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Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

Sadras

Explorer
pemerton said:
When I play a RPG I am not going to experience fear because of the referee's narration. That's a response appropriate to a book or film, perhaps, but not a RPG.
I think your quote bolded by @lowkey13 is quite interesting. I remember some Dungeon articles back in the day provided advice on various methods for GM narration to inspire gothic horror and a sense of unease in the players for horror-themed campaigns. In that sense, I see the importance of form being on par with the content.

@Lanefan touched on this in his post upthread.
Sometimes DMs impose a distinct tone using sentence structure, music and props to evoke a certain mood. In those instances I would say the GM narration is very much a literary endeavour.
 
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jasper

Rotten DM
Sorry the teacher is not sucking all the fun out the module. Nor do I have a pop quiz on Wednesday about the adventure. And Friday has no schedule test. SO NOT LITERARY. Especially since you ya'hoos can't agree on literary. Literary. Rare litter found in libraries or school grounds.
 

Gradine

Archivist
I'm sure it's been said multiple times by others in this thread, but it really depends on the nature of the campaign, really. There's a wide gulf between beer-and-pretzels-kick-down-the-door-dungeon-crawling and diceless-thespians-it's-role-playing-not-roll-playing and that's only one of any number of possible spectra that could define a campaign, though it's probably the one most germane to this discussion. Where one campaign might fall on other spectra, such as: Is the campaign serious or silly? Light-hearted or grimdark? Sandbox or railroad? etc... these might have impact on the inherent artistic quality of the endeavor, but aren't, I think, ultimately determinant. Not in the sense of "roll-playing vs role-playing", in any case.

The thing is, this particular forum (and, I would wager, most large general RPG forums) has a significant bias toward Dungeons & Dragons, and particularly old school D&D, which lends itself towards styles and aesthetics of play that naturally lean away from (without entirely precluding) a "literary" (or more accurately an "artistic narrative") spirit. There is little doubt that this question would have a markedly different response in a forum that more heavily biased towards, say, FATE, or PtbA. System of preference has a significant impact on what I would consider to be the potential for artistic narrative expression of a quality that would be considered high enough for the purpose of the OP's question. In all of its iterations D&D and its many clones has always focused more on the "game" and on overcoming challenges; many PbtA systems, meanwhile, have a more deliberate and explicit focus on crafting strong narrative and good storytelling. Neither of these are prevented from being one or other, mind you, but it's often a case of fitting a square peg in a round hole.

From there, the artistic quality depends largely on both the GM and the players. The GM has been the willing and able to place a strong emphasis on storytelling while also adept at incorporating player actions into an ever-evolving narrative, while the players generally have to be both game for the endeavor and strong enough storytellers in their own right to contribute to the fiction. It might even require players making sacrifices, whether that means making "sub-optimal" choices in character building to flesh out the character, or being willing to take actions that might lead to better fiction in spite of or because they make it harder for them to achieve their goals. It's not easy, but it's definitely possible.

And then there are livestreams and podcasts, which (at least when done well) deliberately takes an outside audience into account in its production. For the audience, the experience is literary in the pedantic but not-too pedantic sense where it only refers to written prose, and there are plenty of examples of such events producing emotional responses in their audiences.
 
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.
Sure, it's not anymore literary than cinematic. There's no pages being turned in.

But it is a creative endeavor.

It is to great literature as a spray-painted performance artist is to classical sculpture.
It's ultimately ephemeral. It's an experience, not an enduring work, that's being created.

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.
They can go that way, sure. They can also be very DM-driven, even to the point that the players are almost as much consumers of the fiction as if they were reading a book or watching a movie.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Sure, it's not anymore literary than cinematic. There's no pages being turned in.

But it is a creative endeavor.

It is to great literature as a spray-painted performance artist is to classical sculpture.
It's ultimately ephemeral. It's an experience, not an enduring work, that's being created.

They can go that way, sure. They can also be very DM-driven, even to the point that the players are almost as much consumers of the fiction as if they were reading a book or watching a movie.
Hey! Good to see you are back ...

Missed ya. ;)
 
I'm sure it's been said multiple times by others in this thread, but it really depends on the nature of the campaign, really. There's a wide gulf between beer-and-pretzels-kick-down-the-door-dungeon-crawling and diceless-thespians-it's-role-playing-not-roll-playing and that's only one of any number of possible spectra that could define a campaign, though it's probably the one most germane to this discussion.

<snip>

The thing is, this particular forum (and, I would wager, most large general RPG forums) has a significant bias toward Dungeons & Dragons, and particularly old school D&D, which lends itself towards styles and aesthetics of play that naturally lean away from (without entirely precluding) a "literary" (or more accurately an "artistic narrative") spirit.
I'm not sure that the contrast you draw between styles is the one that is germane to my OP - because my OP does not treat artistic narrative as a synonym for literary.

My PbtA experience is modest, but my play in that style is extensive. Thespianism isn't part of it.
 

Gradine

Archivist
I'm not sure that the contrast you draw between styles is the one that is germane to my OP - because my OP does not treat artistic narrative as a synonym for literary.
Then I'm afraid I'm not sure what you're getting at; Hriston's comment about "quality of form", and your response to it, seemed fundamentally clear to me. Perhaps you do not associate "artistic narrative" with "quality of form", but I'm not exactly sure where the dividing line is meant to be there. Perhaps I would be clearer in referring to an "aesthetic artistic quality", which I roughly associate as one in the same? I'd rather not get bogged down in semantics.

My PbtA experience is modest, but my play in that style is extensive. Thespianism isn't part of it.
I think you might be getting tripped in my mention of thespianism; that point was brought up largely to illustrate a difference in preferred aesthetics of play rather than to be a purely literal idea. Clearly thespianism is a choice, but one that is not necessary for an emphasis on a quality narrative and/or character-expression aesthetic of play. That said, PbtA and its ilk has mechanics and design specifically (and usually explicitly) meant to reinforce those aesthetic qualities; while D&D/OSR and the like have mechanics and design specifically (if not always explicitly) meant to reinforce non-"literary" aesthetics of play such as challenge and discovery.

Of course, a focus on narrative and expression does not automatically make a game "literary" and a focus challenge and discovery does not automatically preclude it from the category (see also: Dark Souls). But the types of systems and campaigns that are more geared towards so-called "story gamers*" are definitely more likely to include qualities that could be considered of aesthetic artistic merit, while systems and campaigns that are more geared towards so-called "power gamers*" are less likely to.

*Please note that I am in no way intending to diminish or de-legitimize anyone's favorite system(s) or style(s) of play, and I apologize if I have. I am simply trying to answer the OP's question.
 
[MENTION=57112]Gradine[/MENTION], I'm having trouble following you because you seem to be making an assumption about what is informing my OP which does not hold good. If you're not making that assumption, then I'm still confused about what you're saying but am also confused about why I'm confused!

In a post-OP post somewhere upthread I think I mentioned classic dungeoncrawling along the lines of Gygax's PHB (which is what I understand you to mean by OSR-type play). As I said in that post, I don't think that play of that sort is a literary endeavour, because it's not an artistic endeavour at all. In respect of the goals and outlook of play (though not all the methods), it's closer to a wargame.

But that wasn't what I had in mind in my OP. In my OP I'm talking about play that (if one can speak relatively broadly) would be the sort of play involved in a PbtA game. Though, as I've said, my actual PbtA play exerpience is modest, I'm pretty familiar with character-driven, largely "no myth" play based aroudn the core dynamic of GM frames scene which invites protagnoism from players via their PCs and in response players engage fiction via their PCs.

It's because [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] is familiar with this feature of my biography as a RPGer that he posed the questions he did not far upthread. To summarise, Manbearcat asked how the GMing techniques of that sort of play - building on prior fiction; responding to and building on theme and similar player-flagged points of interest/engagement; managing the pacing issues need to achieve effective transition from scene-to-scene so as to keep the invitations open while allowing the protagonism to play itself out - fit with my contention in the OP.

My response is twofold: (i) extrapolating and building on a fiction within parameters of theme/interest/"meaningfulness" is not about quaity of form, insofar as it can be done even by a GM who is not particularly artistic or skillful in his/her actual narration of situations and consequences (I know this because I've experienced it); (ii) the sorts of pacing issues involved in GMing generally operate at a level (relative to the narrative) whereby managing them is more about what to say when then how deftly one says it. A GM can have a sense of when a scene is done, and act on that sense by bringing it to a close and framing a new scene, without being a good writer or even a good storyboarder (a storyborader has to anticipate, but a GM has a lot of real-time cues to act upon).

Does that make my view any clearer?

Also, with respect to the thespian/performance aspect, I think that conversation can be entertaining but (at least for me) the question of whether I enjoy conversing with someone isn't normally increased by the extent to which they approach conversation as a performer/entertainer. To put it another way, salon wit of course has its place but (in my view) isn't of the essence of enjoyable conversation. I see RPGing in the same way - there has to be the back-and-frorth betwen the GM and players, and unlike typical conversation it is structured in certain ways around the shared creation of a fiction. But it's not about being an entertainer/performer, although hopefully the participants find it entertaining/enjoyable.
 
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GrahamWills

Explorer
[MENTION=57112]
... I don't think that [OSR] is a literary endeavour, because it's not an artistic endeavour at all.
... extrapolating and building on a fiction within parameters of theme/interest/"meaningfulness" is not about quality of form
... the sorts of pacing issues ... is more about what to say when then how deftly one says it.

... [RPGs are] not about being an entertainer/performer, although hopefully the participants find it entertaining/enjoyable.
It strongly seems that you are starting from a premise that says RPGs are purely game and have no attributes that might be related to an artistic endeavor. I guess that's a point of view, but you shouldn't be surprised when most people have the experience that:

* OSR can be as much art as DramaSystem.
* Bad writing (the form of presentation) limits people's enjoyment.
* GMs who phrase descriptions well are more fun than ones who simply indicate bare facts.
* They like playing with people whose characters are performed rather than merely described.

I think you've made your position pretty clear, but honestly, I think you're way out on your own. I don't think anyone I know would be equally happy with a poorly delivered description read from box text as they would be from a well-delivered description with good phrasing, intonation and vocal variation.
 
It strongly seems that you are starting from a premise that says RPGs are purely game and have no attributes that might be related to an artistic endeavor.
I'm not saying that. I think my fairly long post not far upthread should make that clear.

I guess that's a point of view, but you shouldn't be surprised when most people have the experience that:

* OSR can be as much art as DramaSystem.
* Bad writing (the form of presentation) limits people's enjoyment.
* GMs who phrase descriptions well are more fun than ones who simply indicate bare facts.
* They like playing with people whose characters are performed rather than merely described.

<snip>

I don't think anyone I know would be equally happy with a poorly delivered description read from box text as they would be from a well-delivered description with good phrasing, intonation and vocal variation.
I think "equally happy" isn't the right notion here.

Everything else being equal, most people prefer to eat their food of nice rather than chipped crockery, but I think that leaves it an open question whether quality of crockery is inherent to the art of cooking well.

Likewise, a concert is better if the seats are comfortable, but is quality of seating inherent to the art of performing well?

My contention is that emphasising quality of writing and quality of "thespianism", in the context of RPGing, places the emphasis on what is weakest rather than strongest about RPGing as an art form.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Everything else being equal, most people prefer to eat their food of nice rather than chipped crockery, but I think that leaves it an open question whether quality of crockery is inherent to the art of cooking well.

Likewise, a concert is better if the seats are comfortable, but is quality of seating inherent to the art of performing well?
Both affect the presentation of the end product and thus the consumers' enjoyment of such; and that's what we're talking about here: presentation.

Someone could write the best, most engaging adventure module of all time but a GM who doesn't present it well at the table is still going to butcher it in the players' eyes (a la uncomfortable seats at an excellent concert). Conversely, a horrible module can be made very engaging by a GM who presents it with some flair and dramatics and humour (a la luxury seats and free wine at an otherwise unremarkable concert).

My contention is that emphasising quality of writing and quality of "thespianism", in the context of RPGing, places the emphasis on what is weakest rather than strongest about RPGing as an art form.
First off, as I just noted quality of writing and quality of thespianism don't have the same effect at the table: the perceived quality of the writing can be and often is determined by its presentation at the table, and the quality of that presentation is often based on the dramatic flair of the GM.

Post hoc (and this is the literary part) the later perceived memory of the game can be greatly affected by how well or not the game logs are written and recorded, where such is done at all.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
The *Literary* aspect of this discussion, appears similar to the concept of "Perceived Quality" we learned in business school:

Perceived quality can be defined as the customer's opinion about the overall quality or image of the product or service or the brand itself with respect to its purpose of use as against its alternatives. It might not be linked to the actual product but is more skewed towards the brand image, customer experience with the brand and its other products, peer opinions, etc. thus perceived quality differs from objective quality, product-based quality and manufacturing quality.


Perceived quality is intangible. It cannot be measured on quantitative grounds, preferably because judgements about what is important to the customers varies widely across different personalities, needs and preferences.


https://www.mbaskool.com/business-concepts/marketing-and-strategy-terms/13570-perceived-quality.html

The bolded part seems relevant in the each person is looking for something different from the game.
 
Both affect the presentation of the end product and thus the consumers' enjoyment of such; and that's what we're talking about here: presentation.

Someone could write the best, most engaging adventure module of all time but a GM who doesn't present it well at the table is still going to butcher it in the players' eyes
This the very thing that I disagree with. Of course quality of writing and also quality of delivery is crucial to a recitation. But I'm arguing that at the heart of RPGing is an activity which is basically the antithesis of a GM reading the players some pre-written prose.

I'm also arguing that the more one tries and makes the strengths of RPGing the same as the strengths of a recitation, the harder it will be to achieve a satisfying experience. This is because writing good prose, and reading it well, is a very demanding activity; and the writing, at least, is generally a solitary activity which means that this approach to RPGing locates much of the experience not in the play at all, but rather in the preparation.

Conversely, I think most people - especially those who are interested in RPGing - have robust imaginations and a good creative urge. Which means that emphasising the contrast between RPGIng and recitation/thespianism makes it relatively easy to produce good experiences.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
This the very thing that I disagree with. Of course quality of writing and also quality of delivery is crucial to a recitation. But I'm arguing that at the heart of RPGing is an activity which is basically the antithesis of a GM reading the players some pre-written prose.
Is it? What's antithesis to rpg's with pre-written prose describing a location? A monster or npc's appearance? How about for relaying information?

I'm also arguing that the more one tries and makes the strengths of RPGing the same as the strengths of a recitation, the harder it will be to achieve a satisfying experience. This is because writing good prose, and reading it well, is a very demanding activity; and the writing, at least, is generally a solitary activity which means that this approach to RPGing locates much of the experience not in the play at all, but rather in the preparation.
Ignoring the fact that writing up things for their game is enjoyable to some/many GM's (and may even be integral to their ability to run), and that for some/many players it can enhance and/or be integral for their enjoyment and participation ...There are also pre-written adventures, campaign settings, etc. that have been used by new and seasoned GM's alike as tools that enhance and enable "the play" as much if not more than they are a solitary endeavor...

Conversely, I think most people - especially those who are interested in RPGing - have robust imaginations and a good creative urge. Which means that emphasising the contrast between RPGIng and recitation/thespianism makes it relatively easy to produce good experiences.
Why can't that robust imagination and creative urge be enhanced by (or conversely enhance) recitation and thespianism? I've yet to see you state a solid reason as to why these things must be at odds??

EDIT: I also don't see why being people with robust imaginations and creative urges puts one at odds with wanting to recite pre-written prose for ones game or act out NPC's and PC's??

EDIT 2: I feel like perhaps you are advocating for a specific style of play which may be antithesis to pre-written prose and thespianism... though I'm hard pressed to think of a style that would be in direct opposition to those two things... if this is the case perhaps you should narrow what your statements are trying to encompass from roleplaying to the particular style you are speaking to...
 
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lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
This the very thing that I disagree with. Of course quality of writing and also quality of delivery is crucial to a recitation. But I'm arguing that at the heart of RPGing is an activity which is basically the antithesis of a GM reading the players some pre-written prose.

I'm also arguing that the more one tries and makes the strengths of RPGing the same as the strengths of a recitation, the harder it will be to achieve a satisfying experience. This is because writing good prose, and reading it well, is a very demanding activity; and the writing, at least, is generally a solitary activity which means that this approach to RPGing locates much of the experience not in the play at all, but rather in the preparation.

Conversely, I think most people - especially those who are interested in RPGing - have robust imaginations and a good creative urge. Which means that emphasising the contrast between RPGIng and recitation/thespianism makes it relatively easy to produce good experiences.
If you keep defining the issue in an increasingly narrow and idiosyncratic way, of course you'll agree with yourself even when other people disagree with you.

To recap- you went from arguing against any boxed text in published modules (which is a fair position, albeit one many might disagree with) to arguing that RPG cannot be a literary endeavor because of something something framing is the heart something something (which, as I am sure you are noticing, is something almost no one will agree with) to trying to go back to some other point.

It is certainly fair for you to say that there are certain things that are not an emphasis in your games; I would not broaden that point to ALL rpgs (that's the path of badwrongfun), and I also might avoid using loaded terms like saying that RPGs cannot be "literary" when discussing them.

(Put another way, RPGs encompass a lot of different games and playstyles, from diceless narrative games to gridded combat-heavy gamist/simulations. So ... it's best to not tar with to heavy a brush).
 

the Jester

Legend
Is, or can, a choose your own adventure book be what you consider"literary"? What about classic text adventures?
 
Is, or can, a choose your own adventure book be what you consider"literary"? What about classic text adventures?
I don't know anything about "classic text adventures".

Choose your own adventures aspire to be literary in the sense I've got in mind - they are in effect novels (novel bundles? novel trees?). They don't offer the same sort of situated-in-the-fiction engagment as a RPG, and a fair bit of the reader's time is spent doing just that - reading - and so the quality of the prose is fairlyintegral to the whole enterprise.
 

GrahamWills

Explorer
It seems an odd position to me that, in an endeavor where the main activity is describing things (what your character is doing, what the world is like, what is going on) someone can take the position that the quality of presentation of that description is pretty much irrelevant.

I cannot think of any other communication-based activity where anyone might say such a thing. Not movies, not art, not comics, not children playing on a playground, not business presentations, not writing, not radio, nothing.

It's a reasonable position to say that the content is MORE important than the delivery, sure. But saying that it is unimportant doesn't seem terribly reasonable.
 

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