Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

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

What Is It We Do, Again?

Posted by Nathan P. on July 28, 2005

In this Forge thread, I said

What about role-playing as a conscious act of creation? As in, X roleplays because he/she wants to create something entirely new that can only be done through the medium of the RPG.

Now, I’m of two minds about this – on the right, this could be said to be an inherent property of the RPG, and thus not really a “reason” to play as such. To the left, however, I think that taking advantage of the medium is its own reason. I mean, you can get social reinforcement, escapism and group therapy from other sources as well, but it is only be roleplaying that you can…do what we do when we roleplay.

Damn. We should have a word for that somewhere around here, right?

And then I got a PM from TonyLB (cool!), who said

Man, that cracked me up. I mean, it’s serious yes, because if we had a clear word for it, the linguistic possibilities opened would slowly revolutionize everything about how we think about RPGs. But, serious or not, it’s also funny that we spend so much of our lives doing and thinking about… err… y’know, that thing… with the dice, or not, but most of the time. That thing! You know!

And he’s absolutly right.

So, what is it that we do when we roleplay? What is that process that’s unique to the RPG medium, that we love so much, that we can’t get anywhere else, that we, gentle bloggers, all spend so much time reading and thinking and talking about? Well, I’m going to take a stab at it. Wish me luck. This is pretty much me stream-of-consciousnessing it, be warned.

So, starting from familier territory. I like to say that roleplay is a Collaboratively Creative process. Creative, I don’t think I need to go into. Collaborative – a group of people working together. So it’s not like novel-writing (by a single author, at least), or painting, or any other single-person creative activity. Well, here’s some other collaboratively creative pursuits, and how they differ from RPGs.

  • Multi-author fiction
  • – Multiple people, working with the same cast of characters, presumably working towards the same goals (in terms of plot, writing style, themes, etc). Now, I have no experience with this kind of thing, but it seems to me that it shares some of the same differences with RPGs that single-author fiction does – that is, editablity, pre-plotting of story arcs, and general control over all content by, for all intents and purposes, one entity. That is, any actions or character development would, it seems to me, involve decision-making by committee.

  • Sketch comedy
  • – Pre-written sketches which are then practiced and performed for an audience. Little to do with RPGs, actually. No character development or overarching plot (in general, though its possible). Again, decision-making by committee.

  • Improv
  • – Hmm. On-the-spot improvisation, strict rules about what input is permissable and by who, similarly strict rules about negation of input. Generally for comedic value, but not necessarily. Played for an audience, though is practiced without one, which is probably the biggest difference from RPGs.

  • Theatre
  • – Interesting. The biggest difference is that the group is working from a pre-written script, which they usually have no hand in (except for directorial editing). However, actors do get to make decisions about their characters, under the guiding hand of the director – who the buck stops with in the process can change from director to director, or even from show to show. Every time it’s done, it goes to the same (literal) place, though it can span a range of emotional or mental spaces.

  • Bands/Music-making
  • – Also interesting, and also something that I have little experience with. Ron likes to draw parallels between an improv jazz band and roleplay, with everyone having defined roles and having to riff off one another in order to create a unique product each time thats more than the sum of its parts. However, most music is intended to be performed in front of audience (even if it doesn’t actually get there).

  • Film-making
  • – My pet metaphor, at least for designers, but several obvious differences, many of them similar to Theatre.

    The common difference, if you will, is that all of these collaboratively creative pursuits have the intent, if not the actuality, of being performed for someone else – for an audience that has no hand in the creative process. I know, it’s a pretty “duh” realization, but its a starting point.

    So far, here’s what we do when we roleplay: We engage in a process of collaborative creation without the intent to perform to an audience that has no hand in the creative process.

    Stage 1 complete to my satisfaction. Stage 2 forthcoming.

    So, thoughts? Am I treading on obvious ground here (answer: probably, but its hopefully going somewhere)? Issues with my setup so far?


    3 Responses to “What Is It We Do, Again?”

    1. Bankuei said


      Sounds on point. For some interesting food for thought, consider:

      -Creative Agenda = What is it we’re trying to create?
      -Exploration = the enjoyment of what we’re creating

      Since often we’re exploring imaginary stuff AS we create it, it’s something to take a close look at.


    2. La Ludisto said

      I like the realization of the importance of audience, but instead of saying that there is no intended audience, I’d say that the players themselves are the intended audience. We play to entertain eachother.

    3. Nathan P. said

      Hey Chris,

      Two good points. I think your last sentence is the most interesting – I’m actually going to reverse it, and say that we’re creating stuff as we explore it. Well, actually, it’s more of a recursive process, I think…this is definitely going to be addressed in part 2.


      I say that “without the intent to perform to an audience that has no hand in the creative process” in order to address your point. The process of roleplay is one that contains only audience-participants.

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


    Connecting to %s

    %d bloggers like this: