Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

pemerton

Legend
One of my biggest pet peeves is when one player turns to another at the table and says, "What race is your character again? Were you human or elf?" Because, to me, that just screams that the performance of that player is so flat and uninteresting that the fact that this character isn't even human isn't readily apparent at the table.
If a character's race or background or motivations or capacities figure so little in the action of play, then to me the problem at that table is not one of an absence of performance!

Conversely, if the only way I would know a player was playing a dwarf was because of his/her Scottish accent (or whatever) but it doesn't make any difference to what that character actually does in play, then why do I care whether or not that character is a dwarf?
 

pemerton

Legend
pemerton has pretty strongly argued that presentation is not very important and that content is all that really matters. That the scenario regardless of how that scenario is communicated to the players is the most important thing at the table.
I have used the words "literary" and "performance" in what I hope are reasonably clear senses. Theatre (typically) involves both. Salon repartee with Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker involves both. Conversation with friends typically invovles neither.

I've also said - repeatedly, although [MENTION=6799753]lowkey13[/MENTION] may not have read those posts - that everything else being equal a mellifluous GM can be a good thing. But obviously much of the time everything is not equal. For example, pre-scripting which is often a precondition of literary quality in word-choice and a precondition for rehearsal of presentation, is at odds with the back-and-forth, the invitation-and-response, that I think is at the heart of RPGing.

To frame invitation-and-response as scenario is harmless enough provided not too much weight is put on the latter. But obviously if, by scenario, one is talking about something pre-scripted and rehearsed, then that's not what I'm talking about.

If a scenario doesn't speak to the players and engage their interest, and generate an emotional response in them, then my advice to the GM would always be work on your stuff. I would not be suggesting choose a different soundtrack.

I’d argue that presentation is equally important and you prove my point. A dm who presents information one way would make you enjoy the game less than if he or she presented a different way. Even though they are presenting exactly the same information.

Seems to me that presentation or performance is extremely important. Equally as important as content since content alone isn’t enough for you to enjoy the game.
This is an obvious non-sequitur. Some people find dealing with stutterers very frustrating. Others don't mind.

Some are more tolerant than others of a variety of approaches to personal comportment. To swearing. Etc.

But none of these (rather banal) facts about who one enjoys, or doesn't enjoy, talking to and spending time with show that RPGing is a literary endeavour. Or that performance, in the sense in which theatre and recitation involve performance but conversation typically doesn't, are central to the activity.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Umm nope?

I pretty clearly defined performance as being anything that is not content. Others amended that to be presentation, which, in hindsight is probably a better way of saying things.
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] has pretty strongly argued that presentation is not very important and that content is all that really matters. That the scenario regardless of how that scenario is communicated to the players is the most important thing at the table.

I’d argue that presentation is equally important and you prove my point. A dm who presents information one way would make you enjoy the game less than if he or she presented a different way. Even though they are presenting exactly the same information.

Seems to me that presentation or performance is extremely important. Equally as important as content since content alone isn’t enough for you to enjoy the game.
Again, I wasn't objecting to presentation mattering. I was objecting to presentation being framed as your preferred playstyle. And I was questioning the importance of dividing gaming into content and presentation. I could not see the utility of this distinction.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Seems to me that presentation or performance is extremely important. Equally as important as content since content alone isn’t enough for you to enjoy the game.
If you are defining presentation as anything that isn't content, well, that is so broad, anything in the category has to be important (but it is also pretty useless to have such a broad category). But honestly I feel like you are paying lip service to this, while using the distinction to advance a clear playstyle argument (and it is pretty obvious Pemerton is picking up on the same thing). Neither of us have particularly objected to presentation as a thing that matters. We've objected to the way you've focused on the performative aspects of it. Underlying this whole discussion is a divide over whether the players and GM are there performing for one another or if they are there interacting and conversing with one another. I do not see the game as a performance. This is the part of what has been said on this thread that I object to. The only other thing I really weighed in on was the OP (where I essentially said I agreed with what Pemerton seemed to be saying).
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I've also said - repeatedly, although @lowkey13 may not have read those posts -
Down the street you can hear pemerton scream
"You're a disgrace"
as he slams the door in our confused face
and now he stands outside
and all of enworld start to gossip and drool
Pemerton cries "Oh lowkey, you must be mad-
what happened to the sweet posts you and me had?"
as he switches definitions and he poses and starts a scene
But his words are just for framing, 'cuz evoking emotion is obscene ...


and so castles made of sand,
fall in the sea ....

Eventually.
 
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Hussar

Legend
If a character's race or background or motivations or capacities figure so little in the action of play, then to me the problem at that table is not one of an absence of performance!

Conversely, if the only way I would know a player was playing a dwarf was because of his/her Scottish accent (or whatever) but it doesn't make any difference to what that character actually does in play, then why do I care whether or not that character is a dwarf?
Ah. We’re back to performance = funny voices and everything else is apparently content.

Well if that’s the definition you’re insisting on working from then sure you’re 100% right.
 

Hussar

Legend
I reject the notion that rpgs are closer to conversations than performances. They just aren’t. The purpose of a conversation is to convey information. The purpose of performance is to elicit emotional response.

There’s so much more to an rpg than just the transference of information. I would hope that players always have in mind that they are there to help the table have a good time, not just themselves.

I cannot reconcile the idea that literary or performance are so much less important than the information being conveyed.

Unless of course you’re under the misconception that performance or literary is so limited in definition.
 

Hussar

Legend
Again, I wasn't objecting to presentation mattering. I was objecting to presentation being framed as your preferred playstyle. And I was questioning the importance of dividing gaming into content and presentation. I could not see the utility of this distinction.
See, I think we're talking past each other. Presentation is simply the manner in which you convey information from the DM to the players (or vice versa). Presentation can be full on thespianism or bare bones minimalism, but, in any case, it's still presentation. You and [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], for some reason seem to be stuck on this idea that presentation needs to be speaking in funny voices. It's not. Presentation is the how, content is the what.

Now, your preferred presentation style and my preferred presentation style might be different, sure, but, we both still HAVE a presentation style. The notion that you can convey content without any presentation style at all or that how you convey that information doesn't matter is proven false by your own statement that presenting one way will cause you to hate the game while presenting the exact same information another way will cause you to like the game.

So, in the end, the content isn't the only reason you enjoy the game. The presentation matters just as much.

Which is why we're making the distinction. The content might be 5 orcs in a 20x20 room that attack on sight. The presentation of that encounter can vary greatly from bare bones to florid, purple prose, full on thespianism. How you choose to present that information will be, in part, dictated by your players. But, make no mistake, you do have to choose.

The players go into a tower and find a letter that claims that one PC might be the illegitimate child of Evard. Interesting content. But, presentated without any emotion, any attempt to evoke any sort of feeling or reaction, simply as bare bones description - You find a letter. It's to your mother. It says you are Evard's child. - is going to fall very, very flat in some groups and do well in others, as evidenced in this thread.

Does that explain sufficiently why the distinction is being made?
 

pemerton

Legend
Ah. We’re back to performance = funny voices and everything else is apparently content.

Well if that’s the definition you’re insisting on working from then sure you’re 100% right.
Well tell me what you mean by performance, then.

What do you mean by the performance of a character revealing the character to be (say) a dwarf?


I reject the notion that rpgs are closer to conversations than performances. They just aren’t. The purpose of a conversation is to convey information. The purpose of performance is to elicit emotional response.
Who do you have conversations with?

In the conversations I have, only rarely is the purpose to convey information (in the way that eg a newspaper or an encyclopedia does that). Typically the purpose is to generate emotional responses - to affirm friendships, to support someone who's upset, to share in someone else's happiness, etc.

When I ask someone "How're you doing?" or when I say "It's rainy outside, isn't it!" I'm not looking for information.

There’s so much more to an rpg than just the transference of information. I would hope that players always have in mind that they are there to help the table have a good time, not just themselves.
Again, this is very strange to me. It seems a completely distorted account of human interaction.

One important reason I converse with people is because it is pleasant. But it's not pleasant because of any performance. I generally prefer sincerity to performance in conversation.

I cannot reconcile the idea that literary or performance are so much less important than the information being conveyed.
See, I think we're talking past each other. Presentation is simply the manner in which you convey information from the DM to the players (or vice versa). Presentation can be full on thespianism or bare bones minimalism, but, in any case, it's still presentation. You and [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], for some reason seem to be stuck on this idea that presentation needs to be speaking in funny voices. It's not. Presentation is the how, content is the what.
At this point I don't know what you mean by "presentation".

The most concrete examples you've given are of token design and map design - but those are exactly the sorts of things that I am denying are central to RPGing.

In the context of playing a PC, I don't know what you have in mind. I've referred to (what I regard as) the centrality of action declaration, but you've not engaged with that, nor said what you think is involved in presentation here.

Now, your preferred presentation style and my preferred presentation style might be different, sure, but, we both still HAVE a presentation style. The notion that you can convey content without any presentation style at all or that how you convey that information doesn't matter is proven false by your own statement that presenting one way will cause you to hate the game while presenting the exact same information another way will cause you to like the game.
What you're arguing here is that my claim is self-contradictory. I don't agree.

If you were correct, then all conversation must involve presentation/performance. But self-evidently it doesn't: there's a real difference between conversation as performance or artifice (the salon) and ordinary, sincere conversation.

So, in the end, the content isn't the only reason you enjoy the game. The presentation matters just as much.

The players go into a tower and find a letter that claims that one PC might be the illegitimate child of Evard. Interesting content. But, presentated without any emotion, any attempt to evoke any sort of feeling or reaction, simply as bare bones description - You find a letter. It's to your mother. It says you are Evard's child. - is going to fall very, very flat in some groups and do well in others, as evidenced in this thread.
Why should the GM be trying to evoke the player's feeling by virtue of intonation?

If I tell you - the real person - that I've discovered something about your ancestry, you're likely to be excited about it whether or not I have a drum-roll lead-up to my big reveal. It's exciting because it's something you care about, not because it's something in respect of which I'm evoking feelings via my performance.

If the only reason that RPG players care about a situation is because the GM has "sold" it to them like a film director, then I think that something is going wrong. As I said upthread, I would advise that GM to work on his/her situations, not on his/her soundtrack.

Does that explain sufficiently why the distinction is being made?
Well I think I might see a difference, but it may be a different one from what you're seeing.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
See, I think we're talking past each other. Presentation is simply the manner in which you convey information from the DM to the players (or vice versa). Presentation can be full on thespianism or bare bones minimalism, but, in any case, it's still presentation. You and [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], for some reason seem to be stuck on this idea that presentation needs to be speaking in funny voices. It's not. Presentation is the how, content is the what.

Now, your preferred presentation style and my preferred presentation style might be different, sure, but, we both still HAVE a presentation style. The notion that you can convey content without any presentation style at all or that how you convey that information doesn't matter is proven false by your own statement that presenting one way will cause you to hate the game while presenting the exact same information another way will cause you to like the game.

So, in the end, the content isn't the only reason you enjoy the game. The presentation matters just as much.

Which is why we're making the distinction. The content might be 5 orcs in a 20x20 room that attack on sight. The presentation of that encounter can vary greatly from bare bones to florid, purple prose, full on thespianism. How you choose to present that information will be, in part, dictated by your players. But, make no mistake, you do have to choose.

The players go into a tower and find a letter that claims that one PC might be the illegitimate child of Evard. Interesting content. But, presentated without any emotion, any attempt to evoke any sort of feeling or reaction, simply as bare bones description - You find a letter. It's to your mother. It says you are Evard's child. - is going to fall very, very flat in some groups and do well in others, as evidenced in this thread.

Does that explain sufficiently why the distinction is being made?
I think there is a much more fundamental divide going on. I am not even sure presentation captures what I think of going on at a game table. i see the GM more as a facilitator and I would tend to agree with Pemerton that the GM is facilitating a conversation. I think the problem I am having with this division of the game into content and presentation (beyond stuff that I don't want to rehash) is that it is still rooted in a 'performative' understanding of presentation. GMing isn't about me having content that I must transmit to the players and then presenting it in a performed manner. It is more like a conversation with lots of sponteneity, reaction, etc. I simply don't think about the GM's 'performance'. So I think the issue here is you are positing a way of dividing the RPG experience into two halves. And you have yet to demonstrate to me why such a division is useful or true. Why would I adopt this model if it isn't useful and doesn't match how I conceive of play at the table?
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Why should the GM be trying to evoke the player's feeling by virtue of intonation?

If I tell you - the real person - that I've discovered something about your ancestry, you're likely to be excited about it whether or not I have a drum-roll lead-up to my big reveal. It's exciting because it's something you care about, not because it's something in respect of which I'm evoking feelings via my performance.

If the only reason that RPG players care about a situation is because the GM has "sold" it to them like a film director, then I think that something is going wrong. As I said upthread, I would advise that GM to work on his/her situations, not on his/her soundtrack.

Well I think I might see a difference, but it may be a different one from what you're seeing.
This. This is what I was trying to say in my previous post. I'd just add, the GM may well also be invested and excited about the ancestry information as well, and that will come through. But it isn't a performance or even a presentation. It is a sincere and honest human expression in a conversation. There is a difference. Anyone who has been a facilitator or presenter knows that. I think where I am coming from is I don't expect people to lie about their emotional state in a session. If the GM is tired and low energy that day (or if that is their general personality), that is something I expect to see come through in the game session (and I don't expect or want them to crank up a performance for me). I get the feeling that this isn't where you are coming from Hussar. Because in most of your posts, even though you have adjusted the definition of performance and presentation, you keep going back to examples that seem very much about focusing on a performance where people are affecting a style of information presentation. That is fine, but it is just not what I seek in gaming (and I think it is a premise one has to accept if they adopt the language you are advancing in this discussion).

Based on previous discussions I think I'd disagree with Pemerton a lot on the specifics of what it means for the game to be a conversation (and where that goes in terms of how the game is structured and played), but I definitely agree the game is more of a conversation than a presentation. And I think the reason that matters so much to us in this discussion is gaming is very much a social experience. I frankly find the idea that I would be evaluating a performance distasteful in the same way I would find it distasteful to judge my friends or family on their 'performance' in a conversation or on how well they 'present information' to me. It is more about do I like these people, do I like this GM and is the conversation able to produce the right level of emotion and immersion. Basically that is more about how comfortable I am with a group than whether I rate their performances as high. The performance aspect of play is so far down on the list of things I care about. And I get that you have shifted the definition of performance and adopted presentation as the term. But the more I see the conversion unfold and think about it, the more I see this is still about judging the skillset of a person and judging a performance (presenting information is particular manner is a performance).
 
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Hussar

Legend
There's way too much of a wall of text up there to answer everything, but, I think this gets to the heart of it:

Permerton said:
Well tell me what you mean by performance, then.

What do you mean by the performance of a character revealing the character to be (say) a dwarf?
Well, let's see. I'd probably talk about growing up underground, reference my appearance by mentioning the beard and spend some time grooming it. I'd probably reference relations between my people and various other people as being different than everyone else's. My food choices would be different. References to my stature might go some ways. The fact that I don't like boats or horses might be a bit cliche, but, it does get the point across. Historical facts about my people in comparison to the rest of the party. Differences in approaches - the fact that I live about twice or three times as long as a human would give me a pretty different perspective on things. The fact that I see in the dark and have resistance to poisons would likely come up at some point.

And, look at that, not a single Scottish accent.

If you cannot portray the species of your character without resorting to bad accents, stick to playing humans.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
If you cannot portray the species of your character without resorting to bad accents, stick to playing humans.
Honestly I'd rather have a player at my table who speaks with bad accents, than a player who has this attitude (and I am not particularly fond of accents or funny voices).
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Well, let's see. I'd probably talk about growing up underground, reference my appearance by mentioning the beard and spend some time grooming it. I'd probably reference relations between my people and various other people as being different than everyone else's. My food choices would be different. References to my stature might go some ways. The fact that I don't like boats or horses might be a bit cliche, but, it does get the point across. Historical facts about my people in comparison to the rest of the party. Differences in approaches - the fact that I live about twice or three times as long as a human would give me a pretty different perspective on things. The fact that I see in the dark and have resistance to poisons would likely come up at some point.
This stuff is all fine if you like it. But these are very much the considerations that someone makes when they are acting. Not everyone is going to play a dwarf this way. I think on the spectrum of performance most people are not as far on the performative end as you, and many people are on the opposite end. I think it is still roleplaying if they are not doing any of this. Even if all they are doing is playing themselves with dwarf stats, that is still roleplaying as far as I am concerned. In fact, I'd argue that sometimes over emphasis on these kinds of considerations takes players more out of the moment and more out of the conversation because they are focused more on how they are presenting the character than on reacting to what is going on naturally.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Equating reading a full thread of posts with educating oneself seems a real reach for me. Not everyone engages discussions on forums by reading every single post (particularly with long ones like this). When people have mentioned other posts they've made, I've read them.
Maybe, but those posts with lots of words that you say you don't read are often the ones that best explain the position. It seems counter productive to complain about not understanding a position, while not reading the posts best able to help you learn what the position is.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I pretty clearly defined performance as being anything that is not content. Others amended that to be presentation, which, in hindsight is probably a better way of saying things.
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] has pretty strongly argued that presentation is not very important and that content is all that really matters. That the scenario regardless of how that scenario is communicated to the players is the most important thing at the table.

I’d argue that presentation is equally important and you prove my point. A dm who presents information one way would make you enjoy the game less than if he or she presented a different way. Even though they are presenting exactly the same information.

Seems to me that presentation or performance is extremely important. Equally as important as content since content alone isn’t enough for you to enjoy the game.
I agree that one is not really more important than the other. I've seen a great DM take poor content and make it interesting and fun. I've also seen a poor DM take fantastic content and ruin it. However, I've also seen that the good content makes it easier for the typical DM to make the game fun, while bad content will often stymie the typical DM, so content is equally important in my opinion.
 

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