Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

Imaro

Adventurer
I’m not sure what you mean by “well enough”. I’m claiming that as long as the situation is clearly understood by the players, which is an issue with communication, not with quality of form/literary merit, and it fails to interest them nevertheless, that focusing on the artistry of its presentation is unlikely to generate the desired interest in the situation and is more likely to resemble some other form of entertainment that relies on such artistry, like a novel or a movie.
If you're not sure what I mean refer to the last post by @Maxperson for a pretty succinct explanation.

If what you are claiming above is true then if given the same quality content that is communicated clearly there should never be deviation in how players respond to it (either being interested or not interested)... which begs the question if it's purely a question of quality of content and clarity then why can numerous DM's try to hook their players to interact with the same content and get totally different responses from their players insofar as interest is concerned? Are you saying any and every DM who can't get his players interested in quality content must not be clearly communicating with their players? If not what are you saying is the cause?


My bad. I was using “flowery language” as a euphemism for formal quality in narration, which I thought was fairly obvious. Sorry if that has caused any confusion in the discussion.
Oh I was just making sure you understood that one did not equate to the other but it appears you already knew that and still chose to use "flowery language".
 

Hussar

Legend
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] - perhaps I missed it, but, the point I brought up about using literary techniques, IMO, does speak strongly to the notion that we do need "literary qualities" in an RPG. Without trope, theme, character, and the like, an RPG is simply a really complex board game. All of these aspects, all of these literary techniques, be it clarity of explanation, foreshadowing (which, [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION], I accept that you do not use, but are present in MANY modules), pathetic fallacies, language to evoke tone and mood, the use of in medias res techniques. Flashbacks. Since we're going to start quoting from esoteric RPG's that virtually no one plays, I've played 3:16 Carnage Beyond the Stars which uses flashback as a major element of the game. Never minding games like Amber Diceless and the like which force the players to use language to define in game events.

Heck, even the notion of Aspects as a driving feature of play (from FATE, or the like) is drawn straight from literary techniques and improv techniques as well.
[MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION] brushes this off by saying that RPG's borrow from the literary. I'm not sure why that suddenly matters. It comes from literary sources, and , it influences how RPG's work, thus RPGing becomes something of a literary endevour. Oh, and, let's not forget things like LARP or the like, which is even more heavily dependent upon the literary and theatrical. Or, perhaps those aren't really RPG's?

I'm frankly baffled how anyone could come to the conclusion that the literary isn't required in an RPG. Or, to put it another way, without referring to a single element from literature writing or creation, like genre, mood or tone, explain why I can't play a Jedi in your D&D game. Or a Star Fleet officer. In the game with the English Butler, why can't I be a viking or a catgirl or an animated teapot?
 

Hussar

Legend
I just realized that there is a very simple test we can perform to prove my point.

Can I play a character in your game that is 100% outside of genre? So, an elven wizard in a Call of Cthulu game or a Battlemech Pilot in your D&D game, or whatever. Can I sit down at your table with a character that is completely wrong for the genre of your game and play that character?

If you just said no, then literary is core to your game. Because the only justification, really, is that such a character is breaking genre. If the literary was of so little importance that it doesn't even rate at your table, then you should have not so much as a quibble when I show up to your Pendragon game with a Deadpool knockoff.

Sure, you can argue about power problems, but, I can always come up with genre breaking examples where the power levels wouldn't be an issue (a jedi in a D&D game for example) but, there is zero chance that a DM would let me play it.

Thus, Rpging is a literary endevour.
 

pemerton

Legend
I just realized that there is a very simple test we can perform to prove my point.

Can I play a character in your game that is 100% outside of genre? So, an elven wizard in a Call of Cthulu game or a Battlemech Pilot in your D&D game, or whatever. Can I sit down at your table with a character that is completely wrong for the genre of your game and play that character?

If you just said no, then literary is core to your game. Because the only justification, really, is that such a character is breaking genre. If the literary was of so little importance that it doesn't even rate at your table, then you should have not so much as a quibble when I show up to your Pendragon game with a Deadpool knockoff.

Sure, you can argue about power problems, but, I can always come up with genre breaking examples where the power levels wouldn't be an issue (a jedi in a D&D game for example) but, there is zero chance that a DM would let me play it.

Thus, Rpging is a literary endevour.
This is fine if, by literary endeavour, you means an activity that deploys and/or relies upon some devices used in literary composition. But that's not what the OP meant, and I think it is fairly clear what the OP did mean: quality of composition, with particular reference to the narration and descriptions used by the GM.

Using genre tropes and policing genre boundaries doesn't really bear upon this.

[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] - perhaps I missed it, but, the point I brought up about using literary techniques, IMO, does speak strongly to the notion that we do need "literary qualities" in an RPG. Without trope, theme, character, and the like, an RPG is simply a really complex board game. All of these aspects, all of these literary techniques, be it clarity of explanation, foreshadowing (which, [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION], I accept that you do not use, but are present in MANY modules), pathetic fallacies, language to evoke tone and mood, the use of in medias res techniques. Flashbacks. Since we're going to start quoting from esoteric RPG's that virtually no one plays, I've played 3:16 Carnage Beyond the Stars which uses flashback as a major element of the game. Never minding games like Amber Diceless and the like which force the players to use language to define in game events.

Heck, even the notion of Aspects as a driving feature of play (from FATE, or the like) is drawn straight from literary techniques and improv techniques as well.

[MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION] brushes this off by saying that RPG's borrow from the literary. I'm not sure why that suddenly matters. It comes from literary sources, and , it influences how RPG's work, thus RPGing becomes something of a literary endevour. Oh, and, let's not forget things like LARP or the like, which is even more heavily dependent upon the literary and theatrical. Or, perhaps those aren't really RPG's?

I'm frankly baffled how anyone could come to the conclusion that the literary isn't required in an RPG. Or, to put it another way, without referring to a single element from literature writing or creation, like genre, mood or tone, explain why I can't play a Jedi in your D&D game. Or a Star Fleet officer. In the game with the English Butler, why can't I be a viking or a catgirl or an animated teapot?
Again, most of this is rebutting a claim that was not made.

Children use genre conceits, and sometimes even flashbacks, in playing make believe and telling stories with their Lego constructs. But those aren't literary endeavours in the sense the OP has in mind: the quality of the narration/description isn't relevant to those activities.

How can you think that referring to Amber diceless, in which player use language to define events, possibly rebuts a claim that begins with the premise that RPGing involves narration and description?

If what you are claiming above is true then if given the same quality content that is communicated clearly there should never be deviation in how players respond to it (either being interested or not interested)... which begs the question if it's purely a question of quality of content and clarity then why can numerous DM's try to hook their players to interact with the same content and get totally different responses from their players insofar as interest is concerned? Are you saying any and every DM who can't get his players interested in quality content must not be clearly communicating with their players? If not what are you saying is the cause?
Obviously I'm not [MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION], but I assume that Hriston's answer would be the same as mine: what counts as quality material, in the context of RPGing, is not context-independent.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I just realized that there is a very simple test we can perform to prove my point.

Can I play a character in your game that is 100% outside of genre? So, an elven wizard in a Call of Cthulu game or a Battlemech Pilot in your D&D game, or whatever. Can I sit down at your table with a character that is completely wrong for the genre of your game and play that character?

If you just said no, then literary is core to your game. Because the only justification, really, is that such a character is breaking genre. If the literary was of so little importance that it doesn't even rate at your table, then you should have not so much as a quibble when I show up to your Pendragon game with a Deadpool knockoff.

Sure, you can argue about power problems, but, I can always come up with genre breaking examples where the power levels wouldn't be an issue (a jedi in a D&D game for example) but, there is zero chance that a DM would let me play it.

Thus, Rpging is a literary endevour.
I consider genre fiction and literature two very different things. And once again, even if I didn't make that distinction. The fact that other mediums are present doesn't make RPG those things. RPGs borrow from movies all the time too. That doesn't make RPGs a cinematic endeavor. Now if you want your RPGs to be cinematic, great! Go for it. But don't tell other people their RPGs have to be literary or cinematic just because you like like it (by the way, I am a fan of games with a cinematic bent). Don't you see how this is ultimately just a playstyle argument as you are presenting it?
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Can I play a character in your game that is 100% outside of genre? So, an elven wizard in a Call of Cthulu game or a Battlemech Pilot in your D&D game, or whatever. Can I sit down at your table with a character that is completely wrong for the genre of your game and play that character?
Not all people care about genre. I care about genre. So I would consider genre when such a character was present. But I know plenty of GMs who don't and the thing they would consider, rather than genre, is the setting and whether your character makes sense. Genre emulation is great. Not everyone is into it.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
All of these aspects, all of these literary techniques, be it clarity of explanation, foreshadowing (which, @Bedrockgames, I accept that you do not use, but are present in MANY modules), pathetic fallacies, language to evoke tone and mood, the use of in medias res techniques. Flashbacks. Since we're going to start quoting from esoteric RPG's that virtually no one plays, I've played 3:16 Carnage Beyond the Stars which uses flashback as a major element of the game. Never minding games like Amber Diceless and the like which force the players to use language to define in game events.
Being present in many modules doesn't make something core or essential. Also, the techniques you are discussing are techniques a lot of GMs don't use. I'd say there is a pretty big stylistic divide around many of those. Not saying they are bad, or not fun. Just things like flashbacks are definitely not for everyone. Starting in medias res, is not for everyone. I come from a much more traditional approach than many of the posters in this thread, and am simply not the kind of GM to use those techniques.

Heck, even the notion of Aspects as a driving feature of play (from FATE, or the like) is drawn straight from literary techniques and improv techniques as well.
And that is fine, but that is also why I don't play fate. Look, I am not against borrowing from other mediums. I wrote a 500 page game book that models the wuxia genre. However I would hardly call the game literary. It is a genre game. But when I set about modeling the genre elements I took pains to avoid doing things that put the literary elements front and center over the world and immersion. I drew a line, and baked genre into the cosmology, into the physics of the world, but tried to keep it from being things like meta-resources. Again, not saying this is the best or only approach (many games succeed well doing things like Fate). I am just trying to point out some of us are very cautious about employing techniques from other mediums.

@Bedrockgames brushes this off by saying that RPG's borrow from the literary. I'm not sure why that suddenly matters. It comes from literary sources, and , it influences how RPG's work, thus RPGing becomes something of a literary endevour. Oh, and, let's not forget things like LARP or the like, which is even more heavily dependent upon the literary and theatrical. Or, perhaps those aren't really RPG's?
I was pointing out that RPGS borrow from other mediums all the time. But this is often just a veneer. As someone much smarter than me keeps telling me, there is a different between borrowing veneer and using the structure of a thing. When you sit down to play a game modeled on a particular movie genre, you are not sitting down to watch a movie (you are still sitting down to play a game). But I've stated repeatedly I don't consider genre stuff to be literary anyways. I think literary is a very, very high bar. And Pemerton just clarified what he meant by literary in his OP. You are attacking arguments that we are not making, or not examining the full breath of our arguments.

I'm frankly baffled how anyone could come to the conclusion that the literary isn't required in an RPG. Or, to put it another way, without referring to a single element from literature writing or creation, like genre, mood or tone, explain why I can't play a Jedi in your D&D game. Or a Star Fleet officer. In the game with the English Butler, why can't I be a viking or a catgirl or an animated teapot?
You are arguing against a point people are not trying to make.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This is fine if, by literary endeavour, you means an activity that deploys and/or relies upon some devices used in literary composition. But that's not what the OP meant, and I think it is fairly clear what the OP did mean: quality of composition, with particular reference to the narration and descriptions used by the GM.
Another thread that has fallen victim to the PRP(Pemerton Redefinition Program). When you try to redefine something in order to fit your narrow usage, you naturally and correctly get a lot of push back by people who understand the actual definition. What you have done is the following.

Pemerton: Does D&D have money? I'm going to define money as pieces of paper with no inherent value, but that society ascribes value to and uses for currency. I'm going to say no.

Others: Um, D&D uses pieces of gold, silver, electrum, copper and platinum as currency, so it does have money.

Pemerton: This is fine if, by money, you mean something you use as currency. But that's not what the OP meant, and I think it's fairly clear what the OP did mean...

You are basically derailing your threads right from the OP when you do this. People are not going to let you get away with these outrageous redefinitions.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I consider genre fiction and literature two very different things. And once again, even if I didn't make that distinction. The fact that other mediums are present doesn't make RPG those things. RPGs borrow from movies all the time too. That doesn't make RPGs a cinematic endeavor. Now if you want your RPGs to be cinematic, great! Go for it. But don't tell other people their RPGs have to be literary or cinematic just because you like like it (by the way, I am a fan of games with a cinematic bent). Don't you see how this is ultimately just a playstyle argument as you are presenting it?
You can play the game without being cinematic, but unless you bare bones descriptions to "You see a guy wearing plate mail and holding a sword," you are being literary with your descriptions. As soon as you tell us that he has sandy blond hair, you are being literary. If he has battered plate mail, or gleaming plate mail and you let the players know that, you are being literary. You basically have to completely ignore adjectives to avoid being literary with your descriptions, and I've never played in a game like that. Nor would I ever want play in a game like that.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Obviously I'm not [MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION], but I assume that Hriston's answer would be the same as mine: what counts as quality material, in the context of RPGing, is not context-independent.
Yes and that context includes quality of presentation.

Edit: Are you really trying to claim how content or ideas are presented has no bearing on people's reaction to them?
 
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pemerton

Legend
Another thread that has fallen victim to the PRP(Pemerton Redefinition Program).
I started the thread. [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] is free to say what he likes about the dependence of much RPGing on the logic of genres (it's something I myself have been posting about for maybe 10+ years on these boards). But those things don't rebut the claim in the OP, which is pretty clear:

me said:
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

I don't think Hussar has inadvertantely taken that for a claim that genre plays no role in RPGing.

And your claim that I'm derailing is itself derailing. Asking whether activity A answers to aesthetic criteria X of activity B is standard stuff. Eg is movie-making a theatric endeavour? or is house-painting an artistic endeavour? The only people I know who regularly turn this sort of question into debates about the meaning of words - as opposed to the obviously-intended discussion about the nature of some activity - are all ENworld posters.

You basically have to completely ignore adjectives to avoid being literary with your descriptions
This is not true. There's no general connection between use of adjectives and literary quality. Police use adjectives a lot in their public statements. Builders use adjectives to describe their projects. Children use adjectives to describe their bodily sensations. Etc. Using adjectives is part and parcel of describing things. But describing things isn't, per se, a literary activity.

To reiterate from the OP:

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.​

The OP does not dispute that RPGing involves describing stuff.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I started the thread. [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] is free to say what he likes about the dependence of much RPGing on the logic of genres (it's something I myself have been posting about for maybe 10+ years on these boards). But those things don't rebut the claim in the OP, which is pretty clear:
The definition of literary rebuts the OP all by itself. You can't just redefine things to suit your whims.

And your claim that I'm derailing is itself derailing. Asking whether activity A answers to aesthetic criteria X of activity B is standard stuff. Eg is movie-making a theatric endeavour? or is house-painting an artistic endeavour? The only people I know who regularly turn this sort of question into debates about the meaning of words - as opposed to the obviously-intended discussion about the nature of some activity - are all ENworld posters.
You can't derail something that is already off the rails and has been since the OP. ;)
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
The definition of literary rebuts the OP all by itself. You can't just redefine things to suit your whims.

You can't derail something that is already off the rails and has been since the OP. ;)
It’s been clarified again and again. He’s talking about the quality of the presentation. The literary quality of a GM’s narration isn’t as important as the content of the narration. That’s [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]’s claim. He’s clarified it again and again, and done so specifically in reply to you.

If you think the thread is off the rails, then why not help get it back on track? Why continue to rail on about his choice of word rather than the meaning of what he’s saying, which has been made clear?

I don’t think that RPGs are without literary merit. I don’t think they cannot contain literary quality. But the insistence that they must contain a certain level of quality in that regard is absurd.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
You can play the game without being cinematic, but unless you bare bones descriptions to "You see a guy wearing plate mail and holding a sword," you are being literary with your descriptions. As soon as you tell us that he has sandy blond hair, you are being literary. If he has battered plate mail, or gleaming plate mail and you let the players know that, you are being literary. You basically have to completely ignore adjectives to avoid being literary with your descriptions, and I've never played in a game like that. Nor would I ever want play in a game like that.
No, that isn’t literary. Hack novels use descriptions. Doesn’t make them literary novels. And further when the focus isn’t on higher quality narration, a higher purpose or using a plethora or literary techniques to make it feel ‘literary’, it is not literary. That was the point made in the OP and it comes closest to any meaningful use of ‘literary’ that isn’t absurdly broad for the purposes of this discussion. Again like so many play style arguments based on definitions here people are advancing a broad definition of literary so they can equivocate and advance a playstyle position. The argument presents broad definitions of literary in order to claim RPGs are literary but then end up advocating for more narrow definitions of literary when it gets into what RPGs should do and how they should be written. You can’t say RPGs are literary because words are involved therefore they should have the hallmarks of good literature. It is an argument based on equivocation of the multiple meanings of literary. We keep coming back to the should of RPGs that go far beyond the use of descriptions like ‘he’s blonde’ and tread into territory of using advanced literary techniques and treating RPGs like a literary medium.
 
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Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
Is RPGing a […] endeavour?
• Literary
• Creative
• Artistic
• Social
• Theatrical
• Mythopoeic
• Collaborative
• Therapeutic

Etc. etc.

It seems as though you could insert any of these words, argue pro- or contra-, and still be left with definitional issues. Which leads me to suspect RPGing is a complex phenomenon which cannot be easily reduced or construed within the context of other human activity, and the best definition is tautological.

i.e. RPGing is an RPGing endeavour.

You might deploy a variety of hermeneutical lenses to view RPGing to try and understand it (literary, genre, sociological etc.), but none are adequate to the task of fully illuminating what a RPG actually is, as it occupies its own space.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
I don’t think that RPGs are without literary merit. I don’t think they cannot contain literary quality. But the insistence that they must contain a certain level of quality in that regard is absurd.
I would say the insistence that the level of quality (even if it's just hitting the bare minimum to grab players interest) doesn't matter and is not core to the game is absurd. And I'd say evidence of this is the hoops being jumped through to narrow the definition of "literary quality" to only encompass long- winded or "flowery" description when it actually encompasses much more..
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
I would say the insistence that the level of quality (even if it's just hitting the bare minimum to grab players interest) doesn't matter and is not core to the game is absurd. And I'd say evidence of this is the hoops being jumped through to narrow the definition of "literary quality" to only encompass long- winded or "flowery" description when it actually encompasses much more..
But that's just it....there's a range that is being discussed. Where exactly each person's preference falls in that range is going to vary. And that's fine. I provided actual literary examples of authors who are known to provide highly rendered prose, and others who use a minimalist approach. Both are literary in that sense. Applying the term as broadly as that is ignoring the original point that was being made.

It's not about long winded or flowery language, per se, it's more about the craft of the narration being the primary concern. Is it more important that I as GM convey the situation clearly to the players, or is it more meaningful that I do so in a way that attempts to evoke a certain emotion or tone or mood?

I think it's clear that actual communication is more important than evocative description. I don't even know how this can be argued, unless you insist that anything the GM says is literary.

Having said that, I think that using evocative narration is certainly a powerful tool to engage players. I certainly use it at times in my games. I use other techniques that we'd probably classify as literary, as well.

But I think if I'm ever in a situation where I think it's a choice between being clear and establishing the situation, or being evocative and establishing a mood, then I think I have to go with the first option out of necessity.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
But that's just it....there's a range that is being discussed. Where exactly each person's preference falls in that range is going to vary. And that's fine. I provided actual literary examples of authors who are known to provide highly rendered prose, and others who use a minimalist approach. Both are literary in that sense. Applying the term as broadly as that is ignoring the original point that was being made.

It's not about long winded or flowery language, per se, it's more about the craft of the narration being the primary concern. Is it more important that I as GM convey the situation clearly to the players, or is it more meaningful that I do so in a way that attempts to evoke a certain emotion or tone or mood?

I think it's clear that actual communication is more important than evocative description. I don't even know how this can be argued, unless you insist that anything the GM says is literary.
1. this most definitely was not what the main disagreement has been about... no one (at least as far as I know except maybe for you) is arguing which is more meaningful between clarity and literary quality... the disagreement has been around whether literary quality as a whole is core to roleplaying or not.

2. This is a false dichotomy since nothing about literary quality necessitates lack of clarity.

Having said that, I think that using evocative narration is certainly a powerful tool to engage players. I certainly use it at times in my games. I use other techniques that we'd probably classify as literary, as well.

But I think if I'm ever in a situation where I think it's a choice between being clear and establishing the situation, or being evocative and establishing a mood, then I think I have to go with the first option out of necessity.
Why, inherently, would you have to sacrifice one to get the other(s)?
 

Hriston

Explorer
If you're not sure what I mean refer to the last post by @Maxperson for a pretty succinct explanation.
Well, here's [MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION]'s last post:

Descriptions are what make the situation interesting. I can give you a situation of 10 gargoyles on a hill. One DM will make it bland and dull, the other through descriptions will make it interesting and exciting.



Yep. I've been in RPGs that were dull and played like a board game. Bored game?
From this, it seems that what you and [MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION] mean by presenting a situation well enough is that the situation is described. I agree that description is necessary, but I fail to see how merely describing a situation makes the formal qualities of that description the focus of the activity.

If what you are claiming above is true then if given the same quality content that is communicated clearly there should never be deviation in how players respond to it (either being interested or not interested)... which begs the question if it's purely a question of quality of content and clarity then why can numerous DM's try to hook their players to interact with the same content and get totally different responses from their players insofar as interest is concerned? Are you saying any and every DM who can't get his players interested in quality content must not be clearly communicating with their players? If not what are you saying is the cause?
What some players find interesting, other players will not. Different players have different interests. Is that surprising?

Oh I was just making sure you understood that one did not equate to the other but it appears you already knew that and still chose to use "flowery language".
Well, I'm trying to imagine how you're suggesting a GM make a situation more interesting through focusing on presentation. Embellishment of the language used seems to have been something that was talked about in this thread, but maybe you have something else in mind.
 

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