Shining Dodecahedron

One geek's views on role-playing and games in general.

This place is all about discussing paper-and-pencil roleplaying games. I'm Jay, and I run this joint, but that doesn't make me smarter than you. This will all work best if I say things, and you say what you think about them, lather, rinse, repeat. With luck we can all understand the hobby a little better. If you have a topic that you would like me to start a thread about, post a comment here. If you've got something to say about characters (my ongoing topic du jour), post a comment here.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Getting on the Same Page

My last few posts have been supplemented by comments and clarifications, and people still don't seem to be getting what I'm saying. That probably means that I'm not saying it very well. This post is about where I'm coming from, so as to avoid any confusion.

The following items encapsulate my current thinking:

  1. Role-playing is hard. Even though we all have storytelling capacity within us, society does not generally prepare people for cooperative storytelling. It's a skill we have to learn.

  2. Most published games do a pretty poor job of helping people learn the skills needed to tell stories together.

  3. Any resource that helps players tell stories together is a good thing. This can include mechanics, advice, setting material, illustrations, and more. If it helps you tell your own story it is good.

  4. Some games overdo some elements that might normally be helpful in a way that stops encouraging players to tell their own stories. Most often, in my experience, this involves very prescriptive metaplot which makes the players' stories irrelevant next to those of the star characters of the published setting. This phenomenon involves a threshold between useful and restrictive that is a personal setting for each player. There is no hard and fast rule about where the line lies.

Does anyone disagree with any of those four statements?

The more complicated issues, like "core stories", come down to personal reactions about where helpful starts and stops. I don't expect that any reasonably sized group of gamers would ever be able to agree completely about them.


Blogger John Kim said...

I mostly agree about the latter three, but I tend to disagree with the first one. While our culture isn't great at it, it's not all that hard. Get a bunch of kids together, and chances are fair that they'll imaginatively play and make up stories without any handholding or rules whatsoever. Their stories may not have a lot of literary merit, but they'll have fun.

The second point is obviously relative -- i.e. most games do a poor job compared to what? Well, obviously, some games are better than others, and most games will do a poor job compared to the best games. But there will be pretty wide disagreement on what the best games are.

Saturday, June 04, 2005 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

Yes, kids are good at telling stories. I'm not disputing that. Telling them in groups can work well, but does, in my experience, tend to devolve into arguments about what happens (paritcularly if the kids are assuming roles instead of just narrating).
What I'm saying is that our culture teaches most people to supress the imaginative spirit by adulthood. Your average adult limits storytelling to telling jokes, recounting stories about fishing and the like, and maybe making up stories for his kids. Getting together and making up stories is generally considered "kid stuff".
I would also point out that if telling stories is so easy, more people would keep doing it. Fewer people would drop out of role-playing as a hobby.
Also, it isn't just about being creative. It's about speaking up about creative stuff in front of others. As someone who has directed teenagers in theatrical productions, I assure you that being open and comfortable with creativity (even just in rehearsals among friends) is not a common trait by the time kids reach 15, never mind by 20.
So I maintain that, for kids over 12 or so at least, role-playing is difficult in several ways. Those people who are exceptions (it seems you are perhaps one) are extremely lucky.

Sunday, June 05, 2005 12:51:00 AM  
Blogger John Kim said...

I think we're mostly in agreement here. The difference is that you describe role-playing as "hard" and a "skill we have to learn". Since it is done relatively easily by younger children, I think this gives the wrong impression. Rather, there is training which runs counter to our natural storytelling tendencies that we have to unlearn.

In more concrete terms, describing it as a learned skill brings to my mind methodologies like defining a premise or conflict and building from that in a structured way. Describing it as something natural to tap into brings to mind loosened looking into one's imagination.

Monday, June 06, 2005 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

You're right. Phrasing the way I did does give the wrong impression. It is more like overcoming social conditioning to get in touch with our innate storytelling talents. Which is, in many cases, very hard.
For example, I played the excellent party game, Times Up, with my parents last week and it was obvious that trying to pantomime was a truly embarrassing experience for my father. He couldn't do it, because he has lived a life where opening up in that way just isn't done. That's the difficulty I'm talking about.

Monday, June 06, 2005 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Bankuei said...

I agree on all counts. And that's a very clear way of expressing the ideas. I like.

Sunday, June 12, 2005 4:01:00 PM  

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