Reactions to Art/NotArt
Posted by Nathan P. on January 6, 2006
The latest widely addressed topic – are RPGs art?
I think that, yet again, there’s a huge f’in difference between the Text and the Play. In short, an RPG sourcebook is not art. Actually playing an RPG, thats where the art does or does not happen.
The Text is an object. It can be aesthetic or not, well-written or not – basically, it can be a nice thing or not. But it’s not a novel. It’s not a text that has been written in such a way that your interaction with it brings beauty, or meaning, or whatever into your life. It’s closer to a play (though, I would argue that plays-as-written are a seperate artform than plays-as-performed), in that it’s something that has to be enacted.
The Actual Play can be art. Is it always? No. But it certainly has the potential – I truly think that a session of roleplay can be as beautiful or as touching or as memorable or as meaningful as any book, play, sculpture or painting.
The difference, though? The artist, in roleplay, is not the author. It is the players. That’s right. I don’t think that I’m an artist – I’m an enabler. If I am good at what I do, I enable the true artists to do their thing, reliably and well. If I’m bad, I give the artists a vague idea of what they can create, which they may or may not actually acheive.
Does it need an audience to be art? Of course. And every single fucking session of roleplay that has ever happened has had an audience – it’s the participants. Roleplay is based upon the interaction of audience-participants, remember? Roleplay is the only entertainment form in the world that is always seen by the exact audience that it is intended for. When roleplay becomes art, it is always witnessed by those best enabled to appreciate exactely what that art is saying.
The unfortunate reality is that, the majority of the time, RPGs are read and not played. Which, given the reality of math, is unavoidable. But it leads to the conflation of the author/designer with the artist. RPGs are a kind of combined form of entertainment (Text) and art (Play). It’s no surprise that people hold strong, strong opinions on both sides.