Sunday, December 20, 2015

What is Roleplaying?

Roleplaying is not like acting. Acting in a high school play or living the real moments of a fictional character, as method actors do, is very different from what is involved in a roleplaying game. Improvisational acting is similar but mainly for the improvisational aspect. The art of roleplaying has more in common with writing than acting, being more akin to the skill sets of novelists, screenwriters, and sequential artists, over that of the professional actor. Although the same undefinable characteristics of a trained thespian will enhance the quality of gameplay, it is the ideas in a story which fundamentally outweigh their inevitable presentation. Roleplaying is a heavily social activity, but ultimately relies on creativity and abstract thinking more than other human attributes.

                 Unlike Hollywood films, which often adhere to an excessive amount of story structure and use of archetypal characters to maintain industry standards, novels can tell stories with a large number of characters interacting in detailed  ways with little limitation to the pacing or overall length of the story. Roleplaying games are like novels because of this lack of constraint. They can be stopped, and then continued later and therefore are not intended to be completed in one sitting as is a film. As long as the sequences remain fresh and interesting, roleplaying campaigns can linger on for months with little structure and still be fun for everyone involved. By contrast, films without story structure often leave audiences feeling unsatisfied or even bored by the end credits. Of course there are exceptions, but the fundamental component to all successful stories is conflict.

                 The key to creating conflict is through motivation. Every human on the planet has dreams and desires, which motivate us every day to get out of bed and live our lives. As long as the characters have a specific goal which they are trying to achieve and obstacles in their way preventing them from success, then conflict will be inherent. Conflict ultimately creates drama and comedy, as our characters struggle to jump hurtles. Allowing the characters to overcome these hurtles through logic, creativity, and sacrifice, ultimately allows the players to feel productive as they achieved their objectives. This eventually leads to what writers call a story arch; by the end of the storyline the characters should have developed by learning, advancing, and overcoming adversity to achieve their goals and become better people overall.

                 For the new Game Leader, the basic idea is to move the story forward; interesting characters presenting bizarre or dangerous obstacles for the characters to overcome with an inevitable reward of experience and valuables. With cooperation from participants, the successful Game Leader will illustrate a diverse world and interesting stories in the collective imagination of both players and spectators alike. It is this ability to both organize and improvise a collaborative story which sets roleplaying apart from other storytelling mediums, requiring both astute social and mental capacities.

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