I Can Get You to Do Anything

August 3, 2006

(from a conversation with Brand)

    I recently began suspecting that the reason I love roleplaying as a medium has a lot to do with the infinite canvas. I can tell roleplayers to do anything, absolutely anything, and they will be game for it as long as it’s part of an entertaining “game.” That’s really astounding.

    It’s sorta like scripting a piece of performance art. I could write a game for, say, 1 mature female, 1 boy child, a pianist, and a puppeteer. The woman and boy are Mary and Jesus off buying groceries at a market in Egypt (they’re still hiding from Herod). The pianist and the puppeteer collaboratively create the people and situations they encounter in the market, based on guidelines I lay out. Jesus and Mary react to these situations.

    AND PEOPLE WILL ACTUALLY PLAY THIS! Isn’t that nuts?! And that’s not even half the things I can get people to do, just by writing a “roleplaying game.” And that’s SO INCREDIBLY AWESOME.

To reinterate, what does “roleplaying” mean anymore?

I’d argue that it has come to mean people intentionally and collaboratively creating an experience.

It’s merely traditions and context and shared vocabulary that provides form to all this and makes it seem like a collective whole when really it’s a host of very different activities. How many different ways can you “create an experience”? How many different kinds of experiences are there?

Our river has run into the ocean.

5 Responses to “I Can Get You to Do Anything”

  1. Kuma Says:

    I’d argue that it has come to mean people intentionally and collaboratively creating an experience.You have to unpack ‘an experience’. If I plan a trip to the bowling alley with a bunch of friends, I’m intentionally and collaboratively creating the experience of going bowling together.I like the look-n-feel of this. But it’s just a hair too broad.

  2. Jonathan Walton Says:

    You’re right that it’s missing something. You could certainly consider the experience of going bowling together to be a kind of freeform larp (or write a game that you played while bowling), but that would require a certain brand of intentionality that’s not inherant in bowling itself. Hmm…In any case, this wasn’t meant to be a strict definition so much as an arrow pointing towards a vast, empty space waiting to be filled.

  3. Ian Says:

    I really dug the first half of your response to Brand:Actually, while you may find that kinda annoying, the lack of categories for different types of games is what I really enjoy about this moment in the history of roleplaying.The very lack of firm definitions is what gives the field its dynamism–as long as there are determinations within that big unknown umbrella, the very fact that we don’t have distinct categories is what gives us this rich interaction. Because we can all pass this same word (rpg) back and forth, we are better connected, even if more confused.

  4. Jonathan Walton Says:

    This is true. I wonder how long we’ll be able to call all of this stuff “roleplaying.” Sure, Andy’s floating Clinton’s term “story games” but I don’t think that is clearly distinguished from anything other than wargames (“war games are about war, story games are about stories”).Personally, I plan to enjoy this Golden Age.


  5. […] I noted several years back, I can get you to do anything (or nearly anything) by putting it in the context of a game. When we talk about “game […]


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