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Author Topic: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming  (Read 18929 times)
SlurpeeMoney
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Posts: 69


« Reply #75 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."
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clehrich
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« Reply #76 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.
Quote
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).
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Chris Lehrich
clehrich
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« Reply #77 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."
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Chris Lehrich
Matt Snyder
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« Reply #78 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.
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Matt Snyder
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Caldis
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Posts: 359


« Reply #79 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.
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clehrich
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« Reply #80 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.
Quote
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.
Quote
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.
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Chris Lehrich
Ian Charvill
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« Reply #81 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.
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Ian Charvill
clehrich
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« Reply #82 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.
Quote
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....
Quote
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.


Quote
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.
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Chris Lehrich
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #83 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
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