Archive for May 4th, 2008

Car Chase Stories, Part 1

2008 May 4

A while back I talked about telling the story of a fight and how we’re really bad at it. We don’t really know how to narrate fights without making them into competitive, strategic battles between different players. Movie fights aren’t competitive; instead, the people involved (director, actors, choreographer, cinematographer) are collaborating to tell the story of a fight. I think we should be able to do this too, but I wanted to try it out first on something a bit more simpler than a martial arts fight.

So I just bought some Hot Wheels cars.

Elements of Good Car Chases

1. The cars are perceived to be traveling really fast, but can always accelerate further or slam on the brakes, changing speed significantly.

2. There are constant near fatalities and close calls, but the cars (and their passengers) can get seriously banged up and will still keep going, generally until the cars fall apart or (more commonly) explode.

3. The cars are maneuvering a lot, not just traveling in a straight line. There are obstacles and complications in the route, which are overcome in exciting, unusual, and clever ways.

4. The protagonists’ car will never crash for a lame or predictable reason, such as driving in the oncoming lane (the other cars will swerve around them), but pursuers may be gradually eliminated in this fashion, since a lame death sometimes suits a lame antagonist. Cooler antagonists will have to be eliminated in an appropriately badass fashion.

5. The audience always has a sense of the relative positioning of both a) the cars involved in the chase and b) potential obstacles, including the cars of innocent bystanders. In this way, what happens should make “sense,” though the exact rules of reality and timing are often bent or broken.

6. There is ultimately some form of resolution; generally, the pursuers are left behind, the pursuers can no longer continue pursuit (they’ve crashed bad), or the protagonists have left the vehicle (perhaps after crashing themselves) and the drama continues on foot.

Now to start playing around with my toy cars…

Roleplaying 2.0

2008 May 4

The recent kerfuffle over Wizards of the Coast’s attempts to wrangle their open source content into being less open, has got me thinking about the future of roleplaying in an increasingly open source, self-created, and freely shared media environment.

A while back I hungrily devoured Chris “Long Tail” Anderson’s presentation on “free stuff” at the Nokia 2007 conference. Then, yesterday, Paul Czege linked me to Clay Shirky’s speech on the transition towards interactivity at the Web 2.0 conference. Both of these talks are very inspiring.

One of Shirky’s main points is that there is a growing shift from a model of media consumption to a model of media participation. Even things like the rise of fanfic (not one of his examples) point to consumers’ shared desire and expectation that they will become involved in the creation and dissemination of the things they like. And, in many ways, roleplaying is ahead of its time in this regard, having always held the door open (to one degree or another) for fans to create their own material to supplement or replace commercial products. In fact, it’s impossible to be a passive consumer of roleplaying. Even in the most railroaded of all dungeon crawls, players are actively engaged in a participatory manner.

However, I think both mainstream and independent roleplaying design has a strong tendency to try to replicate traditional print and audio-visual media, especially genre fiction novels and movies, which have a much more passive model of consumption and don’t allow as much space for “audience participation.” Roleplaying as an activity may demand a level of participation that’s higher than your average scifi novel or film — and consumers may independently create networks for exchanging material that they’ve created to supplement or replace commercial products — but it’s less often that designers and publishers try to actually make room for consumers to create and disseminate their own material that exists on equal standing (or is even recognized as superior to) commercially published material. This attempt by Wizards to rein in the OGL is definitely a step backwards.

It would be worthwhile for us to get better at this, I think.

For example, right after In a Wicked Age was released, there was not a day that went by where several new Oracles or Oracle creation projects / invitations were posted on Story Games. That is powerful stuff, and Vincent didn’t even expressly suggest people should create other Oracles, though he certainly got excited about it when they did, which helped build enthusiasm. Generally, though, the excitement spread because people saw how cool Oracles were and simultaneously thought, “Hey, I could do that at least as good as Vincent, at least, for this particular thing that I care about.” Wouldn’t it be cool if all of roleplaying worked more like that, and explicitly so? If everyone could be valued and supported for their contributions, whether they had “authority” as the original author / publisher of the material or not?