Is roleplay culture a massive typhoid mary?

I was musing today (then rereading some of the forges narrativism essay) – I think to make a game worth making (worth it to me), it has to start with a story (well, the initial start conditions that a story could be derived from).

I’m in the same position I was with narrativism – I tried to appeal to players and applied force to my own story making. Being your own source of typhoid maryism* is just dandy!

The thing is, I’d considered it from another direction – why am I putting all this player interaction shit in, when I could just write a book? Why am I insisting on putting that in?

Part of it is a stubborn desire to ‘win’ at game design. But that’s not the big thing.

The big thing, I realised, is that if I chose to make a book…*creeeeak CRASH* the doors of the roleplaying community, whether that be friends or forum members, all close their doors in terms of encouragement. All the human encouragement, support, smiles and warmth is IMMEDIATELY cut off, should I decide the right format for my story is a book/comic/home made movie/whatever.

Everything is fixated toward interactive gaming – should you decide that’s not the right format, all encouragement is removed. You might get a ‘oh, that’s nice’ or whatever, but all the people who are clearly electrically excited by roleplay wont give even a volt to a prospective author choosing to write a book.

And you know, I’ve come to think that you don’t decide format until you decide what you want to make a story about.

This means, (perhaps?) unintentionally the roleplay community essentially applies force to the author. Whatever the story, it MUST involve player interaction – that comes first, then your little story has to fit in with that somehow, or otherwise no encouragement or excitement from us. It’s a system – where you get a reward for authoring in the format they prefer, rather than the format that the author thinks is right for the story base. That system isn’t story orientated, it’s format orientated. For story to come first, story decides the format! Not the other way around!

It’s probably unintentional, but I think of the simulationist focus in RP culture and the forges nar essay commenting on how simulationists train people out of their usual reflex toward nar or gamism. It might not be unintentional at all and more of a proliferated habit that supports an overall sim agenda. Or not. Who knows, but my grinding teeth like to at least form a hypothesis or they keep grinding.

Anyway, it’s a two step thing – you might have written stories as a little kid, but as a teen, in game you found the throbbing, beating heart of narrativism and it got you excited. Except you could never have it unless you gamed, because people are excited about other people roleplaying, not other people roleplaying then splitting off to write a book or a comic. It’s all fixated on roleplay.

Not that I’m that fussed about such a system in place. Big deal – once you can see it, you can work around it.

But that’s why I’m writing it – so I can see it!!! Because I’ve been in that system for so long! I turned away from nar since it wasn’t supported. Then with gamism…well, I’ve run many games…I’ve run enough games. I’ve had enough because they still required a story base at the heart of the gamism, to make it worth it to me to do all the prep to run a game (been hating prep more and more every year for years). Because again, format is deciding story.

Avoiding a typhoid mary system is easy once your intellect can see it. But it’s wrenching your heart away, that’s the hard part. That’s always been the hard part. I found my heart there, dammit – how can it be destructive to me when I found it there?

Whats worse is I felt guilty after all my time at the forge – felt I HAD to write a game, or look a big waste of time. Mostly self inflicted guilt, mildly reinforced by a few choice words from there.

Even now I keep going to wrap up this post with “No more – next time, whether I’m writing a computer game or roleplaygame, story will decide format” and I’m fucking up again! Look at the sentence structure – if I’m writing a game (game being a particular format) , story decides the particular format? WTF? The goddamn stuff must be burnt into my neural pathways!

Lets try it afresh – I will craft stories. And those stories will decide their ideal format to be produced in.

Will anyone cheer if I write a book or comic like they’d cheer if I wrote the next dogs in the vineyard? Hell no. But now I can see, I’ll cheer. That’s enough.



*Typhoid Mary (from the forge glossary): GM who employs Force in the interests of “a better story,” usually identifiable as addressing Premise; however, in doing so, the GM automatically de-protagonizes Narrativist players and therefore undercuts his or her own priorities of play, as well as being perceived as a railroader by the players. An extremely dysfunctional subset of Narrativist play.  (note from me: Rather than deprotagonising players, imagine a GM deprotagonising himself. Yeah)

2 thoughts on “Is roleplay culture a massive typhoid mary?

  1. I should think you’d want to be deprotagonised. If the protagonist is the sympathetic character, and the antagonist is that which conflicts with the protagonist, then clearly a protagonist DM would, in fact, be interested in killing the players. Obviously, being deprotagonised is a good thing, and hardly to be compared with typhoid mary.

    I’m not really clear on the metaphor; typhoid mary infected 47 people through her occupation as a kitchen worker, when it was not known that a healthy person who had contracted typhoid could actually spread the disease. I haven’t the slightest idea what this could have to do with protagonistic narration.

    It is a poor DM, at any rate, who takes the position of either the protagonist or the antagonist; either could clearly be said to ruin the game. For one thing, how does the DM “lose”? Like God in Milton’s Paradise Lost, the game is predetermined. For another, how sad is it that a DM has to either live vicariously as a scoundrel against his or her friends, or call in friends so that he or she can play the principal role? Very sad indeed.

    Regards stories and settings. Stories must have settings. Settings, on the other hand, need never have stories. They do, as a matter of course, give birth to stories as a natural condition, but they exist quite satisfactorily without stories.

    Settings do not, however, make good stories. They make good picnic spots. Good stories, in turn, have settings but hardly is the setting the story. An audience sits down to take in a play and gathers the setting in only a few moments, often within a glance at the stage. The story takes somewhat longer.

    I suggest strongly that if you wish to create a setting, you might leave off the story in favor of letting your setting birth a story through the players, without the need of making one in advance. You might also follow that suggestion with saying “fuck you” to the roleplaying community. Recent experience suggests that it offers all the support of a kindergarten.

    But I’m sure you’ve found none of this helpful. And I’m equally certain you’ll rush to tell me what exactly I was thinking when I began writing this, and that my motivations were clearly not with the intention of aiding your dilemna.

  2. Well, I do try to form a model of what you were thinking, in order to undestand you. I hope you do the same. Too many people simply decide whether they like the sound of the words when it comes to making their responce, rather than form an understanding of the others thoughts. That’s why you got the kindergarten responce to your page … they didn’t like the sound of the words ‘Your not a fucking hero’ so boom, game over.

    I appreciate you posting, but in terms of “I suggest strongly that if you wish to create a setting”…I don’t wish to make a setting. Stories come to my mind and this page is almost a celebration of grasping that they decide the format they work in (could even be sculpture as the format). So story decides format, and thus whether/how much setting is involved. When I say ‘they decide format’ I mean in terms of myself, rather than stating a universal rule…but I have to say, I’d have no problems if it were to become that way for everybody!

    A note on deprotagonisation: This applies to the player, not the character. A character being killed is not by itself deprotagonising. Deprotagonising is an overly long word to say ‘The GM invited someone around to partly author a story, then took away his ability to author (which makes the GM the sole author, even as he pretends to share authorship).’

    In my case it’s a tad more complex, because I removed my own ability to author. By fixating on the roleplay format (encouraged by the roleplay community), I didn’t allow story to make its choice of what format is ideal for the story. Story kept having to fit in amongst the roleplay tropes and genres, most notably that it’s shared authorship. That format might simply not be suitable for a story that comes to mind. The story should* decide if it wants to be expressed through shared authorship, rather than me deciding on shared authorship then forcing story to fit within that framework.

    Basically I was only pretending to myself that I was giving myself authorship.

    * Again, saying it for me, but I don’t mind if everyone started working from the same idea!

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