How to explain the joys of being distant from characters during play?

edited October 2014 in Story Games
Okay this will sound weird. It has a bit to do with stances, but I can never really remember those definitions, so bear with me.

I'm trying to figure out a way to describe the fun of playing a game when the participants are distance from the characters.

It's like, I dunno, the opposite end of the spectrum from in-character immersion play.

You still enjoy the characters involved in the story, they're doing neat stuff, but they aren't your own personal character that you want to succeed/follow their personality through events.

Any thoughts?

Comments

  • edited October 2014
    God damn it! It's like you're reading my mind. I'm currently wrestling with this problem myself. :) I just wrote the following on G+ two hours ago.
    I'm creating a game for The Golden Cobra challenge, where the format for the game is "freeform" in any kind of sense. I noticed that I'm more into making stories together than actually playing out roles. So my games aren't really roleplaying games per se, but storytelling games.

    I think my own research in what engages us humans has made me realize new roads of where to take this medium, often with help of "soft" structures. Structures that rely on the interaction between the participants more than the interaction between the game rules and the participant.
    I hate describing things by telling people what it's not, but it's hard to not do that. Using words as GM-less, dice-less and even roleplaying-less (or whatever) doesn't suit me. I hope this thread bears fruit.
  • edited October 2014
    Speaking as someone whose preference is for in-character immersive roleplay, what I tend to see as the draw for storytelly types of a non-traditional set-up is:-

    * you can always have a way of making sure that interesting or exciting things are happening, right now
    * you can unhesitatingly send your character into dangerous or unpleasant situations because it will make the game more fun
    * you get a game where the other participants can also do both of the above
    * everyone can have equal ownership of the game - no one person has to be in charge
    * the characters can all be scheming against each other, but the players will (virtually) never take it personally
    * death can be the end of a character, but the beginning of a new chapter in the game
    * with narrative input, you can make things be however you find them easiest to imagine being, or whatever best fits the genre

    Of course, despite the above perspectives, I strongly prefer in-character immersive roleplay. But a GM in a traditional game is doing basically a storytelly thing of a similar nature to the above, and I often find myself in that role.
  • That's a great start Omnifray!

    I know it is a bit of a weird question, and only exists in some ways because we're inside the hobby.

    In a lot of real ways, I guess it is about starting from GM style fun of character play, and explaining that and how it differs from player character play.
  • edited October 2014
    Certainly we're talking about collaborative story writing (or telling) now, not really "roleplay" at all. A collaborative authorial stance. This is an area I am also very interested in (as you can see in "Watch the World Die" and another soon-to-be-released game of mine), but it's also an area that points out the impoverished utility of our lexicon. The simplistic classification of "roleplaying games" and "storygames" is nowhere near sufficient to describe the field.

  • I’m a fairly recent convert to forms of Story Gaming.

    In filmic terms, it’s about being part of an ensemble piece rather than starring in your own thriller.

    You can still be so ‘immersed’ in your own character that you’re surprised by your own actions but you’re also transfiguring the narrative so that everyone’s characters ‘fall-in’ in unexpected ways.

    The first few times you feel ‘your’ character tugged away from what he or she ‘was going to do’ it’s a bit of a wrench but the more you submit the better it gets.

    I like thrillers too.

    P.S. I find the immersion vs narrativist fallacy a bit misleading. Much of any game takes place in the space between the two.

  • It turns out you don't need a specialized term for the default mode of fiction production in our society? Storytelling, writing a story, collaborating on telling a story, making up a story... the world of jargon-free English phrases is your oyster!

  • You enjoy the sweet sweet taste of schadenfreude. "Look at that poor son of a bitch caught in the skeins of fate. He struggles!! Haha, look at him. Give me a soda."
  • Have you read the essay by Tolkien Tree and leaf ? The joy of entering the land of faiy tales :)
  • Embarrassingly Jason, that is actually a major pleasure in all of it for me, though one I wouldn't have so directly identified on my own.
  • This is a really interesting conversation, because my experience has been that it's not necessary to explain this to a non-gamer. If they're into this kind of thing at all (and lots of humans are not), they think it sounds cool. They don't see any inherent advantages to embodying a particular character (and often, in face, see that rather as a limitation). But with Experienced Roleplayers, it does become an important question, for whatever reason.

    I really enjoyed "storytelling games", and spent a lot of time developing several. They're really fun to play!

    Much to my surprise, however, my level of enjoyment was generally much lower than a regular RPG - it sounds just as appealing in practice, but most of the designs I've tried remove some kind of interpersonal interaction that you get when one person is playing a character and so are you, and you're competing/acting/conversing/challenging each other.

    I'm still experimenting with all the various forms, however.
  • Much to my surprise, however, my level of enjoyment was generally much lower than a regular RPG - it sounds just as appealing in practice, but most of the designs I've tried remove some kind of interpersonal interaction that you get when one person is playing a character and so are you, and you're competing/acting/conversing/challenging each other.
    So...GMing Fun, then?

    I kid, but on the square.

  • No, and that's kind of my point.

    I GM more than I play (slightly), and I always love it. So I thought playing pure storytelling games would be equally or more fun... but was surprised to see that, at least in many designs, a certain intensity is lost. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's a very different type of play. Less... personal.

    When I GM, I can inhabit a character for a scene and play him or her to the hilt. I can find what makes your character tick and throws issues at her - perhaps even issues which are personally powerful for you, yourself. There's a whole interpersonal dynamic at the table which can be used to create drama.

    In a pure storytelling game, it's much harder to design those kinds of interactions. (At least, I haven't seen one yet which does it.)

    I think I would pitch "distant from characters"-style of play would be to keep impressing upon the players the joys of collaborative, open-ended creation, equal input, and a story which goes in completely unexpected directions. (Particularly if they're used to, say, an old-school, traditional RPG campaign which may be "on rails", heavily dependent on certain predictable trops - "You all meet in a tavern..." - or limits certain players' involvement, such as when your character is stuck in prison and you, the player, have to sit and wait for two hours while your friends figure out how to break you out.)

    Constant engagement in play (in RPGs, you often have to "sit out" if you're not in the scene, or your character is dead, useless in that scenario, or sidelined in other ways) is another selling point, I think.
  • This is a really interesting conversation, because my experience has been that it's not necessary to explain this to a non-gamer.
    Yes, exactly. It's just how someone will tell a story, if you ask them to tell a story with you. If you introduce the main character and then it's their turn, they will just start talking about what happens to the main character next. They might pause to seek approval/confirmation, especially if they do something unexpected, but there's no invisible line. Both behaviours are learned but obviously the one where you only have limited authority over a specific fictional entity that you must directly embody is the less common approach.




  • Agreed. From a 100% universal human point of view, building a shared narrative is not the weird part. Personal ownership of a particular character is the weird part.

  • Precisely.
  • edited October 2014
    Thanks very much for all of the input folks. It has been really useful.

    My take-away from all of this is that the problem I'm having talking about this is more one of target audience than of core concept.

    In completely practical terms, it has given me an idea for something I'm currently working /always, eternally working on. Basically, I think I'm just going to write my at-a-distance game, then do a companion, warning manual for experienced gamers about how the game is different in key aspects from the hobby games they already know and love.

    Will it help anything? Who knows? Due diligence though, perhaps combined with some different terminology (yes, I know, Jargon is bad) may help.
  • edited October 2014
    I used the term parlor game for The Murder of Mr. Crow and I'm calling This is Pulp for adventurous storytelling. When I did my second iteration of Imagine, I didn't care to call my game anything special. Storytelling game is the closest I can come up with, but people will probably think the Vampire system or Story Now.

    And yes, I agree. I realized too that I need to look beyond typical roleplaying gamers as for who might like my games.

    @AsIf's comment is spot on. Having arranged roleplaying games at anime convention also made me realize that the game master is equally weird. There aren't that many games that has one person that leads the game. Simon Says, and..?
  • It is kind of peculiar, isn't it ?

    All of the games/ activities I can think of are either children's' games, or some kind of training exercise ( often both at the same time).

    The only other cases I can think of are where the Person in Charge is at a remove, like Choose Your Own Adventure books or computer games. I guess that can be part of their appeal. After all, you can't really get mad at that person directly, the way you might get mad at your pal who is GMing.
  • When I GM, I can inhabit a character for a scene and play him or her to the hilt. I can find what makes your character tick and throws issues at her - perhaps even issues which are personally powerful for you, yourself. There's a whole interpersonal dynamic at the table which can be used to create drama.

    In a pure storytelling game, it's much harder to design those kinds of interactions. (At least, I haven't seen one yet which does it.)
    Yeah, that seems to sum up how I feel about it, too. It's that direct interaction between a character I'm playing and a character someone else is playing that really makes gaming fun for me.

    Maybe because it's the part of gaming that I can't get somewhere else. If all I want to do is make up a story with some friends, I already know how to do that (and not doing it as a game feels more satisfying for some reason).

  • edited October 2014
    Yeah, that seems to sum up how I feel about it, too. It's that direct interaction between a character I'm playing and a character someone else is playing that really makes gaming fun for me.

    Maybe because it's the part of gaming that I can't get somewhere else. If all I want to do is make up a story with some friends, I already know how to do that (and not doing it as a game feels more satisfying for some reason),
    A weird comment to make in a thread like this. It's like me entering a hockey forum and telling everybody how much more I appreciate cooking.
  • edited October 2014
    I've designed and playtested several "pure storytelling" games. (i.e. No character monogamy, everyone narrates events in the fiction freely.)

    They're really fun when they work well, and people tend to really enjoy them. A lot of people get really excited about the idea! I've never had anyone bring up questions or concerns aabout the character ownership issue - non-gamers don't even think about it, because they come into the game with no expectations, and RPG players, though more likely to find it awkward, usually know they're getting into something different right off the bat.

    Non-gamers love it because they've never tried anything like it before (usually). Gamers enjoy the freedom, and some find it much more appealing than playing characters (especially if they've had bad experiences with railroading, being sidelined, having characters who couldn't contribute meaningfully to a game, or similar situations).

    I think there's lots of rich, fertile ground for design here.
  • edited October 2014
    Hey I thought Tolkiens essay might open new ground?

    Maybe you cant directly name this distance of play, so you might have to wrap it up in a story or intro to the game.

    Tolkiens essay describes the very slippery nature of fairyland and the dangers for humans to go there. This in a way captures the feel of not entering as a character or owning the character or fairyland.
    Stay with me :)

    I was thinking you could wrap that concept up in a game which bans the players owning the characters or game world. If they try,, or find they cant resist immersing themselves in the land of Fay. they are possibly thrown out or captured by the fay! The more meddling the greater the risk.
    The players ideas can go unnoticed in the discovery of this enchanted land, but ownership is forbidden and seen as meddling. (In fact their own ideas are property of the Fay.

    Just some thoughts.


  • Interesting idea. Not what I was thinking, but definite food for thought.

    The last couple of exchanges though have even further convinced me that new terms/ jargon is a lesser hassle than trying to explain directly in comparative terms (I'll just put in a side section, as noted, or entirely separate piece)
  • edited October 2014
    A weird comment to make in a thread like this. It's like me entering a hockey forum and telling everybody how much more I appreciate cooking.
    Eh, not really. @Paul_T's explanation for why pure storytelling games don't really click with him was really good, and succinctly expressed something I'd been feeling for a while.

    At any rate, the context for my comment is the same as his: any pitch that tries to get someone like me interested in a pure storytelling game would have to address that. (I'd welcome it, in fact!) And given that the premise of the thread is "How do I get someone interested in this style of game?", I'm not sure why you'd think it's not relevant to talk about why someone might not be interested. If you don't discuss what doesn't work, how are you ever going to figure out what does?
  • edited October 2014
    I don't think the term "distant from the character" necessarily precludes roleplaying your NPCs. We could be talking about psychological distance, in which you roleplay them but don't mind (or even find it amusing) if they die. Keeping them in crosshairs, as DVB would say. I've played wargames like "Squad Leader" this way and it's hysterical. I want to play chess that way too, after reading that John Wick article. But when I play that way I don't really care if my guys win, or even survive. That's different from the way Players typically feel about their PCs, and understandably so.

    Have you checked out Ornithopter World?

    Back to the question of the GM in a trad game. Why is the GM such a weird thing? Because it has to be. It has its own teleology. Some GMs are conscious about being artists. That's an option, and in those cases there's nothing more that needs to be said. Because Art. The artist may evade simple reduction, but nevertheless (to my mind), the key purpose of the GM relative to the Players is to perform the functions of a reality-simulating machine that hasn't been built yet.

    If it was possible to automate all GM functions, we would do it. We're working on it all the time. But we're superfar from done, so human functionaries must step in to fill the gap.

    While GMing for live Players, we are processing requests, performing functions, maintaining system integrity and returning data in many formats (spoken, drawn, gestural, rhetorical, etc). We are performing. We are performance machines. The dramatic sense of the word "performance" - while still a huge factor in the perceived quality of the experience - takes a back seat here to the technical sense. We are fusing with a machine. A good flow is more like driving a performance vehicle or playing a musical instrument than it is like acting (although performing in that second sense may also occur).

    This is why on my view, when Players are present, the GM is not actually playing. In IT lingo, the PC is a client, the GM is a server. The GM is playing a functional role, but that role exists in a space which is epistemic to the fictional space the characters inhabit (into which roleplayers are encouraged and motivated to project and identify). While we GMs may really enjoy this "removed" role and have (our definition of) fun doing it, we are still not playing in the sense that the Players are. We are more immersed in the system as it runs and the story it produces than we are in the individual characters. We are immersed in a different thing than they are, and we are neither projecting much of our consciousness into characters nor identifying much with them.

    And that is why "shared GM" experiences that focus on narrative first tend to feel as much like exercises as they do games.

    [Ok, done. I'm ready for someone to hand me my head.]


  • At any rate, the context for my comment is the same as his: any pitch that tries to get someone like me interested in a pure storytelling game would have to address that. (I'd welcome it, in fact!) And given that the premise of the thread is "How do I get someone interested in this style of game?", I'm not sure why you'd think it's not relevant to talk about why someone might not be interested. If you don't discuss what doesn't work, how are you ever going to figure out what does?
    I'm going to be absurdly hair-splitty here.

    It's not a pitch to anyone that needs to deal with this issue.

    It's a pitch to someone who is already into RPGs, and who always thinks of playing just their own character as the core fun...well, that's when that specific pitch becomes important.

    In fairness, that's what I was thinking of when I started the thread.

    My conclusion fro the responses, each of them useful in their own way, is that such a pitch is effectively impossible for any practical ends for me personally and what I'm working on.

    And that's where the idea of creating a new term came from, with an additional thought of a warning chapter or text to pair with it came from ( perhaps as a separate thing).

    Text 1: Bobgame;What it is and how to play it and have fun with it!
    Text 2: Warning! Bobgame shares these similarities with RPGs, but here are the key differences. You may not love Bobgame despite the similarities, so here's your heads up!

    Are two texts necessary? No, not if Bobgame was directed to an audience that had no real familiarity with the common approaches to RPGs.

    But it almost certainly will be directed to an audience with that familiarity, so I do feel that sort of thing is necessary.

    Personally, I'm having a terrible time separating the two myself. I'm finding it hard to simply write Bobgame without comparison to Not-Bobgame stuff, and especially hard to do it without falling into the trap of using negative comparisons.
  • I don't think the term "distant from the character" necessarily precludes roleplaying your NPCs. We could be talking about psychological distance, in which you roleplay them but don't mind (or even find it amusing) if they die. Keeping them in crosshairs, as DVB would say. I've played wargames like "Squad Leader" this way and it's hysterical. I want to play chess that way too, after reading that John Wick article. But when I play that way I don't really care if my guys win, or even survive. That's different from the way Players typically feel about their PCs, and understandably so.

    That's absolutely what I'm taking about, AsIf.

    You are very interested in the character, but it isn't so much of a 1:1 connection that if something terrible happens, or failure happens for the character, that you personally feel something bad has happened to you.

  • edited October 2014
    Personally, I'm having a terrible time separating the two myself. I'm finding it hard to simply write Bobgame without comparison to Not-Bobgame stuff, and especially hard to do it without falling into the trap of using negative comparisons.
    This is exactly the same trouble I'm having. Just look at my thread about Imagine. It's like a manual for how not to do it.
    Are two texts necessary? No, not if Bobgame was directed to an audience that had no real familiarity with the common approaches to RPGs.
    This is the conclusion I came up with too.

    Perhaps you can add a reward mechanic to it: "1 XP if you didn't play out in character."? ;)

    Seriously though, what I think is important is to explain WHY the game is fun first of all. Both to attract the right target audience but also to early on make the reader understand the purpose of the game. The game mechanics or structure of play then enforces this WHY.

    Another effect of this will be that the reader will grok how you designed the game the way you did if they know the reason why the game exists.

    This is what I'm experimenting with at the moment. The Murder of Mr. Crow was a failure (@Paul_T didn't understand why the group had to roll the dice in the open). Imagine will hopefully be a step in the right direction.
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