Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?
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  1. #1
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    Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

    Some recent threads have discussed aspects of GM and player narration in RPGing. Which hase prompted me to start this thread.

    My answer to the question in the thread title is a firm No.

    RPGing requires narration: GMs describe situations, and players declare actions for their PCs that respond to those situations. But I don't think the literary quality of that narration is important.

    What matters to me is that the players feel the significance of the situations the GM describes - that they feel the pull to action, and the threats of inaction. That is, that the situation engage and motivate the players as players, not as an audience to a performance. And player narration should, in my view, engage with and build on this fiction in ways that display the player's view of the fiction, perhaps challenge other players (and even the GM), that make the other pariticpants go "I didn't see that coming!"

    This is how I see RPGs, with their emphasis on participation in the creation of a fiction that is structured through distinct player an d GM roles, working. And it's how I see them differening from more directly narrative mediums such as books and films.
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    If it is, then what?

    If it's not, then what?

    If there is zero difference between the outcome of "RPG is literary" and the outcome of "RPG is not literary", then my answer is "Oh, yes, it TOTALLY is", just so that you can have something to disagree with. Also, there's an invisible pink teapot, on the other side of the Sun from Earth, named Russels.
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Some recent threads have discussed aspects of GM and player narration in RPGing. Which hase prompted me to start this thread.

    My answer to the question in the thread title is a firm No.

    RPGing requires narration: GMs describe situations, and players declare actions for their PCs that respond to those situations. But I don't think the literary quality of that narration is important.

    What matters to me is that the players feel the significance of the situations the GM describes - that they feel the pull to action, and the threats of inaction. That is, that the situation engage and motivate the players as players, not as an audience to a performance. And player narration should, in my view, engage with and build on this fiction in ways that display the player's view of the fiction, perhaps challenge other players (and even the GM), that make the other pariticpants go "I didn't see that coming!"

    This is how I see RPGs, with their emphasis on participation in the creation of a fiction that is structured through distinct player an d GM roles, working. And it's how I see them differening from more directly narrative mediums such as books and films.
    I have to say that to me the defining difference between "literary" and not is not "participation." As a recent netflix product showed there can be interactive movies where viewer choices determine outcomes (and they are not the first.) There have been books that way for longer than that.

    So, I would strongly suggest your title needs a different word than literary or its gonna be very misleading.

    I know I came in hoping for a different discussion than participation.
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    Define "literary", as you mean it. To me, it means "creating a body of written work", so an RPG session only qualifies if somebody is taking very detailed notes.
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    Depends on what you mean by, "literary."

    There's some who will use it to mean, "of a quality and/or style similar to critically acclaimed literature." Much like we talk about a game having "cinematic action" if we feel it evokes the style and feeling and imagery of Hollywood action movies. From context, I expect that's in the ballpark of what you mean.

    With that qualifying presumption, my answer to the question is - it doesn't *need* to be literary, but I see no compelling reason that it *cannot* be, either. Noting that literature is also supposed to make people feel things, and often inspire and engage and surprise them with "I didn't see that coming," I don't see any fundamental conflict.
    Last edited by Umbran; Friday, 19th April, 2019 at 03:26 PM.
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    Roleplaying games and literature are not inherently mutually exclusory fields.

    But you need to define your terms. Otherwise this thread will just end up arguing about what "literary" means, and whether writing a dungeon module qualifies as "RPGing.".
    Last edited by Sepulchrave II; Friday, 19th April, 2019 at 03:14 PM.
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    Going with one of the OED's definitions of literary:

    "Concerned with depicting or representing a story or other literary work; that refers or relates to a text; that creates a complex or finely crafted narrative like that of a work of literature."

    Gaming can be literary, based on that particular definition. We draw influences from a variety of sources, after all. Two of the published AD&D modules are inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll. Many years ago, I ran a campaign that was pretty much Hamlet. Not in quality, mind you, I'd never go that far. But the plot was directly taken from Hamlet, albeit with an evil wizard and whatnot.

    And we can absolutely have a "finely crafted narrative" in gaming. The difference is that that narrative creates itself collaboratively, as we play, rather than being written out.
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    Some games have been, The Expanse series of novels arose from a RPG game that the authors were (are?) playing.

    However, I think this:

    What matters to me is that the players feel the significance of the situations the GM describes - that they feel the pull to action, and the threats of inaction. That is, that the situation engage and motivate the players as players, not as an audience to a performance.
    Is providing a separation from the GM's and player's narratives, in that the player's are reading the GM's narration as literature? I don't see this being a game as much, it could be, if people want that.

    IMO, "narrative" is players or the GM role playing by describing their actions, vs the mechanics of the game by merely rolling dice. It's not a severe dividing line though, more like a sliding scale, where most games in play fall between the poles.

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    There are systems where the players routinely help to define the fiction of the gameworld, and there are other systems where the GM generally defines the world and the players influence that situation purely through their characters' actions. Both are RPGs. Neither is essentially "good" or "bad", though for some people one or the other may be "not how I like to play."

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    Yes.

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