Both Vered and Israel take me to task about my previous post, saying that real reality is just as fabricated as game reality. Israel at least acknowledges that roleplaying games foreground this constructed nature. I still think that physical reality actually has something objective underlying all the interpretations and flawed impressions. I also think (and this is perhaps closer to Sheppard’s points) that there’s something both exciting and disturbing in translating the artifact of “soft” improvised storytelling performance to “hard” textual narrative, and in feeding the more concrete but further removed account back into the primary experience of play.
Anyway, here’s another essay that touches on the relationship between writing and roleplaying games. In response to the Clarkesworld article about the influence of roleplaying games on modern fantasy writers, Marie Brennan, a fantasy novelist who’s an actual roleplayer (her site links to the site of the campaign she ran, complete with session recaps, some of them far more partial than others – although nothing as succinct as some of ours), writes about how RPGs have made her a better writer. This in a bit of a contrast to the Clarkesworld thing, where most of the writers interviewed seem to say that roleplaying games let them exercise their imaginations a bit, but they’d all much rather focus their creative energies on fiction: Brennan actually talks about how roleplaying can change the way you think about story and character and plot.
By coincidence, I was trying to articulate my dissatisfaction with Asaf Ashery’s Waiting in the Wings, aka סימנטוב to us Hebrew readers (beyond the usual “bastard wrote a novel and I didn’t” joy every original Israeli fantasy work inspires). I can say it feels as if a second act is missing, that fortune tellers using New Age blather as plot-device constructing technobabble really doesn’t excite me, etc. I can also use roleplaying advice terminology and say that the main character gets de-protagonized by the writer’s pet NPCs, i.e, powerful secondary characters hand her big chunks of the plot’s resolution through no effort of her own.
It was the countess who turned me on to thinking of fiction in roleplaying terms; by looking at the characters and action of a book as though they were the result of some imaginary gaming group’s actual play, you can rationalize the flaws in the fiction – and highlight them for either entertainment or critical analysis. For instance (and I know this is a trivial example), that strong witch queen character with a fascinating background that shows up in the begining of Phillip Pulman’s Subtle Knife and then vanishes for most of the book, except for a small and pointless scene later on? The countess pegged her nicely as
a guest-NPC played by Greif. That may evoke a smile (well, if you’ve had the pleasure of gaming with the relevant party), but it also highlights a character that ends up a as a gaudy distraction to the reader.