Skip to content
December 15, 2006 / jadettman

Roleplaying Games vs Story Games: a moment of clarity

Last night, I once again got to do the ‘faculty spouse’ thing. We went to an open house at The Dean’s home and then, afterward, we went to a very nice after-open-house party. It was a good time. Really.

Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about.

For a while now I’ve been paying attention to the Story-Games forum (link available in the sidebar) and trying to grok the whole Story-Games vibe. In general, the Story-Games crowd seem to be interesting people, some of whom have create some interesting games, and many of whom seem to have a different style of game play than I do, deriving enjoyment from different games.

Now, considering that these folks enjoy different games, in different ways, than I do, you may ask the all important question (that my wife has asked me in the past): ‘Why do you care what, or how, these people play?’ To which my answer is: ‘I am fascinated with all aspects of gaming. If I don’t understand something, I try to.’
Well, despite my continuing efforts, I do not grok why the Story-Games folks enjoy the games, and play-styles, that they do. I mean, on the one hand, I understand creating an interesting story but, on the other, I don’t understand why they prefer what they refer to as ‘non-immersive’ games.

Last night, during a conversation about the roles of politics, history and physics, and their differences in academia, which took place during the after-party, someone said something to this effect: ‘People are natural storytellers. Life isn’t a story. A story is the narrative we create for ourselves to communicate life.’

At that moment, I came one step closer to understanding why I find immersive RP more interesting and fun than non-immersive play.

Immersive play is an attempt to create fictional life. As players, we each take on the role of a character we’ve aren’t, and rarely can be, to briefly experience what it would be like to be someone else, make decisions that we wouldn’t or couldn’t make ourselves, and experience something beyond our own boundries. We may tell stories about our characters and what they did but we don’t do it until after the game.

It is important that we do it after the game because stories are history. Stories are the narratives that we create to communicate what happened in the past, to communicate life even if that life is a fictional one.

So then, taking this futher, the recent story-games that encourage what they call a ‘story now’ approach and ‘conflict resolution’ over the currently traditional ‘task resolution’ are asking players to create play as a historical context. They are more concerned with ‘what happened?’ (i.e. what is the end result) and less concerned with ‘how did this happen?’ (how did the end result come about).
And that is, I think, where our differences lie.

I find it much more interesting to see how a situation evolves and resolves organically, or perhaps emergent-ly, than concern myself only with the outcome.

Is this making sense to anyone else?



Leave a Comment
  1. Arref / Dec 15 2006 7:54 pm

    Most players I’ve met are right with your definitions there.

  2. Britt / Dec 16 2006 10:02 am

    I think you’ve described my goals as an immersive role-player quite well. I have only played one story game (Prime Time Adventures) and I did enjoy the story-writing aspect of it, but I think you really have hit on something with the idea of history-creation being subtly different from fiction-writing.

    Some (many? all?) story games also have some immersive element, e.g. in the game of Prime Time Adventures, we spent some time discussing the plot of the “episode” in a very meta way, but also dropped into short, real-time role-played scenes. So it does seem to be that in a story game, you want to go beyond the idea of writing a fictional story, and to create some element of real-life unpredictable drama that needs to be woven into the narrative, similar to the way that history tries to take a series of connected events and create a narrative from them that makes sense to people.

  3. Dan / Dec 16 2006 6:31 pm

    Interesting. I would say that I’ve always played in more immersive types of games, although on the whole I would say that Amber games, having a tendency to be about ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ have tended to be more somewhat less like this than some of the games I used to play back in the day, now that I think about it.

    I feel a bit like a PBEM game may have a tendency to be more like a story game in many respects, although I don’t really know whether this has to be the case.

  4. JP / Dec 17 2006 3:20 am

    Reading this I suppose I’m somewhat closer to the story end of the spectrum than the immersive end of the spectrum than Britt. I’d still say I’m on the immersive half of the spectrum though.

    I agree that any PBEM game will have a tendency to be more like a story game. I believe this to be the case because of the nature of the e-mail medium. In e-mail, more time is allowed to received and formulate responses than in normal games. This time lag encourages deliberation and “efficient” responses, i.e. it drives players and GMs to try to accomplish as much as possible in a single post so that you don’t wind up role-playing out four days of story over the course of four years. Of course, some games are very active, posting turns frequently, which I guess would help one overcome this tendency, as would the use of Instant Messaging or Internet Relay Chat.

    Another factory pushing the default tendency for PBEM games toward a story milieu is that it is most likely harder for people to feel “immersed” in e-mail. The players are each experiencing a different context when they read the messages, and of course all sorts of contextual/nonverbal clues can be left out if extra care is not taken.

    All in all, I’m looking forward to actually trying out a PBEM game and seriously playing it. I’m a player in Barriier Fall War, but we didn’t get very far in that game before it had to go on hiatus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: