a weird way doing exactly what Harrison is objecting to: he’s displacing one type of artistic medium (Norse myth) into another medium (English novel) in order to recapture the vibrancy of the original.  Tolkien cannot possibly succeed in this endeavor, and to whatever extent he does succeed it will be because he has written a good novel, not recaptured myth.  But, contrary to Tolkien’s romanticism, he is not doing at all what he thinks he’s doing.  He’s not displacing Norse myth, but manipulating a literary mode (saga, edda) that was already aware of its own shifting ground.  Thus part of the reason he succeeds so well is that the "oral voice" he wishes to recapture is nothing of the kind, and that his sources are in a sense ahead of him – they have the same problem, in trying to set down in one medium a mode of art that is not suited to that medium.  So part of Tolkien’s success, to put it a little differently, comes from the fact that he is doing exactly what the authors of the sagas are doing, and thus not displacing at all (except to the extent that he has chosen one inadequate textual medium instead of another).

Quote from: Ethan
To a work of fiction, and the author, the words are the most (if not the only) crucial element.

To a story, and the storyteller, the words are incidental.
Er, well, I wouldn’t go quite that far.  "Story" has nothing to do with word; it has no medium, but is a narrative structure of a particular sort, applicable to a range of purposes.  Some people like to call it "the diegetic", but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of value in that here.  But the point is that in order to tell a story, we choose techniques appropriate to our medium.  In a novel, that means words; there is nothing else.  In film, we’ve got a wide range of techniques: music, word, image, editing, etc.  Of these, image generally dominates, but film is not as univocal, as totally focused on one medium, as is textual literature.  In RPGs, we’ve got a different wide range of techniques: everything in the Big Model, and a fair amount more besides, can be used to tell story.

So to a storyteller, by which I take it you mean the classic "man sitting by the fire telling stories," words may be incidental, and usually in some sense are so.  But they needn’t be entirely so, as I’ve said with reference to Norse material.  

Another example worth mentioning is Greek epic.  From our best reconstructions, it seems that these things had a relatively fixed sequence of major narrative events – the basic story was set – but that the particular way they were told on a particular occasion had to do with the teller’s skill and his (apparently always his) use of that basic story and a complex set of verbal resources to formulate a Tale appropriate to the occasion and its audience.  The form was rigidly structured in terms of poesy: dactyllic hexameter, with certain irregular and not always followed rhyme schemes here and there.  In your resources, you had stock phrases and even whole blocks of well-known stock verse that could be "dropped in" and recited without any thought while you thought about what you were doing next.  Thus many of the classical epithets and bits – clear/gray-eyed Athena, dawn with her rosy fingers, etc. – are structured as they are because they exactly fit a useful block of meter, and thus can be used to fill out a line perfectly.  So Greek epic Tale-telling in the time of or immediately before Homer (whoever he was, if he was) was in a loose sense about the words, but actually you could have two guys tell "the same story" and have it be, on a word-for-word level, quite different.  Thus the aesthetics of who’s the best tale-teller came down to which words you used, as well as how well you sang the thing and how well you made it fit the audience’s particular immediate interests.

All this is by way of contrast to textual fiction.  As we encounter Homer now, for example, the text is what it is.  You pick your translation and you live with it.  If you read Joyce’s Ulysses, two copies are not supposed to be different.  And Joyce is not expected to address you personally; he’s not expected in effect to write a different version just for you because the performative situation demands it.  On the contrary, it is my problem, as a reader, to make him address me, or not, as I choose.  The text is fixed and autonomous.

RPGs are, in my opinion, a great deal more like certain forms of dramatic performance and semi-literary tale-telling than they are like textual fictional modes.  They do not produce fixed textual products.  They naturally adequate themselves to the needs of a particular situation and audience.  They are strongly spontaneous.  They are structured by a priori exterior rules (sort of like dactyllic hexameter) which determine what can and cannot be included in the performance.  They are non-repeatable.

Based on all this is it any wonder that highly reflexive postmodern authors like Harrison, for whom words are worlds are words, object strongly to the form making use of their worlds?  We take Viriconium and strip it of its words; for Harrison, we’ve just removed its entire raison d’être.  Then we say we are exploring Viriconium, telling stories in and about Viriconium, re-encountering the source material of Viriconium, and so on.  But for Harrison, we’re doing nothing of the kind.  We’ve constructed a ridiculous, hollow semblance of his work and called it Viriconium, and had the gall to call it a tribute.  If you like this sort of analogy, it’s sort of what Melkor did by creating orcs as an obscene parody of elves: from one point of view they’re just exactly the same, but from another point of view (the elves’) they retain only the characteristics least desirable to the elves and eliminate everything that makes them really who and what they are.  I think Harrison’s sense is that, by stripping Viriconium out of a purely textual medium, and thus making it no longer reflexively about and constructed of words, we don’t just get a kind of pale shadow of his work but a flat-out insult.  It shows that we have not understood what he’s doing or why, that we have refused to encounter his work on its own terms.  If we had understood Viriconium in the first place, we would not think to displace it from the written word.  Thus the "category mistake."


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 03, 2004, 05:46:17 AM
Chris, Ron may be better able to find the links about revision than I am. I'll give it a go later.

For now, I agree with you about the product, the thing that writing produces. It remains fixed once revised and published. But, I still think that there are, if inexact, comparisons between the negotiation and revisions in gaming and the editing and revising in ficiton writing. First, during play, players constantly negotiate with one another abouut "what's going on." This is the lumpley principle in action. Events change, ideas change, and it's therefore inevitable that meaning changes.

Similarly, once the game is over there is no product (though some campaign journals might toe that border). However, the audience for the game still exists. And, when they talk about the game, or even just remember it on their own, they actually revise what really happen in the game, often unconsciously so. They are both revising in their minds and interpreting events as they recall what was "most fun" or the "best moment" and so on. I think more valuable, artistic thoughts change, too.

Fiction differs in that the text can't really change after publication, sure. That difference is there. But interpretation happens, changes the body of a work and the thought about it. This happens all the time in academia, as you know well I'm sure. Very similar things happen for games as well.

...

Another thought on Harrison. You make a clearer case for what Harrison's saying, and your perspective is helpful to me. Still, I have objections to his intentions. Ok, so he's interested only in fiction, text and his imaginary space as it pertains to text and words. Say I agree with you, that this is Harrison's concern, and that if we showed him a game that produced story in terms he'd admire ... but still wants nothing to do with it because it ain't fiction. What then? Well, I'm not interested in whether it's a disservice to him. The very idea that you'd create a piece of art deliberately in such a way that other art forms are forbidden from addressing it is laughable and hubristic, from where I'm sitting. One of my first replies here wondered how the hell he's stop anyone from doing so. Why spend the energy deliberately preventing that from happening? It strikes me as a grave disservice to art itself on his part. He makes his own categorical error about how humanity shares ideas.

Why? Because writing is not the only way to explore the kinds of post-modern ideas he's after. Viriconiom exists only in the sphere of "words"? I don't think it does. It exists at a deeper layer that those words, so cleverly composed, represent, the meaning behind them. Post-modernist authors are interested in the style of the substance (i.e. the words), but I think they fool themselves into thinking written fiction is the only way to pursue those post-modern ideas.

I can't believe he's only interested in words. Words are just what they are. I believe we can seek his post-modern ideas in role-playing, and that words are not the sum, total, and only way to approach ideas he'd appreciate. You and I may disagree about that, and that's cool. Maybe he IS only interested in words and post-modernism. That's fine. Maybe that's all there is to what he's after. I still say he's missing broader opportunities for the same messages and ideas, and that's a pity. If he is interested in "just" words, that's understandable given his profession. If he's interested in "just" words, that's incomprehensible (to me), given his obvious interest in ideas.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Caldis on December 03, 2004, 05:52:54 AM
Quote from: clehrich
It’s relevant because I think this is what Harrison was talking about.  He’s saying that there is a grave mismatch between textual fiction and RPGs.  He wants his works, as works of textual fiction, to be experienced through text.  He does not want them displaced into another medium; for him, that’s missing the point.


Sorry I dont see him saying this.  He does talk a bit about words but the majority of his essay is about missing the message of the writing and revelling in the imagined space it creates.  The title of the essay gives it away, "What it might be like to live in Viriconium", along with the questions he gives as samples "What would it be like to weild a sword?" or "How would an orc regiment organize itself?".  He very much is talking about the Simulationist desires to live inside these imaginary world, and how it's impossible to do this without killing what was special about the source material, the meanings behind the words.  You wont recreate Lord of the Rings by mapping out Moria and figuring out how many dwarves could have lived there, it's the wrong approach.

So what does this mean for using Middle Earth as a setting for an RPG?  The first thing is you cant expect to get a deeper knowledge of the original source material by playing a game set in it.  The authors meanings were wrapped up in his orginal writing.  I think John is right that you can use the setting as inspiration and mess with the messages of the original work, but you have to realize it's something entirely different than the authors story.  You are creating something new.

An unrelated comment on role playing as art.  I think the problem with it being recognized as art is the fact that in never produces anything to be recognized.  All other art forms create something for an audience to consume, to take in, role playing games are something to participate in not something to show to others.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 06:54:43 AM
Quote from: Caldis
Quote from: clehrich
It’s relevant because I think this is what Harrison was talking about.  He’s saying that there is a grave mismatch between textual fiction and RPGs.  He wants his works, as works of textual fiction, to be experienced through text.  He does not want them displaced into another medium; for him, that’s missing the point.
Sorry I dont see him saying this.  He does talk a bit about words but the majority of his essay is about missing the message of the writing and revelling in the imagined space it creates.
Quote from: M. John Harrison
The great modern fantasies were written out of religious, philosophical and psychological landscapes. They were sermons. They were metaphors. They were rhetoric. They were books, which means that the one thing they actually weren't was countries with people in them.
To me this first paragraph is essential.  Harrison's primary point is that these landscapes are not landscapes.  Map is not territory, you might say.  These things are pure rhetoric, made up of words -- they are text.

What he finds is that "commercial fantasy" -- including not only RPGs but also the whole raft of bad Tolkien-imitation genre fantasy -- "literalizes" this, misunderstanding that this stuff is not landscape but rhetoric.
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He very much is talking about the Simulationist desires to live inside these imaginary world, and how it's impossible to do this without killing what was special about the source material, the meanings behind the words.  You wont recreate Lord of the Rings by mapping out Moria and figuring out how many dwarves could have lived there, it's the wrong approach.
Yes, I suppose, but I think what he would take to be the "meaning" is nothing like story.
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So what does this mean for using Middle Earth as a setting for an RPG?  The first thing is you cant expect to get a deeper knowledge of the original source material by playing a game set in it.  The authors meanings were wrapped up in his orginal writing.  I think John is right that you can use the setting as inspiration and mess with the messages of the original work, but you have to realize it's something entirely different than the authors story.  You are creating something new.
I don't think he'd debate this.  I do think he'd claim that what is constructed is of a completely different nature from the original.  It's not that you're creating a new literary work that happens to be set in Middle Earth; you're creating something completely other.  And what I think he objects to -- note again that he's largely talking about commercial genre fantasy -- is that this has replaced the notion of fantasy as rhetorical manipulation of ideas through words.

Furthermore, he's saying that such rhetorical manipulation in fantasy in particular is in many ways wild, untamed, and alien.  It constructs something uncontrolled and uncontrollable, and this borrows from the nature of the written word as something outside the dominance of the reader.  For him, to delve into the political economy of the dwarves is to have "tamed, colonised and put your own cultural mark on them."  This, for him, is intrinsically to undermine the fantastic quality of it in the first place.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ian Charvill on December 03, 2004, 07:00:07 AM
Chris

You were using 'work of fiction' as a term of art -- that makes it clearer.  The pictionary analogy is that clearly sections of a roleplaying game consist of creating short prose passages and then using them within the broader context of the game -- in the same way pictures in pictionary are drawn to be used in the broader context of that game.  For example, in The Pool players write 50 word prose descriptions of their characters.  Works of fiction, but your definition, but these are then used to generate rpg stuff (character abilities, roughly speaking, in The Pool).

Generally,

I'm not sure why people are getting so heated about Harrison refusing Virconium for rpg use.  I've seen very similar sentiments regarding JK Rowling and Harry Potter.  I'm not sure Harrison has any obligations whatsoever to allow other people to use his intellectual property.  Does he have a moral obligation to allow people to make a Viriconium film, irrespective of whether he thought it was a good idea or not?

The special pleading w/r/t narrativism is starting to remind me of a Mac using friend of mine who is convinced that if everyone used Macs there would no geek social stigma, because Macs are cool.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 07:26:54 AM
Quote from: Matt Snyder
For now, I agree with you about the product, the thing that writing produces. It remains fixed once revised and published. But, I still think that there are, if inexact, comparisons between the negotiation and revisions in gaming and the editing and revising in ficiton writing. First, during play, players constantly negotiate with one another abouut "what's going on." This is the lumpley principle in action. Events change, ideas change, and it's therefore inevitable that meaning changes.
I am not at all convinced that the internal negotiation process that formulates meaning within a game is parallel to an author's revision process, but I'll wait until I see some links and understand a little better maybe what you're getting at.
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Similarly, once the game is over there is no product (though some campaign journals might toe that border). However, the audience for the game still exists. And, when they talk about the game, or even just remember it on their own, they actually revise what really happen in the game, often unconsciously so. They are both revising in their minds and interpreting events as they recall what was "most fun" or the "best moment" and so on. I think more valuable, artistic thoughts change, too.
I don't think there's any question, or should be, that there is an audience here.  And it's certainly the case that the audience for a work of art, no matter the form, restructures and interprets that work in memory.  But that's the case with a film and a work of textual fiction, and yet those two are clearly very different in structure and medium and method.  I would argue that Harrison's case about the specifically rhetorical and textual dimension of fantasy demands that we emphasize the medium and the manner in which it operates.  I do wonder what he would have to say about the films of LOTR.  That would be an interesting essay....
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Fiction differs in that the text can't really change after publication, sure. That difference is there. But interpretation happens, changes the body of a work and the thought about it. This happens all the time in academia, as you know well I'm sure. Very similar things happen for games as well.
Interpretation and revision are not the same animal, Matt.  After I've interpreted a text, it remains itself, autonomous.  What changes is the discourse about the text, which in turn may alter the way people read the text, and so forth.  But the text itself remains the text itself.  And one of the points I think Harrison wants to stress is that that peculiar autonomy of the text is heavily rooted in the written word, which is especially alienated from what we usually like to think of as the "real" or experiential.  This is why he thinks that fantasy has to get over its current tendency toward literalism and celebrate its own potential wildness.  A text cannot really be colonized, because all you can do is write around it; you cannot rewrite the text once it has been written.


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Another thought on Harrison. ... Still, I have objections to his intentions. ... Well, I'm not interested in whether it's a disservice to him. The very idea that you'd create a piece of art deliberately in such a way that other art forms are forbidden from addressing it is laughable and hubristic, from where I'm sitting. One of my first replies here wondered how the hell he'd stop anyone from doing so. Why spend the energy deliberately preventing that from happening? It strikes me as a grave disservice to art itself on his part. He makes his own categorical error about how humanity shares ideas.
Well, obviously it's not something he can stop people doing.  But you have to remember that he's also talking about commercial genre fantasy.  He remarks:
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The apparent depth of the great fantasy inscapes--their appearance of being a whole world--is exhilarating: but that very depth creates anxiety. The revisionist wants to learn to operate in the inscape: this relieves anxiety and reasserts a sense of control over "Tolkien's World".
My understanding is that this "anxiety" he talks about, the profound alienation caused by the reader's inability fully to understand the world into which he has been plunged, is destroyed by a sense of control, what he calls "colonizing" the fantasy inscape.  Thus, yes, it's doing him a disservice to displace Viriconium into a non-textual medium.  But he thinks it's also a disservice to ourselves.  He thinks that fantasy has power precisely because it is uncontrollable and alien, and that by constructing what appear to be fantasies that are controllable, in which we can understand how things work and manipulate them on our own, we destroy exactly the exhilarating depth we had hoped to construct and that attracted us to the form in the first place.

Within RPGs, I think it's interesting to consider this in light of traditional GM "auteur" approaches.  The GM's total dominance over the world entails that the players can never really be in control, never really know all the rules (cf. AD&D's separation of certain rule books from the players' knowledge, at least in theory), never really know what the hell is going on.  This produces an approximation of the "exhilarating" alienation and sense of depth Harrison wants, but at a considerable cost: in order to be able to deal with this situation at all, we have to have a mechanical grip on a lot of the rules or we cannot do anything, and it is precisely this literalism that Harrison dislikes.

I do think that Harrison is implying that fantasy is something that (for example) RPGs cannot do, and I don't think he's right about that.  But certainly what RPGs cannot do is produce literary fantasy.  We need to assess critically the strengths and weaknesses of our form and figure out how to produce what we want, and whether there is more that we can do than what we have done.  Can this sense of alienated exhilaration be constructed in an RPG?  Harrison doesn't think so; I do, as it happens, but I agree with him that it cannot be done by trying to approximate "the great fantasy inscapes."  That way lies literalism and cheap hackwork.  RPGs must produce their own fantasies, by their own means, and strive to work out what unique qualities inhere in the form.  For Harrison, written text permits a kind of distanciation that can engender exhilaration, and he claims that this effect is one of the cores of fantasy itself.  If that is correct, and I think he's on to something, then we need to think about the ways in which the RPG form includes necessarily a form of alienation and distance.  There is no question that RPGs can produce a closeness and experiential quality that fiction can never quite reach, and that is one of the form's attractions.  It is also something we have emphasized a great deal in the development of the form.  But aren't there ways in which RPGs are alienated and alienating, ways distinctive to that form?  If we want to rise to Harrison's challenge, we need to seek these out and capitalize upon them.  Only then could we create a Viriconium of our own -- and it would be very much not Harrison's.
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Post-modernist authors are interested in the style of the substance (i.e. the words), but I think they fool themselves into thinking written fiction is the only way to pursue those post-modern ideas.
I have no idea whether Harrison is fooling himself in this way.  I agree with you that if he thinks this, he is fooling himself.  But I also think that he's correct that RPG fantasy, to the extent that it is not currently reflexively turned-in toward its own absences and intrinsic distance, cannot pursue those goals.
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I can't believe he's only interested in words. Words are just what they are.
On the contrary, that's exactly what words aren't.  That's why they work for Harrison's purpose.  Whatever words are, they aren't, if you will; they are absent, hollow, arbitrary.  They create meaning only because we let them; they have no power whatever, which is why they're so powerful for creating sensations of distance and alienation.  This is the reflexive turn I'm talking about.
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I believe we can seek his post-modern ideas in role-playing, and that words are not the sum, total, and only way to approach ideas he'd appreciate. You and I may disagree about that, and that's cool.
Oh no, I totally agree.  But I haven't seen anything that attempts to discern the absences intrinsic to the form, without which one cannot seek those ideas through gaming.


Title: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 03, 2004, 07:36:44 AM
Hello,

When one's area of non-gaming expertise becomes the topic of a thread, it's time to reevaluate.

Chris, your thoughts on this matter are so extensive that I think we'll all benefit from you presenting them in smaller chunks, in threads dedicated to that topic.

However, some of them are at the level of Big Thinks which are beyond the Forge's scope. (For example, I do not post about sociobiological contexts for behavior, which is related to my professional field. Nor would "what is the mind" discussions be appropriate here, or "how do economics relate to ethics" and so on.)

I'm not closing the thread yet, but I hope everyone can see that many sub-topics have appeared which need to go to their own threads. Let's practice self-moderation in that regard, just as Matt has already demonstrated.

Best,
Ron