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Friday, 1 April 2022

Cry of the Woolf

Virginia Woolf had some smart things to say about roleplaying, in particular the tendency I often deplore to cram everything into a genre envelope and play self-consciously as if trying to replicate a TV show's contrived structure. Ms Woolf thinks there's too much of artifice in such narratives and not enough of life: 

‘So much of the enormous labour of proving the solidity, the likeness to life, of the game narrative is not merely labour thrown away but labour misplaced to the extent of obscuring and blotting out the light of the conception. The players seem constrained, not by their own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has them in thrall to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole. The tyrant is obeyed; the game is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we feel a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as events unfold in the customary way. Is life like this? Must roleplaying be like this?
 
‘Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being “like this”. Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions--trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms, and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old. The moment of importance came not here but there, so that, if the players could do whatever what they chose, not what their characters arcs say they must, if they could base their actions on their own in-character impulses and not on convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted story style. Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged.’

5 comments:

  1. Well I had no idea Virginia Woolf was into role playing...oh wait, it's April 1st.

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  2. The Bloomsbury Group was never the same after E.M. Forster tried to run them through the Dragonlance modules.

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  3. I actually fell for this first time out, only realised it was an April Fool when I checked the comments just now!

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    Replies
    1. It's only partly an April Fool. Virginia Woolf really did say it, only she didn't know at the time she was talking about roleplaying:
      https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300031h.html#C12

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