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Author Topic: On RPGs and Text [LONG]  (Read 48916 times)
Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #45 on: December 07, 2004, 08:46:03 PM »

Oh.  And this one, too.
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clehrich
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« Reply #46 on: December 07, 2004, 08:57:45 PM »

Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
I have some thoughts, Chris. And, really, they're questions.  However, I seems to have lost the ability to phrase things as questions these days, and everything's coming out as strong statements.
You keep this up, you'll never make it on Jeopardy.  :-)

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....
Couldn't that same desire condition and desire be applied to players who gather for a Nar session.  I'll refer you again to the "Moose in the City" game I mentioned upthread.  I don't think anyone reading the actual play thread of that game could believe it didn't deliver on the goods you describe here.  

I believe, again, that in either Sim or Nar play, a "community" is formed that answers the needs you desribe.  The methods differ, but I'm not seeing much difference in need and outcome.  Thoughts?
Oh, I don't think there's any question that Nar (and presumably Gam) play generates community, meaning, and all that.  As you say, methods differ, but outcome doesn't.  I don't know what you mean by "need" -- can you clarify?

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How much do the methods really differ?  Yes, there are differences.  But let's be careful.

You suggest a Sim game works from a world different than our own.  But remember the Sorcerer One Sheet -- where the basic structure of a purposefully unique world, with rules and a thematic agenda are laid out for the players to riff on.  Nar players are also notorious for getting together for a session before actual play for character creation.  

While they may not be drawing on previously established "worlds" they are drawing on materials and mixing them up to their own end (no matter how original), to create a "world" with the bare bones of rules to "immerse" themselves in.  (Again, as you point out, not "Immersion.")

The use of Premise, whether named or not, also provides focus.  If I set up a HeroQuest character with torn loyalties between faith and a god, and make avenging my priest's death my goal while my family wishes I didn't puruse this (for 800 available reasons that'll make a good "story") I've set up a "focus" -- just like the Sim world.  It's all going to be right there on the Character Sheet.  It's what the game, and the attention of the players, will revovle around.  Same with Kickers, Mountain Witch Fates and so on.

I understand the specific of the "focus" objects are different.  But how different are they in Kind when it comes to actual effect?
I've quoted the whole block and highlighted a couple points.  This is an extremely subtle point, and the crux of my argument.  I may be wrong, please note, but I do think this is extremely important.  

[NOTE: This subtle distinction comes entirely from Levi-Strauss -- I mention that only because I do not want anyone giving me credit for it -- and when I finally (after a lot of thought and several readings of The Savage Mind) really got it, it was like a bolt of lightning.  Jonathan Smith and I once discussed teaching Levi-Strauss, and we agreed that no matter how hard the book is, it's the one book in our vast field of theory, religion, anthropology, etc. that can really cause this incredible brain-short: if you "get it," it's really true what a reviewer said when the book came out -- "once you have mastered him, human history can never be the same...."  In fact, if you really get this, really "get" the structural view of the world, you will never be the same.]

But let's do this through gaming.

As I see it, Nar and Gam take their primary "focus" in terms of what they manipulate to be structures.  In Nar, this would be story-structures, from which we choose on the basis of what's appropriate to the Premise.  In Gam, I think this is about mechanics, though I'm still very shaky on Gam.  Then one draws on whatever source material(s) to throw stuff into that structure and confirm and extend that structure.  One effect of this is that Nar gaming in particular doesn't have a lot of need for additional structuring mechanisms, since it's constructed from structures in the first place, and so doesn't particularly lend itself to vast rules systems.  Gam is different, and again I'm a little unsure.

Sim takes its primary "focus" to be "things," something a lot more like mythemes.  Objects, symbols, etc.; they may be fictional, but they are nonetheless concrete.  The structures, in that approach, are exceedingly fluid and loose because of this choice.  But because certainty is desirable (because of the ontological certainty desired), extremely rigid and complex rules (structures) are imposed.  The rhetorical claims that undergird those structures usually refer outward toward some sort of causality, the "how it would really happen in that world" sort of logic.

I realize that the distinction of structure --> things vs. things --> structure may seem trivial.  But the obvious parallel from Levi-Strauss may open it up.  This is the distinction Levi-Strauss makes between science and "savage thought."  Basically the scientist starts with a bunch of structures, rules about the kind of universe he lives in, and then from this he generates (through analysis etc.) a bunch of things embedded in those structures.  [He's talking about applied science, but of a weird sort -- sort of the extreme high end of engineering or the applied end of very hard-core science.]  Ultimately, the end-point of this process returns to rules: he wants to find new rules to extend the old ones.  The mythic bricoleur starts with a bunch of things and infers some rules to make them go together, but he's much more willing to chuck out any rule if it makes the things "feel" better somehow.  In the end, he returns to things, applying the tentative rules to them to create more analogies, but the structures themselves can be discarded or set aside so long as the basic analogies of things are in place.

So the Hidatsa don't start with a bunch of theoretical rules and ask, "How can I catch eagles?"  They start with "I catch eagles" and ask, "How can I slot that one in with everything else?"  This isn't explanation, by the way; it's making one set of things and another set of things "go together."  Here's Levi-Strauss (chapter 1 of The Savage Mind):
    It may be objected that science of this kind can scarcely be of much practical effect.  The answer to this is that its main purpose is not a practical one.  It meets intellectual requirements rather than or instead of satisfying needs.

    The real question is not whether the touch of a woodpecker's beak does in fact cure toothache.  It is rather whether there is a point of view from which a woodpecker's beak and a man's tooth can be seen as "going together" (the use of this congruity for therapeutic purposes being only one of its possible uses), and whether some initial order can be introduced into the universe by means of those groupings[/list:u]And a little earlier on the same page (page 9 in the English edition -- if you really "get" this sentence, you're in line for the bolt of lightning):
    Examples ... could be drawn from all parts of the world and one may readily conclude that animals and plants are not known as a result of their usefulness; they are deemed useful or interesting because they are first of all known.[/list:u]In the context of Nar and Sim, basically what I'm saying is that the Nar gamer says, "What thing will make Story Now happen?"  That's a practical question, and it's evaluated in practical terms.  The Nar-
ingenieur (engineer/scientist) begins with his structures (Premise, Story) and finds or invents appropriate things to solve his practical problem.

The Sim gamer says, "What is this thing?"  That's an intellectual and aesthetic question intrinsically, and it's evaluated on those terms.  The Sim-bricoleur begins with these things and finds or invents appropriate structures (rules, mechanics, etc.) to categorize and make sense of the things.

Does that clarify matters, or make them worse?

Three
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What about non-subculture play?  (And, again, I'm truly asking a question here.)  
....
Ron make sure to point out he sometimes plays in public places.  In sunlight even!  Clearly, part of his agenda is to move this beyond sub-culture round up the wagons status.  And yet, as noted in my points above, there's still the a) creation of a unique world, b) rules of world and logic and story (including premise issues) to focus on, c) to create a little community that d) in turn creates a "deep, intricate, rich, and intellectually and emotionally satisfying" story [not "world" as for Sim, but "story."]
Ron plays in sunlight?  Weird.  Don't gamers melt in sunlight?  Sorry.

You're taking my argument a little too strongly.  I'm not saying that gaming produces and supports subculture necessarily.  I think there's no question that it does so in fact, quite a lot, and that this requires some explanation and consideration.  I assume you'd agree on that one?

The other thing is that I think, based on that distinction I just made, that Nar gaming is less intrinsically oriented toward that sort of behavior.  It's just a lot easier to get out of it, because it's not particularly useful to the way Nar gaming works.  It isn't strictly speaking necessary to Sim either, but it is very useful.  And so I think that Sim in particular does lend itself toward subculture-identification, and vice-versa.

Does that help?

P.S. Stop pre-defending yourself about "an honest question."  I'm really not that thin-skinned!
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Chris Lehrich
clehrich
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« Reply #47 on: December 07, 2004, 08:59:27 PM »

Hey Chris,

Did you edit anything except the last few lines?  I responded only to the initial version.  Don't reply if you only edited the last few lines, OK?
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Chris Lehrich
Piers
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Posts: 72


« Reply #48 on: December 08, 2004, 08:12:24 AM »

To go back to where this thread started, we can connect this up with literary concerns to do with texts and the process of writing.  In other words this is not so much moving forward as going back and rounding up the stragglers.  

Where I think people were having difficulty with connecting ideas of roleplaying with the production of literary texts is in terms of the relation between the text produced and the act of producing it--that is to say the act of writing.  While the product of role-playing games has relatively little to do with the actual textual product of writing--ie novels and short stories--I see a far closer relationship between the act of writing and the act of role-playing.

I need to qualify that statement carefully, because obviously they do not operate in anything like the same way.  Rather writing and its finished product and role-playing and the stories it creates (and also myth-making and myths) are alike in the similar sorts of relationship they produce between the act of making and the product of the act.

Post-modern fiction often deals with this relationship by reflexively referring to the act of its own creation, but this is an act of representation in and of itself (ie the self-referential parts of such texts are themselves representations of acts of reflexivity that may or may not be going on, rather than the acts themselves).  A great example of this in action is an essay by Jerome McGann called "The Textual Condition" (in the book of the same name, or as I have it in David Lodge's _Modern Criticism and Theory_ 2nd ed.), which is basically an account of the process of writing the essay that you are in the process of reading.  

The point is that the seemingly smooth surface of the text (or even the apparently broken surface of post-modern texts) is the product of a very different process from the text itself.  Similarly, in role-playing the 'pure story' produced by gaming (such as we might re-tell to others) is different from the process of creating it.  And as Chriis suggests, we can play with and enjoy both levels of this experience simultaneously--both the 'story' and the story-making process--indeed we have to, because we experience both at the same time.

It is in this context that I want to connect up with Chris' argument about the effects of bricolage, structuarlism and simulationism, and in particular the differentiation between a (relatively controllable) myth-making system, and an uncontrollable world.  I want to suggest that our role-playing systems do something similar--that on one hand we have ordered, manipulable systems (this is to a certain extent why gamism can work) and we also have the story-output of those systems which is to a certain extent uncontrolled and uncontrollable.  At the end, we match this output--the text, the story--with a variety of criteria for the sort of story we were trying to make, and we match the experience of creating it with another set of criteria. I think this has an obvious relationship with the way in which Chris suggests that Sim is like structuralism in that it moves from things to structures, and that by contrast Gamism and Narrativism move from structures to things.

Piers
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Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #49 on: December 08, 2004, 09:56:19 AM »

I'm going to take this off into my own academic territory here. What we're looking at is interestingly similar to one of the other great myth-management systems of our experience: religion.

Quote from: clehrich
Consider Narrativism for a second.  The bricolage procedure here is pre-constrained by an aesthetic criterion of structure: the manipulation of mythemes (gamemes?) must produce a particular kind of structure, which is any structure that is constitutive of Story.  Story is going to be defined locally, in reference to the kind of Story we want to tell and the sort of Premise and so forth we have in mind.  But not every sort of structure will serve this end, because we in a sense already have a larger structure into which the substructures must fit, and that larger structure is called Story.


The target is a particular kind of experiential result, and the particulars of the use of myth-components or ritual are subsumed to the goal of the product. This has analogs to the one of the major categories of religious praxis... mysticism. Indeed, System Does Matter ties in - one of the hallmarks of mystical traditions is the variety of psychosocial "technologies" such as music, dance, meditation, and the use of psychoactives. Likewise, the emphasis on finely crafted System tools in Narrativist play may be seen as an attempt to strip the gaming process down to its essentials, to target it on the goal it is trying for. Just as the mystic attempts to strip religious experience of the "non-essentials" in order to facilitate access to direct experience of the numinous, the Narrativist attempts to strip the game of all but that which serves Premise.

Quote from: clehrich
I'm not exactly sure how Gamism works in this context; any suggestions would be very welcome.


I'm not entirely comfy here either, but my extended analogy suggests that Gamism is much like magic. An attempt to assert control over the spiritual world (or the SIS) through the use of imputed meaning (rules).

Quote from: clehrich
...ritualization imputes an ontological certainty to what it demarcates.  The Simulationist's world becomes real.
...
But what I do mean is that the Simulationist provides himself with two universes, both real, both valid.  One is meaningful in an intellectually and emotionally satisfying sense, and is controllable to some degree through the ongoing process of bricolage; like the Hidatsa hunter, the Simulationist can perform an action, however mundane or peculiar, and have it "work" within a coherent system of meaning.  And the Simulationist has the challenge and excitement of making that work, which is much the same attractive quality that makes myth valuable to actual myth-making peoples.


And here we have the more normal form of religious experience: the creation of a sacred space outside the world in which mythic realities are asserted - often in direct opposition to the profane reality of everyday life. Ritual and scripture are particularly important tools in this arena, more so than they are for the other forms of religious praxis.

I'm not sure if there's much practical good from extending the analysis in this direction... I wouldn't care to lean too heavily on it without a lot more thought than I really have the time for at this point. I'll see if I can put something more thorough and rigorous together over the holidays.

Mark
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clehrich
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« Reply #50 on: December 08, 2004, 12:27:40 PM »

Mark,

Have you read my article on ritual?  (Forge Articles section)  I go into some of that territory, albeit only relatively broadly and not particularly taking on GNS sorts of categorical issues.

I think what you're proposing about mysticism makes some sense, but I'd need to be convinced that Nar is an experiential priority.  To me the formulation of story is something quite different from the achievement of mystical experience, but I may be misunderstanding or taking the analogy too far.

Chris
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Chris Lehrich
Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #51 on: December 08, 2004, 01:22:53 PM »

Chris,

Yes, I've read your article, although not in the immediate past. A re-read is on my list before I delve into this much more. (I feel like I should go back and dig into L-S again (and maybe Berger), too, but then it would be 2008 by the time I got back).

My notion on Nar=Mysticism leans more heavily on the Now in Story Now than the Story, if that makes any sense. The Nar player wants the meat, the Premise, the direct access to the juice. Aggressive scene-framing. Stripped mechanics. Kickers & Bangs. All techniques that can work in any mode, but they're lifeblood to Narr play, because they get you straight to the Story.

Mark
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clehrich
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« Reply #52 on: December 08, 2004, 01:58:08 PM »

Quote from: Mark Woodhouse
Yes, I've read your article, although not in the immediate past. A re-read is on my list before I delve into this much more. (I feel like I should go back and dig into L-S again (and maybe Berger), too, but then it would be 2008 by the time I got back).
Hmm.  I'll have to re-read The Sacred Canopy myself; I hadn't thought of that but it does indeed make sense here.
Quote
My notion on Nar=Mysticism leans more heavily on the Now in Story Now than the Story, if that makes any sense. The Nar player wants the meat, the Premise, the direct access to the juice. Aggressive scene-framing. Stripped mechanics. Kickers & Bangs. All techniques that can work in any mode, but they're lifeblood to Narr play, because they get you straight to the Story.
I'll have to think about that.  I see what you're saying, but somehow it sounds odd to me.  I may just need to turn it over in my head for a while, though.

I presume we're talking about mystical (ritual) techniques, more than the theological underpinnings, yes?
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Chris Lehrich
Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #53 on: December 09, 2004, 07:35:16 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
I presume we're talking about mystical (ritual) techniques, more than the theological underpinnings, yes?


As I'm sure you've probably deduced by now, I think the praxis is all that matters. I was trying to explain this conversation to someone yesterday, and she asked me to define what a mystic was. I said something to the effect of "the mystic is to the world of symbols what a field researcher is to the world of concrete things. They go out into it and see what's there, then try to make sense of it."

It's all about the techniques.

Best,

Mark
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #54 on: December 10, 2004, 10:56:27 AM »

I think Mark has the right of it. But, then, I think that Ron had the right of all of this way, way back.

That is, I think that any reading of Ron as saying that narrativism is after a literary, or worse, textual, content is completely incorrect. In fact he explicitly rejects that. Yes, he starts with Egri, but then alters him dramatically precisely because RPGs are not literature. He drops "Story" too. Note that he's repeatedly said that "story now" has little to nothing to do with "story" as defined here or elsewhere.

Narrativism is about making a certain kind of decision. I think it's interesting that Ron has had trouble getting the definion of the qualities of that sort of decision out. But generally it's something like a decision that creates theme by answering a morally or ethically or emotionally interesting question.

Kinda like myths do. No?

What I think you've discovered here, Mr. Lehrich, is precisely the correct definition of what narrativism seeks, which is creation of myth. From all that I've read in this thread it sound so correct that I'm surprised it took me to note it.

Is it "Myth" per se, or per Levi-Strauss? I'm no expert. But it's something with such a similar goal that I can't imagine a reason to create a dichotomy.

Mike
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clehrich
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« Reply #55 on: December 10, 2004, 11:36:51 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Narrativism is about making a certain kind of decision. I think it's interesting that Ron has had trouble getting the definion of the qualities of that sort of decision out. But generally it's something like a decision that creates theme by answering a morally or ethically or emotionally interesting question.

Kinda like myths do. No?
No.  Myth is not like this at all.  That's precisely my point, Mike.  I'm entirely in agreement with you that what Ron is talking about in reference to Narrativism isn't text; I do think that the analogy is worth making and instructive, because I think that Narrativism seeks to formulate stories of a kind that are most usually found in texts, films, TV shows, and the like.  But Narrativism constructs them in a different medium, by its own methods.

But my argument is that Simulationism has nothing to do with morally or ethically interesting questions or themes, and is not at all analogous, even loosely, to texts, films, etc.  It's a lot like myth, which equally has nothing to do with morally or ethically interesting questions.
Quote
What I think you've discovered here, Mr. Lehrich, is precisely the correct definition of what narrativism seeks, which is creation of myth. From all that I've read in this thread it sound so correct that I'm surprised it took me to note it.
I disagree entirely.  Unless we are completely at odds in our sense of what "morally and ethically" means, I think this formulation wrongheaded.
Quote
Is it "Myth" per se, or per Levi-Strauss? I'm no expert. But it's something with such a similar goal that I can't imagine a reason to create a dichotomy.
I don't understand the question.  That has nothing to do with my disagreement; I honestly don't get this.  Can you explain?

I'm sorry, Mike, but I think you're caught up in a notion of myth that derives from a very narrow range of textually-formulated tales, notably the Greek myths as normally available to us, or to a lesser extent the Norse myths.  All of these appear to be strongly conditioned by what amounts to a literary history, and seem to have been reconstructed in a specifically moral and ethical form.  A wonderful example would be Aeschylus' tragedies, which clearly draw on prior mythical material to tell stories of a gripping moral nature.

I think that Narrativism strives to tell stories of the same type, in broad terms, as those Aeschylus told.  Note that Aeschylus' Oresteia, for example, is composed in a textual form, but intended for dramatic performance.  The total range of literary form in this sense would thus include dramatic scripts, short stories, novels (a very late form), films, TV shows, radio plays, and so forth.  I do think the analogy to novels in particular is problematic, because of the in some sense self-referential nature of the novel from its initial formulation in the West, but apart from that it seems to me that what Narrativism seeks is to tell these sorts of stories Now, in process, through creative cooperation, in a medium not usually used for this sort of thing.  And I think it's completely successful in doing this.

Simulationism, it seems to me, is not about stories at all, in any sort of dramatic or ethical or whatever sense.  It's about the manipulation of structure and symbol to construct a sense of order, classification, and totality in the formulated universe it renders.  Thus the focus on causality, rules, and consistency, as well as the potential emphasis on faithfulness to a particular set of source materials.  That description matches myth a great deal better than it does anything else, and I would go so far as to say that if myth-making is something intrinsic to people, and it does seem like something that all non-literate peoples do and to a lesser extent something that literate peoples grapple with, then Simulationist gaming is a late-modern way of grappling with this fundamental human process.
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Chris Lehrich
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #56 on: December 10, 2004, 12:43:21 PM »

Chris, again, it's the point that when put to task that "morally and ethically and emotionally" didn't stand up. It became "that thing that Ron is talking about that he doesn't have a term for." Which I think is Myth per your definitions.

Mike
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TonyLB
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« Reply #57 on: December 10, 2004, 12:55:12 PM »

I (at least) envision what Ron's talking about as stories that can stand on their own, with individual meaning for the human condition.

Whereas what Chris seems to be talking about are myths that often make no sense on their own, but take on vibrancy and life in the context of the myth-structure as a whole.

Can you clarify where you think the similarities are?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #58 on: December 10, 2004, 01:20:03 PM »

See, when you look at narrativism in terms of decision making, what do you get? Do you get plot automatically? No. Do you get "Story" in any sense? No. You merely get these little bullets of "theme." Points of random meaningfulness.

This very much matches my play. Yeah, sometimes the stories come to a good conclusion, but I think that's us putting our own expectations on top of the play. That is narrativism can be pushed into being something more "textual" seeming. But at it's core, it's really something entirely different.

I ranted to somebody just yesterday that narrativism wasn't at all about narrative really. It's about player power in the act of creation, but we've never really known in creation of what, precisely. Every time I read Chris's definition of Myth, it seems that's precisely what's happening in my games.

Well, not precisely. I'd put it this way, it's parallel to myth. As we used to say that there were parallels to story creation in narrativism, I'd now say that the parallels are to myth creation. I think that the extra level of self-reference is somehow key in the difference. I mean, what's the act of making a myth? You speak it, no? In RPGs we do the same thing, except we do so according to a set of rules that intend to create myth. Instead of a more reflexive act.

So I guess I'd say that it's the RPG equivalent of creating Myth.

As another argument, Chris, what's the "use" of Myth, socially (ala the thread from a month ago)? I think that the reasons for having myth will match the reasons for playing Narrativism pretty closely.

Mike
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #59 on: December 10, 2004, 01:29:40 PM »

My take is that all role-playing attempts to create myth, but the different CAs approach the creation of myth from entirely different angles.
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