Friday, February 27, 2009

Creation Stories & Character Creation

Every tradition includes its creation myth. In literate societies, the perception of the universe as a collection of objects raises the question of where those objects came from. These can offer meaning and become matters of dogmatic devotion, but they really offer little for everyday life, particularly in comparison to the role creation myths play in oral societies. Orality trains people to see the world as a process. That makes creation crucial, because it never ends. Creation becomes the chief occupation of all living things, and creation myths set the patterns that we continue to work out constantly.

I've had this on my mind as I've considered the One Map idea, character and region creation, and the problems with tone and direction that I've noticed with the game. I want the region creation to involve the recounting of the creation story—set that mythic tone right from the start. You should feel the depth of myth and history that gives rise to the region, gives rise to each place, and in the end, gives rise to each character. At the same time, it should emphasize that all of this has come down to your character, and it falls on you to make sure that it will all come down to your children the same way. The creation myth should set the patterns that play explores and recapitulates, and it should leave enough room that you could spend years exploring and recapitulating the various possible combinations.

I think I might use ritual phrases, the way Polaris does. The example of Polaris brings up another point about region and character creation, something that Willem wrote about recently on The College of Mythic Cartography: creation should involve warm-up exercises, and incrementally adding more complex rules (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). I've encountered some serious resistance to warm-up games when billed as such, but I think that warm-up games could sneak in under a different guise as part of the region creation. Maybe "Color/Advance" could play out as you describe your initiations, with the players on your left and right prompting you?

I have these as goals, but I haven't figured out how to accomplish them. If you have any ideas, advice, encouragement or other feedback, please comment!


Willem said...

You had me at "ritual phrases".

I do agree that at some point "warm-up games" need to stop seeming like "not playing the game yet". I think folks run into this problem with setting, character, and situation creation at times.

Setting expectations on the "stages of play" I think will help. I think few enough role-players play the kind of challenging emo-porn that almost demands some kind of warm-up (or pre-existing intimacy and trust), that they don't see the need to do jumping jacks just so they can play World of Warcraft.

I think you can solve part of this by taking a stand; Ben Lehman said somewhere that he wished (I hope I remember this correctly) he had made the candle-lighting mandatory, when starting a session of Polaris, but he chickened out because he thought he couldn't get away with such a request.

If you take a stand, and say: "Look. To play the fifth world, your imagination and emotional muscles will need to do some heavy lifting. We have raised the bar on what we expect out of these stories; we aim for maximum meaningfulness. So skipping the Stage 1 Warm-ups and Group-creation part will simply mean you don't have the same goals in mind as the designers".

Or some such.

Jason Godesky said...

I expect people will disregard rules. They do it with every other game, so why not mine? I can explain in a sidebar the importance of doing these warm-up games, but if you know, you'll do them anyway, and if you don't, my explanations won't convince you to try them. Unless I can play it more subtly; slip it in as part of the game, utterly undetected, save perhaps by those most skilled in improv games & storyjamming, who might see the sleight of hand I've done.

I think of the whole Fifth World as a big sleight of hand trick, engineered from the first step to trick people into trying out what a small slice of life in a sustainable community might feel like. I don't want to outright tell anyone what they should do about it; I want the emergent play to pull them into it. Why abandon that here? I know I can figure out how to do this subtly; it takes a little longer, yes, but I think the rewards make it worthwhile.

Willem said...

well put.

Josh Roby over on Cultures of Play I think mentioned that he sees this (warmed-up group) as highly accomplishable by designing play procedures that create it.

I have a poverty of imagination when it comes to believing that; but what the hell. I love getting my own ignorance handed back to me. :) Good luck!