thread: 2006-01-24 : Still More Character Ownership

On 2006-01-24, Ron Edwards wrote:

My response, which is actually a diagnosis of the existing activity:

Yes, "we" are still obsessed, in the manner that you have described. It's a creative and technical illness, much in the sense that early cinema was hampered by the assumption that what they filmed should look like a stage-set, viewed front-on, from the same distance, at all times.

The design decisions I've made with my current project are so not-RPG, but at the same time so dismissive of what's ordinarily called "consensual storytelling," that I cannot even begin to discuss it on-line. I can see the influences of Universalis, The Mountain Witch, and My Life with Master, but I cannot articulate the way that I have abandoned the player-character, yet preserved the moral responsibility of decision-making during play. That's all I'll say here, and I won't answer questions about it.

More specific to your question, Vincent, I'll say this: that protagonism was so badly injured during the history of role-playing (1970-ish through the present, with the height of the effect being the early 1990s), that participants in that hobby are perhaps the very last people on earth who could be expected to produce *all* the components of a functional story. No, the most functional among them can only be counted on to seize protagonism in their stump-fingered hands and scream protectively. You can tag Sorcerer with this diagnosis, instantly.

[The most damaged participants are too horrible even to look upon, much less to describe. This has nothing to do with geekery. When I say "brain damage," I mean it literally. Their minds have been *harmed.*]

Perhaps Primetime Adventures, My Life with Master, Dogs in the Vineyard, Polaris, etc etc, are really the best available prosthetics possible, permitting the damaged populace to do X? If so, what will people with limbs prefer to use, to do X?

I don't know. I can see its parts forming, as with a mid-term embryo, but what it will be and how it will work, and who will use it for what purposes, I don't know. My current project may be right on track with it, or I may be veering off in a hopeless direction.


This makes VB go "Ron, grim!"
So my choice is to make prosthetics or else to abandon, y'know, us? That's a sucky choice. I want a better one.

This makes jrs go "Like ..."
"Hey, look, I have opposable thumbs--I wonder what they can do?"

This makes BL go "I'm not sure if I buy the premise..."
That role-playing games especially maim our ability to make and understand story. I think that a broad swath of modern media harms our ability to make and understand story, role-playing games certainly among them. Very few modern people are capable of understanding what makes a story at all. Of course, most of them aren't trying to, which is maybe your point.

This makes RE go "Nope"
I contend that the vast majority of people out there are perfectly capable of comprehending story creation and enjoyment. There is no need for them to be able to verbally express this comprehension; they just do it. Soap-opera addiction is an excellent example. The tendency for gamers to lose these capacities is unique and appalling. I absolutely reject the common geek-smarty fallacy that "norms" are stupid about stories.

This makes BR go "Oral storytelling isn't dead...."
It's just moved into avenues of banality. The "story of your day" is a modern art form. It's also an art form that most RPGers are very bad at. Thus the reason they talk to you about their characters.

This makes TLR go "Comprehension vs. Creation"
I think there may be a significant difference between comprehension and creation. We can all comprehend a Shakespeare play or a Comic book, but most of us don't have the combinations of skill/talent to produce such works. Probably one of the big reasons that PtA works so well is because it uses a very tried-and-true creative format (the TV serial drama) and forces players down that path, channelling their creativity in such a way that it tends to produce better stories -- because it follows the formula.

This makes WCH go "whoa"
I'm working really hard on keeping my "Ron has some useful ideas" attitude, but I don't really think those ideas are worth reading through crap like that. I'll muddle on in the dark like the caveman I am if he's the guy carrying the shining torch of the future of gaming.

This makes RMR go "elitist much?"
Run your game however you like, but please get down off your high horse and refrain from telling me I'm doing it all wrong.... That's just rude and goes nowhere towards convincing me that your ideas have merit. As far as I'm concerned, a story has plot, characterization, theme and setting. Go do what you want with that. It's called creativity. Doesn't matter in the slightest who thinks you're doing it "wrong." Trying not to do it "wrong" is a good way to turn out a pretentious story. Forget about the artsy critics. Get out and live some real life, experience the real world. Observe people and try to figure out the old basic five w's. You'll get it right sometimes and you'll get it wrong sometimes, but you'll always be learning. Then bring your experience and creativity back to the gaming table with equal measures of common sense and suspension of disbelief, and roleplay your character. Trust me, the result will be a story.

This makes WF go "Not Exactly"
Character ownership isn't the disease, it's a symptom. The disease is the pretense of chronological establishment of events. Actual adherence to chronology makes story construction impossible; hence anyone who desires a good story outcome is forced to nurture private plans contrary to that pretense. (Character ownership protects the nurturing-ground). The techniques that make the referenced games better are ways of reducing the conflict/dysfunction from frustrated private plans by replacing them with shared plans . That's the direction they're pointing. Sharing character ownership goes farther in promoting shared plans but will do no good unless there's also a corresponding further breakdown in the chronological rigidity of construction.

This makes mjf go "the more things change..."
Nice to see that One True Wayism has never gone out of style.

This makes VB go "WCH, RMR and MJF, please see my PSA."
You are not safe here.

This makes SLB go "Hey, Ron--"
I think I understand what you mean when you say "gamers are brain-damaged," but I'm not totally sure. Can you amplify, or (better) point me somewhere where you have already amplified?

This makes RE go "Easy option"

This makes RE go "Whoops, hit 'enter' by accident"
I was going to say, please email me.

This makes Curly go "Glass Half Full"
The 'brain damage' of Brand X rpg exposure may have some positive effects, apart from the (admitted) damage to story-sense. For example, the ability to previsualize an unfamilar course of action.

This makes SCH go "Uhh..."
Ron, I would like to ask for a clarification: When you say such behavior as clinging to protaganism is "brain damage," I assume you mean it to be harmful and bad. Are you speaking about gaming as a whole, or merely about Nar play, which is what the original post is about, or are you speaking about all kinds of RPG play. Because I have a hard time seeing how putting your own character first is bad for, say, Gamist play, when getting first is the whole point. Your ideas here, I think, are still good. Your language is pretty inflammatory and I don't think it helps your message.

This makes DH go "Nice."
Well, I think Ron has just passed the "elitist" stage and is zeroing in on the "insulting snob" stage. And folks wonder why Gaming Theory faces such resistance from the majority of gamers. Wouldn't it have been possible to not alienate whatever audience you may have had and used less inflammatory language? Thanks Ron, for helping to contribute to Theory Stigma by offending half of gamerdom. It's needlessly inflammatory, and the sort of attitude is why most gamers have taken a pass on this type of bullshit--at least until a better messenger comes along.

This makes SLB go "So what is it..."
with people who drop by anyway., scrawl marginalia on this one comment, then leave, never to return? Is it an rite of passage of some kind? "You have drunk the warrior herbs, you have insulted Ron Edwards, now you are a man"?

This makes VB go "that's enough marginalia here."
No more, thanks.

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