Friday, 25 October 2019
Games designer, critic and journalist James Desborough put up this video in response to a furore at UK Games Expo back in June. James's points are pretty much what I think myself about all the fuss, but that's not why I'm linking to it here. What I am particularly interested in is his succinct definition of "indie" vs "traditional" roleplaying from 9m 55s on.
In the former, the players get together to tell a story (if you've worked in a writers' room or collaborated on a novel you'll know how that goes) whereas in the traditional form of roleplaying it's not authorial. You play a character. The umpire (or GM, or referee, or MC, or whatever) creates situations. Your characters do things in response to those situations. In retrospect, that can be seen as a story (or a plot, as in, "The king died, and then the queen died of grief") but nobody knew what was going to happen in advance. There was no author. The story emerged from what the player-characters said and did.
Personally I prefer that because my day job (one of my day jobs) is being a writer. I don't want to repeat that in my downtime. Also, I play RPGs to discover and be surprised. The stories that are generated spontaneously from players' in-character words and deeds are more unexpected and more interesting than the ones we'd get if we sat around applying the cookie-cutter of Campbellian story paradigms to the pastry of a story set-up.
That's a personal preference, of course. I bristle if I hear players talking about their story arc and whether it's time for another player to move their relationship on in order to incite a plot point. But then, I'm not much of a fan of genre drama or fiction, and much of that "indie" take seems to derive from genre shapes for stories. As Roger Bell-West says here (at 1:26:20) in such games the goal is not to simulate any physical reality, but to simulate a genre.
In any case, every gaming group is entitled to play in whatever way they most enjoy. There's no One True Roleplaying religion. It gets interesting (and matters) when proponents of one style run up against and misunderstand the playing style and intentions of the other -- as seems to have happened in the Things From The Flood game at UKGE. But if you want to know more about that, continue watching James's video from 12m 12s onwards. I have to say, though, that I ran a Powered by the Apocalypse game (Gregor Vuga's Sagas of the Icelanders) and my players enjoyed it in a thoroughly traditional, in-the-moment, inhabit-the-character style, with absolutely no authorial discussion or narrative analysis. Maybe we were getting PbtA "wrong", but it worked, and I might post some of the scenarios now that the nights are drawing in.