Monday, August 28, 2006

Innovative, radical art

A roleplaying game is not a collection of images; it is a social relation mediated by a collection of images. As a radical form of art, roleplaying games cannot differentiate themselves from more mature forms of art like film and literature by making possible new kinds of images or new ways of collecting them; as a radical form of art, roleplaying games must seek their innovative potential in the social relations they create or change.

Polaris and Breaking the Ice well deserved their top places as Most Innovative Game in this year's indie game awards. But if there had been an award for Most Innovative Art, it should have gone to Bacchanal. That game is all about creating a social situation you simply don't get with any other RPG - or any book or movie, for that matter.

3 comments:

  1. Christoph Boeckle28 August 2006 at 20:29

    I'll take advantage of my question to say: "Good to see you back Victor!"

    Does the saying:

    Give a man a fish and he will eat once, teach him how to fish and he will eat all his life.

    resonate at all as a possible "social relation"?

    A movie can give someone an impression, a good game can teach its players how to express the same impression.

    I was wondering if this is what you were getting at with.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Christoph,

    Thanks. :)

    I don't really think this is what I'm getting at, but I'm not completely sure what you are getting at, so let's talk about it.

    Roleplaying games surely teach you to express something; or at least, the better ones do. But so does a course in creative writing, or, presumably, a course in film making. It seems unlikely that playing a roleplaying game will allow you to express yourself in ways that are not already possible and much better explored in the writing of fiction.

    What seems to me unique in roleplaying games, is that they can create a real and new social situation, right there, between you and your fellow players; and it allows you to experiment with it. Let's look at My Life with Master. What is so cunning about it is that the social relation it creates in the gaming group is an exact mirror of the fictional relation. Observe:

    1. The GM needs the players, for without them there is no game and he has no power. The Master needs his minions, for without them he has no power.

    2. The GM must bully the players - emotionally and, in fact, almost physically (see the Manifesto on Mastery). He, the actual person, must think op fictional tasks that the players are loathe to play out. And he has the power to make them carry them out. In the same way, the Master bullies the minions, and makes them carry out tasks they do not wish to carry out.

    3. The GM and the players must play on each other's emotions in order to het bonus dice; the Master and the minions do exactly the same.

    4. The players are bound to win, eventually, and become the final authors of the story. In the same way, the minions are bound to defeat the Master and have at least a fate of their own. (It is not an accident that the game ends with monologues by the players; as the Master dies, so, metaphorically, does the GM.)

    What the game has done, then, is create, right there, in the real world, a less severe but still perceptible form of the social relations it is about. It makes it possible for you not only to tell a story about dysfunctional relationships of need and power, it allows you to actually experience them.

    No book or movie could possibly do that. Writing can't do that. Improv theater mihgt; but then, it is a kind of roleplaying.

    Does that make my intention clearer?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Christoph Boeckle29 August 2006 at 19:59

    Yes Victor! Thanks

    ReplyDelete