Asides, as Shakespeare Would Have Wanted

edited January 2008 in Story Games
Last night, as an 11th hour attempt to soak up my Watch Instantly minutes on Netflix, I started digging through old Doctor Who episodes and hit upon The Caves of Androzani. At a point early on in the episode, one of the main villains is receiving important plot information from a ethereal video screen and we, as the audience, are watching this from over his shoulder. A few steps back, but essentially over his shoulder. Several times during the scene the villain turns away from the video screen and tries to process the information while looking directly at us.

And I was all like, "Wait a minute. Are you talking to me, dude?"

It was, of course, a classic Shakespearean aside played up for full dramatic effect and with no hint of self-awareness. And it was beautiful. It got me thinking: do people do this when they roleplay? Simply discussing what your character is thinking or feeling at a certain moment, particularly during a difficult decision, seems fairly common. I believe I've done it, and I know I've witnessed it. And I know that certain games have aside-like mechanics (such as Inspectres' confessional). But I wonder if anyone regularly incorporates formal, dramatic, fourth-wall-safe asides in their own play.

I think I might try this soon.

Comments

  • Formal, no, but informal for sure. We'll often step back and discuss a character's internal life before jumping back in.

    I've also heard of games that codify the aside, soliloquy, or expressive monologue - this technique gets a bit of a workout in the Jeepform tradition, and there's a strong parallel in improvisation and (obviously) traditional theater. I think it's a great technique and would love to use it as a formal part of play for the right project.
  • Asides are a wonderful technique. So much good stuff can come from hearing about the inner dimensions of a character.

    In the long running free-form ars magica derived homebrew I played in with my friends, the Ennead, I apparently did a lot of asides like that. My character was the first character I ever played in role playing (this was my very first campaign). I don't remember it exactly, but a friend pointed out that while I often gave asides about what this character, Stellan, was thinking, I absolutely never did it with my second character: Caleth, who happened to be a formerly murderous psychopath who was a natural telepath and a mage. No wonder!

    In Doubt, the jeepform game, there are two parallel narrative threads: one is about the day to day lives of a pair of actors who are dealing with some difficult relationship issues, the other is the play that they are acting in together. In the daily events thread, there are no asides, the directions are to play the scenes with realism and naturalism in mind. In the play scenes, however, the players are directed to play it up for all the dramatic effect you can handle. Project, exagerate emotions, and give asides to the audience from the point of view of the character. Another fun thing is that a different set of players play the day to day actors vs. the actors in the play, so you get two different people being able to give a view of the same characters. Just one set of them is characters acting in character. Lots of beautiful play in there.
  • In my recollection, an "Shakespearian" aside is common as rain in gaming: every time someone makes an OOC joke. Many of Will's asides were mere jests, intended to keep the groundlings interested during otherwise "cerebral" or conversational scenes, and had nothing to do with conveying new, internal information. Quite to the contrary: they often relied on the audience having already had some hidden character aspect revealed, to make the puns and double-entendres even possible/comprehensible!

    On the other hand, I find formal asides to be pretty rare indeed. You might see OOC discussion, debate, and protestations ("Naw, man, your/my guy would NEVER do something like that; it makes no sense!"). But I, for one, can't think of a single time someone, in character, actually presented an aside as defined in the OP: explicitly speaking to the "fourth wall." Put another way: who's the fourth wall, in gaming? A spouse watching on occasionally, while knitting? Folks standing around a con game table?

    Maybe I'm being my usual pedantic self; but I'd say that if you answer, "the players, OOC, are the fourth wall," then you are not speaking of an aside anymore... or, rather, so much interaction qualifies as an "aside" that it loses formal utility as a term.

    [As an quick aside (heh), soliloquies are a-whole-nother breed of fish, and they happen routinely. IIRC, there's even a formal stage in a round of combat, in HERO System, expressly for such four-color exclamations and exhortations. And it's common as rain for situation or fact exposition via NPC monologue, by GMs.]

    Anyhow, I think use of formal asides in gaming could be an interesting technique for a game whose frisson hinges on players having OOC knowledge while playing IC. Note the term "hinges on!" If they do not provide a critical element to the tension of play, they are almost always going to seem forced, like a mustache-twisting villain in a melodrama. IMHO, of course.
  • Posted By: David ArtmanAnyhow, I think use of formal asides in gaming could be an interesting technique for a game whose frisson hinges on players having OOC knowledge while playing IC. Note the term "hinges on!" If they do not provide a critical element to the tension of play, they are almost always going to seem forced, like a mustache-twisting villain in a melodrama. IMHO, of course.
    Hm. While having that frisson is a really good reason to have asides and monologues in role play, they aren't the only way. The asides I made as Stellan were mostly small potato stuff, that I shared for humor or for simple reflection. They were well received. There are dimensions of our characters that would be fun to explore, but we just don't think to, mostly, in rpg, probably because of realism tropes (ie people who tell you what they are thinking IRL are usually *crazy*). But why be limited by the real world?

    Cell phone conversations would be a good "in character" in to use. Oh and in my play group's latest game of Primetime Adventures, we used a finger-wiggle miming typing on a keyboard to indicate that things we were saying were interpretations of the action as written on the fanfic boards. We even had some emails we sent around that were in that voice. Folks made up fictitious posters like "MollyRules", "BenisDead" etc.
  • I'll have you know there is nothing forced about mustache-twisting!
  • edited January 2008
    Cell phone conversations would be a good "in character" in to use.
    OK, THAT is a killer technique. "*sniff* I've gotta call my mom, dudes."

    *swipe* *run*
    (Edit because I read bassackards.)
  • The Confessional from Inspectres seem pretty close to a Shakespearian aside IMO.

  • Posted By: Emily CareOh and in my play group's latest game of Primetime Adventures, we used a finger-wiggle miming typing on a keyboard to indicate that things we were saying were interpretations of the action as written on the fanfic boards.
    In our game sessions, we constantly frame the session as if it were a television show. We frequently interrupt our in-game narrative with comments about what the bloggers are saying about scenes that just happened and predictions on where the show is going. Sometimes we also interject commercials that have some relevance to the story we're creating.
  • I guess I should have been more clear about what I meant as a Shakespearean aside. Specifically I meant the sort of dramatic aside which was common in Elizabethan theater but has since been overshadowed by the comedic aside that we commonly see today--especially in contrast to the self-referential aside.

    And that blogging thing is pretty hot.
  • Posted By: Eric ProvostThe Confessional fromInspectresseem pretty close to a Shakespearian aside IMO.
    I'd say it's more like a formal aside (as the OP wrote) or a soliloquy, but I'm a pedant. Maybe we should set aside (heh) the notion of "Shakespearian" until someone defines that more accurately than I have above. But I am fairly sure that if you actually look at Shakespeare's lines that begin [Aside], you'll see that they're rarely revelatory, far more often humorous than pensive, and quite squarely aimed at the audience (who often has gotten the "inside" info that sets up the joke through normal scenes and dialog). There's some revelations sprinkled in, sure; but even those are as likely to be banal historical facts or character introductions mid-dialog than "insights" or "Processing information" in the sense that we are seeing "into the mind of the character."

    Now, it might be too narrow a use of "formal" aside, but it's THIS sort of thing that I think the OP was driving at (from Macbeth):
    MACBETH, ACT I, SCENE IIIMACBETH
    [Aside]
    Cannot be ill, cannot be good: if ill,
    Why hath it given me earnest of success,
    Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor:
    If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
    Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
    And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
    Against the use of nature? Present fears
    Are less than horrible imaginings:
    My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
    Shakes so my single state of man that function
    Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is
    But what is not.

    BANQUO
    Look, how our partner's rapt.


    MACBETH
    [Aside] If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me,
    Without my stir.

    BANQUO
    New horrors come upon him,

    Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould
    But with the aid of use.

    MACBETH
    [Aside] Come what come may,
    Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.

    BANQUO
    Worthy Macbeth, we stay upon your leisure.

    MACBETH
    Give me your favour: my dull brain was wrought...

    Full Play Link
    Note how the blue text clearly signals to the audience that Banquo, Ross, and Angus do not hear what he's saying. THAT's the formal, "fourth wall" aside; that's some serious introspection and revelation--in fact, without it and one other like it later, we'd never get a glimpse at the nerve-wracking, anguishing temptation (or fate?) facing our tragic hero; he'd become a mere power-grabbing villain.

    And that's what first grabbed me about the whole notion of this thread: what would make that particular technique work, in play, to magnify theme or drive story or get at teh awesomez? Put another way, now that we have a strong identification of a formal aside, what bolts onto that to make it resonate and not be some strained, hand-washing, mustache-twisting cliche? (If that's not derailing things too much, of course?)
  • edited January 2008
    Posted By: Thomas DIn our game sessions, we constantly frame the session as if it were a television show. We frequently interrupt our in-game narrative with comments about what the bloggers are saying about scenes that just happened and predictions on where the show is going. Sometimes we also interject commercials that have some relevance to the story we're creating.
    This is so fun, isn't it? And a thing I noticed was that it gave us a lot of influence and power, in a very nonchalant way. The interpretations you come up with can put an entirely different spin on a scene. It reminds me a lot of how we would play in the free-form homebrew I first talked about. In between sessions we would talk for hours about the characters, world and the game, and those conversations mattered.
  • Posted By: David Artmanmustache-twisting cliche
    Again with the moustache-twisting. I swear, if you start on beard-stroking, it'll be pistols at dawn.
  • You've seen Dirk Dastardly, yes? He's melodramatic, yes? He twists his mustache, right?

    If you twist and stroke your own face fuzz while cackling and speaking in a snickering tone about nefarious plans, then YEP, you too are melodramatic. If not, you can rest assured I'm not doing anything duel-worthy to you....
  • So I know I've had out of character asides. In fact, I think I have them quite often. I'll be stymied by a particular situation and take the briefest of moments to proclaim to my fellow gamers the dilemma going on inside my character's head as a way of sorting out my thoughts. In the future, I'm going to try to handle them in character, with a cue much like the typing fingers or phone call, but more abstract. Perhaps an actual spotlight, if there is room in the budget.
  • You could go with chin-stroking, for introspection. Or a common LARP technique (usually used to designate OOC): "frame" your face with your hands open, like parentheses, then shift that frame and your head (a bit) so that your face isn't bracketed. Or, heck, just turn away from the group and speak a bit more loudly (so they can hear), which should be a clear signal that you're words are "off the table" or "non-visible."

    All cool techniques. Any ideas for system bits (or synergies) that would really shine, that would make such asides key to play, rather than a "generic" technique to which one might resort in any game system?
  • Epi, that's a scary picture. are you wearing pants? i don't really wanna know.
    um..."With Great Power" has the cool Thought Balloon thingee.
    it's one of my favorite things about the game.
    i think it comes kinda close to what you're talking about, at least as a mechanic/prop to help facilitate that kind of thing.
    it'd be neat if the Thought Balloon gave a mechanical advantage, and had to be passed around...maybe the gloating villian would have a prop to help them monologue more convincingly?
  • I've seen "Asides" done in LARP - where a player could make a "time out" gesture, and then make comments directly to the organisers, speaking as their character thought.

    Half the time? Supercool. Well worth pausing play for.

    The other half? Lame junk. A distinct pain in the ass.

    Occasionally, I wonder if there's a way to refine that.

  • Occasionally, I wonder if there's a way to refine that.
    Everyone gets only so many? Other players have to invite someone to do it?

    I'm thinking of using a variant of them in Under my Skin: have someone else give inner thoughts for a character while they are acting.
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