Caring ABOUT versus caring FOR a character -- Fascinating critique of gaming principles from "The Last of Us"


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innerdude

Legend
Should we even aspire to achieve artistic expression through playing an RPG?

Good question. I know that I personally have long looked for . . . something, a heightened element of drama, perhaps, in my RPG play for a long time, in an effort to at least glimpse the possibility of finding a true aesthetic value in RPG play. As you say --- and perhaps as the article hints --- this is a fool's errand.

But I stubbornly remain compelled to try.

It's articles like this that provide insight into the "why" of it.

It's an aspiration of mine, most surely.


We are playing a game, after all. Engaging gameplay should be the goal. While there are stories in games, playing games is not writing.

Perhaps. But I admit I that I play RPGs because I want something more than what I get from playing a board game like Everdell.

From all I heard, there certainly are RPGs that aim to be storytelling and character development. And maybe they could be engaging activities to certain people. But I don't think they are being helped at all by refering to themselves as games. The impression that I am getting is that they don't really want to be games, but they still cling on to rules and mechanics that come from dungeon crawler games.

If one holds to the rather exclusionary view that traditional Dungeons and Dragons play is the only acceptable input vehicle to which our hobby at large can be pursued, I suppose.
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
One particular point of tensions between drama & aesthetics versus gaming is that the gaming side of things is very often approached from the competitive angle, or more broadly some kind of success/failure perspective, often (though by no means exclusively) with regard to particular tasks. Even RPGs that work with confict resolution are often treated this way, to the point of using "success/fail" terminology. In good drama, the protagonist typically doesn't get what they want right away, on several timescales, but this isn't necessarily presented as failure—that depends on the themes & ideas the author is going for, of course. There's a trick to authoring good fiction that keeps such things interesting rather than discouraging, which is easier for a reader who can assume the story is going somewhere, due to artistic conventions. To put that into any kind of system for generating story is possible and has been done, but it's very much outside the norms of early RPGs that arose primarily from how to handle combat and control single characters rather than navigate situations.

You might want to explore games like Primetime Adventures and Universalis. Those are very broad in scope. For a much more focused example, look at Fiasco or Durance. I once played a Durance game where we rolled up some pivotal turning point, in which the power dynamic had to suffer a violent disruption, and we had to map that into the characters & fiction we had going. Everybody was kinda stumped, until I said that my character (the warden), who was present on the scene, had to die right in that moment, sparking a riot, and everybody's eyes widened as they realized that was exactly the proper thing to happen for drama's sake—even though I was losing my character! But in fiction, people die, even the ones the author dearly loves. The warden had had a bunch of cool stuff happen up to then, but in the total picture of things, her death was the pivot point for the entire session and playing that out was immensely satisfying, for me and the rest of the table.

I switched to playing a prisoner pretty much at the bottom of the bottom in that very stratified social hierarchy and turned out a compelling story for him, too.

I've had less opportunity than I'd like to explore more recent games, but I bet some folks could chime in on developments since then.

With regard to the topic's focus on computer/video games, that would be much more difficult, for reasons already cited earlier in this thread.

Edit: Fixed a typo.
 
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One particular point of tensions between drama & aesthetics versus gaming is that the gaming side of things is very often approached from the competitive angle, or more broadly some kind of success/failure perspective, often (though by no means exclusively) with regard to particular tasks. Even RPGs that work with confict resolution are often treated this way, to the point of using "success/fail" terminology. In good drama, the protagonist typically doesn't get what they want right away, on several timescales, but this isn't necessarily presented as failure—that depends on the themes & ideas the author is going for, of course. There's a trick to authoring good fiction that keeps such things interesting rather than discouraging, which is easier for a reader who can assume the story is going somewhere, due to artistic conventions. To put that into any kind of system for generating story is possible and has been done, but it very much outside the norms of early RPGs that arose primarily from how to handle combat and control single characters rather than navigate situations.

You might want to explore games like Primetime Adventures and Universalis. Those are very broad in scope. For a much more focused example, look at Fiasco or Durance. I once played a Durance game where we rolled up some pivotal turning point, in which the power dynamic had to suffer a violent disruption, and we had to map that into the characters & fiction we had going. Everybody was kinda stumped, until I said that my character (the warden), who was present on the scene, had to die right in that moment, sparking a riot, and everybody's eyes widened as they realized that was exactly the proper thing to happen for drama's sake—even though I was losing my character! But in fiction, people die, even the ones the author dearly loves. The warden had had a bunch of cool stuff happen up to then, but in the total picture of things, her death was the pivot point for the entire session and playing that out was immensely satisfying, for me and the rest of the table.

I switched to playing a prisoner pretty much at the bottom of the bottom in that very stratified social hierarchy and turned out a compelling story for him, too.

I've had less opportunity than I'd like to explore more recent games, but I bet some folks could chime in on developments since then.

With regard to the topic's focus on computer/video games, that would be much more difficult, for reasons already cited earlier in this thread.
I'll propose an alternative terminology:
6- Additional tension is generated - there is a twist, the character is further from their goal or the stakes have increased.
7-9 Things are still tense - there has been some movement in the direction of resolution of the current conflict, but more difficulties now exist.
10+ Release - A significant progress has been made towards achieving the character's goal and it looks positive.
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
I'll propose an alternative terminology:
6- Additional tension is generated - there is a twist, the character is further from their goal or the stakes have increased.
7-9 Things are still tense - there has been some movement in the direction of resolution of the current conflict, but more difficulties now exist.
10+ Release - A significant progress has been made towards achieving the character's goal and it looks positive.
That's a start! I like moving away from terms that imply the competence of the character is the central or only factor. Can we reduce them to shorter terms? It's tricky because the middle result in particular can have different narrative/mechanical effects: complications & consequences are not the same thing.

Blades in the Dark has more than just the three levels of outcomes, too, mixing complications, consequences, and more. Definitely not as clear-cut as pass/fail!
 

That's a start! I like moving away from terms that imply the competence of the character is the central or only factor. Can we reduce them to shorter terms? It's tricky because the middle result in particular can have different narrative/mechanical effects: complications & consequences are not the same thing.

Blades in the Dark has more than just the three levels of outcomes, too, mixing complications, consequences, and more. Definitely not as clear-cut as pass/fail!
Yeah, it wasn't a very polished attempt, lol. There may even be some other paradigm that would be better to draw from, I'm not sure.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Good question. I know that I personally have long looked for . . . something, a heightened element of drama, perhaps, in my RPG play for a long time, in an effort to at least glimpse the possibility of finding a true aesthetic value in RPG play.

I'm convinced that it's more a matter of who is playing than what they are playing. Heightened elements of drama involve skilled participants wanting to do that. There is no reason to suspect that a typical group of nerdy geniuses, however skilled they may be at problem solving, collaboration, and tactics are going to produce "a heightened element of drama" as a result of their play. There talent is going to be focused on aesthetics like Challenge, Fellowship and Fantasy because that's not only what they are good at, but what they find compelling about the story. The good feelings that they engender are, "I'm awesome.", "We're awesome." or "This is a good bunch of pals." It's not necessarily going to be, "Look at what I discovered about myself." or "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well." Unless your group also happens to be a group that could put on a local production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" or "On the Waterfront" why would you also expect to have a heightened element of drama in your play?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I'm convinced that it's more a matter of who is playing than what they are playing. Heightened elements of drama involve skilled participants wanting to do that. There is no reason to suspect that a typical group of nerdy geniuses, however skilled they may be at problem solving, collaboration, and tactics are going to produce "a heightened element of drama" as a result of their play. There talent is going to be focused on aesthetics like Challenge, Fellowship and Fantasy because that's not only what they are good at, but what they find compelling about the story. The good feelings that they engender are, "I'm awesome.", "We're awesome." or "This is a good bunch of pals." It's not necessarily going to be, "Look at what I discovered about myself." or "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well." Unless your group also happens to be a group that could put on a local production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" or "On the Waterfront" why would you also expect to have a heightened element of drama in your play?

This seems to assume that a heightened element of drama needs to be performative. That the techniques and skills that are necessary to get there are the same as what a writer or an actor needs to possess. I think experience with acting will help (assuming you come from the right sort of tradition that is less performative), but that the discipline involved in character exploration at the table is unique to the form (although some backing in Nordic LARP techniques is very useful). I say this as an inveterate theater nerd.
 
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Also, I think that this highlights a critical difference between video games and RPGs. One of the characters in my game just got married. This was a bit of a surprise element, but there had been a long standing relationship and her family put their foot down in no uncertain terms. When that happened, most of the other characters figured out to make the most of the ceremony. Including the PC cleric of the death cult who wrote their vows. (That was interesting!)

We have the flexibility to find those moments in RPGs where theatrical moments can manifest unpredicably. We don't have to hope they manifest in the programmer's mind. If you even want that- this isn't a goal for every table or every session.
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
Also, I think that this highlights a critical difference between video games and RPGs. One of the characters in my game just got married. This was a bit of a surprise element, but there had been a long standing relationship and her family put their foot down in no uncertain terms. When that happened, most of the other characters figured out to make the most of the ceremony. Including the PC cleric of the death cult who wrote their vows. (That was interesting!)

We have the flexibility to find those moments in RPGs where theatrical moments can manifest unpredicably. We don't have to hope they manifest in the programmer's mind. If you even want that- this isn't a goal for every table or every session.
And here I thought you were going to talk about the wedding ceremonies in Final Fantasy XIV....
 

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