Monday, September 10, 2007

Of Storytelling and Message Board RPGs

A huge focus at the ETC is properly educating us young'ens, as potential game developers of the future, about the intricacies of storytelling. Today's ETC Fundamentals class was focused on "The New Poetics," which takes Aristotle's Poetics and applying it to digital media, as done by Janet Murray. What this means is in addition to the Plot/Character/Theme/Diction/Music/Spectacle elements, adding the new element of "Interactivity," which is further explored in Murray's text.

This all reminded me of message board roleplaying, which I used to do quite a bit in high school and early college.

Yes, I'm a geek, I embrace it. Let's move past that...

Anyway, message board RP was only enjoyable up to a point, even if you were participating with fantastic writers and storytellers. It seemed doomed to fail for several reasons. One was that, inevitably, the back-and-forth turn taking would be disrupted by one party getting busy with other things, leaving the other waiting anxiously and unable to take his or her turn. The other big obstacle was that often, when engaging in a good story with one or two other people, other characters would post (and why not, if they saw how well the story was going and how much fun people were having), usually disrupting the flow of the current story to take it in the direction they wanted.

I remember the Tribes message board as being a fantastically set up forum. The creators had outlined a detailed and thoroughly fleshed out world in which the stories were set, and had constructed an engaging ruleset about the character "classes" one could play. They even made you have the character you created screened before you could start a thread with it (which some people found restrictive, but I found quite successful in adding to a believable world).

However, even though the set up was really good, and even though several engaging and interesting (for both participant and casual reader) storylines started up, they often suffered the same "doomed to fail" symptoms that I listed above.

Something that contributes to this in most message board RPs is the well intentioned rule: "Do NOT control other people's characters." Now, don't get me wrong, I see why that rule is in place. It's so people can't come in and take over and make people do things they weren't intending to do. However, it's the biggest contributer to the turn-taking failure when one party goes mysteriously absent. The story stops.

What of this exercise (and alert me if it's being done somewhere, because I want to go watch). Engage the RP as normal for several posts (because they always seem to be really good for the first 4 or 5 posts when the characters and inciting action are introduced). But then call a halt, let the participants grab what's been created, go off on their own, and write a story from what's been done so far. Then come back and share with each other their different stories.

I think this would be delightful! And it would get over the "don't control my character" touchiness in that you are not creating an avatar for yourself when you make a character, but rather simply a character, one that's fleshed out a bit and can be used. I think this would be fun for all parties involved, even if it did result in vastly different storylines.

Part of the reason that this appeals to me is that I am TERRIBLE at writing beginnings and endings. But oh, middles! I have tons of middles! All my secret writings that I hide away consist of middle upon middle upon middle. Oh to have a little help with the beginning and then to fly away with what I've been given. And the characters are already created and named, you just take them and make a story based off of what you know and what has been established so far.

I mean, is this not the same allure of fanfiction?

So, is this exercise being done anywhere on the net? And if so where, because I want to see how it turns out? And if not, someone should start it, because I want to play :)

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