From Joel to Mick to Judd

edited October 2009 in Story Games
Sorry for the excessive clickiness of the post but I didn't want to push past 3 replies over in the October Stuff to Watch.
Posted By: JoelI just blogged aboutwhy Tim Burton's "9" sucks and how that inspired me.
No spoilers for the movie, 9.

Mick's response to you.

My response to Mick.

Comments

  • edited October 2009
    Here's my edited response to Joel's blog:

    Good things are made socially all the time.

    And movies aren’t moving into a horrible, soul sucking place. There have been years with lots of good movies — and years with lots of bad movies, every year, since the start of movies. (In other news, people are convinced crimes in the US is getting worse every year -- even though it isn't: Crime & Perception. But people see things that way all the time.)


    But I want to stay with the social thing:

    The problem isn’t lots of people. Shakespeare was a producer and company member for his plays. He knew what actors he had available and wrote to give them parts to suit them best. Same with Moliere. And so on.

    Theater. Movies. Bands. Studios run by name painters and helped by lots of assistants. Novelists working with editors. Broadway shows are shaped on the road by the writer, director and the on-the-spot talent of the actors.

    The trick is, is everyone at the top of their game and is everyone watching everyone else’s back in different capacities. The issue is, who has gathered socially to make the movie?

    Shane Acker is an animator, not a writer. Like a lot of visually focused directors, he can let his love of the visuals run the movie — even if it means the script is lacking. Terry Giliam, Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov are examples of directors who do this. With a strong producer overseeing the show there will be a strong script, and no one is going to think that the visuals will carry the day.

    So, let’s see who was producing for Shane Acker:

    Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton.

    Oh, yeah. That’s going to be a problem. The problem isn't that there were too many people. It's that there wasn't anyone at the wheel who really knows his shit about shaping story.

    The myth that art is done by one cool guy is pernicious, but I find it strange promulgated by folks who love the artistic expression of RPGs.

    Some work is done by lone creator. But not all of it. And there's no correlations by work created socially and quality as far as I've ever been able to tell.
  • Even the novel, that much vaunted fortress of the single visionary pursuing the deathless truth of their immaculate prose, is often less a solitary pursuit than you might think. Aside from societies of writers and anxiety of influence, the importance of editors is often overlooked in a sort of polite fiction to allow the tower of the auteur to stand unchallenged.

    Also, graphic novels are my current favorite example of how collaboration between different types of creative folks can work brilliantly.
  • Judd, I must admit, I'm rather mystified by how passionate everyone is about this.

    Does collaboration make art better or worse? Sometimes one, sometimes the other. Bringing words like "integrity" and "authenticity" just muddy the waters. I don't lose my integrity because I collaborate.

    Similarly, should you think about story during play? Sometimes, sometimes not. It's no crime to think "Maybe I'll kill him, that'll make the story more interesting" or "Maybe I'll kill him, that'll make things interesting later". But it's bad to think "I want to kill him, but I can't, because it'll ruin the story".

    I just don't get the passion, because both questions seem like false dichotomies.

    Graham
  • Yeah, editors kill the very idea of this so dead that you can't even eat the flimsy ashes that are left.

    Plus, movies are getting worse?! Really?!

    Compare Up to The Aristocats. Compare Star Trek to The Undiscovered Country. Hell, compare Inglorious Basterds to Hostel if you want to control for someone with a great deal of creative input, Quentin Tarantino. And that's just this year.

    I'll do even better if you let me look at 2008. There have been 2 Batman movies made with Harvey Dent as a central character. Now that's as controlled an experiment as you could possibly ask for - two movies in the same franchise with the same characters at the center. Now think carefully and compare The Dark Knight to Batman Forever.

    So let's put this whole "movies are getting worse" thing in the same grave as the other idea.
  • Posted By: GrahamJudd, I must admit, I'm rather mystified by how passionate everyone is about this.

    Does collaboration make art better or worse? Sometimes one, sometimes the other. Bringing words like "integrity" and "authenticity" just muddy the waters. I don't lose my integrity because I collaborate.

    Similarly, should you think about story during play? Sometimes, sometimes not. It's no crime to think "Maybe I'll kill him, that'll make the story more interesting" or "Maybe I'll kill him, that'll make things interesting later". But it's bad to think "I want to kill him, but I can't, because it'll ruin the story".

    I just don't get the passion, because both questions seem like false dichotomies.

    Graham
    Lack of understanding at the passion, lack of interest in the topic, it is a really good thing you stopped by the thread to contribute.

    Thanks, Graham.
  • I think it's awesome that Joel wanted to go home and play the movie so he could re-do the disappointing story. More people should go see movies as a group, then play it as an rpg after, either instead of, or in addition to, the normal chit-chat.

    Also, when people say "art by committee" I think they usually mean assembly line: producer hires writer, director, editor, but those three don't speak to each other or know what the others are doing at all, so the end product is a mess. It's a disconnect between the person responsible for the completion of the final product, and the people actually doing the creative work. Anyway, that's usually what I see when people make that specific complaint.
  • As I commented in Joel's thread, I think "art by committee" means less "art made by a group," than the system that group plays under. "Committees" play with a system that calls for them to find the faults in each idea. So, you break down the energy in the room. You find the lowest common denominator. Great for finding something "safe," something that doesn't involve a lot of risk.

    Take the same people, and play with a system of "Yes, and," where everyone builds on the energy and ideas of everyone else, and you get something very, very different.

    In other words--system matters!
  • Every time you open your mouth, Judd, these jewels just tumble out. Man.
  • I AM passionate about it, Graham. Be mystified. Somehow my life will go on.
  • Hello, everyone. I think it's important to point out that Judd's post and my post and Mick's post are not the same, and the many awesome things that Judd says are not equivalent to the many awesome things that Mick says are not equivalent to the (awesome, one hopes) things that I say. Mine was the original seed, but Mick expanded on that at somewhat of a right angle and Judd took off in that new direction full tilt.

    But the common thread is indeed that we're passionate about story-making as a human activity! So there you go.

    Graham, it may (or may not) be helpful to know that I'm speaking of "integrity" and such in terms of a story "ringing true" or being true to itself. I avoided using the word "truth," though, because Capital-T-Truth is, I believe, a phantasmal pursuit philosophically and often a detrimental priority to art. But in any case I certainly wasn't using "integrity" the way, say, politicians and televangelists use it--as a moral imperative and a label for people.

    And everyone: I can't stress enough that I'm NOT down on collaboration. At all. Not one teeny bit. When I talked about story by committee I was referring to a particular process that is, or so I posited, an impediment to expressing real human-ness. My blog post does, in fact, suggest an alternate collaboration process, to wit, the kind we practice around here. And Judd's post seems to me to be, similarly, pointing to a way of collaborating that promotes life in stories, as contrasted with another process that stifles it. But it's all collaboration, right?

    Also, I think that we'll go far in this conversation if we stick to telling our own stories. For instance, Christipher's offered some strong dissent toward my ideas, which seems to stem in part from my first relating my experience but then expanding that experience to make bold claims that overlap his experience from the inside of the Hollywood creative process. So recognizing that, I want to scale back to say that this isn't about all movies, now or ever, or about everyone's experience with movies, but rather, an experience that I had and reflected on. I also don't want to bite the hand that feeds me--I HAVE been nourished by many, many movies that came out of the Hollywood system, and I'm grateful for that.

    And in the meantime, in addition to drinking from the wells of film and novels and comics, I have the power to make stories myself, with my friends! I can't not be passionate about that!

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • For a while back in high school, my criteria for a "good movie" was a movie that left my head busy and eager to craft fiction. Usually this was the result of a premise that was explored so deftly that I just wanted more and more. Since then, though, I've seen plenty of busy-head-making movies that I thought were shitty movies. In those cases, it's often been true that a great premise was so poorly explored that I just wanted to do it right myself.

    Example: up through the scene where the rogue army guys blow away the hopelessly outgunned loyal army guys, I really thought The Rock was shaping up to be a fearless look at honesty and accountability between government and the military. Oh well.

    In a story-game RPG, I never know whether I'm going to wreck someone else's great premise or deftly address it, or whether they'll wreck my great premise or deftly address it. I do think I can tell when a great premise comes together, though, and I think the majority of those games have turned out well.

    Hope that was on-topic...
  • Barely on topic here, but I adored the movie 9. It felt like the perfect session of Mouse Guard to me.
  • edited October 2009
    Judd, I think we got our wires crossed. It might be a cultural thing: when I said "I am rather mystified", I meant "I would like to discuss this more". Let me rephrase.

    I agree one should focus on immediate choices, not planning ahead. But there are times when I do plan ahead: I think "Let's leave this guy alive, to make things interesting later" or "It looks like we're heading for a climax, let's work towards that".

    How does that fit in with your not worrying about the story? Is it bad? An exception? A weird-edge case that has nothing to do with the main thread of what you're saying?

    And, when I say I don't understand the passion, I mean: what's the thing you're arguing against, here? Do people often worry about the story, to the detriment of play? I haven't seen that happen, but perhaps it does. Have you seen some bad way of playing that you're trying to correct?

    I get the feeling there's a whole context to what you're saying, which I don't know, and I'd like to understand.

    Graham
  • Sorry that I was curt, Graham. My apologies.

    I will respond after running some errands, possibly this afternoon.

    Thanks for clarifying.
  • Hopefully by now it is clear that Joel's blog post was never intended as a broad dis on the state of movies and other types of media that are created via collaboration.

    As for my post and the stuff I was wrestling with, I've got to say that all this discussion on the three blogs and here at SG has helped me to figure out what I was stumbling over - the distinction between what I called creation-by-committee and creation-by-community. So, thanks everyone who's weighed in.

    Graham, I don't speak for Judd, but yes, I have experienced plenty of play in which an over-emphasis on "what makes a good story" has made things less fun. I'll wait for him to respond here before I do any more elaborating.
  • edited October 2009
    Posted By: GrahamAnd, when I say I don't understand the passion, I mean: what's the thing you're arguing against, here? Do people often worry about the story, to the detriment of play? I haven't seen that happen, but perhaps it does. Have you seen some bad way of playing that you're trying to correct?
    There's some evidence that in fact it does happen. My brother Mel speaks to this on an episode of Virtual Play. From the notes for the show:
    Episode 27: Player Stance
    The purpose of this episode is to point out some of the different stances players use in the portrayal of their characters. I think my ‘default’ stance is author stance, but I enjoy shading to actor stance and director stance, too. I may drift into director stance too much–being used to running games, I sometimes devote more effort to thinking about the overall story and connections rather than concentrating on playing my character. I’m going to be paying more attention to stance in the future, particularly my own, in an effort to see if there is a link between a particular stance and a particularly enjoyable gaming experience. The excerpts in this episode are from Giants, Primetime Adventures, and Dungeons & Dragons. Some of you will recognize the D&D game from Episode 9–please indulge me!
    Mel
    (emphasis added)

    -- Bill
  • I have a theory about this that just dawned on me but it is going to take a bit to write it up.
  • Let me see if I can jot this down before running out to get my snow tires on.

    There was/is substantial pressure on GM's/DM's/Whatever to make the game fun. Suddenly, players are in this game where they create the setting through brainstorming. Many of the responsibilities that they always saw as the GM's and the pressure that goes along with it, is in their lap.

    In my experience, some folks freeze up. They, for example, brainstorm with their friends this amazing PTA pitch and then suddenly, the pressure is not just on the GM, the pressure's on them.

    Instead of looking at their character sheet, reacting honestly to what is happening in the fiction at the table and engaging with the mechanics, they are worried about living up to this setting their friends and them have helped create. I think a constipation can set in, a kind of deer-in-the-headlights effect where some ephemeral idea of story needs to be preserved.

    Not worrying about the story =/= not giving a shit at all what happens.

    Not worrying about the story = playing the game and letting the story happen, rather than living in fear of harming this idea.

    Does that make anymore sense?
  • So Judd, there's this thing that happens, typically in GMless games, but also in any game that offloads a lot of creative authority on the players. The first session is invariably over the top, totally gonzo, turned up to eleven. It happens consistently - there's a warning about it in Universalis, for Pete's sake.

    This strikes me as a place where maybe people are not worrying about the story, because they have their hands full with something new and there's no one to tell them to cool it. Does that seems like a fair assessment?

    I guess I really like to keep an eye on "story" at the table, and make decisions that are informed by it occasionally. I think the guys I play with are happy to break out in a meta discussion, maybe caution someone not to kill a guy who would be way more interesting later as an adversary, that sort of thing. Slavish concern is deadly to fun, but so is the other extreme.
  • That makes perfect sense, but I dont think you need a group to face that problem. That's practically the exact same response I came up with when faced with gming back in the day, the more I realized I wanted story and not mindless dungeon hacks. I was great at being the impartial (actually fairly lenient) judge and letting people fight through the hordes of monsters, get the loot, xp, level up, but when it came to story it always felt weird. How do I come up with a story and still leave room for the players to act/make decisons?

    My response felt a lot like what happened in 9. Not a lot of character development or any real exploration of the human interest aspect but a lot of cool fight scenes that lead to yet more cool fight scenes that delivered a half ass story.
  • edited October 2009
    I liked the movie 9. Uh, what was the topic? Oh yeah, In my experience, story happens whether you play to it or not. Hell, even boardgames make stories happen. Think of the last time you played Catan, or Dominion. There was story there.
  • Posted By: Judd
    In my experience, some folks freeze up. They, for example, brainstorm with their friends this amazing PTA pitch and then suddenly, the pressure is not just on the GM, the pressure's on them.

    Instead of looking at their character sheet, reacting honestly to what is happening in the fiction at the table and engaging with the mechanics, they are worried about living up to this setting their friends and them have helped create. I think a constipation can set in, a kind of deer-in-the-headlights effect where some ephemeral idea of story needs to be preserved.

    Not worrying about the story =/= not giving a shit at all what happens.

    Not worrying about the story = playing the game and letting the story happen, rather than living in fear of harming this idea.

    Does that make anymore sense?
    It makes perfect sense to me, because I have been the poster-child for the kind of player you're describing. And the only way I've gotten past it is to do exactly what you're suggesting. Furthermore, it's basically the way I've seen other people get past it in my experience.
  • Hey Jason,

    I wonder if the word -story- is kind of a bugbear here.

    I think we need to protect the fun at the table but we don't need to protect this idea that the table's play is going to produce something awesome.

    If we all contribute to the fun, the production of an awesome experience will (hopefully) just happen.

    Yeah, I'm threading a needle here and I feel it.

    I will think on this on the Tree of Whoa.

    Judd
  • edited October 2009
    Yes, that's nice, I like that.

    It reminds me of an improvisation tenet, which is "Don't plan ahead". Don't follow a story structure, because it'll constrain you. Don't think that, in the next scene, you're going to murder someone, because everything might have changed by then. Just make interesting choices and see where the scene takes you.

    However, it comes with a caveat, which is that an awareness of where the story is going is good. For example, it's good to have a sense that everything is building to a climax. Similarly, it's good to have a sense that, although this is a quiet scene, everything seriously needs to kick off in the next. None of that is set in stone, but a general awareness can be helpful.

    Not the same thing you're saying, but related, I think.

    Graham
  • Story is definitely a tar pit. Like Fun. I totally agree with you about protecting the fun, with fun as a local variable.

    PROTECT THE FUN would be a nice T-shirt slogan.
  • Posted By: JoelBut if it is indeed the birth pangs of a complete creative collapse in the “entertainment” industry, then I must conclude that if we want to have stories with integrity, we must make them ourselves. This is why roleplaying and storyjamming are more than mere diversions for me.
    I don't buy it.

    What I mean is this: Joel is saying roleplaying and storyjamming is important to him because the entertainment industry is not providing him with enough stories with integrity.

    This implies that it's at least theoretically possible that Joel might wake up one morning, look around, and conclude: "Wow, the entertainment industry has really pulled it together! They're producing lots of stories with integrity now. Guess I'll just hang up my roleplaying/storyjamming hat -- there's just no need for it any more."

    And I don't buy that that's possible, even theoretically.

    But I don't know the guy, so who knows -- I could be entirely wrong about him.



    Cheers,
    Roger
  • For what it's worth ... yes, I still occasionally make choices based on the notion that this or that thing might be cooler down the road if I chose to do this or that right now. But even so, more and more that is becoming a gut-reaction thing and not a think-five-steps-ahead thing.

    Actual play example - All through the first session of Star Wars PTA that I played with Judd, Paul, Rich, and Daniel at GenCon 07, I was that jammed-up deer-in-headlights guy. It hindered my fun, it hindered everyone else's fun, and it made things less organic. I'm not being a martyr, it's a simple fact. These sessions are all recorded and released at Canon Puncture and it is right there for all to hear.

    At the second SW-PTA session in 2008, I had more PTA experience, I understood more, and I was able to do what Judd is suggesting as the better alternative, and it made a million miles of difference. Things happened in '08 that were just outright incredible. Moments that I'll never forget, choices that drove us all deeper and deeper into the premise and surprised all of us. Glorious. Hell YES I'm passionate about this.

    We did not get to play the next episode at GenCon 09 because most of us weren't there - but we hold out hope for next year and in the mean time I REFUSE to try to plan out what I might do, where things might go, and what would be the coolest story. You can't imagine how difficult that is for me because my very nature is to try to do what is best to craft a great, epic, perfect story. But no. I shall not do it. I will wait until we're at the table and I will allow the rules and our communal creative energy to set the course in the moment, in play. I have no idea what's going to happen. NONE of us does, and if my instincts about my pals are correct, we are all very happy with that state.

    Do I think about what my character wants? Sure. Do I wonder about what I think the other characters want? Yep. Do I daydream about how the fiction might play out if this or that were to happen? Yes, but I try to limit that because it is simply too worthwhile to let this thing ride forward and let the story take care of itself.

    Is it possible that because of this, we'll end up looking back after it is done and saying, "oh, if we'd done this it would've been more dramatic, or more mythic, or more story-like?" Sure. But you can do that until the cows come home - and to be honest, I think I've come to realize in spite of myself that even if you DO shepherd the fiction along in terms of what's good for the story, you might still end up with something less-than.

    I also accept that your mileage might vary on this. As with most other things we discuss, it comes down to what works for you and your group. But for me, my play is much more enjoyable and much more meaningful now that I'm focused on making meaningful choices in the moment rather than worrying about what makes the best story. And the stories that emerge from the type of play I tend toward now - the type that Judd is talking about - are invariably very thematically rich stories - because I now believe that "story" is not this flimsy delicate thing that can be ruined or crushed if it isn't shepherded by a firm hand.
  • Posted By: JuddThe goal is a night of people making meaningful choices at the table. Story is a by-product, like exhaust coming out of a car.
    To get all Egri on you:

    The goal is a night of people addressing the Premise. Story is the by-product of having addressed the Premise.

    Concentrating too much on Story tends to pre-suppose the conclusion of the Premise, which is all sorts of badwrong.

    (In case it wasn't clear: I'm agreeing with you here.)



    Cheers,
    Roger
  • Hi, Roger. There's no need to refer to me in the third person. I'm right here, posting in the thread.

    I'm a little perplexed by your conjecture about me. I don't feel like that's the most generous interpretation of my statements. Let me assure you that I'm not just roleplaying out of desperation, 'cuz I can't get it anywhere else. I love this form of storytelling deeply, and I think it alchemizes group creativity in a unique way. I was just expressing why the activity is as important as it is to me. In a world where all stories have integrity, I would be slightly less passionate about this form. It's urgency is just amplified by the state of mass media, is all.

    It sounds like you agree with me about authentic stories being relatively rare out there in consumer-entertainment-land, so it's somewhat disconcerting to recieve this kind of criticism from you. Hiopefully I've cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about my message.
    Posted By: GrahamIt reminds me of an improvisation tenet, which is "Don't plan ahead".
    Yes, Graham, exactly. I was planning to mention how the stuff you caution against in Play Unsafe--"Don't plan ahead," "Don't be clever," "Don't be brilliant"--plays a big part in what Judd's talking about.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Joel: Yep, that makes more sense. But I don't really have any opinion about entertainment-land, one way or the other.


    Cheers,
    Roger
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI think the guys I play with are happy to break out in a meta discussion, maybe caution someone not to kill a guy who would be way more interesting later as an adversary, that sort of thing.
    This happened to me in a game a couple weeks back. I had set up this great NPC (a charming, amoral bandit king named Bad Fang, who was inadvertently saved from the headman's block by the PCs and was travling with them under duress), with plans to have him bcome a recurring character.

    But one of the players killed him.

    The scene where this NPC got killed wasn't particularly dramatic or awesome, and the other players expressed varying degrees of the sentiment Jason is alluding to ("Way to kill the main, NPC, dude"). James, the player who'd done it, said afterwards that he wished he hadn't, and we should retcon the NPC back to life for the next game.

    We let it be, however, and instead added "Bad Fang's Ghost" as a magical item in the possession of James' character (it lets him re-roll failed dice once per game, but also saps his endurance). Which turned out to be awesome, and everyone likes it, and James plays up his character's guilt over the murder and relationship to the ghost.

    So ... there's an AP example of people looking out for "the story", but when we chose not to, a better and more organic story was created.

    Note: This is not to disagree with Jason's, or anyone's, post, just an anecdote.
  • To whom it may concern: I'm at it again, folks. This time I'm exploring what's so important about making our own stories, anyway?

    Peace,
    -Joel
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