log in or register to remove this ad

 

Worlds of Design: The Chain of Imagination

In this article I try to rank forms of entertainment, including tabletop games, in how much imagination is needed and why they don’t always translate across different types of media.

old-record-video-film-shop-4642424_1280.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Tabletop RPGs rely heavily on imagination, and many video game genres derive from tabletop RPGs. Video games today are able to supply much of the look and feel that you can't do on the tabletop. I've ranked various forms of entertainment according to how much imagination is required to enjoy those forms, from least to most.

We’re defining imagination here in the context of how much mental power is expended to fill in the blanks of an experience. The less senses used to enjoy the experience, the more imagination is needed to enjoy it (see Media Richness Theory for another example of how media can be ranked). This is a generalized list, with which you can find individual exceptions. Remember “no generalization is always true, not even this one.”
  1. Movies
  2. Video games
  3. Typical videos
  4. Stage plays
  5. LARPs
  6. Comics
  7. Audio presentation
  8. Tabletop board and card games
  9. Tabletop RPGs
  10. Oral storytelling
  11. Novels
The first group of media include both audio and visual components. The one that requires the least imagination is movies because everything is there for you to see and hear, and of course in 3-D even more so. Next is video games. They're not quite as detailed as movies if only because the rendering times have to be immediate or close to it, whereas a movie will render overnight or even longer in order to provide the detail you see. The next level where you need a little more imagination is typical videos, such as videos on YouTube.

Next are stage plays and any sort of interactive theater, which more media richness. This includes live action role-playing or LARPs where people with foam or rattan swords are fighting each other, and where there are other props. You do it live; you don’t just sit around a table. If a character can touch you or you can your sense of smell is engaged (like a musty smell of a room, or sitting on a chair that characters in the play use), that elevates the stage play beyond other visual mediums. Conversely, stage plays have little in the way of special effects, but it’s mostly there in front of you.

Then we get to visual-only mediums like comic strips and books, or as some people prefer “graphic novels.” You have individual panels, and you have to imagine everything that connects those panels together. The book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (by Scott McLoud) explains this immensely well and in comic book form. Conversely, audio presentations such as the original Hitchhikers Guide require even more imagination. You get dialogue and sound effects but nothing visual.

Tabletop board and card games provide visuals without much movement, without dialogue, without sound, so they require even more imagination in some respects than audio presentations, but could be ranked above rather than below the latter.

Next is RPGs and oral storytelling. Although related to audio presentations, RPGs and oral storytelling are more fluid than static presentations. When all you have is the spoken word (and perhaps some minor props for RPGs), both GM and players must use a lot of imagination. Being a good storyteller, as at the proverbial campfire, no props or rules at all, requires significant imaginative engagement from both the game master and the other participants.

Finally we get to novels (and shorter stories) where it's all text, and the author has no feedback the way an oral storyteller does. The author has to try to paint the scene in words. That takes a lot of imagination both from author and from reader, and maybe it's one reason why many people don't read much anymore. Look at the ubiquity of the acronym “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read). Short stories I think take a little more imagination because the author doesn't use so many words to describe what's going on. Of course, some authors are very descriptive and some are not, that's just the author’s style.

The differences in these forms of media becomes apparent when we try to move from one to another; for example, turning a movie setting into a role-playing game, or writing a novel based on a tabletop campaign. It’s not as simple as just writing down what happened, or telling players to follow the exact path of a movie plot. The difference is choice: more restrictive mediums lead the participant, while more imaginative mediums leave it open. This is just one reason that making a proper D&D movie is so challenging.

In my opinion, entertainment that requires less imagination has become ascendant. This is problematic because imagination atrophies from lack of use. Is this atrophy of player imagination bad? I don't presume to judge, but I certainly think it’s unfortunate.

Your turn: How would you sort media by imagination?
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I'd move RPGs from 9 to 11 mostly because, if I have the gist right, we're looking mostly at the involvement of the consumer here, not the creator. So the imagination put into the work by the novel shouldn't really matter that much, and that seems to be one of the factors pushing it into the top spot. Otherwise, movies would rank higher on the imagination scale than they do simply because creating them can take an immense amount of imagination from the screenwriter to the director, cinematographer, editor, set designer, costume designer, etc. It's only when it gets to the consumer experience that imagination can turn off because everything that would otherwise need to be imagined has already been imagined and implemented by someone else.
I agree that novels should be up near the top because the consumer has the capacity, even need, to imagine the voices to match the dialogue, the visuals to match the descriptions. But the choices of what to do are out of the reader's hands or imagination. That's not true in tabletop RPGs where the consumer is also a content creator and drives some of the dialogue spoken, the actions taken, the places visited, and so on. I'd probably push LARPs forward a bit based on the same argument.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I'd say poetry is a #12; although it's not very popular.

I mean the phrase
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer..."
Requires so much imagination in such a short space.

Where do you think memes fall on this scale?
1602864105585.png
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I'd move RPGs from 9 to 11 mostly because, if I have the gist right, we're looking mostly at the involvement of the consumer here, not the creator. So the imagination put into the work by the novel shouldn't really matter that much, and that seems to be one of the factors pushing it into the top spot. Otherwise, movies would rank higher on the imagination scale than they do simply because creating them can take an immense amount of imagination from the screenwriter to the director, cinematographer, editor, set designer, costume designer, etc. It's only when it gets to the consumer experience that imagination can turn off because everything that would otherwise need to be imagined has already been imagined and implemented by someone else.
I agree that novels should be up near the top because the consumer has the capacity, even need, to imagine the voices to match the dialogue, the visuals to match the descriptions. But the choices of what to do are out of the reader's hands or imagination. That's not true in tabletop RPGs where the consumer is also a content creator and drives some of the dialogue spoken, the actions taken, the places visited, and so on. I'd probably push LARPs forward a bit based on the same argument.

What is imagination? That's different from creativity.

I'd say RPGs require more creativity than reading a novel. But from a pure imagination space, even if the GM created their own setting, I'd say a novel requires more imagination from the individual engaging with it.

But man, placing RPGs on here isn't easy. Because is the RPG just the text of the rules and an adventure? So therefore there's the GM layer imagination; and then when it gets to the table there's the player imagination interpreting what the GM says? And there's such a wide range from Roll20 users, to tabletops with extensive dioramas, to pure theatre of the mind...
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
What is imagination? That's different from creativity.
Is it, though? One could argue true creativity (the act of creating something new) cannot happen without imagination, though imagination can certainly happen without creativity.

The OP's list seems to be written strictly from the point of view of the end user or consumer - the viewer of a movie, the reader of a book, the player of a game or LARP, etc. It doesn't take into account what the maker(s) of a movie, the author(s) of a book, or the designer(s) and-or GM(s) of a game put into it; but without this there is no movie-book-game for the end user to enjoy.

The OP also doesn't follow his own guidelines in making the list. He says "The less senses used to enjoy the experience, the more imagination is needed to enjoy it [...]", which doesn't work when looking at LARP. Unlike any of the other media on the list, LARP-ing requires use of all five senses plus some imagination to enjoy it and by this criteria should either be at one extreme end of the list or the other.

Another factor is the different levels of actual end-user input required, with or without imagination. A movie or stage play requires virtually none - the end user is completely passive, doing virtually nothing other than soaking up the experience. Conversely, a LARP doesn't happen at all if the end users provide no input*; and a tabletop RPG without end user (i.e. player) input - while technically possible - isn't likely to amount to much.

* - ditto for a board or card game, for all that; but as most of those don't really try to interact with the imagination very much I wonder if they even belong on this list at all.

So from the end-user standpoint my list would go something like:

1. Movies and videos. A well-done movie or video does all the imagining for you; you just sit there and soak it in.
2. Stage plays. Ditto, though most stage sets require imagination on the audience's part to make them appear as more than they are.
3. Video games. These require considerably more imagination if only so the player can successfully interact with the game; but the scenes you interact with are largely presented for you and your own creativity in what you do is limited by what the game's programming can handle.
4. Comics, novels, oral storytelling and audio presentations. I lump these four together as each requires the end user to imagine the scene being described (or, in the case of comics, fill in the gaps between the scenes depicted). The only difference between a novel and an oral/audio presentation is the sense - vision or hearing - being used by the consumer to take in the information; and the only difference between oral storytelling and an audio presentation is that one is 'live' while the other is pre-recorded.
5. Tabletop RPGs. These combine the imagination requirements of 3. and 4. above; the player must both imagine the described scenes as in 4. and then use/extend that imagination in order to interact with said scenes as in 3. That said, full immersion - while nice - is not necessarily required for successful play. Also, your own creativity is (ideally) nowhere near as externally limited as it is in 3.
6. LARPs. As 5. above except the degrees of required/expected immersion and active end-user input are higher.

I knocked tabletop card and board games off the list.
 

lewpuls

Adventurer
The editor has retitled the column, which has focused attention on the chain of imagination rather than on the weakening of imagination (this is "Imagination in games (and how it's disappearing)" part 1 of 2 parts).

Yes, I was looking at it purely from the user's/consumer's point of view, not the creator's. Two very different things.

Yes, tabletop RPGs are hard to place! Especially when there are so many ways to play. For example, those who play RPG as storytelling by the GM need less imagination than those who are confronted with a situation and have to deal with it independently. The GM isn't guiding (hand-holding?) them in order to keep the story on track.

I think imagination is different than creativity; though creativity requires imagination, imagination requires next to no creativity.
 

Mallus

Hero
I’d argue it requires imagination to consume art. Any art. And by ‘consume’ I mean ’experience and have a reaction to‘. Making this question of ranking by media very strange. Doesn’t content matter more?
 

ccs

40th lv DM
I think your severely, or conveniently, ignoring how much imagination goes into making those movies, video games, videos, & stage productions.
And the smoother those things work? The more imagination it took to accomplish.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I think your severely, or conveniently, ignoring how much imagination goes into making those movies, video games, videos, & stage productions.
And the smoother those things work? The more imagination it took to accomplish.
His focus seems to be on the imagination required of the consumer moreso than the creator.
 

Ramaster

Explorer
What even is this?

"RPGs require more imagination than movies" Uh? What? Yes, of course they do. Is this really the thesis of the article?

"Short stories I think take a little more imagination because the author doesn't use so many words to describe what's going on." Really? Seriously? Someone was paid real, solid cash to write this sentence?

"Is this atrophy of player imagination bad? I don't presume to judge, but I certainly think it’s unfortunate." You don't presume to judge but you immediately do so?

There are people on forums writing much more relevant and informative pieces literally for free, on their free time.

This articles border on the nonsensical. Please, find writers that have actual things to say. Content. I'm not saying its easy, but there a lot of talented, hard-working individuals out there, give one of them a chance.
 

pemerton

Legend
I’d argue it requires imagination to consume art. Any art. And by ‘consume’ I mean ’experience and have a reaction to‘. Making this question of ranking by media very strange. Doesn’t content matter more?
To make this concrete: compare the amount of imagination required by The Seventh Seal, or Ashes of Time, to that required by Tomb of Horrors or Expedition to the Demonweb Pits.

I think ranking by medium is not very useful.

I agree with @Eyes of Nine that poetry can be very demanding in respect of the imagination required to engage with it. But there's plenty of poetry (eg a lot of pop song lyrics) that this isn't true of. Going back to your (@Mallus's) point about content.
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

Advertisement1

Latest threads

Halloween Horror For 5E

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top