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Author Topic: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming  (Read 20066 times)
Matt Snyder
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« Reply #30 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.)
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Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
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madelf
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« Reply #31 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.
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Calvin W. Camp

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neelk
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« Reply #32 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.
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Neel Krishnaswami
greedo1379
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« Reply #33 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.
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John Kim
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« Reply #34 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.
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- John
GB Steve
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« Reply #35 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 . 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.
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #36 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.
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Ian Charvill
GB Steve
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« Reply #37 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.
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #38 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!"
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Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
lumpley
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« Reply #39 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
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #40 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.
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Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
lumpley
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« Reply #41 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
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #42 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.
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Ian Charvill
Ian Charvill
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Posts: 377


« Reply #43 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
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Ian Charvill
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #44 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
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