Definition of roleplaying revisited
Roleplaying: A game in which participants control imaginary characters within a shared fantasy
For those who haven’t been following the discussion, my reason for replacing ‘coherent fantasy’ with ‘shared fantasy’ is that ‘coherent’ means ‘having no contradictions’ whereas ‘shared’ merely means ‘jointly owned’. This change acknowledges the fact that numerous contradictions exist within the fantasy as a whole (e.g. one player can think that a character’s eyes are brown and another that they are blue)
Arguably, ‘shared’ may not be the best term to use either but, given that the overall fantasy is a composite of similar fictions owned by the individual participants, it seems suitable enough for me.
I also like the fact that this definition remains accessible and doesn’t sacrifice clarity for precision, which was the case with my intermediate attempts. Once again thanks to Tommi for his good advice on this.
Hopefully this will be the final version; though if anyone wants to raise any further issues they are more than welcome to do so.
Next I shall be turning the focus of my RPG Theory Journey towards the processes of play, in particular the creation and alignment of the participants’ individual fantasies.
For the time being the analogy I find easiest to consider has the imaginings of individual participants represented as coloured threads and shared facts (statements about the fiction that are either agreed or communicated into the group consensus) as anchor points that draw these threads together.
In the diagram below each of the different coloured threads represents the imaginings of an individual participant and the anchors/’shared facts’ serve to keep these individual imaginings moving together from left-to-right across the page.
Obviously if there were no anchors (shared elements such as scene descriptors, character intentions and action outcomes) the individual participants’ imaginings would be free to go off in all directions. It is only as a result of their unifying influence that the participants are able to interact as though they were experiencing a common fantasy.
Consequently governing how shared facts are established and who has authority over them is a large part of play.
For example, in many roleplaying games a participant has authority over the actions of their own character and can freely introduce character actions to establish intent within the shared fantasy. However the participant may not dictate the outcomes of these actions, which must be established through arbitration e.g. a die roll to determine success or failure.
Anchors – Process or Fantasy?
One thing that Tommi’s questions have led me to consider at some length is, where do these ‘anchors’ fit in my model of roleplay? The fact that they:
1. are typically communicated as part of narration and;
2. form the backbone of the fantasy
points to them being diegetic. However, after much thought, I would assert that they are elements of the process and thus non-diegetic. In fact all game description and narration is process, since fantasy is entirely in the minds of the participants. Description is a means of communicating information from one person’s fantasy to another or for establishing ‘shared facts’ that will enter into all of the participants’ imaginings.
As always, I welcome any thoughts anyone has on this.