Story, the product of play.
The first thing to note is that my use of the word ‘Story’ to describe the product of play is merely a convenient title for something that is actually quite difficult to pin down.
I’m put in mind of a poem by John Godfrey Saxe entitled Blind Men and the Elephant in which a goup of blind men encounter an elephant and each one perceives it quite differently from the other. The first man feels the elephant’s sturdy side and thinks it like a wall, the second feels its tusk and thinks it like a spear, the third feels its trunk and thinks it like a serpent … and so on. Each of the men has his own perception of what the elephant is and each of them is partly right, but none of them see the whole thing.
Like the elephant in the poem, roleplaying is many things to many people and in its widest sense the product of play is simply a group experience that presumably provides some pay-off (reason to play) for the individual participants. Each member of the group perceives that experience independently and ‘play’ may well represent something quite different to them than their colleagues, although there will be some overlap.
This phenomenon exists both across the game experience as a whole and within the unfolding narrative, where the same description of James Bond say might well be imagined quite differently by each of the members of the group:
There is no intrinsic harm in this but there must be sufficient accord between players so that discrepancies in perception do not produce clashes in understanding as the events unfold.
One of the functions of the Game system is to manage this by providing means to determine what is ‘fact’, normally through game rules that prevent or settle disputes… but that’s another topic.