Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

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

Roleplay As A Form

Posted by Nathan P. on October 20, 2005

aka It’s about damn time I did some more blogging

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recentely – I feel like there an everpresent danger, with RPG theory/analysis/whathaveyou, of coopting too much “stuff” from other forms of entertainment.

First of all, at the end of the day, RPGs are entertainment. Can they be deep and meaningful? Yes. So can a university class. So can watching people in a park. So can a TV show. Is the purpose of roleplay to be deep and meaningful? No. I don’t think so. The purpose of roleplay is to have fun making shit up with your friends.

(In case anyone is thinking otherwise, I absolutely think that this is the fundemental point of The Forge, despite the rep its gotten as an arty-farty or pretentious bed of theory.)

Now, I also think that, because RPG theory is so underdeveloped, we’ve had to borrow a whole lot from extant disciplines in order to talk about what we want to talk about. But. RPGs are not cinema. They are not myth (with apologies to Chris Lehrich). They are not TV, or novels, or narrative arcs. They are something else.

Regular readers (i.e. Joshua) will know that I’ve been trying to pin down what, exactly, we do when we roleplay. But I’m constantly afraid that thinking about RPGs in reference to film (which I do a lot) and theatre (even more), I’m obfuscating what makes a RPG a RPG.

This is the only real weakness of PTA, and one intrinsic to the game, in my mind. It concentrates so much on replicating another medium that it may be in danger of drifting from its own. I’m not prepared to defend this statement at this point – its more of a thesis proposal than an argument. But I want to throw it out there.

I’m starting to lose my train of thought, so I’m going to wrap this up. Basically, I’m really going to make an effort to avoid comparing roleplay to other mediums for a while and see if that impacts my play and design. I want to write RPGs, not vehicles for the replication of other media.

2 Responses to “Roleplay As A Form”

  1. Sing it, brother.

    What “the point” of the Forge is will always be problematic given that it’s a community of people — people who come and go, change their minds, and play devil’s advocate to eachother. Making play fun was certainly Ron’s intention way back at the GNS essay, but that’s one now very little part of a much larger whole.

    Roleplay is certainly different that other media, but I don’t think PTA is in any danger in emulating another medium. Arts do this all the damn time: books are structured like architecture, dances are done under colored light to emulate painting. The point in such emulation is not to become like the subject, but to consider the subject from another angle, and (not every having played or read) I think PTA will be making people think about their serial teevee shows in a different light for a long damn time. Chief among those will be: “Wait a minute, this isn’t that hard after all!”

    Roleplaying is certainly different, and in fundamental ways, and that’s good stuff to explore and figure out. My primary thought right now is the name ‘roleplaying’ is increasingly off-target, given the number of games where the players are not necessarily playing one role. In any case, I look forward to seeing your insights on what you see roleplaying as ‘being’.

  2. Bankuei said

    I think the pitfall most people drop into is when they mistake a comparison of a part to the comparison of the whole.

    For instance, roleplaying deals with both being the creators and the audience, so comparisons to various media usually address one side or the other, and are accurate within that regard. Forgetting the other aspects, or attempting to drag the analogy to the part that doesn’t fit, that’s where folks usually go wrong.

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