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.