Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Coming Home

I left off yesterday with the question: where do you find the storyjamming equivalent of re-incorporation and the hero's return? This forms a crucial part of the journey; the separation meets us in the ordinary daily life we inhabit, and then breaks us away from it to enter the liminal space where we participate in the raw power of ambiguity and plenipotential—where "anything is possible." But then, all too often, our stories stop. Instead of an ending that brings us back into the ordinary world, enriched by our experience, we cut the story off right there. Freytag's classic pyramid of dramatic structure seems lopsided against time: we spend nearly all of our time with rising tension, then hit our climax, and fall precipitously towards the end. If a story has a denouement at all, it happens quickly, like an epilogue. Many writers say that falling action has an inherently boring quality. But a meaningful story—a story worth telling—leads you along a journey. What does it say if it picks you up for a ride, shows you incredible things, and then abandons you in an unfamiliar neighborhood at the end of the night?

I think we have trouble with the re-incorporation phase of stories in our tradition because we come from a people who have spent the past 10,000 years homeless and rootless. In his book, Against the Grain, Richard Manning outlines the history of agriculture and its ancient unsustainability. As Derrick Jensen put it, "Forests precede us and deserts dog our heels." The center of Western civilization keeps moving west as the consequences of our actions chase us around the world, and we move west to find some place that we haven't yet turned into lifeless desert. We have told our children for generations now, at an increasing pace, that fortune and opportunity lie not at home, but over the western horizon. It has turned us into rootless wanderers, so our myths and legends honor rootlessness and wandering. Our classic heroes come, like Beowulf, from somewhere else, and when they have solved our problems, like the the classic hero of Western films and books, he rides off into the sunset—into the west.

We romanticize our pathology. Because of our experience of rootlessness, the theme of coming home holds little allure for us. We don't know what it means. I think that goes a long way to explaining why we have allowed this crucial part of our art to atrophy so severely. In a very real way, we've gotten to the very root of rewilding here—how to perform this grand group therapy to heal this wound and reconcile our abused Land and our dysfunctional Family. To become native means to come home. If we knew a good story about how to come home, we could follow it—and come home.

The Fifth World tries to tell a story about coming home from start to finish. Its strong bioregional focus keeps tying the way we live and the stories we tell back into the landscape. I have no excuse to neglect re-incorporation. Warm-up games seem comparatively easy—they move us towards the liminal storyjamming space we want to go. But a good re-incorporation moves us in the opposite direction, back towards our daily lives. In Soul Hunters, Willerslev describes storytelling itself as the re-incorporation of returned Yukaghir hunters. The return to human language re-humanizes them, and putting their experiences into human terms allows them to synthesize what has happened, and bring it back with them into the human community. From this perspective, the entire game seems like an act of re-incorporation; but even if it does work that way, we still have a complete journey sub-set into that re-incorporation, which still requires some re-incorporation of its own.

Willem has suggested a few techniques that provide some excellent starting ground for our explorations. Like warm-up games, you can think of re-incorporation in terms of the "cool-down" needed after exercising your other muscles. Willem also suggested using the ORID debrief method:
  • Observe. What happened for you? What happened for the group? What critical moments did you experience? What did you learn from success and failure?
  • Reflect. How did what happened compare with your expectations? With stories you had heard? With your interests? What personal "a ha" moments did you experience? Work group "a ha" moments?
  • Interpret. What in this applies to your daily life? What defined this experience for you? For the group? What got in the way?
  • Decide. Do you want to do some things differently in your daily life as a result of this?

As Willem points out, this weaves the story back into our real lives, and brings it home. I think most gaming groups already do something like this, sticking around to discuss their game experience for some time after it has finished. But I also think that most gaming groups could get a lot more from that discussion with a framework like this. Just like we've had to find clever ways to weave warm-up games into the game itself, so that we don't feel like we haven't started the real game yet, or that we can cut this part, it will also take some clever design work to weave this part, too, into the game experience, so that players don't just throw it aside as good advice at best.

This pattern sets some clear design challenges, but I've done a lot of theorizing now. Tomorrow, I'll get down to some game ideas, and what kind of clever, elegant techniques we might come up with to make this work.


Willem said...

I have a thought. Another facilitation technique called "Temperature Reading", used for wrapping up a debrief (so, debriefing a debrief), that I think applies here runs thusly:

1.Appreciations (I appreciate [name] for...")
2.Puzzles (open ended questions, that we don't try to answer to today)
4.New Information
5.Hopes and Wishes

I think all of these have an important contribution to make, but I especially like Appreciations (as a non-reward based Fanmail mechanic), and Puzzles (as a way to say, "I wonder how Gray Bard will block Watcher in the spirit world"-type stuff about the story).

Anyway, "facilitation techniques, meet story games. I think you two have a lot to talk about." haha :)

Giulianna Maria Lamanna said...

It occurs to me that Primetime Adventures is uniquely suited for this. It's already got the "pitch session" at the beginning of the season, and a "next time on..." at the end. One could easily expand both of those existing features to get something like what you've described here.