Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art

I picked this book up a little while ago, partly intrigued by the fact that the writer lives here in my little town. I finally starting reading it today being a little under the weather and having some extra time... From the back cover:

"Performance is a major part of fantasy role-playing games, and this book is about role-playing as a performance art. This work introduces an appreciation for the performance aesthetics of such games, and it provides the framework for a critical model useful in understanding the art - especially in terms of aesthetics - of role playing games.

The book also serves as a contribution to the beginnings of a body of criticism, theory, and aesthetics analysis of a mostly unrecognized and newly developing art form.

There are four parts: the cultural structure, the extent to which the games relates to the outside cultural elements; the formal structure, or the rules of the game; the social structure, which encompasses the degree and quality of social interaction among players, and the aesthetic structure, concerned with the emergence of role-playing as an art form."

Very academic, but I do find this type of take on RPGs interesting - I've briefly mentioned here before (blog name change since) how role playing is very much like improvisational theatre, and how it reminds me of an exquisite corpse, provoking a short discussion on a Canon Puncture podcast. I'm sure there are players that might find academics describing them as artists or actors to be silly or even somehow find such remarks offensive (hey, we're just playing our favorite game here!), but I think there's a lot of insight that can be gained from stepping back a bit and framing things in this manner, that may actually enhance our game experience.


Timeshadows said...

I am often dismayed by the 'No funny voices at the gaming table, please.' crowd who are insistent that the Role in RolePlay is only to be understood as 'Fighter, Thief, Cleric, or Wizard', and not the person detailed, however rudimentary, on the character sheet. As if 'acting' were beneath them, or a pastime of 'fruits', as it were.

ze bulette said...

Exactly. I thought the DM of the Penny Arcade/D&D podcast (Chris Perkins?) recently did an excellent job of portraying the tavern owner Barton, without overdoing it. His voice acting brought out personality and some laughter from the players but was never over the top or a distraction by itself.

Rusty said...

Excellent post. The words "role playing" often seem to get lost in the conversation. Using different voices, inflections, pacing, accents, are all part of it for me--although as you rightly point out in your comment above, it is important not to be a distraction.

And, to digress, I don't get all worked up as to whether or not the term "story-telling" should be used in reference in RPGs, when I do think in these terms, I think of "story-making" rather than "story-telling." When I am at the gaming table as GM/DM/CK/Ref, I think of it in terms of improv jazz--we're making music, not composing.

Don Snabulus said...

As I get older, I relish the role-playing more and more and the mechanics less. I'm not sure why.

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