Thursday, 2 April 2015

Learning from the Trolls: A New Era of Role-Playing?


On Facebook I belong to a group called Tabletop RPG One Shot Group. There has been a recent discussion there pertaining to the use of what I will term 'cinematic' technique within one's RPG games. To provide a bit of context, one user, Mr Phillip Posey has posited himself as a supposed expert or 'teacher' on the matter, running a YouTube channel called Maps & Dungeons. If you think I'm exaggerating, please, watch the linked video on his account!

My initial response after watching various clips from his channel was amusement: 'this guy's joking right?' Both fortunately and unfortunately I'm in the perfect career: I'm an academic. Academics like to think, they like to critique and they like to argue (or discuss). I have no issue with someone disagreeing with me, so long as they can justify it or articulate a logical argument. Unfortunately this particular 'discussion' on Facebook devolved into being labelled an 'intellectually sheltered creepy weirdo' who games with 'droopy eyed chucklefucks'. Okay, okay...at this point I'm convinced he's trolling. So we'll assume he is. I also have to credit him for his rather colourful banter. Well done Phil! *Cues in slow clap*

However, I cannot dismiss his argument so readily. If I'm being fair, he was able to paint a fairly vivid picture through his videos, narrating what I feel was quite a cinematic approach to gaming. I presume it's slightly (or majorly) parodic, but effective nonetheless. It reminds me of filmic technique - mise-en-scene, editing, cinematography etc. He almost 'directs' the sequence through his narrative. There is a narrative lens, and for the purposes he describes it is effective.

Let me say outright, a game of just this would bore me to tears. It's kind of like a 20-minute Led Zeppelin solo. Sure Jimmy Page is a great guitarist, and sure Led Zeppelin are great, but it becomes a little too much after awhile. We're also transitioning from what I feel is a role-playing game, to a narrative-based game. There is a very important distinction. I want to play the former much more than the latter. There seems to be a movement among some RPG circles towards 'collective' role-playing these days; games like Numenera propel this movement by removing some of the agency and focus from the GM. To me this is perfectly okay within a game if everyone at the table is fine with it. Personally if I'm going to spend my time playing I really want to be rolling my dice, killing things, and spending the rest of my time pretending to be an assassin or a berserker. In other words, it's a clear choice to stay away from being especially theatrical and remaining within the realms of an exploration or adventure game. Creating an egalitarian game is fine, but I think the power difference between DM/GM and the players is largely useful within a role-playing game context.

Perhaps there is a new era of role-playing emerging. Online tabletop role-playing games are certainly altering the way we play traditional tabletop games, or at least providing the DM with new and extended tools like Roll20 and Google+ Hangouts. Heck, I use DropBox extensively with my campaigns to upload player handouts and maps. All of this is very useful stuff. MMOs have clearly informed people's perceptions of tabletop games and vice versa. Thus, I can see the efficacy and use for cinematic narrative within a role-playing game. I wouldn't mind injecting a bit of this into my games, but I would only do this when an introduction, conclusion, vision, or segue occurs. If it helps paint the picture in brighter colours, or moves the narrative along, or is fun, then I'm happy to try it. Will it dominate or even regularly feature in my games? Probably not.

I do wish to thank Phillip for his adamant, though rather provocative approach to this argument. You have given me something to consider sir, though I fear we play very different games, and will likely continue to.

The problem is I enjoy gaming with my 'droopy eyed chucklefucks' too much...