Is “play to find out” incompatible with certain genres?

Over in another thread, Emma said something quite interesting:

That makes sense, although a big part of why "play to find out" mechanics would hurt our play outside of that is because the type of fiction we play isn't compatible with "play to find out". The whole genre just isn't possible with it, and an attempt at it would make an incomprehensible mish-mosh that fails to be any kind of magic realism, you know?

This is a pretty controversial statement, I’d say!

What’s your experience with this, dear reader?

Do you think that a “play to find out” approach, with a game suited to doing so (this is nothing terribly technical: just a way to play where future events aren’t planned and we’re all exited to see how things turn out) might be incompatible with certain genres? How so? Why or why not?

Comments

  • It's definitely wholesale incompatible with Magic Realism, since Magic Realism operates under the assumption that the reader knows what's going on and can predict exactly where it's going to go, so that the focus can instead be on the meaning.
    Magic Realism uses archetypal plot structures for a reason - to make sure the reader is on the same page with the author about where things are going. With how tightly structured Magic Realism is and how it intentionally takes emphasis completely off of what happens and sets things up so that you know what's going to happen, "play to find out" is completely incapable of making Magic Realist fiction.

    "Play to find out" works fine with all the events-focused genre fiction type stuff, but once you get into more literary stuff, it starts to fall apart. Which like, I mean, that's exactly why all the "play to find out" games are based around genre fiction (plus the fact that a lot of RPG designers are interested in genre fiction because of how much RPG design is traditionally linked with geek culture).
    It's very much worth noting that the one big non-play-to-find-out game is based around a super literary genre, and most of the semi-fixed outcome games (Polaris, Montsegur, etc.) are based on more literary genres as well.
  • Off the top of my head, I'd say tragedy (Macbeth etc.) where both the ending (in broad terms) and the means to get there (the central character's flaw) are pre-ordained.

    (But then, I'm really shooting from the hip here -- after all we can still play to find out how exactly -- so bring on the story games examples!)

    In any case, an interesting question!
  • edited April 27

    It's definitely wholesale incompatible with Magic Realism, since Magic Realism operates under the assumption that the reader knows what's going on and can predict exactly where it's going to go, so that the focus can instead be on the meaning.
    Magic Realism uses archetypal plot structures for a reason - to make sure the reader is on the same page with the author about where things are going. With how tightly structured Magic Realism is and how it intentionally takes emphasis completely off of what happens and sets things up so that you know what's going to happen, "play to find out" is completely incapable of making Magic Realist fiction.

    "Play to find out" works fine with all the events-focused genre fiction type stuff, but once you get into more literary stuff, it starts to fall apart. Which like, I mean, that's exactly why all the "play to find out" games are based around genre fiction (plus the fact that a lot of RPG designers are interested in genre fiction because of how much RPG design is traditionally linked with geek culture).
    It's very much worth noting that the one big non-play-to-find-out game is based around a super literary genre, and most of the semi-fixed outcome games (Polaris, Montsegur, etc.) are based on more literary genres as well.

    Does "play to find out" necessarily mean play to find out everything? If there is discovery going on in play, you're finding things out. And if there is absolutely no discovery going on, that sounds more like performance of a script than play. Not that I'm interested in excluding that type of activity from the hobby, but that's my initial concern. Somehow, I get the feeling you've had to explain this a lot here and elsewhere, and I know @Paul_T's intention is to avoid technicality; but if we're going to put caps on what "play to find out" can do, I can't help but think we'd need caps on what "play" and "finding out" are.

    Then again, maybe it's enough to distinguish "play to find out WHAT happens" and "play to find out HOW it happens" (my gut says those are identical twins).
  • Yeah, I've always meant "play to find out" as in "play to find out what happens", like the way it's stated in PbtA. "Play to find out" is just useful shorthand, you know?
    I'm not sure if "play to find out how it happens" is even relevant to what I do though, since we're not finding out. We're making our own decisions. It's more "play to write the canon version" for us, if that makes any kind of sense.
  • edited April 28
    Are your decisions entirely pre-written and you're performing them for others, or are your decisions sometimes made in the moment, in reaction to other players' decisions?

    Edit: Hmm. Even if you're pre-writing everything, if you're still doing it in reaction to what other players are doing, there IS a point at which you don't know what you'll do and what they'll do. And play (including the moment of writing), includes discovery. I'm not trying to move the goalposts, just trying to get a bead on this.
  • Is magic realism really so structured? I've always assumed, from what I've learnt in university, that magic realism is only an umbrella term meant to market the new latinoamerican novel (from the 50-60s) to the european and (north)american public. But I wouldn't say they have that much in common in terms of structure.
    Probably you don't mean latinoamerican magic realism and I've misinterpreted your statement due to lack of context, but what novel or series or movies might be examples of magic realism?

    Regarding the subject, I've never assumed "play to find out what happens" was just an attempt at better imitating a genre structure or source media. I think of it as a political statement, defending the right of our hobby to collective construction of narrative rather than imitation of sources. AW already departs a bit from postapoc genre to begin with, and the same does monsterhearts.

    To compare a bit with other games, I think cortex plus is pretty cool at imitating the structure of action series, comics and soap operas, something pbta couldn't do so well since it puts so much freedom into player hands, that it wouldn't lend so well to an episodic structure where setting and plot evolve very slowly.

    Detective stories are another genre I'm not sure I'd play with pbta. Tremulus falls short to me in that regard.
  • edited April 28
    The decisions are pre-planned, yeah. At absolute latest, they're made when we start discussing directions for a scene during a session, but yeah, decision-making on the fly generally isn't an important part of our practice.

    Magic Realism is deeply structured, yeah. It's not really an umbrella term at all. It's a really tight and specific genre, a literary language of the oppressed. Latin American Magic Realism is definitely a major part of the genre, but it's worth noting that Latin American Magic Realism is extremely strongly structured. Its structure just isn't talked about enough in pop culture, you know? Especially since a lot of the classic Latin American Magic Realism is structured around things that must Westerners aren't familiar with (for instance Latin American folklore).
    There's also a lot of stuff that's even more strongly structured than the Latin American stuff that started the movement and the genre. For instance, Kunihiko Ikuhara's work (he's the director of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, Yurikuma Arashi, and Sarazanmai) has a concrete structure he follows in literally every piece he makes.
    Another big modern example of Magic Realism is Guillermo del Toro's films, which follow the structures of specific fairy tales.
  • Well, I'm not nearly an expert in the subject, but at least in Argentina the theory we read and the ideologic stance of the academy reject almost unanimously that term as inaccurate. I don't think I could find a structure common to Rayuela, Pedro Paramo and the works of Garcia Marquez, in the sense that Crepusculo for example and True Blood share at least some tropes.
  • It's not about there being structures in common. It's that each one is strongly structured, either based around the structure of a pre-existing story or another archetypal story structure.
    Like how Mawaru Penguindrum for instance is based pretty directly around the structure of Night on the Galactic Railroad, and has an extremely tight structure of:
    Section 1 introduces an oppressive system -> Section 2 shows exactly how fucked up and damaging that system is and why -> Section 3 shows the characters escaping or transcending the system.
    I think it's worth noting here that I'm much more familiar with modern Japanese Magic Realism than Latin American Magic Realism, but I know a decent amount about the older Latin American stuff too.

  • "Play to find out" works fine with all the events-focused genre fiction type stuff, but once you get into more literary stuff, it starts to fall apart.

    Traditionally, RPGs are about player characters attempting to do something in order to succeed at their purpose: a good fit for all sorts of action stories (thus, for most nerd genres), but all stories have a structure that can be emulated by an appropriate RPG (or, more generally, "story game"). The problem is probably with the application of unsuitable abstractions and inadequate rules, not with "playing to find out" instead of relying on authority.

    Replacing player interaction and creativity with GM decisionsbis the traditional cheap way out of RPG design difficulties (in this case the difficulty of directing the fiction in complex "literary" ways that are far removed from concrete character actions).

    If magic realism is a genre that focuses on the audience (and to some extent the characters) attaching a higher meaning to rather plain events, roleplaying should deal with these meanings and the systems of concepts they belong to rather than with concrete reality, and treat events as details or resources.

    Very far from mainstream RPGs, but the major adjustments that allowed RPGs to stretch to cases with too few characters to assign "player characters", or vague and insignificant characters (what are, instead of characters, the entities that players should be interested in?) or inert characters (lacking agency and "events") suggest that it is a reasonable design challenge.

    Fixed events and storylines reduce the fictional scope of "playing to find out" without being incompatible: not all is decided in advance, there are always gaps to fill, and having a skeleton to hang the fiction on could be easier than an open-ended story.
    Players would simply steer the fiction towards explicit and shared goals rather than towards implicit and improvised ones.

    What magic realism RPG experiments have you attempted? What went wrong? Specific examples are always much more productive than misunderstandings about abstract and slippery concepts such as genres and creative agendas.
  • I don't have any failed experiments with magic realism in rpg because I play a game designed around the genre (Chuubo's Marvelous Wish Granting Engine), so all of the magic realism stuff I've done has been successful.
    I can't see a way one could functionally do the genre outside of freeform without the specific tools that CMWGE provides.
  • I'm not going to talk about genre since I'd just echo what others have already said and I think genre is more descriptive than prescriptive anyway.

    I'm more interested in "play to find out" and how its incompatibility with other design goals. Emma writes:
    Mawaru Penguindrum for instance is based pretty directly around the structure of Night on the Galactic Railroad, and has an extremely tight structure of:
    Section 1 introduces an oppressive system -> Section 2 shows exactly how fucked up and damaging that system is and why -> Section 3 shows the characters escaping or transcending the system.
    My "play to find out" games have at least this must structure to them and usually much more but they're not nearly as "deliberately authored" as you often describe your play. The structure is enforced by creative priorities and mechanics.

    I'm curious what the fundamental design tensions are between "play to find out" and alternatives. It seems like the main alternative is highly 'authored' play where the participants plan out the story beats together. This feels like it might be a false dichotomy though. The Quiet Year is highly authored but still "play to find out".
  • EricJ said:

    I'm curious what the fundamental design tensions are between "play to find out" and alternatives. It seems like the main alternative is highly 'authored' play where the participants plan out the story beats together. This feels like it might be a false dichotomy though.

    This is my feeling. Even if you plan and script it all out, that moment of writing is not just part of play, but perhaps the most crucial part. And while it's definitely a different experience from flying by the seat of your pants, you're still reacting to the other players and still discovering when in that authoring step. I think it's misleading to say the play only occurs during the performance or that you don't find out/discover while authoring.

    I'm all in favor of distinguishing modes of play, but it seems like this one does or at least easily could fall under the umbrella of "play to find out."
  • I'm quite surprised about Emma's comment. I often play https://sites.google.com/view/storyplaying (which has a very strong "play to find out" approach) with the genre "Magical Realism".
    EricJ said:

    I think genre is more descriptive than prescriptive anyway.

    This is certainly also my impression.

    When we take time to carefully define the setting expectations, magical realism works very well in a play to find out style. We never need pre-written lore. When you have a system that provides narrative negotiation mechanics, the magical realism lore emerges naturally during game play.

  • If you've got lore, it's not Magic Realism in the first place, tbh, but you need your themes and symbols and everything to be strictly planned for the story to function.

    I also generally don't agree with the "genre is descriptive rather than prescriptive" thing. Genre was descriptive once, and when new genres develop (which is relatively rare these days), genre is descriptive for it, but once a genre sets in and becomes a Thing, genre is deeply prescriptive. A specific way to write Magic Realism, or SF/F, or Romance, or Mystery, or Realism, or whatever develops, and tbh, arguing otherwise always just strikes me as an extension of the "my mean old nasty English teacher made me think about symbolism when I read a book! Waaah waaaaah, isn't she evil for exposing me to art in a critical way?"
  • Well, play to find out could hurt certain expectancies people have around mystery adventures. Why try to find the answer when none exist? The exploration is ruined.

    I made and played Story Now games around this, and created a collaborative storytelling game myself around a murder mystery, but it demands a totally different expectation of how to play it and what kind of experience it creates.
  • That's a really interesting perspective that I hadn't thought of, Rickard (primarily because my way of thinking about mysteries in roleplaying doesn't involve playerside mystery-solving, it involves characterside mystery-solving with playerside storycrafting).
    I definitely agree though either way. Murder Mystery wouldn't work with the "play to find out" format no matter how you're doing it.
  • edited April 29
    Just dropping in to request a definition of the term Magic Reaslism, since the only context I have for it is developemental studies, where it’s used to explain how a child sees a world it doesn’t understand but tries to make sense of.

    If it is the same, it should very much fit play-to-find-out, since the world plays by rules you don’t understand yourself but need to try and make sense of.

    But the more I read in this thread it seems to be a literary/storycrafting term I’m not aware of. So, I just want to make sure.
  • Magical Realism is a style of fiction, yeah. It's a literary language of the oppressed. It uses fantastical elements and metaphors for emotional and political truths, and eschews the notion of world-building altogether. Essentially, it's a style of writing used to discuss the experiences of the subaltern in fictional terms instead of academic terms. It often includes folkloric or mythological elements (typically from the Native cultures of the region a particular work is in), and uses archetypal plot structures to telegraph what will happen to the reader to take all emphasis off of what happens and instead place it on what it means and how it is told.
    It's an offshoot of Literary Realism, which is a movement that focused on the same concepts of emotional truths, but instead illustrated those things through naturalistic realism, with the intent that the emotional experiences would take the forefront because there was little else in the story. Magic Realism largely developed in response to criticism of Literary Realism that it was difficult to tell coherent stories about the lives of the victims of colonialism using Literary Realism, because it had a lot of unchecked eurocentric ideas about what was "real" and what was "universal". So then they synthesized a lot of the interesting ideas that were part of Literary Realism (the focus on emotional truths above all else, the focus on mundane experiences, etc.), but reinvented it in a context and style that was specifically anti-colonialist and explicitly designed to tell the stories of the subaltern.
    Another big, unique feature of the style is how it makes the mundane fantastical, and the fantastical mundane.
    Does that help? ^-^
  • Something else I thought of that needs to be talked about with Magic Realism's incompatibility with "play to find out" is that Magic Realism is explicitly flying in the face of the Western storytelling tradition's obsession with surprise, because the whole concept of surprise as an essential element of fiction - the whole concept of "spoilers" - is a product of capitalism's commodification of fiction, especially commodification of surprise.
    It's not possible to do a style of writing that's explicitly against the commodification of surprise within a framework designed primarily to emulate the surprise-based style of Western storytelling (especially television storytelling). The intent of the style is just far too out of step with everything that "play to find out" stands for fictionally for it to be a functional way to play Magic Realism at all.
  • Does that help? ^-^

    Yes! I think I get it! Like leaning heavily on archetypes and themes and adapting them to current day problematic situations. A bit like Jin Roh using red riding hood I guess or Salamander by Thomas Warton?

  • I'm not familiar with either of the works you mentioned, but yeah, there's a lot of that. For instance, Revolutionary Girl Utena (which is a fantastic Magic Realism anime from the 90's) uses the archetypal structures of fairy tales and shoujo manga to help convey its meaning. It tells a story about compulsory heterosexuality, adolescence, and the violence of the patriarchy, through the lens of those types of stories and structures that historically often play into the worst of those things politically to create something much much greater than the sum of the parts.
    Or, for a more commonly-known example, Pan's Labyrinth's usage of fairy tale structures and Spanish history to telegraph how things are going to end up, and what's going to be happening, so that you can focus instead on the anti-fascist message that the film presents.
  • In Sorceress Bloody Sorceress an official Sw/oM teaching game the murder mystery is solved at the end by revealing that its was one of the PCs (nearly randomly chosen). Its basically an Agatha Christies dine & crime premise in fantasy.

    I always thought that its a PtFo game. Or is it not?
  • With lore I meant the symbolism and interconnected magical elements. When thinking of magical realism in Japanese anime: the magical is often shown casually as a natural part of the mundane world. The big mystery that is revealed during the story is more the significance of the magic in the fictional world and the main characters' personal lives.
    Revealing this significance as game mechanic could be similar to mechanics used in (murder) mystery games.

    Of course, "play to find out" for murder mystery is difficult. Lovecraftesque is a good example that it is not impossible.
  • That... isn't a mystery in Magic Realism though. The world isn't even relevant, and the magic isn't relevant as far as it being a force in the lives of the characters. It's relevant as far as the symbolism it conveys to the reader/viewer.
    What you're describing about significance and mystery feels more like the urban fantasy kind of stuff that sometimes gets mislabeled as Magic Realism, rather than actual Magic Realism.
  • I was thinking of i.e. an anime like Clannad. Most magical elements are displayed pretty early in the story, even in the first episode.
    The significance of this magic, what it actually really means to the characters and their world, is revealed at the end.
    Of course, as you've put it, there is also a symbolism conveyed to the viewer. Inherently it contains a criticism of the destructon of tradition/nature by the modern world and urbanization.

    I agree that the symbolism conveyed to the reader/viewer is prescriptive rather than descriptive.

    I wonder if what I play is urban fantasy or magical realism. It is basically about mundane everyday life of people changed by a (usually small) magical element that enters their life. I find it not easy to make a distinction.
    I've found this text quite useful:
    http://michellewittebooks.com/2015/08/what-magical-realism-isnt/
  • Clannad (and Key's other stuff) isn't Magic Realism at all. It's just a slice-of-life romance series with elements of Japanese folklore, a lot of which is based in the unique way that Japanese culture looks at divinity and the supernatural. To summarize a lot of complex concepts, the Japanese perception of the divine is radically different from the Western perception. It's derived heavily from Shinto and stuff, where everything has a spark of the divine in it, everything has a spirit, everything is a god (well, kami, but "god" is a decent simplification of the concept). When everything has divinity in it, it's not hard to imagine why magic is commonplace in a lot of Japanese fiction.
    Even in shounen and seinen manga and anime (which are much more Western-adjacent in their storytelling form than most Japanese stuff), there's often much less focus on things like chosen ones and supernatural abilities making you special. Everyone can do those things, but the hero is the one with the will to do what needs to be done, which contrasts heavily with Western storytelling notions of magic being special, and the hero being a chosen one, etc. I'm getting off track at this point though.
    Some examples from anime and manga of the sort of stuff I'm talking about when I talk about Magic Realism is Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, Yurikuma Arashi, Sarazanmai, Kino's Journey (the 2003 version, not the reboot), Haibane Renmei, Kiki's Delivery Service, etc.

    If your play has the fantastical be special or life-changing, you're probably not playing Magic Realism. The fantastical is just a fact of life in Magic Realism, and it symbolizes something about the character's life or emotions or social situation. It's not a mystery, and it's not special. It's just the way life goes.
    The fantastical in Magic Realism is commentary on how things that would seem bizarre or ridiculous to a privileged person is just a fact of life to the subaltern. As a Westerner for instance, it's difficult to imagine what life would be like with remotely piloted machines loaded with explosives flying around your town and killing your friends and neighbors at random. There's an inherent absurdity to it from the POV of someone who isn't in that situation, who can't process the extent of its horrors, but it's the everyday life of people in say Yemen or Afghanistan.
    And like, that's the sort of thing that the fantastical in Magic Realism is all about. Experiences that seem strange and foreign and absurd to the privileged, but that are just a normal part of everyday life for the subaltern.
  • Im gonna try and summarize this statement to try and see if I can wrap my head around it. To see if I get it. Here goes.

    “Magic Realism shows the privileged how absurd the lives of the not-privileged are to them and uses fantastical themes for it.”

    So, what does this mean? It has to start from a position of realism right?

    So, let’s say Versailles, seventeenth century. Louis Quatorze reigns in his fancy palaces, entertained by nobles and courtiers and stuff. One of his advisers gets word of strange disappearances in the countryside. The king doesn’t pay this any heed. They are just peasants. A few more or less doesn’t matter. He has partying to do! The advisor assembles a team of musketeers and sends them out to inspect. They find the countryside empoverished and empty. Investigating the matter they find strange footprints, like a wolf’s, but much, much bigger. (and the, the story really begins)

    The wolves (demons, werewolves, dire wolves, whatever) represent the hunger these peasents daily have to face while the king is too busy partying.

    Would this qualify?

    Could you also turn it on it’s head and have the realism start with the peasants and have the nobles seem more and more fantastical (probably in a creepy way) in their extravagance? Like make them mage-kings seeking not power, but entertainment, at any cost? Like have them kidnap young children to sap their joy and turn it into a magical drug? Something like that? Or to steal their dreams and use them as entertainment? (this is even more symbolically powerful, as they are taking away their dreams both literally as methaphorically.) In like current times it could be CEO’s with secret meetings, sapping the dreams of new employers or something. Or they could be some sort of psychic vampire thing?

    Would that qualify?

    Did I get it?

    Also, I hope not to derail the thread too much, as the premise actually wasn’t to define Magic Realism, but here we are, learning about it.
  • edited April 30
    You're sort of understanding, yes, but it's a little more complicated than that. The example of like, sapping the dreams is fantastic, but then the "psychic vampires" thing gets a bit out of genre. The dreams thing is tbh pretty brilliant though, presented on its own.

    The Versailles thing is decent, but not quite right. It's very fantasy in a way that doesn't work unless it's specifically invoking the aesthetic and ideas of a particular story about that topic that didn't originally have all the metaphor. Like say that there was some hypothetical novel or fairy tale or something about a king fighting vampires and demons and stuff, you could totally go for Magic Realism using its template, but there's also the fact that it's placing the fantastical in far too significant of a space. It's making it into a source of excitement and drama, rather than making it into a thing of mundane life. Making the mundane fantastical and the fantastical mundane, like I talked about earlier in the thread, you know?
    (I think I talked about that earlier. I'm going to be highly embarassed if I didn't talk about that earlier.)

    There's also a bit of not-quite-right about the thing of showing the privileged what things are like. Magic Realism is not written for the privileged. It can be situationally useful for helping the privileged understand, sure, but realistically radicalizing privileged people is more in the realm of Marxist theory than fiction.
    Magic Realism is written by the subaltern for the subaltern. It's about representing our lives in a way that feels like our lives instead of the watered-down, defanged version of our lives that the ruling class loves to parade about while claiming to understand us. It's the direct antithesis of capitalism's tablescraps-based representation that they expect us to lose our shit over. It's about portraying our lives on our own terms outside of the colonialist and imperialist paradigms that the Western storytelling tradition tries to force upon us.
    Magic Realism is about us (the subaltern) telling our stories in ways that actually align with what our lives are like, in ways that actually, genuinely portray our experience.
  • Magic as symbolism isn't automatically magical realism. Magic as symbol is actually the default, really. Incubi represent sexual frustration, vampires represent rape and aristocratic tyranny, zombies are consumerism, blah blah blah etc.

    Let's look at your example:
    So, let’s say Versailles, seventeenth century. Louis Quatorze reigns in his fancy palaces, entertained by nobles and courtiers and stuff. One of his advisers gets word of strange disappearances in the countryside. The king doesn’t pay this any heed. They are just peasants. A few more or less doesn’t matter. He has partying to do! The advisor assembles a team of musketeers and sends them out to inspect. They find the countryside empoverished and empty. Investigating the matter they find strange footprints, like a wolf’s, but much, much bigger. (and the, the story really begins)
    This is explicitly an example of magic as supernatural and not ordinary. It has all the trappings of western fantasy tropes which guides the reader from an ordinary world to another one. One pretty essential feature of magical realism is that it treats supernatural events as ordinary. In my opinion, the reason for this is because of the difficulty of expressing the significance of events in the framework of realism, given how realism has been shaped by modern science.

    Here's a typical passage from A Hundred Years of Solitude:
    A short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors. So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by.
    I don't have my copy of the book handy, but you can see how a clearly supernatural event is treated as merely bothersome so that people can get back to the banal and purely symbolical act of completing a funeral procession. Hopefully, you can also see some of the emotional significance of this, though it would be clearer from a larger passage.
  • I had seen this book as an example on wikipedia. I think I might try it.
  • edited April 30
    Exactly!
    I'll post some examples of the ways the fantastical is treated in some of my own Magic Realism writing as well, since that might help too.
    She wiped up the honey with a towel and swept the broken glass into a dustpan that she emptied into a trashcan in the kitchen. The honey was glowing on her hands, glowing in the moonlight like the light of the sun. The milk was starting to boil, a bit of it congealing on the surface. She washed the honey off of her hands and poured the milk from the saucepan into a mug. She stepped out onto the back porch and looked out at the fields in the moonlight.
    There was something moving out in the tall grass, but every time it neared the edge of the tall grass, it stopped and stared, pale red eyes glowing in the darkness for a while, before turning back around and walking back in the direction it had come from, then turning back again and walking back towards the house to repeat the process. It made her anxious, but the anxiety became a little less severe when she realized that it wasn't going to come into the moonlight. The creatures in the darkness had been so aggressive when she was alone, but with Tachi and Lily here, it was like they were afraid to come too close.
    After Eden finished drinking her milk, she walked back into the house, latching the door behind her. She cleaned out the mug and set it down on the counter to dry, then walked back to the couch, lying down again to try to sleep. No matter how hard she tried though, sleep wouldn't come. Sleep felt so close, but every time it was almost upon her, some minor change in the conditions ruined it. The tassel of a pillow kept tickling the bottom of her foot. When she rolled over to avoid it, the back of the couch was too hard against her back. After a while she stood up and walked to the bedroom door. The ticking of the clockwork in her heart was the only sound Eden could hear in the silent house. She knocked softly on the bedroom door, then whispered, “Tachi, are you awake?”
    Later that night, the lightning bugs rose up in Eden's body while she was sitting on the edge of her bed. She'd changed into her nightshirt and was getting ready for bed. She coughed from the pressure in her throat and a handful of lightning bugs came floating out of her mouth. She stood up and opened the window, leaning out it into the cool night air. She opened her mouth all at once and the lightning bugs came flowing out of her in a huge swarm. They spread out around the house, and more and more kept coming. A seemingly-endless well of lightning bugs flowed from her body, They floated upwards gently and disappeared into the moon, and then they stopped coming up.
    Eden watched the last of them disappear into the night air, then closed the window. Her body felt lighter without them. She didn't know why they had gone, but she was glad they had. Keeping them inside of her had been exhausting. It had been a burden inside of her that she was happy to see dissipate. She sat back down on the edge of the bed, then laid back, looking up at the ceiling.
    A light rain came on, and Eden fell asleep to the sound of raindrops on the roof.
    These passages need some cleaning up because this is from a first draft, but it's a good example of the sort of stuff I'm talking about as far as how magic is treated in Magic Realism.
  • edited April 30
    Magical Realism's cousin, Slipstream, would probably be hard to design as a play-to-find-out game. I can't claim to be an expert about it, just an avid fan. I can't imagine how you would incorporate the themes or stylings. If someone would prove me wrong, I'd be happy, since I'd love to play a game that facilitated that kind of story. The closest thing I can think of is Itras By, but I don't know that game well, just it's reputation--I don't know if it is PTFO.
  • edited April 30
    OK, thanks for the detailed clarifications.
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez is obvious but I thought Clannad would be Magical Realism, too. I've learned something new.

    I find a certain degree of understanding of Shinto and also South American shamanism helpful for understanding culturally different approaches to magic.
    Interestingly enough, both Latin American as well as Japanese shamanism have the same roots, going back to central Asia.
  • I'm glad I could help make it make sense! :)
  • I think I’m starting to get it as well. Gonna try to read that hundred year something book though, before I claim to know anything about it.
  • I'm glad you're starting to understand! :)
  • The genre of Magical Realism seriously needs a name that's more correctly descriptive than "Magical Realism", it seems to me... :D
  • edited April 30
    It honestly is super descriptive, but it's using the literary definition of Realism rather than the colloquial one. It's a genre that evolved out of and in response to literary Realism.
    It's the ideas of Realism - extreme attention to honest and nuanced portrayals of emotion, realistic characters and plots, exploration of the mundane to emphasize characterization and meaning over plot, etc. - filtered through and realigned by the lens of magic: the fantastical and the unreal.
  • Definitely read ‘100 years of solitude’, it’s a literary classic for a very good reason. An incredible book!

    (We actually had a long discussion about doing magic realism in gaming a few years back. I’d recommend someone who is near a computer do a search for that :) it didn’t address this particular topic but could be of interest anyway.)


    Emma,

    A question for you:

    Are you familiar with Rickard’s “imagine”? Do you think it could do magic realism, despite not having any preplotting or planning at all?
  • I'm not familiar with Rickard's Imagine, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that if it doesn't have preplotting or planning, it can't do Magic Realism.
  • Hmmm. I wonder about that. It seems to me that it sure can... but it’s also a very short-form game, which could disqualify it in your mind.

    It’s freely available online and a short read, if you want to take a look.
  • I think it depends on what you’re playing to find out. I think the term is incredibly useful when you add ‘find out X.’

    Let’s say we’re playing a band of plucky rebels fighting against an evil empire. Are we playing to find out if they win?

    If one of my rebels is an ex-imperial army officer inflicted with deep guilt, are we playing to see if he gets over the guilt and makes amends? Are we all on board that he can actually make amends?

    If I want a some standard happy action adventure, and I often do, then maybe we predetermine that my rebel does beat the evil empire, and he does get over his guilt and make amends, but we’ve left open how exactly that happens. We play to find out.

    If were doing ‘pure’ story now. Then maybe those questions are open, we play to find out. We discover that my rebels drive to expunge his guilt ends up giving a definitive win to the evil empire and my rebel himself is then tormented for the rest of his life.

    If we’re using the ‘play to find out’ as a synonym for ‘pure’ story now, the latter case shows that it’s not suited for any type of genre play.
  • I've generally only seen it used in the context of "pure" story now, yeah. Like the rule in almost every PbtA game.
  • Paul_T said:

    Do you think that a “play to find out” approach, with a game suited to doing so might be incompatible with certain genres?

    Yes…?

    There is, at the very least, some grains of sand in the "compatibility gears" vs games with very arc-y / harmon-circly stories. Chuubo's, Montsegur etc.

    Do I also believe that incompatibilities can be worked around, adapted to, fixed, sanded down etc? Yes. If that's what you want.

    Also ofc not every game is about "play to find out", or needs it.
  • edited May 1
    Because you mentioned my game, I had to read up on magical realism. :)

    Imagine can't be read to be understood, it has to be played. It's like describing the sensation of a movie to someone who doesn't know the concept of photos or screens, or describing a taste och smell without using words. People can guess and make assumptions, but it will never be the same experience.

    The game is not magical realism, because it lack any fantastical elements.

    It's the ideas of Realism - extreme attention to honest and nuanced portrayals of emotion, realistic characters and plots, exploration of the mundane to emphasize characterization and meaning over plot, etc. -

    Imagine does support this, however, without any preplanning or plot.
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