Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Obligations of the Player*‡

*In a tabletop RPG.
‡And this counts for Game Masters too- we expect the same of you, if not more so.

In media, stories are told.  Be it a song or a novel or film, or even a roleplaying game, we tell stories and we enjoy them.  There is an audience and then there is the storyteller.  When stories are told, there is also a set of expected social obligations that both Audience and Storyteller have to follow in order to help make the story work.

These are social constructs- something we don't always think about consciously when we follow them, but sometimes we forget to keep them up.  Sometimes when we think a story failed or didn't like a story, one might see that these obligations were missed, either on the Storyteller or Audience side.  This more or less a rough Idea I've been toying with, but I think it holds true in regards to creative work:

An Audience (reader, listener, watcher, what-have-you) is obliged to pay attention to a story.  To think about it, and to imagine some sort of internal understanding of it.  When you think of a song and see specific imagery or can imagine the face of a character in a novel, this is the obligation you are maintaining.  

A audience also needs to be able to suspend their own disbelief in order for the story to work- so long as the story itself can give reasons to allow this disbelief.  An audience also needs to voice its opinion and ideas about the story, either back to the storyteller or at least to others who can reciprocate them, in a reasonable time frame.

 If the audience fails to meet these obligations, either the storyteller failed or the audience is to blame.  If the audience can't meet its obligations, the story is stale- the storyteller is telling the tale, but no one is listening.  Worse, it means that a potentially good story is being ignored instead of being acknowledged because its main audience has failed to help it grow and improve.

A Storyteller (director, novelist, artist, etc) is obliged to meet their audience's expectations, either meeting them, exceeding them or subverting them in some way.  A storyteller must be able to help the Audience to suspend their disbelief and imagine the imagery of the story.  This must be done, one prefers, without being condescending or dumbing down the the story.

A storyteller has to be open to their audience's opinions and criticism.  And they must be willing and able to alter or improve their story based on those opinions and criticism.  

If the storyteller fails to meet these obligations, the story will fall apart.  Audiences want these obligations to be met.  Just the same, storytellers want the Audience to meet their obligations as well.  

Stories where these obligations get dropped are either unapproachable or so insulting that no wants to engage them.  No good story should feel like the storyteller thinks you are a moron, or worse, actively works to ignore what you have to say about it.  You can't think of many examples, because no one remembers the bad stories.

And RPGs fit in where here?

Got all that?  Good.

Most of the time you don't think about it.  We humans are conscious story-creatures that, 90% don't think of all these obligations when experience or crafting the story.  We tend to met the obligations out of basic instinct.  This a second nature sort of thing for humans.

How does this tie into RPGs and such?  Let me rephrase the roles here a bit...

...Each player in a RPG is both Storyteller and Audience member.  In most media, one creates the story and the other crafts it.  Not in gaming, we are both artist, writer and audience all at the same time.  RPGs sit at a unique crux- we are our own audiences.  And we are storytellers too.

Game Masters are included in this as well.  They might have more responsibilities, as we categorize it.  But in the end, we all are watching and enjoying the story, even as we help to create it.  Here are the obligations both GMs and players need to maintain to make a game's story elevate beyond its basic form:

  • Pay Attention.  Pay attention to what everyone is saying, doing, acting.  Observe and play the part of the audience when you aren't engage in the story.  After all, a good audience pays enough attention to help the storyteller to improve their story don't they?
  • Listen to others.  As you help tell one story, listen to what others have to say about it.  Take in opinions from your fellow players, your audience.  They might have ideas that make the story better.  And form an opinion or idea of your own and share it too.
  • Talk about the game outside of the game.  And do so with other members of the game too.  Audiences do this all the time- you talk about your favorite book with others who like it too, don't you?  This is important for a ton of reasons, and it will help keep up energy and excitement for the game too!
  • Look over what both a Audience or Storyteller is obliged to do for a story.  Think about that when you play in a RPG next time and see if any of those obligations are being followed or not- how is that making you feel about the game?  Does the story feel worse for it?
That's it for a today.  I hope this is helpful, so far is more philosophy and hypothesis than real theory.  Please comment and let me know what you think! :D