Grounding in fiction vs grounding in life

edited June 2016 in Story Games
I was playing a new RPG homebrew with some friends the other day and we were defining some character types and thinking over who could do what in their various niches in our zombie-filled post-apocalypse. My friend Mark threw out a few ideas, and I threw out a few ideas, and it quickly became clear that we were not on the same page. I found some of his proposed character roles and abilities a bit implausible or outright nonsensical; at the same time, he found some of my ideas a bit uninspiring or outright no fun. As we were talking through our reactions and trying to figure out where we could find common ground, we had this exchange:
Dave: "It probably makes the most sense that in a small community's desperate struggle for survival, authority would get centralized. So I think the Military Strategist should still report to the Leader, rather than being able to just declare strategic matters."

Mark: "Well, I'm going for that classic general type character who's reading the field and making the high-pressure calls."

Dave: "Oh, wait, this is a character type from fiction?"

Mark: "Yeah. I think it's a perfect fit in our post-apocalypse."

Dave: "Oh! See, I was going at this from, like, what would this be like in real life, and not really thinking in terms of movies or books and stuff."
And then everything became clear.

We agreed that Mark's take was more apt for this particular game, so I stopped trying to envision how everything worked and what would most likely happen, and just asked for Mark and others to fill in the blanks for certain fictional references so I could understand their appeal and better contribute. We wound up defining some very fun and flavorful character types to run around being various sorts of awesome in our zombie hell.

I know it's not news that gamers can vary in taste and orientation, and that "from my favorite movie" and "from my knowledge of the real world" are two examples. Even so, I thought it was kind of an eye-opener that Mark and I, two guys with lots of experience communicating game content to groups, wound up in a bit of a slog, and that that slog wound up being resolved by a very simple recognition.

"Are we working from fiction or from life here?"

So, that's one more for the toolkit. I figure that asking that question will come in handy in the future.

Comments

  • But… seems to me that this is just one more thing to have strife over.
    Your disagreement was over the leader role. It's kinda dismissive to say essentially "Oh, that's just a thing in fiction, that wouldn't really happen". Many humans learn about life from fiction. Soosmetimes we learn wrong. I don't know
  • I think it's a good thing to think about. For myself, I love simulation and require things to have some sort of validity or logic to them. It needs to be 'life-like' for me to be invested. Knowing that I would never think to create, or even really help create, something without that 'reality grounding' because It'd drive me insane to try (and in the end I'd fail).
  • edited June 2016
    I created an airlock puzzle on a submerged ship. One of the players had a problem with the real life issues of a ship being airtight as in real life this is not the case. He was an experienced diver.
    I seen the issue striaght away as you have described, "Are we working from fiction or from life here".
    But the issue still hung in the air.
    I had to make clear that this was an airlock puzzle involving the tide which they had to understand to enter the ship.
    I still think he thought it farcical :)
  • If you ask me, what you individuated is a false dichotomy.
    What you are producing at the table is fiction.
    For everyone except yourself "my knowledge of the real world" is fiction.
    And on the other hand "from my favorite movie" is not much useful if my favorite movie has a different style than your favorite movie.

    So the point is to get on the same page about the STYLE of the fiction you want to use as reference ... and if the game system happens to also help people GET and STAY on the same page, all the better.

    Labeling one style of fiction as "this is real" is dangerous as it often implies that the "real/istic" style is inherently better / makes more sense than anything else.
    Mind you, this happens even when there is absolutely no malice or intent to judge other people's taste.

    It is then very poignant to notice how easy this problem can arise even among veteran players used to communicating things.
    The way you ended up handling this is indeed very positive and functional :)
  • @2097, sure, this can be a thing to have strife over, but it doesn't have to be. I think most gamers will agree that they don't want something in the game that's so nonsensical they can't even imagine it, just as most gamers will agree that a good reference point, fictional or otherwise, can help them imagine stuff. Mark and I just needed to communicate what route we'd take to imagining stuff. Once we did, there was no problem.

    I think there's a lot we can learn from some fiction, but a lot of the popular, pulpy fiction that makes it into my gaming is a terrible place to look for how real people act (e.g. superhero movies).

    @Hasimir, yeah, a game book or system which helps the group cohere on style is great!

    As for "realism", I completely disagree that the label is meaningless, and that its historical use as a value judgment is any reason to abandon it.

    Mark and I were both searching for orientation. When I'm making decisions about who my character is and what he does, what defines my common sense? Should I be responding to situations with the knowledge and experience and burdens of a regular person desperate to survive? Or should I be responding like an action movie hero? Neither is better or worse for gaming fun, but I think we can all agree which is more realistic and which is more fiction-based. I don't think we should be judging play by "is this realistic?", but I do think "realism" is a viable (and fun, to my taste) route to orientation in how to play a given game.

    Having said that, I'll also opine that, once everyone's oriented enough to engage with play on the same page, it does help to be flexible. Sometimes the GM gets a few details of airlocks wrong like @Paul88, and as long as it doesn't ruin our ability to orient ourselves toward play, we should probably just roll with it for the sake of a fun encounter.
  • If you ask me, what you individuated is a false dichotomy.
    What you are producing at the table is fiction.
    For everyone except yourself "my knowledge of the real world" is fiction.
    OK, this resonates with me, this is kinda what I feel too.
    I think there's a lot we can learn from some fiction, but a lot of the popular, pulpy fiction that makes it into my gaming is a terrible place to look for how real people act (e.g. superhero movies).
    To me, the situation is like a chance to try different ways to act. Acting like a superhero -- and perhaps die a meaningless death. But it's your chance to try.

    Also. What would zombies do in real life...? They would lie in their graves.
  • edited June 2016
    Well, I can't really decide whether I want to act like a superhero or not until I know the logic that's gonna guide play. Is it "what would happen in real life?" or "what would happen in Avengers?" or something else?

    Mark and I didn't really need to agree on the Military Strategist as much as we needed to agree on a fiction-creation m.o.

    "Zombies aren't real" is irrelevant to how we play our characters and how we resolve what happens. Faced with a made-up fantasy situation, I still have choices about where to look to inform my reaction. Do I look to the Avengers movie or to that time I got lost spelunking? I'd say that there's a huge difference between the two, and that in any given game one will probably be a better fit than the other.

    I actually don't think this is a persistently tricky issue. Much of the time, the shared approach is obvious. Just, y'know, not always. I didn't know the fiction Mark was pulling from, and he didn't call it out by name, so I was slow in figuring out that that's how he wanted to approach things.
  • Well, I can't really decide whether I want to act like a superhero or not until I know the logic that's gonna guide play. Is it "what would happen in real life?" or "what would happen in Avengers?" or something else?
    The rule system is gonna determine what happens? So if you want to bring captain America style behavior in there or Jenny from the block in there, it's the just the same interesting petri dish!

  • Hey we can all remember losing the fiction and it all becoming a bit unreal.
    But I'm talking in this direction when we were kids or who's still like this :)
    https://facebook.com/GlubokiyKosmos/videos/1121326641244095/
  • edited June 2016
    Ha ha whoa that's awesome Paul! I'd seen the lightsaber one and the puddle one, but not the climbing and lava and one at sea. So cool. Maybe I'd be more into LARPs if I did them with 5-year-olds. :)

    Sandra, gotcha, yeah, that's something rules could cover, leaving players free to try whatever. In my experience it seems like how the group and GM apply the rules is a huge part of the equation, though. When the player wants his character to jump off the speeding motorcycle, do we say, "Cool, that's an athletic move that works all the time in action movies, so roll your Athletics to pull it off without a hitch!" or do we say, "That would probably kill you in real life, so roll Toughness to come away with only a few broken bones and a concussion"? The rules for testing Athletics and Toughness can be really solid but the group still needs to agree on what fiction maps to which rules-use. As a player, I want to know whether cinematic action stunts are going to be arbitrated like "cool!" or like "suicide!" before I start trying them.

    Again, I'm not saying this life/fiction thing is hard to resolve! Just pointing out that it's possible to lose track, so checking in can be handy.

    I also think it's interesting how far apart Mark and I started. It never occurred to him that I'd be thinking through zombie apocalypse details like, "If I were really there, what would I expect?" rather than conjuring up zombie movies I've seen. What was obvious to me was non-obvious to him, and what was obvious to him was non-obvious to me. I think that's why it took us a little while to catch the disconnect.
  • I guess I'm just scared of being found out as ignorant about "what would really happen". I don't see a lot of movies but I see even less real motorcyclee jumping.
  • I guess you could phrase it as "fiction" vs. "real life", but it seems to me it's just different genres. There's plenty of fiction that's closer to your spelunking than to the Avengers. "What kind of fiction are we simulating?" seems more useful a question to me than "Are we simulating fiction or real life?", because the second way of phrasing it leaves huge amounts of different experiences possible regardless of the answer. My view of "real life" could be very different from yours, especially when we're play-pretending about things neither of us has experienced. And, of course, "fiction" can be anything from Avengers to Les Miserables to Amélie to Sin City. But yeah, syncing your expectations before play is crucial, I agree.
  • My point was that nobody knows much about anything, especially about how things should work in "real life" when it comes to the kind of actions and situations we end up playing in a game.

    And the fact that ONE person actually DOES know, does not help much :P
    My personal real life experience with... I don't know... sharks... or Sirian refugees... or girls from Roma... might easily sound weird and unbelievable to other people.

    And, actually, it is often the case that different people with "real life" experience of something will end up developing VERY different views regarding how such an XYZ thing should work/behave in the fictional space of an RPG table.

    Thus "realistic" can mean very different things to very different people, and in practical terms it all boils down to a matter of personal taste: i like this fiction better because reasons :P

    So yeah, as a very broad pointer in a very generic direction, saying "realistic" in place of "superheroes" has a useful value :)
    It's like saying "slapstick comedy" instead of "dramaaah" or "high fantasy" instead of "gritty low fantasy" etc.
    So it is useful.

    I just disagree with your OP premise.
    Fiction vs Real Life... is just wrong, and for every misunderstanding that it can clear out, it can much more easily lead to convoluted and endless mudding up and confusion and bickering.

    ALL you produce at the table, ALL you imagine (or even remember!) in your head, ALL of it is fiction.
    For this reason, in my personal experience, using the tools of fiction is much easier (and safer!) to correctly communicate with one another.

  • I'm with Hasimir. We learn through creating fiction, so we can put things in a context.

    Further on, all our empiric knowledge of the world is also just how we perceive things - both by our senses and by our judgement. A Swedish racist is looking at the world through a different lens than a Tibetan monk.

    If we talked a common objective language, then we would be able to perceive things in the same way, but we don't. Math is usually looked at as something objective, but it's still colored by how we perceive things. Euclidean math (ex. sum of the angles in a triangle is always 180º) isn't always true. Euclid formed these mathematical formulas based on a flat surface (the Earth) but we know now that the Earth isn't flat, it's round, and therefor the sum of all the angels can exceed 180º. His perception of reality was wrong.

    Also, it seems to me like Mark is thinking more in terms of tropes.
  • edited June 2016
    I think two related things are getting muddled here.

    One is the shared standard for fiction-creation -- what is the group primed to expect and appreciate?

    The other is the useful mode of individual orientation -- as a player, how can I or must I think in order to contribute successfully?

    If all we care about is the former, then sure, "realism" is an incomplete description at best. It's not really a metric of what's required or desired, just a constraint on what's allowed, and a fuzzy constraint at that, until further specified.

    A long argument with Mark about what a post-apocalyptic general would really do would have been pretty stupid.

    That wasn't our issue at all, though. Neither one of us knows the answer to that question, and we were aware of that. The issue was how we were going to decide what a post-apocalyptic general does. And that wound up being a hint about how we were going to decide everything.

    When I'm playing my character, can I work from my life experience or can't I? "We're not going to reason out what would most likely happen in this scenario; instead we're aiming for genre satisfaction," is a pretty good hint that I can't. Or, well, I always can, but it doesn't sound like a great idea here. I'm much better served thinking in zombie movie terms.

    Contrast this to when I run games which are not emulating particular fiction, and part of my pitch is "arbitration won't violate real-world physics" and "play your characters as real people". Even though the game is about supernatural mystery, play unfolds very differently than if I were telling players "think Indiana Jones!" or something.

    The reason I thought "Are we working from fiction or from life here?" was worth sharing here was because it helped Mark and I resolve our disconnect very efficiently.

    You can have a celebration of zombie apocalypse movies, or a "what would happen" zombie apocalypse thought experiment, or somewhere in between, and I don't think "What sort of fiction?" is inherently useful language for sorting that out. I'd guess that our focus on the "what" -- zombies, apocalypses -- actually contributed to our initial failure to address the "how". So, I'd say, if you really want to talk solely in fiction terms, try to be thorough and cover how players can/should orient themselves.

    "Hey Dave, let's do a zombie apocalypse, with lots of gritty situations but also lots of over-the-top action and larger-than-life characters, more of an action movie ethos than digging into the details of regular people logistics and psychology," would be just fine. :)
  • edited June 2016
    I can't resist the bait:
    ALL you imagine (or even remember!) in your head, ALL of it is fiction.
    I think this can be equally true at and away from the gaming table. :P
  • We usually call this "setting-logic", as in "what makes sense in this setting". Our groups tastes are somewhat similar and we have learned to adapt easily to different setting-logics. When we go for the D&D feeling, anime-like physics only work when spells or other supernatural effects are involved. When things are more old-school oriented, real-world logic is more used, and so.

    The process to detect and act according to one or another is internalized for us now, but it can be brought up easily by asking the group which kind of setting-logic is going to be used. It can be real-world, it can be narrative from X genre, whatever. But as long as it's clear and familiar for everyone, it becomes part of the unspoken rules to use it as a guide.

    In some cases, when not everyone is familiar with this set of rulings, the most versed person on the table acts as a ruleslawyer, but then it's also expected from that person to be the facilitator, to be quite clear about the setting logic, to not expect everyone to know everything about it and to transport us into the world where this logic works.
  • The issue was how we were going to decide what a post-apocalyptic general does. And that wound up being a hint about how we were going to decide everything.
    This is the important and useful bit.
    And up to here I agree that saying something like "let's be realistic" rather than "let's have super-movie action" is a bit of useful information that can help set the correct expectations at the table.

    But... the moment you actually get to deciding what a post-apo general is doing, right here and now, is also the moment where the previous clarification reveals itself to be of very little help.

    On one hand I don't know how any kind of military chief is supposed to behave, except from movies.
    On the other hand maybe you do know, but TO ME it has the same value as any piece of fiction I am exposed to (like books, movies, and other people recounting of personal experiences).

    So when you tell me how our post-apo general behaves, it all boils down to the usual: does it make sense to me?

    The fact that you assure me that what you describe is very adherent to how the real world military actually works, is of relatively little relevance.
    Also... concepts such as "let's use real-world physics" and "let's play characters as real people" are EXTREMELY subjective.
    We all think we share the same broad understanding of what is expected, and more often than not we end up discovering how untrue this is :P

    So yeah.
    To get on the same page saying something is certainly better than saying nothing.
    But moving away from the (illusory) adherence to a (totally abstract) idea of "reality" is usually much more helpful in practical terms.
    Especially when you play with strangers, instead of friends of long date.
    I can't resist the bait:
    ALL you imagine (or even remember!) in your head, ALL of it is fiction.
    I think this can be equally true at and away from the gaming table. :P
    Indeed it is a great philosophical truth u_u
    Anyone reading this thread can now get +1 Wisdom, but lose 1d6 Sanity.
  • To get on the same page saying something is certainly better than saying nothing.
    But moving away from the (illusory) adherence to a (totally abstract) idea of "reality" is usually much more helpful in practical terms.
    Especially when you play with strangers, instead of friends of long date.
    When I play with friends who tell me how something would really work because they have domain knowledge I don't, 90% of the time I am just happy to learn something. That's why "let's use real-world physics" is qualitatively different than "let's use what happened in this real-worldy movie as our guide for fiction".

    The real world does in fact exist out there, y'all!

    ("Let's play characters as real people" is a different bag - I trust no one's understanding of how real people "would" act as much as I trust many, many people's understanding of e.g. whether a log of that size could likely be used as a boat or whatever.)
  • edited June 2016
    When I play with friends who tell me how something would really work because they have domain knowledge I don't, 90% of the time I am just happy to learn something.
    Me too, if they really know something. But I find myself really really nodding along with Hasimir this time;
    It's like if someone says "Here is how I think this would work, log as a boat, and here's why". That's great. And yes, examples from when you went fishing with Uncle Jonah trump examples from some HBO show.

    So I think that's a couple of things that strike me with David's original example:

    • I have a hard time imagining myself saying "No, we deliberately want to emulate fiction even when, as fiction often does, we know the fiction contradicts reality." It was one of the things that always bugged me with GURPS bevy of "cinematic" options. Like, I like cool action too but I don't want to be reminded that it's completely unrealistic. I don't pretend that I'm a screenwriter or actor on the set of a horror movie, I pretend that I'm chased by vampires through the woods.
    • I see "Oh, you're thinking of how it works in movies. I was grounded in my thorough psychological research of human leadership in disaster situations. OK, then, I'll play along with you." as a little patronizing maybe? If you have the thorough psychological research, by all means, bake that into the game mechanically or premise-wise or teach us about it. Fiction, which RPG ultimately is, sometimes becomes even better when informed by reality. David is one of my very favorite posters on here but here is one situation where I actually would've been upset if I had been the other player.
    • I see it as "Not only did you find my character roles and abilities implausible and nonsensical, you had to rub it in by saying it was only a movie thing."

    Here is what I love about Archipelago. It sucks when I get a "try it another way" card thrown at me, but it's the most respectful way I can imagine someone saying that they find my abilities implausible, and I acquiesce and try to rethink. Having someone say "Oh, you're doing a movie thing, now I get it, ok, go on, then", that'll likely sour me on the whole thing.

    It's like when I'm trying to sing beautifully and someone says "Oh, you're going for the tortured cat thing, I get it, great job, carry on then". Like, they usually have the best of intentions for saying that. They want to see something positive or find some explanation for what they hear me doing. But. All I was doing was to portray my zombie fighting general in a way that made sense to me, that I thought was cool and interesting and challenging or wishfulfilling.

    PS: Guy, precisely because this example is about "how would real people act" instead of the log boat, it's extra aggravating.
  • edited June 2016

    Here is what I love about Archipelago. It sucks when I get a "try it another way" card thrown at me, but it's the most respectful way I can imagine someone saying that they find my abilities implausible, and I acquiesce and try to rethink.
    This.
    My whole argument is here.
    Sure having an incredibly vague common direction set by a "let's keep it real" instead of a "let's go Marvel style" is somewhat useful.
    Especially if this communication happens between people that know each other's tastes and ideas and meaning even without a clear and unpacked explanation.

    But a simple mechanic as the Archipelago one just mentioned is, to me, a few orders of magnitude more effective.
    Instead of bringing to the table big but ultimately empty concepts, it deals with SPECIFICS on a moment by moment basis.
    Which in turn, in my experience with this kind of mechanics from various games, much better informs all the players about each other's tastes and expectations, in a very practical and hands on the table way.

  • also I don't like confronting the notion that Marvel style is somehow unreal ♥
  • It's way better to be specific about which part you feel it doesn't fit the fiction for you. The only wrong part for me about "try it another way" is that it's still blocking which is why we often feel a bit bad/frustrated by it.

    It's a ton of times better to offer the player another way to get exactly the same thing they want, that makes more sense for you. So the first step is to identify what does the player want.

    Is it knowing more about the obstacle? then either as a player or GM you can suggest another approach that seems more reasonable, and as a GM you can give them for free that their character realizes that approach is undoable because X and stright goes to try another approach that gives them the information they were searching for.

    Is is dealing directly with the obstacle? then again, let them know what their character notices and thinks according to the setting logic and how would they exactly perform a direct approach using the setting-logic. And of course you've gotta explain things before making them effective and/or before asking for any rolls. Because

    Is it dealing indirectly with the obstacle? since this one is more tricky you need to either figure out how to translate their approach into the current setting-logic or tell them what their character would think of that approach given the common sense of this world logic-wise.

    All these suggestions are also meant to inform the players about the logic you're using. Like, if you see the GM use real-world logic, narrative swashbuckler logic, anime-like logic, etc, it's easier to figure out which one is currently being use. Like, if we were suddenly transported to a world where those sets of fictional rules apply we would notice not because somebody told us, but because things will start following that line of logic. Then we would put 2 and 2 together and start using that set of rules naturally.
  • I want there to only be one logic!
  • edited June 2016
    I see that my actual play example is really pretty crappy for illustrating what I wanted to to illustrate. Well, except for the part where, "Life or fiction?" worked perfectly, but even that doesn't seem to be very convincing to many respondents. I think there's a lot of context missing from my account, so here, maybe this will help:

    Mark and I are friends. We've played a lot of sessions of a lot of games together. We both GM. We both facilitate. We both play with friends. We both play with strangers. We both tinker with game design. We both talk about roleplaying for fun. Our tastes are very similar at times and very different at other times. We've played games that were explicitly about emulating media, such as World Wide Wrestling, where Mark actually had to tell me things about wrestling so I could play it right. We've also played games with an explicit ethos of realistic consequences for character actions. So there was zero, absolutely none, 0%, nada, value judgment going on in our discussion of realism. "Oh, you're working from fiction!" was not a criticism, it was not condescending, it was an observation that Mark I were both happy to have communicated once we did so.

    I don't think "realistic" is somehow "best". I don't think "from life" is the "best" play mode. I do personally like them a lot, but that's not the same thing. I played World Wide Wrestling, for Pete's sake! And I enjoyed it a lot. I just needed some grounding on how to enjoy it.

    That was the issue for me and Mark. Am I going to enjoy this like WWW, or am I going to enjoy this like Delve, or somewhere in between?

    Perhaps our hobby is too fraught with dysfunctional "realism" baggage to have a conversation which includes that term. For that reason, my example with the military strategist is a pretty terrible example. Although the point was "How do we figure out what this role would be?", and my reasoning from life was a proposed answer, and my initial disagreement with Mark was the same sort of workshopping that goes on in most creative collaborations, I can see that the "let's try my more realistic idea over your less realistic one" dynamic is super distracting. Because, y'know, we've all seen the guy who says "that's not realistic" just to get his own way, often at the expense of group fun, and apparently that image is impossible to shake no matter how many times I clarify. (Unless I finally found the right wording in this post? Fingers crossed!)

    An easier example to discuss would look something like this:
    Mark: "The zombies on the other side of the escalator open fire!"

    Dave: "I dive for cover! I didn't know zombies could wield guns, and I'm kinda freaking out! Do I have to roll to keep my wits about me?"

    Rohit: "I kick my skateboard up onto the railing and fly by the zombies on my back, shooting them as I go!"

    Mark: "Awesome, Rohit. Roll to hit with Advantage!"

    Dave: "Wait, what? That sounds super hard and super dangerous."

    Mark: "Yeah, but Rohit's character is badass. You all are."

    Dave: "Oh, wait, should I be deciding what my guy does like he's an action movie character, rather than thinking through what I'd do if I were there in real life? Working from fiction rather than from life?"

    Mark: "Yes!"

    Rohit: "Obviously. You can't use my skateboard trick, though!"
    Does that help?

    Separately, I get the vague sense that maybe some people posting here don't buy that "working from life" is actually a thing. To cherry-pick one comment (sorry Simon, I'm aware this wasn't your main point, and I do agree with the rest of your post):
    I guess you could phrase it as "fiction" vs. "real life", but it seems to me it's just different genres. There's plenty of fiction that's closer to your spelunking than to the Avengers.
    No there isn't. That fiction is just a thing I can watch or read. My spelunking is something I did.

    Roleplaying is also a thing I do. Thinking of it solely in relation to things I've watched or read is really unappealing to me. I've gotten great mileage out of doing the opposite.
  • I can see that the "let's try my more realistic idea over your less realistic one" dynamic is super distracting.
    Yeah, I really got hung up on it.
    Dave: "Oh, wait, should I be deciding what my guy does like he's an action movie character, rather than thinking through what I'd do if I were there in real life? Working from fiction rather than from life?"

    Mark: "Yes!"
    Here is what I would say instead of Mark's yes: "No, not from movies, just be badass! Like if you could roll down railings on skateboards on your back and shoot things!"
    Roleplaying is also a thing I do. Thinking of it solely in relation to things I've watched or read is really unappealing to me.
    Me too, it's a real turn-off to think in "movie" or "TV" terms when roleplaying.

    Some friends of mine (co-founders of the Interacting Arts LARP group) tried the following rule out for a while, when hanging out casually as friends (i.e. this wasn't a rule only for game time, it was on all the time): No talking about things you've seen in fiction, whether movies, films or books. It was just a verboten topic. It was intented to create more experiences from their urban exploration, larping, and dancing or other things you actually did or someone you know did.

    And they did try out some of those wild parkour stunts, one of them (the one who told me about the rule) had his pelvis shattered from swinging into a phone boot and then falling flat on his back. Some tourists came up to him as he lay there and they asked him if he was OK. He answered: "Call an ambulance for fuck's sake!"
  • Separately, I get the vague sense that maybe some people posting here don't buy that "working from life" is actually a thing.
    It's more like I don't buy that "working from fiction" is a thing, I've never seen the appeal.
    Everything we try and do in RPGs are from things we've done, seen, heard or daydreamed about. Some of those are from fiction but I don't buy the whole "genre emulation" thing, it has always rung so phony.
  • edited June 2016
    You should watch people play World Wide Wrestling sometime. Or listen. Or whatever's made it to YouTube. You might not wind up wanting to play, but it would conclusively prove that working from fiction and emulating genre is a thing. :)

    Personally, I don't find that it's a turn-off... unless I was expecting something else.
    Here is what I would say instead of Mark's yes: "No, not from movies, just be badass! Like if you could roll down railings on skateboards on your back and shoot things!" . . . And they did try out some of those wild parkour stunts, one of them (the one who told me about the rule) had his pelvis shattered from swinging into a phone boot and then falling flat on his back.
    That's exactly why "Like from movies!" was essential communication with Mark. Rohit's not going to do that skateboard move if it's going to shatter his pelvis like it would in real life; he's going to do it if it actually works like in action movies. He needs to know what logic of consequence we're using before he can decide whether to skate or not to skate.

    I think a lot of the frustration that comes up in RPG land around "realism" is actually about inconsistent logic of consequences. The GM who arbitrates one action based on physics probability and another action based on thinking it sounded cool can be tough to recover from.
    No talking about things you've seen in fiction, whether movies, films or books. It was just a verboten topic. It was intented to create more experiences from their urban exploration, larping, and dancing or other things you actually did or someone you know did.
    I would love to do that for a bit.

    And then, some other time, I'd also like to geek out about favorite fiction.

    Having different niches for different games has been important to me. I think most of the most dissatisfied roleplayers I know are the ones who really want this game they're playing right now to fulfill all their RPG desires. Perhaps I am lucky that some of my RPG desires are obviously mutually contradictory; I can't possibly have it all at once, so I'm not tempted to try.

    That might have been my biggest eye-opener from all the indie RPG stuff I discovered a decade ago -- "this is also cool, but different". My desire to play stuff like Delve was not lessened, but it was clarified to be "one particular thing" rather than the definition of "fun roleplaying".
  • Those two quotes from me were not meant to be put together
  • I get the resistance to ratifying a fiction-oriented viewpoint; after thirty odd fuckin years of calling to self-satisfied pulp action fantasy novels, Tolkien's lists of things in people's backpacks and Anne Rice's dirty books, it feels like a huge step forward to just portray a perceived-as-real being, even or perhaps especially if you're just playing yourself.

    But I think the objection also answers itself. There are so many unexplored areas of fiction that RPGs remain stolidly ignorant of that we could play forever and never cross them all.

    (Hey, here's a list, pick the thing from the list that gamers would consider the least "cinematic":

    * A session of Feng Shui where we fight a hundred ninja
    * A Mike Hammer novel where he gets in a car chase while shooting people
    * An episode of "24" where Jack Bauer runs into a mall with a gun
    * An episode of the radio show "The Adventures of Sam Spade" where Sam Spade fistfights in an airship
    * Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev )

    It's even worse than we think, though. Let's say we ban all fictive portrayals from roleplaying and resolve only to look to non-fictional sources. Just a quick glance around the library shows this project is just as doomed. It really makes a difference to how you portray a real person's psychology whether you're playing in Howard Zinn's American history or Bill O'Reilly's.
  • edited June 2016
    Those two quotes from me were not meant to be put together
    Er, which two? The ones with the ellipsis? If so, here, I'll rephrase:

     
    Here is what I would say instead of Mark's yes: "No, not from movies, just be badass! Like if you could roll down railings on skateboards on your back and shoot things!"
    I think that's less informative, and here's why:
    they did try out some of those wild parkour stunts, one of them (the one who told me about the rule) had his pelvis shattered from swinging into a phone boot and then falling flat on his back.
    Rohit's not going to do that skateboard move if it's going to shatter his pelvis like it would in real life; he's going to do it if it actually works like in action movies. He needs to know what logic of consequence we're using before he can decide whether to skate or not to skate.

     

    Better? I wasn't trying to put connections in your mouth, I was just trying to respond to multiple things at once!
  • edited June 2016
    It really makes a difference to how you portray a real person's psychology whether you're playing in Howard Zinn's American history or Bill O'Reilly's.
    It makes a big difference, but I'm not sure it makes an incompatible difference. Whatever our sources, we're not gonna have immediate, total agreement on what's most likely, or most cool. I think a methodology is much more important to cohere on than a set of conclusions. If Zinn and O'Reilly both want to base their gaming on real world humans, then all they have to do for me to accept their input is something that's plausible by that standard. It doesn't have to be something I personally would have done. I dunno, this speculation is quickly becoming pretty abstract, because I don't think I could play anything with O'Reilly... Among reasonable people who actually want to play together, though, I think there's plenty of room for different takes. Just not quite as different as totally clashing genres and totally separate methodologies and the like. We need to be attempting the same project, but we don't need to agree on every detail of how it turns out. Ugh. Hard to talk about. Metaphors... wilting...
  • It wasn't my intention that your player with the skateboard should get a shattered pelvis.
    I was just bringing the parkour accident as an example of their dedication to trying things out. That skateboard stunt seems possible to me but if it doesn't to you then I'd understand you not wanting it in.

  • I guess you could phrase it as "fiction" vs. "real life", but it seems to me it's just different genres. There's plenty of fiction that's closer to your spelunking than to the Avengers.
    No there isn't. That fiction is just a thing I can watch or read. My spelunking is something I did.

    Roleplaying is also a thing I do. Thinking of it solely in relation to things I've watched or read is really unappealing to me. I've gotten great mileage out of doing the opposite.
    Fair enough. I guess we're approaching roleplaying differently. For me, I'm creating fiction. It can be inspired by real life and/or other fiction, but I'm making fiction, just like a playwright or an author. I'm not imagining I am my character, I'm telling a story about this person. Pretending to be someone else is, of course, an important appeal of RPGs to a lot of people, but for me I find it gets in the way of what I like about the activity.

    To be clear, I'm not saying I'm never inspired by real life when I game. What I'm saying is I'm creating fiction, and that fiction can be easily compared to other types of fiction, to see similarities and differences. It's much more difficult to compare it to real life.
  • I'm not imagining I am my character, I'm telling a story about this person. Pretending to be someone else is, of course, an important appeal of RPGs to a lot of people, but for me I find it gets in the way of what I like about the activity.
    Cool, we agree that these play modes both exist and are different.

    FWIW, I am not aligned with one play mode. I am a big fan of "let's create fiction" in many cases! My supervillain game is absolutely one of those.
  • edited June 2016
    That skateboard stunt seems possible to me but if it doesn't to you then I'd understand you not wanting it in.
    Not saying I want it in or out. Just saying I'd want to know how we'd handle it. I think (1) and (2) below are both fun and viable options, but only if we have some consensus on which one we're using:

    1) This should probably work because it usually works in action movies! Let's roll to navigate within that possibility space.

    2) This should probably not work and get you injured because that's usually what happens on the extremely rare occasions when someone is drunk or insane enough to try action movie stunts in real life! Let's roll to navigate within that possibility space.

    I can enjoy a game full of 1-style logic, or a game full of 2-style logic, or probably even a game full of a logic that's halfway in between. What's harder for me to enjoy is a style where I don't know if it'll be 1 or 2.

    Mark and I found it useful to clarify that our zombie apocalypse game would be 1, not 2, after initially failing to communicate about that dynamic at all.

    If I've failed to convey my ideas and opinions in this thread, well, I gave it my best shot! I should probably stop repeating myself and TL;DRing the place up.

    Everyone, feel free to run with whatever parts of this topic/thread you find interesting!
  • And unlike you and Mark, I can't enjoy either of those two options.

    Here are two options I could work with:
    3) We are awesome! Let's try awesome things like sliding on our backs on skateboards shooting the dead that have somehow stirred out of their graves! But (and this difference is important) let's avoid things that we know can't be done, even if some movie did them. But only those. If we think maybe they could work but we wouldn't be brave enough to try them in real life, let's go for them here.

    4) We are frail. Let's play out our frailty and our weaknesses in face of the horror of these shambling corpses.
  • I think a methodology is much more important to cohere on than a set of conclusions. If Zinn and O'Reilly both want to base their gaming on real world humans, then all they have to do for me to accept their input is something that's plausible by that standard. It doesn't have to be something I personally would have done. I dunno, this speculation is quickly becoming pretty abstract, because I don't think I could play anything with O'Reilly... Among reasonable people who actually want to play together, though, I think there's plenty of room for different takes. Just not quite as different as totally clashing genres and totally separate methodologies and the like. We need to be attempting the same project, but we don't need to agree on every detail of how it turns out. Ugh. Hard to talk about. Metaphors... wilting...
    I suspect you'd find it easier to play with O'Reilly than you think since so many existing RPG properties service extremely conservative or even right-wing values really really well.

    My point is that evaluating our fellow real world humans depends on our values and points of view, and even saying "yes, let's be real" isn't a methodology. If I look at you across the table and say, in all seriousness, that all virtue is compromised in the presence of the profane, and man's inhumanity is a full expression of his separation from God, and you say, in all seriousness, that religion is a mental disorder, then we're both calling to something within humanity we see as absolutely real, but we have incompatible views over what would happen (and worse, what it means). There are as many ways to see the world as there are people. Adding in fictional points of view is like adding the negative numbers to the set of counting numbers - it's still infinite and it's just as infinite as it was before.
  • I'm also okey using movies or literature references to help everyone get quickly the mood, setting-logic or detail level. For example, you can say the group is going against zombies but is it world war Z, evil dead, planet terror, walking dead or what? One reference and boom, there you are! At least that's how it works for our group, and many more if we could judge by the amount of licensed franchises that get their own roleplaying games.
  • Isn't this just another example of expectation clash?

    I don't think I've seen any fiction that wasn't grounded in reality in some way, two pieces of fiction that shared exactly the same assumptions, or two people who shared exactly the same idea of what realistic was.

    This is a fundamental issue in RPG design yet it seems constantly ignored or dismissed. Most systems just assume everyone at the table shares the same set of expectations and will make consistent assumptions. New players are left to play it by ear when it comes to getting everyone on the same page, and yet techniques which facilitate such are rare and even met with hostility (at least online).
  • edited June 2016
    My point is that evaluating our fellow real world humans depends on our values and points of view, and even saying "yes, let's be real" isn't a methodology.
    When it comes to NPC behavior, I think there's one simple rule that covers "realism" pretty well -- "incentives matter". As long as you and Bill and I can agree that the dungeon guard, having obvious incentives to guard his gold and fight from advantageous position, won't simply do the opposite for our adventuring party's convenience (the way an action movie mook would), then we're pretty well set.

    Beyond that, it's on us as responsible participants not to waste the group's time with unnecessary arguments over relative likelihood. (In my experience, most "realism" hiccups are actually that.)

    "Let's be real," when correctly parsed as, "Let's stay plausible," is extremely broad when it comes to humans. Human behavior is so varied that the range of it which is "likely enough to accept" is enormous*. It's not infinite, though, and the excluded portion is often the important one.

    *Just to connect this back to my opening post: Rather than revealing that we weren't on the same page, my exchange with Mark could instead have gone like this:
    Dave: "It probably makes the most sense that in a small community's desperate struggle for survival, authority would get centralized. So I think the Military Strategist should still report to the Leader, rather than being able to just declare strategic matters."

    Mark: "I'm imagining a history of quick attacks requiring quick response, combined with the need to not burn everyone out with a 24/7 siege mentality."

    Dave: "Oh! Cool." (In my own head: "My idea still seems slightly more likely to me, but now I can envision Mark's too, so no need to mess with it.") "Independent Military Strategist it is!"
    Also perfectly fine.
  • Right, that exchange would be fine by me also.
  • edited July 2016
    Interesting discussion here - fun to see how it brought out a variety of responses and preferences.

    I'm rather on Dave's side here, in the sense that I can definitely play either in "we're emulating fiction" mode or in "let's make this as real as possible" mode. I have definitely seen some approaches to gaming which blur that line dramatically (perhaps this is Sandra's approach with her group?), however.

    I think a big part of it is all about how we judge contributions to the imaginary space. The first - at least for me - is a matter of, "Hey, this feels right, and, also, it gives me stuff to build on later, makes me excited about the content of the game." The second is more open to, "Hey, I don't know how this would go. Let's talk it out, or do some research to find out."

    Perhaps ironically, the actual process of playing can be quite the opposite - more "in my head" in the fiction-emulation paradigm and more "in my character's head" for the "let's make it real".

    I think the distinction comes up especially when things break down a little bit in play, and the group tries to fix them.

    For instance, let's say a character does something strange. Maybe the player who is acting out that character's role is new, and missed some background, so they made a strange decision. Or a game mechanic or random roll (e.g. a Reaction roll) has created something which seems strange and inexplicable.

    In that situation, how does the group attempt to judge this action and find a way forward, back into the flow of the game?

    Sometimes it might be a question of, "Well, that doesn't really make sense based on what we know, but it would make the character into a great villain in the next part of this story - do you guys like that twist? Ok, then, let's move ahead - we can figure out why this happened later, or just ignore it because we all like this new dramatic direction so much."

    At other times, we might say, "Well, perhaps this means we don't know something about the character, or their circumstances. Let's look for some interesting justifications or simply accept that something is wrong here, and that we'll find out why later."
  • All of the various responses to your question, Paul, that I could think of, involves me repeating myself :D
    Like they're in a big dam now in our game and it's completely unrealistic with flying brains and screaming wizards. But. It's D&D physics, not movie physics. The game is the game. Books are books. Movies are movies. Like whenever a GM says "the camera pans over" I'm like:

  • Because I want to (and am usually able to) pretend that we're there, that we're them. And if a comic book is drawn to look like a movie, or a novel describes camera framing, or a movie employs "it was only a dream", I'm like nooooo… I was living it.
  • Sandra,

    It's a thing which could be entirely invisible up until the moment when it becomes a question of what happens when something goes wrong in the game. There are brains flying around, and suddenly someone made a mistake in describing something and everyone's confused. How do you (i.e. your group) go about fixing it and getting back on the same page together?

    As someone who is rather fond of the Threefold, I'd think you wouldn't find it odd to consider that there may be different ways to do so which don't play well together. :)

    I'm even tempted to make this into a three-sided thing, too, with "fiction", "reality/simulation", and "game" being possibilities.

    After all, I've seen groups which resolve disagreements like the one David describes by always referring to, "Well, which would make for the best game going forward?" "Oh, I think we should have a separate Military Strategist, because otherwise Julie will be rolling all the dice during a fight with the zombies, and that would invalidate David's character build."
  • We might have some agenda clash because we wanted to solve a "wait, what's going on" differently the other day.
    They started (for the first time since the group started) laying out the scene with pencils and dice and I was like "Yes… wait, no! Forget that" then I left the chair, went up to the wall and started going: "ok, imagine this is the dam wall, huge, and this is the golem…"
  • edited July 2016
    Like whenever a GM says "the camera pans over" I'm like:

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! This cracked me up. :)

    I think I've found constructive ways to roll with it, but that is exactly my instinct.
  • I think a big part of it is all about how we judge contributions to the imaginary space.
    Yeah. And the mode of thought those judgments put us in, as per your examples.
    I think the distinction comes up especially when things break down a little bit in play, and the group tries to fix them.
    Yeah. In my experience, fixing things enough so that we can move on in the moment is actually super easy, if that's all we care about. The hard part is doing that without damaging the group's process and rationale for future decision-making.

    And then I think some groups who've fallen prey to unreliable process have over-corrected by being insistent that "realism" or some other principle is the answer to everything.

    This is beyond game design, this is like society or civilization design.
  • edited July 2016
    Yes, good insights!

    And it also reminds me of Sandra's thread about "the transparency of method". Another take on why discussing this kind of thing in the open can really help build trust and keep the game functioning at "cruise altitude".
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