Roleplaying and Writing: East Is East and West Is West, Or Is There a Place the Twain Can Meet?
Originally posted by NightBird on Monday, June 2nd, 2008 - 06:16 AM
It strikes me from time to time that there are two distinct concepts of what we 'do' on the forums. A lot of us talk about the games that we're in, and use various concepts from the world of roleplay as entertainment that developed from the original pencil-and-paper roleplaying games. There's also a lot of talk that refers to what takes place on the boards in terms of the methods and process of writing fiction. Sometimes there even is some degree of tension apparent between the two. Nothing strained, don't get me wrong, but more a sense that people tend to self-identify as one or the other.
I wonder, though, if the distinctions between the two are really all that significant. Modern roleplaying games were strongly inspired by various genres of fiction, from westerns to horror, from fantasy to science fiction and a whole lot of places in between. Some elements were even closely-enough descended that we'd probably think of them as a sort of 'fan-fic' today. The influence of Tolkien on Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) as just one example should be obvious to anyone with a familiarity with The Lord of the Rings and early versions of the game. The Ranger character class, several monsters and the original non-human races all stemmed from Tolkienian archetypes, to the extent that legal pressure turned the hobbit into the halfling. Gary Gygax openly acknowledged the conceptual heritage from which the game developed.
It's not just D&D or the many other systems developed since then that show this connection. Freeform roleplaying in a text-based environment simply is a form of collaborative fiction, and even when writers team up to write something for publication, they set parameters that correlate to the rules/etiquette we go by here on Elliquiy. For that matter, one can make a case that every roleplaying game session is an episode of collaborative fiction.
Why? Because it's all storytelling. We know storytelling existed before alphabets allowed it to become writing, simply because the first stories we've found in ancient societies at the point of becoming literate already had the form of polished, even potentially forumulaic story structures. All pre-literate human societies about which we know enough to make reasonably clear assessments have also told stories. Most of these stories fall under the heading of 'myth,' which, essentially, means a story a certain culture has internalized for its power to explain, motivate or comfort. In short, to make sense of the world and those who live in it. It's been asserted that the popularity of roleplaying games has something to do with that search for meaning, that roleplaying lets everyone who participates to be the star of their own perspective of the story collaboratively created, an attractive prospect when we live in a world that often seems impersonal and dismissive.
One other function of stories seems quite apt when thinking about roleplaying here on Elliquiy. The story draws the storyteller and the audience into a shared imaginary space where the limitations of the everyday world do not exist. Ideas can be explored in stories that people would never enact in real life, but, because of the human capacity to imagine, to immerse awarenes into the story, it can be vicariously experienced. Psychotherapists figured out the power of the psychological reactions to immersion into story, and educators have proven that the roleplayed experience influences later performance.
This immersion, then, is a powerful thing, all through the process of storytelling, whether you categorize it as roleplaying or writing.