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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 148 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: A wild and an untamed thing - how literature refuses gaming  (Read 19730 times)
GB Steve
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« on: November 30, 2004, 03:10:27 AM »

M. John Harrison's postion on roleplaying, 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.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #1 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 before.
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GB Steve
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« Reply #2 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 on PTGPTB that denies gameable fiction, but from a roleplayers point of view. I don't agree with that either.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 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
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GB Steve
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« Reply #4 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). And, of course, roleplayers don't like to lose control of their PCs.

It's a complex situation.
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contracycle
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« Reply #5 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.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 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.
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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.
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #7 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.
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Matt Snyder
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Valamir
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« Reply #8 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.
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lumpley
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« Reply #9 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
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #10 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.
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MR. Analytical
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« Reply #11 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.
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Alan
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« Reply #12 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.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #13 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.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #14 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.
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