Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

It\’s All About Pen, Paper and People.

Illusionism is Bad Roleplay

Posted by Nathan P. on June 18, 2005

I’m gonna come right out and say it. Illusionism (scroll down about halfway) is bad roleplay. This is because it limits, if not completely stifles, the process of bricolage.

My basic principles that I’m coming from here:

Roleplay is a collaborative creative endeavor.
A collaborative endeavor requires that all those involve contribute in some fashion.
A creative endeavor requires that something is being created that did not exist before.
The process, in roleplay, that enables collaborative creativity is bricolage.
Therefore, an endeavor that is not collaboratively creative is not (good) roleplay, and the absence of bricolage makes it difficult, if not impossible (I’m not sure about this yet) to be collaboratively creative.

I think you can see my argument from the above talking points, but here’s a little more explanation. An illusionist game, especially one that involves force,* impinges both on the players ability to contribute (restricted mainly to color input), and the creation of something new, as the GM already has something scripted out in their head. I’m going to draw a parallel with the creative process in theatre, because that’s something else that I do a lot. A production where the director doesn’t accept input from designers or actors usually ends up being a poor production, especially when they have something particular in their head that they want and will not compromise that vision. In theatre, this can and does lead to the ruining of reputations and others involved with the production quitting. In roleplay, this leads to…few, if any, negative ramifications. (A subject for another post, though those familier with Ron Edwards views on this know what I’m getting at here.)

This isn’t to say that the GM should bend over backwards to have no guiding concepts or input – collaborative, remember? Like the director who has a specific vision of certain moments, and will shape others input around those moments, the GM both absorbs and contributes to the process of roleplay. Now, on to what this has to do with bricolage.

When the players are being Forced, they are limited in their ability to bricole. Anything brought in that doesn’t fit the GM’s vision is sidelined or denied. Similarly, the GM restricts himself, only allowing a certain set of bricks (for lack of a better word) to be brought to the table, because he can’t introduce anything that would throw his script out of whack. The entire pool of things to be applied to the game is very small, and so only a limited product can come out of it.

To state again: Bricolage is the process by which a group engaged in roleplay collaboratively creates. Restricted bricolage = restricted collaboration, creation, or both.

A final point: this isn’t to say that you need to incorporate everything, all the time. Bricolage involves throwing stuff out, and shaping and claiming things in ways they weren’t before to fit your product. The first step of a game (choosing the game itself, settling on a genre, deciding where and with whom to play, etc.) involves paring down the infinite possibilities to one, albeit very large, set. But, if the set is too small, you can’t bricole to the best of your ability because you don’t have enough stuff. It’s like going to a junkyard and building a working car. If you have the option of going to every junkyard in the city, you’re probably going to start off by choosing a set (say, all those that have primarily muscle-car scraps), and then going through that set. If you choose one junkyard, you won’t be able to build a complete working car that satisfies you completely.

I’m more than happy to discuss anything in here in the comments, if something seems out of whack.

*for non-Forgites, I’m talking about games where the GM has a set plot and railroads the players onto that plot, often involving over-powerful NPC’s and complete lack of direction if the characters stray off the path. Specifically, I’m talking about games where this is a hidden process, and the GM makes the players think they’re making choices when they actually are not. And yes, this is how I played for a long time, and I really wish I hadn’t.

6 Responses to “Illusionism is Bad Roleplay”

  1. JasonP said

    I think this is a matter of agenda. I mean if creative play isn’t in any of the participants agenda, then illusionism is just dandy. I personally feel that if your ok with it, illusionism is fine and used a lot in more mainstream RPG play. I’d call it bad wrong fun if anything.

  2. Nathan P. said

    Mmmm. I disagree. Agenda is under the umbrella “roleplay”, not the other way around. My contention is that all roleplay is a collaborative creative endeavor. Whether you’re collarating on the Dream, or on Premise, or on Challenge, its all a function of roleplay.

    Also, I think that if you “sign on” to illusionism as a player, its no longer illusionism, its participationism. I agree that its used a lot in mainstream roleplay. My understading of illusionism is of something pernicious.

  3. Ben said

    I have some thoughts about this that really deserve a post of their own. But, in short:

    Illusionism is bad play except when it isn’t. Which is to say — there are people who enjoy that sort of play, and I’m not going to begrudge them.

    But I agree that it is more engineer than bricoleur, and thus fundamentally a pretty different thing from normal RPG play.

    yrs–
    –Ben

  4. JasonL said

    Nathan:

    I will say, like Ben, that Illusionism can be fun for some people, even when they know ‘after the fact’ that’s what they were involved in.

    More power to these people.

    On the issue of creativity, I’m going to have to disagree a bit, and say that creativity is actually helped by providing limits.

    Take a look at some of the advanced techniques used in brainstorming excercises. They consist mostly of providing creative constraints that the group then has to work around.

    Such constraints often act as an engine for creativity.

    BTW – I’m not saying Illusionism is an effective form of such constraints – just take care that wide-open bricolage isn’t so much a goal that you end up with no limits upon which players can focus their creative juices.

    Cheers,

    Jason
    “Oh, it’s you…
    deadpanbob”

  5. Nathan P. said

    Ben: fair enough. I mean, yes, if someone still feels like it was fun after the fact, thats fine. As for your second pp, yes!

    Jason: that’s what I was trying to get at here:

    The first step of a game (choosing the game itself, settling on a genre, deciding where and with whom to play, etc.) involves paring down the infinite possibilities to one, albeit very large, set. But, if the set is too small, you can’t bricole to the best of your ability because you don’t have enough stuff.

    I guess thats not a very transparent way of phrasing it. But what you said is what I was trying to say.

  6. La Ludisto said

    Illusionism and Railroading get cast as bogeymen a little too often. It’s like saying that the playwright ruins the experience for the actors by writing a script. If the actors want to improv, they’re in the wrong production — but that doesn’t mean that the scripted production is a bad production. It just means that it’s not the activity that those improv actors are going to enjoy.

    There is also a certain amount of scope to the matter — there is very tightly-bounded railroading where the players are complete non-participants watching pet NPCs save the world, and there is looser railroading where the players move from set piece to set piece, but have some freedom to perform as they like within the parameters of those set pieces. This can be a very rewarding type of play, whether or not it’s laid out explicitly (although talking is usually a good thing).

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