“Story Now is False”; A Requested Chat-log, Paul Czege and I.

Posted: November 19, 2009 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

A couple of days ago I posted on twitter the following:
""Story Now" is a passive activity, once you’re active, it’s ahead or before."

Scott Dunphey asked me via twitter to elaborate on it, so I said that I’d try and secure permission from Paul Czege, with whom I had a conversation on the matter, and the above was taken from said conversation. Note, I find it amusing, and well, very internet-esque, that on this thread someone took two tweets I’ve made and wagered I have an axe to grind against hippy story games.
Damn, but I should’ve taken that wager! (I do find it genuinely amusing, I’m not even slightly offended or snarky)

Anyway, here is the transcript.

[05:51] Paul: I actually don’t know whether folks in the indie community think I’m funny
[05:52] Paul: one of the things Paul Beakley told me to do is sell “my story”…that my story is something purchasers of my games are interested in
[05:53] Guy: You meet with them more than I do.
[05:53] Paul: but it’s hard for me to know how I’m perceived, and what my story is
[05:53] Guy: Your story, as in, your personality, your essence?
[05:53] Paul: yeah…who I am and how I became who I am
[05:53] Guy: Heh.
[05:54] Guy: This goes back to what I think is my most important post, and well, also to social psychology.
[05:54] Guy: How it’s very important for people to tell their story, with an emphasis at certain points.
[06:01] Paul: what is your most important post?
[06:01] Guy: How we construct story after the fact[[Here]].
[06:01] Paul: ah
[06:01] Guy: Paul’s suggestion has an assumption that is false, but is rendered true in our pattern-creating-engines, that we have a narrative, something that makes sense, a teleological progression.
[06:02] Guy: We don’t, but we shift things around till we do.
[06:02] Guy: That post is also the most important, not only because it tears down a lot of things, a lot of assumptions, but because it goes much wider than just story games.
[06:03] Paul: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=256.msg2287#msg2287
[06:04] Guy: I guess you could see my post as a reply to you, “It might work that way in the ideology, but not in practice.”
[06:04] Guy: Especially in an AP oriented community.
[06:04] Guy: In an AP oriented community, people do things that don’t work for the game, if they’d think about it, but they work for later telling a great and entertaining story.
[06:05] Guy: And they think it’s working for them at the same time.
[06:05] Paul: hey…that is interesting
[06:05] Guy: But no, there is a certain amount of doing things for the story, but overall, it doesn’t happen that way.
[06:05] Paul: give me an example of something someone does in play that doesn’t work for the game, but works for the AP later
[06:06] Guy: Half of the things that hurt your character, or hurt other players’ characters, when they did not ask for them. The “I am hurt, so hurt now, but it makes for a story of growth.” even if the growth was not one of the original concepts, even if it makes people howl. (typing, hold please)
[06:07] Guy: I picked this example on purpose, because people often when they go to “DEEP Roleplaying 101” they are told how they should make things harder for themselves, but people go away with the shtick and not the essence. One time, playing at a convention, I must have sat down with a 12 year old who just left such a lecture, and when we got shipwrecked, he told us how his axe’s shaft broke, and etc.
[06:10] Guy: Typed.
[06:10] Paul: hmm
[06:10] Guy: I think it’s about the orientation.
[06:11] Paul: in something like Primetime Adventures, having your axe break, if it earns you fanmail, definitely isn’t a problem for the game
[06:11] Guy: But in a game like DnD, where it earned you nothing?
[06:12] Guy: Most games don’t actually reward you for such stuff.
[06:12] Guy: Yet people do them, because they have a hammer, and every situation is a nail.
[06:13] Paul: I thought you were aiming at a different target with your assertion that players do things in game to drive later AP postings
[06:13] Guy: I also was.
[06:14] Paul: I thought you might say that players do things that damage the quality of the play experience in service to later AP
[06:14] Guy: In general, I think it’s unhealthy, that it strikes me that the goal of many groups is to post “Good APs”, rather than have “Good play”.
[06:14] Guy: Yes. I also meant that.
[06:15] Guy: We played a game, and that 12 year old player kept doing stuff, that basically just drew attention to him, and didn’t serve anything in the story, but later he could have gone on and say, “DUDE! My character was so deep!”
[06:15] Guy: But it works in several ways.
[06:16] Guy: I think it harms the gameplay, because it disrupts the social flow at times, it annoys your fellow players… that can be disruption. Also, it sometimes makes for a lesser game, when you break the current game logic, but because you’re aiming at a meta-game logic after the game ends.
[06:20] Guy: Even if I can’t pull an example out of my head right this instant.
[06:21] Guy: I’d say that it’s a hurtful… orientation.
[06:21] Guy: You are gearing yourself towards something other than a fun game.
[06:21] Guy: Here’s an example, a prototypical one.
[06:21] Guy: In an AP, what matters are what happened in the story, and perhaps the motivations we can ascribe but never got voiced.
[06:22] Guy: What doesn’t get transferred in most APs that are not there to analyze what got wrong are the interaction between the players.
[06:22] Guy: So we can force things down other players’ throats, or do things that piss them off, but which make sense, or a better story.
[06:22] Guy: In other words, we can have a seriously unfun game and end with a good story.
[06:24] Paul: okay…here’s my contribution
[06:25] Guy: ::listens::
[06:25] Paul: I ran In A Wicked Age at UCon on Saturday
[06:28] Paul: (11:22:35 PM) Paul: one of the players, who was entirely new to indie games
(11:22:39 PM) Paul: made a comment at the end
(11:23:01 PM) Paul: “I had never planned for my character to be such a bad guy”
[06:28] Guy: ::Nods::
[06:28] Paul: (11:23:59 PM) Paul: of course, as GM, I had pushed him…an NPC told him she’d procure what he needed to be able to kill the ancient android who was sleeping with his wife
(11:24:19 PM) Paul: but that no mercenary would risk doing the deed…he’d have to do it himself
[06:28] Guy: ::Nods::
[06:29] Paul: and the player had allowed himself to be directed in his playing of his character down the path of being an antagonist, because my control over circumstances allowed that to be the path of least creative resistance
[06:29] Paul: this is why I agree with Jesse Burneko
[06:29] Guy: You narratively railroaded him? 😀
[06:30] Paul: that you need to put some of your honest personality and interests into your character
[06:30] Paul: because otherwise you’re too easily directed
[06:30] Paul: he could have resisted that NPC easily if he’d had a creative, and personal reason for doing so
[06:30] Guy: Here’s a question Paul.
[06:30] Paul: but he didn’t
[06:30] Guy: Suppose he had resisted, and suppose you were a bit more AP oriented.
[06:31] Guy: And he had tried his hardest to resist, and you had tried your hardest for him to do the killing.
[06:31] Guy: The struggle inside the story would have made a good story, perhaps even a very good one.
[06:31] Guy: But I can then see both GM and player leaving almost… angry.
[06:32] Guy: Suppose you come to the table, and it’s not Story Now, but Story Ahead of Time, that this is about someone’s tale of revenge, and falling down into immorality.
[06:33] Guy: I think most “Story Now” is “Story Ahead of Time”, and then it’s just applying the premeditation to what arises, but of course, what arises is in large part affected by what was pre-determined.
[06:34] Paul: well…I think when players first play indie games that give them authorial powers they get a bit drunk on the authoring, and only later realize that they personally aren’t interested in the characters they end up authoring at the other players…because everything they do is for the awesome, or an “easy path” decision that seems dramatic at the time, or that seems to make sense
[06:34] Guy: ::nods::
[06:34] Guy: That is true, that is complimentary to what I said, which was pointed at the more veteran indie gamers.
[06:35] Paul: but then later the player gets disillusioned, and tries to figure out how to stay true to characters they’ll feel good about after the game
[06:35] Guy: I think that staying true to the character is often at odds with Story Now though.
[06:35] Paul: and part of the fun of the game is the push and pull
[06:35] Guy: It’s all about how much.
[06:35] Guy: I once had a rogue argue with a paladin, I think I’ve told you.
[06:36] Guy: I began getting annoyed because it lasted for about 2.5 real life hours.
[06:36] Guy: Then he pulled it again 2 sessions after.
[06:36] Paul: really? I’m not sure it is, not with a good GM. the right GM, who’s playing in the spirit of Story Now, isn’t going to go so far that you get pissed off. He’s just going to make you work to stay true to your identity.
[06:36] Guy: I was ready to tear my real life hair out.
[06:36] Guy: Several replies to that:
[06:36] Guy: 1. The GM might be all about the AP as well, he’s another human being who’s a player in our community.
[06:39] Guy: 2. “A good GM” is nebulous, and you sometimes can’t tell. What you think is slight pushing might grate on someone a lot. Some people can deal with several huge pushes, but incessant pushes will drive them mad, because you’re almost telling them passive-aggressive to change their play, and/or never allow them to settle into their path. And the pushing only works when you’re mostly in your path, the “Never hit it, cause always get pushed”, is classic makes good story, drives most people who didn’t drink the “Story now” koolaid bonkers.
[06:39] Guy: 3. Again, I think “Story Now” is a sweet lie.
[06:39] Guy: Read what story now often says, how people describe it, it’s “Premeditated story, whose effects, of the premeditation, we’ll use to dictate things as they come up”
[06:40] Guy: It’s NOT Story Now, it’s Story Ahead of Time, but which we apply in real time.
[06:40] Paul: response to point #2
[06:40] Paul: it’s not a black box
[06:40] Paul: when real people are interacting, they bring their social skills to bear
[06:40] Paul: they constantly assess the heat of the situation
[06:41] Paul: and correct for it
[06:41] Paul: you’re generating a lot of communication and feedback
[06:41] Guy: People very often do not voice it when they are unhappy with something, people are confrontation averse.
[06:42] Paul: body language, tone of voice, persistence
[06:42] Paul: all are feedback
[06:42] Guy: Also, don’t forget, you’re in a mixed group, where some players hate what perhaps everyone but them enjoys.
[06:42] Guy: That plays a big part.
[06:42] Paul: response to point #3
[06:43] Paul: I absolutely didn’t have anything premeditated in mind when I was running In A Wicked Age on Saturday
[06:43] Paul: Christ, the players stocked the character list with “a philosopher,” a “high priest,” and “a college professor”
[06:44] Paul: I thought it was going to end up a four hour session of musing about the existence of the gods
[06:44] Guy: I didn’t make a sweeping generalization of all games.
[06:44] Paul: all I did as GM was use my NPCs to push the players to see how far they’d go with their characters
[06:44] Guy: IAWA is a game you can’t do it with.
[06:45] Guy: At least, if you don’t all do chargen/setting creation session, and then play later, after discussing what sort of story you want.
[06:45] Paul: so how can “story now” be a lie if there are games you can use for “story now”?
[06:45] Guy: Because it’s either story ahead or story later.
[06:45] Guy: Ok, let me break it down a bit.
[06:45] Guy: Suppose you begin playing without a premeditated theme.
[06:45] Guy: But during play you pick out a theme.
[06:46] Guy: Once future actions do not grow from prior actions, but from the theme, it’s story ahead.
[06:46] Guy: You’re using the theme to dictate the future story.
[06:46] Guy: If you don’t, you create the logic once play is over, in retrospect.
[06:46] Guy: Story is not something that exists, it’s something that our mind creates.
[06:46] Guy: It’s a structure.
[06:47] Guy: We either create it ahead and mold what happens to it, or we create it after, and shuffle the bits to fit.
[06:47] Paul: so, in a four hour convention game if the players achieve subconscious consensus on a them after an hour and a half, it’s not “story now”?
[06:48] Paul: on a theme
[06:48] Guy: Hm. I think there’s one way, which might be entirely hypothetical where it can be story now.
[06:49] Guy: It sounds easy, it sounds like what everyone does, but I think hardly anyone does it.
[06:50] Guy: Story Now, although still somewhat limited (will explain in a moment why) is when you are aware of the story, but you don’t do actions from now on that will fit the story, the theme you’ve found out, you’ll keep making “organic actions”, and watch the story. You’ll separate the you that views and knows the story from the you that is performing actions.
[06:51] Guy: The limitation, why it’s not full, it’s because you can’t apply your theme then over the story, because it’s not over, it’s “The Story until now…”, but you can be in the now, like when you are watching a film or reading a book, you’re hearing the story you’re part of telling, now.
[06:54] Guy: “Story Now” is a passive activity, once you’re active, it’s ahead or before.
[06:56] Guy: And yes, them’s fighting words 😉
[06:59] Paul: well…I’m not sure I disagree
[06:59] Paul: if by “active” you mean that the player is authoring to a specific theme, then yes, I agree that “story now” shouldn’t be “active” in that way
[07:00] Guy: More than that, story now is not something you do, something you create, sorta, it’s something you watch unfold, it’s merely you realizing something. Not something you can… do.
[07:00] Paul: but I believe “story now” is dependent upon a play group presuming the protagonism of the player character and driving meaningful antagonism at the proto-themes embedded in the player character
[07:00] Guy: ::Nods::
[07:00] Guy: I can accept that.
[07:00] Guy: But I’d counter a bit.
[07:01] Paul: that isn’t passive to me
[07:01] Guy: There are no characters who do not have proto-themes in them.
[07:01] Guy: Well, that’s something that is prerequisite to “Story now”, it’s not something that happens during story now.
[07:01] Guy: It’s prepatory, it’s “Story ahead”, or at least, “Story seeds ahead”, which I think all should accept as true.
[07:02] Paul: the driving of meaningful antagonism? the attention to proto-themes among the players and the GM?
[07:02] Paul: one of the players in the In A Wicked Age game chose the philosopher from the list
[07:02] Guy: The creation of the proto-themes, the attention given to them, yes.
[07:02] Paul: he wanted to be “a skeptic”
[07:02] Guy: Heh.
[07:02] Paul: not a great choice for a convention game
[07:03] Paul: I explained that you could have two contradictory Best Interests
[07:03] Paul: and suggested he have
[07:03] Paul: “prove the existence of the gods”
[07:03] Paul: and
[07:03] Paul: “disprove the existence of the gods”
[07:03] Paul: which he liked
[07:03] Guy: LOL
[07:03] Paul: and wrote down
[07:03] Guy: Both of these run counter to skepticism.
[07:03] Paul: but his heart wasn’t in it…he didn’t truly want to resolve either of them
[07:04] Guy: Maybe because resolving either would have made him no longer a skeptic.
[07:04] Guy: And he actually wanted to be a skeptic.
[07:04] Paul: he was a character without an embedded proto-theme
[07:05] Guy: :: shrugs::
[07:05] Guy: I don’t think such a thing exists.
[07:05] Paul: he sat there the whole game and did almost nothing with his character
[07:05] Guy: The character had endless proto-themes, but maybe the player didn’t connect to them, or they didn’t have time to unfold in a convention slot, or in such a game.
[07:05] Guy: That’s the player being unable to unpack his proto-themes, not the character not having them.
[07:06] Paul: “story now” is a play priority
[07:06] Guy: The Philosopher, The Skeptic, these are archetypes, they are almost proto-themes made flesh.
[07:06] Paul: it’s a creative priority
[07:06] Paul: he didn’t have “story now” as his creative purpose
[07:07] Guy: Ah.
[07:07] Guy: Now you’re going back to where I disagreed with that notion.
[07:07] Guy: Story Now is an attention mode priority.
[07:07] Guy: It’s not something that should affect your actions, but how you view the actions that occur.
[07:08] Paul: like I said, I don’t think story now is “authoring to a theme”
[07:08] Paul: but I think it’s an active priority in play
[07:08] Guy: Even stronger.
[07:09] Guy: Story Now is being able to recognize a story as it unfolds, and not attempt to author it, not even to a theme.
[07:09] Guy: Story Now has no active side present in the game, it’s just in one’s mind.
[07:09] Guy: It’s an active method to join the disparate things in the game, in your mind, during the game.
[07:09] Paul: y’know, I don’t believe in the damn ouija board
[07:09] Paul: if there’s movement, it’s intentional
[07:09] Guy: Heh.
[07:10] Guy: It’s movement that should fit the characters, what happened thus far.
[07:10] Paul: that’s how you end up becoming an antagonist when you don’t want to be one
[07:10] Guy: I’m saying, it’s not only not authoring for a theme, but not authoring for future character growth that did not organically grow out of past actions.
[07:10] Paul: and it’s something you get frustrated with once you’ve done it a few times
[07:10] Guy: Heh.
[07:11] Guy: Here’s a question Paul.
[07:11] Guy: Is it not your fault as much as his? That you always push the characters in the same direction? Why not instead of push them into villainy, pash them into paragon-hood? 😀
[07:11] Paul: story now is the dynamic of actively pushing at the core of a character to cause its truth to emerge from the events of the game narrative
[07:12] Guy: Eh. I’m not sure I’m buying that.
[07:12] Guy: Especially as in a game play the truth is not emergent, but constructed,
[07:12] Guy: It’s not there before it is made so.
[07:12] Paul: this is why I agree with Jesse Burneko
[07:12] Paul: if there’s nothing of the soul of the player in the character, then the character just crumbles under the pressure
[07:13] Paul: the pressure of antagonism
[07:13] Paul: and the pressure of the player having authorial power
[07:13] Guy: I never disagreed with that.
[07:13] Guy: The player should be in the character, not in the story.
[07:14] Guy: The player should create the story by being true to their character. Yes.
[07:14] Paul: the character emerges from the true core that the player put into it, unconsciously, when the character was created
[07:15] Guy: I’d waffle on that.
[07:15] Guy: That could be unpacked, parts of it examined, parts agreed with, parts disagreed with.

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