A Prejudice

edited June 2009 in Story Games
I realized today that one reason I have serious trouble enjoying a lot of contemporary fantasy fiction is that it has been influenced by gaming. I have always regarded the road from fiction to roleplaying as a one-way street: any backward influence is corruption and contagion. I have never read a single 'game novel' in my life, even though some of them are supposed to be pretty good, and authors like Brust, Feist, and Moon are basically ruined for me because I see where the gaming influenced their fiction. Ditto a lot of good younger authors; even if I like their line and their storytelling, when I recognize gamerisms I immediately lose my ability to enjoy the story.

I feel the same way about tabletop RPGs with respect to computer RPGs. They can emulate us, but any backward influence is contagion. Any signs of computer RPG tropes in tabletop RPGs is bad bad bad.

Aside from their irrelevance to what will happen in the world, these strike me as prejudices which stunt my aesthetic judgment. So I guess I'd like to get over them.

To help me with that, can any of you point to a place where RPG elements have influenced fiction, film, etc. in a positive way?

Comments

  • I think a big influence is the need for contemporary fantasy to explain everything in terms of how it "really" is. This is how magic works. This is the social ramifications of dragons existing. This is the cultural impact of having trolls. And so forth. Basically everything is a science and naturalistic from the point of view of the internal fiction.

    Once upon a time fantasy had more of a horror story aesthetic where that stuff was unexplainable, unknowable and terrifying even from within the fiction itself. Basically we lost actual phantasmagorical magic in favor of imaginary sciences.

    Jesse
  • Posted By: CalithenaTo help me with that, can any of you point to a place where RPG elements have influenced fiction, film, etc. in a positive way?
    I can't, sadly.

    Mostly I'm just posting to nod in agreement and say that these are the same reasons I stopped reading (most) fantasy.
  • Yeah, this is a problem for me, too.

    My roommate, however, has had the opposite reaction, it seems. He eats up fantasy fiction because it makes him think of great fantasy gaming.
  • Posted By: CalithenaTo help me with that, can any of you point to a place where RPG elements have influenced fiction, film, etc. in a positive way?
    RPG concepts as part of gaming, itself a part of "gamer pop culture," have influenced just about every American under the age of 35 to some degree. A few RPG concepts (leveling up, hit points) pop up in Brian Lee-O'Malley's comic Scott Pilgrim. Admittedly, these references are usually played for humor, the idea of crossing some arbitrary threshold leading to a sudden and noticeable improvement in one's abilities. Nevertheless, they lend a good deal of nostalgic charm to the series.

    From my time working at Electronic Arts, I know that one of the reasons there are extensive catacombs under Hogwarts is because J. K. Rowling was trying to help out the designers of the Harry Potter videogames by creating a canonical place where players could "grind."

    Children's show Dora The Explorer is presented much like a videogame. Dora's friends Map and Backpack help her through her adventures in ways that should be familiar to anyone who played adventure games in the late 80's to early 90's.

    Good god, Pokemon. Just all of it. Any kid who has grown up with Pokemon has RPG concepts in their blood. This show bends drama around structures of turn-based combat, levelling up, questing, adventure parties, shopping for items at stores. I mean, it's not Shakespeare, but there's the potential for pathos here. When these kids hit 30 and start getting Michael Bay-esque adaptations of their childhood, we'll see just how much.

    As a designer of electronic and unplugged games, I'm of the opinion that design is design is design, and it really doesn't matter what environment a concept first becomes popularized in if you can find a way to make it work in your current project. "Good artists copy, great artists steal," and all that. The fact that MMOs honed in on the idea of bluntly basing character classes around a taxonomy of playstyles (tank, controller, buffer, etc.) doesn't taint that practice for use in tabletop games, because there's no reason why a tabletop designer couldn't have thought that one up first (you could argue that tabletop games like AD&D already did this anyway, just not very well).

    Can you give me some examples of what you're talking about, with respect to computer RPG influence on tabletop games?
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: Ben JohnsonThe fact that MMOs honed in on the idea of bluntly basing character classes around a taxonomy of playstyles (tank, controller, buffer, etc.) doesn't taint that practice for use in tabletop games, because there's no reason why a tabletop designer couldn't have thought that one up first.
    Good point.

    I don't play D&D 4E, but I know some people who do, and they like the increased niche-protection that came from adopting these MMO concepts (tanks, healers, strikers, etc). No reason to ignore a good game idea just because it came from a video game.
  • China Miéville is on record, I believe, as having been greatly influenced in his writing by the RPGs he played.
  • Posted By: CalithenaTo help me with that, can any of you point to a place where RPG elements have influenced fiction, film, etc. in a positive way?
    GalaxyQuest, when Tony Shalhoub's character says, "Wait... I've got a really good idea," and giggles a bit. One of the best moments in the movie, and I would bet body parts that it's a shout-out to roleplayers who have said the same exact line a thousand times over.
  • I'm going to.... VERY gently .... suggest that a lot of the stuff you're thinking about can't really be laid solely (or even significantly) at the feet of RPG culture. Genre fandom in general pushed the genre in these directions, because it created a distinct market segment and subculture.

    40 years ago, nobody had a rich body of prior art in genre fiction to look to as a model. They had scattered, obscure stuff that didn't even look like a coherent genre... and most of it was trashy as all get out.

    Today, we have creators who've spent their entire lives immersed in fandom, with a canon of genre influences that is so rich it has internal schisms.

    So 90% of their output is derivative of their influences. Like 90% of all creative work, ever.

    There are some specifically gamer-y elements there, for sure. But if you really have to blame any specific thing for the dominance of setting-centric quest narratives in fantasy fiction, you have to go back to Tolkein's embrace of the heroic epic, and the 70s American SF renaissance creating a generation of fans who wanted to know how everything worked. I think you could probably throw some pain in the direction of Marvel Comics and Nintendo, if you wanted to look a little deeper. Gygax & Co just weren't THAT influential.
  • Posted By: Robert BohlChina Miéville is on record, I believe, as having been greatly influenced in his writing by the RPGs he played.
    In an interview in Dragon Magazine, he mentioned being influenced by GURPS and playing a lot when he was younger. I can't stand most "Game Novels," primarily because it feels like the author is servant to two masters (the reader and the fanboys) and the writing suffers for it. Perdido Street Station did not seem to suffer from that, and it was worth reading.
  • The original Wild Cards series began as an RPG campaign. If that doesn't count, nothing does.
  • Iain M Banks played Traveller which influenced the Culture and Charles Stross wrote for AD&D and played Call of Cthulhu too, both of which have influenced his writing. MJ Harrison on the other hand has said that he writes specifically so that it can't be gamed.
  • ...am I the only one reading this who's completely unclear on what it is exactly that is turning the original poster off? Is it just the total systematization of fantasy worlds?
  • I'd second China Mieville. Perdido Street Station is so clearly influenced by DnD, but doesn't come off as "gamey" at all.
  • Posted By: HexabolicI'd second China Mieville. Perdido Street Station is so clearly influenced by DnD, but doesn't come off as "gamey" at all.
    Mieville has referenced being a gamer, and has aknowledged some elements from gaming culture in his works (a chief one being the profusion of monster variations - steam golems, iron golems, sand golems, wicker golems, etc).

    But his books are very sophisticated in conceptual terms. I think the RPG elements in Perdido Street Station were placed there deliberately, rather then being "influences" in any artistic sense.

    A comment he made in an essay some years back:

    The cheerful parodies of my D&D-style trappings are accurate and funny. It was with the self-reflexion of the cliché in mind that I had some characters in PSS described as ‘adventurers … Thrill seekers … [who] court danger … unscrupulous grave robbers … Anything for gold and experience’. Because that of course is what player-characters look like to everyone else in Greyhawk, or should if that world and others like it made social sense. If you get the joke, you’re its target. De te fabula narratur – it’s not the most sophisticated manoeuvre but it was designed to let me have my geek cake and eat it.
  • edited June 2009
    Hi Sean--

    I hope it's okay if I address your other prejudice. :)
    Posted By: Calithena
    I feel the same way about tabletop RPGs with respect to computer RPGs. They can emulate us, but any backward influence is contagion. Any signs of computer RPG tropes in tabletop RPGs is bad bad bad.
    I believe that D&D4E was positively impacted by MMOs. In an MMO, since all players are paying money to participate, it's best if each player is able to contribute usefully all the time. 4E gives each participant a variety of (hopefully) interesting options every round, and pretty much every round requires a decision, which keeps people engaged in the tactical game.

    Also, I wouldn't mind seeing gamemasters and module designers adopt CRPGish means of pointing out clues and significant scenery. In Mass Effect, for example, I don't have to pixelbitch an entire space station to discover the plotworthy bits -- they are highlighted on the screen for me. I've played in (and run, alas) quite a few tabletop games where it felt like I had to blunder down every blind alley in the scenario to have any hope of understanding what was really happening.
  • Hey Brian,

    I'll concede that point, and readily, though I interpreted the entire cosmos of Perdido Street Station as an extended satirical riff on DnD.
  • Posted By: HexabolicI'd second China Mieville. Perdido Street Station is so clearly influenced by DnD, but doesn't come off as "gamey" at all.
    The Scar, Perdido's followup, has a total My Life With Master vibe to it.

    The Scar's protagonists are not the highly-enabled decision makers of the book. Instead, they're a few of the thousands who enable the HEDMs to pursue their quest. It's like reading Lord of the Rings from the perspective of an orc sergeant. I really enjoyed it.

    (this is not to suggest that MLWM was the inspirational material for the Scar, of course, so I guess I'm drifting off the point of the thread. Apologies.)
  • Yeah, sorry to go all China Mieville fanboy. If someone starts a Mieville/gamer thread, I'm all over it.
  • Posted By: BWAYeah, sorry to go all China Mieville fanboy. If someone starts a Mieville/gamer thread, I'm all over it.
    Done.
  • I don't think I can rationally discuss recent developments in D&D at this point. One prejudice at a time. :-)

    George Martin is a good example - he can write a little.

    That's inspiration though. I feel like I want something more than that but I'm not quite sure what it is.

    If If on a winter's night a traveller... had been inspired by an RPG that would have been an example of a positive interaction, but it wasn't. Unless Calvino gamed. Actually, someone should do a writeup of a D&D game with Calvino, Carla Lonzi, and Primo Levi as the players and Umberto Eco as DM.

    Maybe I don't actually know what I'm looking for here. But Martin works well enough on the superficial level at least - what problems I have with his writing are not game-related.
  • I guess that confuses me more as to what you're saying then, since George Martin seems like a textbook example of someone whose work is influenced, at least in some measure, by gaming. Or, as Mark pointed out, by fantasy genre convention in general.

    In fact, I seem to recall an interview where Martin talked about being an old-school gamer.
  • edited June 2009
    Sean,

    How do you feel about some of the famous pulp authors; Howard, Vance, Lovecraft, Smith, etc.? Most of them have had heavy influence on gaming, and I sometimes catch myself thinking "this sounds like a one-on-one rpg session" when reading some of the old pulp stories. I'm a big big fan regardless, but I wonder if the influencers of rpg-ness bother you in the same way as the influenced by rpg-ness.
  • edited June 2009
    C. Edwards - no, not at all. Although I was thinking tonight about how Howard's story setup style is actually useful if you want to combine action-adventure and 'narrativism' into a single game. Put the scheming nobles and the sex and the dungeon all into the same castle, or whatever.

    BWA - George Martin's writing is self-contained. Maybe he's influenced by his gaming but the serial numbers are filed off at least; his fictive realities are 'pure'. I'm not a huge Martin fan (though I have enjoyed his work) but I think he's got some craft.

    Whereas - in Moon, Feist, and Brust I get to certain pages and say 'this is a fucking D&D adventure.' And I LOVE LOVE LOVE me some D&D. I mean, I'm a driving force behind Fight On!, for weird pete's sake. But I don't want gamerisms in my fiction.

    And I read a prizewinning story by a good younger fantasist about a year ago. The idea was good. The characters were so obviously a fucking niche-protected RPG party I wanted to puke. No RPGisms anywhere. But hives, in me, anyway. That guy could write and I wish him well. But not for me.

    I think this is a bad prejudice on my part. But maybe I'm just reacting to bad craft. Because I expect a good writer could use a lot of this same stuff and it wouldn't bug me.

    I went in for therapy a few years ago. The guy made a comment in a certain way - no reference to twenty siders or system weirdness or any of that, it was just his intonation - and I knew he was a gamer. Turned out he was Gary Gygax's co-DM for the original tournament run of Vault of the Drow. I didn't hate him at all, in fact he helped me finish my PhD. I owe him a lot. But when I get that kind of interruption in fiction, I hate it.
  • Posted By: CalithenaWhereas - in Moon, Feist, and Brust I get to certain pages and say 'this is a fucking D&D adventure.'
    Can you give an example of what might be on one of those pages? Or just quote one?
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: CalithenaTo help me with that, can any of you point to a place where RPG elements have influenced fiction, film, etc. in a positive way?
    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is not only a great read, but also full of references to roleplaying games, Lord of the rings, Marvel comics and other geeky goodness. You get sentences like this:

    "Shot at twenty-seven times - what a Dominican number - and suffering from four hundred hit points of damage, a mortally wounded Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina is said to have taken two steps toward his birth place, San Cristóbal, for, as we know, all children, whether good or bad, eventually find their way home, but thinking better of it he turned back toward La Capital, to his beloved city, and fell for the last time."
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: Robert BohlChina Miévilleis on record, I believe, as having been greatly influenced in his writing by the RPGs he played.
    As is David Petersen of Mouse Guard.
  • And R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing, if you can believe the rumors. It's actually pretty well-done, how he has magic-users contain so much raw power within themselves, and then they're still regular people with relationships and problems and such.
    Trinkets (also known as Tears of God) are an awesome, awesome little device in the series, and they compensate for how fantasy-standard the fireballs-and-lightning style of spellcasting Bakker employs.
  • The Prince of Nothing comes across as a gameable setting in a similar way that Middle-earth does; there's such a richness of detail that you want to game there... as long as you can think of a campaign that isn't overshadowed by the Fellowship.

    The appendixes of his novels are practically a sourcebook; all it needs are some GURPS stars or something.

    The area where I see huge influences from gaming is the contemporary supernatural/horror/urban fantasy genres. You can't watch True Blood and fail to see the influence of Vampire: the Masquerade, for example.
  • Posted By: CalithenaGeorge Martin's writing is self-contained. Maybe he's influenced by his gaming but the serial numbers are filed off at least; his fictive realities are 'pure'. I'm not a huge Martin fan (though I have enjoyed his work) but I think he's got some craft.

    Whereas - in Moon, Feist, and Brust I get to certain pages and say 'this is a fucking D&D adventure.' And I LOVE LOVE LOVE me some D&D. I mean, I'm a driving force behind Fight On!, for weird pete's sake. But I don't want gamerisms in my fiction.
    To offset this a bit... There are certain films that I watch and I think, "This is a fucking play." There is no vision in the photography direction, but rather it blindly uses rote shot sequences while adapting a dramatic storyline. Stage plays obviously had an enormous influence on film, much of it very good. However, just shooting a play does not make a good film.

    It seems to me that is what you are talking about here. Not RPGs influencing fiction, but rather having gamerisms in fiction that do not work.

    RPGs have influenced fiction in many ways. To some degree, world-building is an influence of Tolkien -- but RPGs significantly changed the tenor of that. Planned world-building and the systemization of magic are RPG heritage, I would say. I think that nearly all of the Tolkien-influenced fantasy is also RPG-influenced. That includes close imitations like Terry Brooks, but also everything from Patricia Wrede, Tamora Pierce, and Terry Pratchett.
  • I share your prejudice, Cal. Or maybe I just think writing to a genre of any sort is death to literature.
  • Posted By: droogI just think writing to a genre of any sort is death to literature.
    You got yerself one hell of a face-stabbing thread, right there, bub. I'm sharpening up....
  • I've been reading a German fantasy writer, Walter Moers, lately. His books are brilliantly creative and filled with colorful creatures and settings, but they seem to draw largely on classical mythology, renaissance mysticism, and his own imagination, which makes them very refreshing. One of my favorite lines from Rumo is, "A cyclops is any creature one eye that is more than eighty feet tall."

    I don't think it's the gaminess as much as the derivativeness that sucks the life out of so much contemporary fantasy. It used to be that you could read these novels and pick out the Tolkein knock-offs, there's Mirkwood, there's the Council of Elrond, there's Mount Doom. Now a lot of authors seem to be writing based on the all the other derivative fantasy novels they've read, which is like making leftovers out of leftovers.
  • And just occasionally, someone comes up with a new way of cooking the leftovers that is actually quite delicious. David Zindell has done it, and so more recently has Lisa Shearin. But I tend to think that it's despite, rather than because of, the use of what are usually tired tropes.
  • Posted By: David ArtmanPosted By: droogI just think writing to a genre of any sort is death to literature.
    You got yerself one hell of a face-stabbing thread, right there, bub. I'm sharpening up....

    Be my guest. I wouldn't know where to start.
  • I have pretty much the same prejudice, and I think its because an older medium(Fiction, RPGs) has all sorts of mastery and artistry developed over its development period, which means that it usually has a lot of good ideas to plunder for newer mediums (RPGs, Video games), whereas newer mediums strengths are tied into the medium itself, so that when people borrow from them, they typically borrow the hacks and crutches that the newer medium developed to cover its weak spots (fantasy cliches, rigid gaminess)
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