Narrative Paradigms in RPGs

Via “Rock Scissors Blog”: : an article by John Kim entitled “Story and Narrative Paradigms in Role-Playing Games”:

Kim distinguishes between regular stories (his term is ‘static narrative’) and RPGs using some basic concepts from Todorov and Genette that gave me unpleasant flashbacks to fruitless dissertation-research avenues. But they work pretty well for what he’s doing: a quick glance at his Figure 1 and Figure 2 illustrate how thorny and complicated an RPG is from a narrative perspective.

While I like the framework he sets up in the beginning, I’m less convinced of the usefulness of the two paradigms he draws from it: “Collaborative Storytelling” and “Virtual Experience”. Respectively, the distinction is between those who think that “shared play” — what gets said over the table — comprises a game’s story and those who see it comprised by all elements of the game — notes, character sheets, background stories — in addition to shared play. That’s a valid distinction, but I can’t think of a gamer I know who would fit clearly into one paradigm or another. Further, his Virtual Experience paradigm doesn’t distinguish between the relative value of different game texts when it comes to their importance in the shared story. A gamemaster’s notes obviously have much less importance in that regard than, say, a short story written by one of the players to provide background and insight into their character.

All in all, it’s an essay well worth reading, and will hopefully lead to more fruitful discussion, though the paradigms aren’t near as useful as the “threefold model”: that Kim helped to shape back in the day.

While we’re on RPG theory, “Ed Heil’s”: “Notes Towards a Semiotics of Role-playing Games” is worthwhile too. He’s writing informally, making it up as he goes, but Ed writing this way is way more engaging than most folks writing with polish. The parts so far: “1”:, “2”:, “2a”:, “3”:, “4”:, “5”: They’re from back in July/August, and I was going to wait for Ed’s thoughts to come to completion before linking to them, but this looks to be one of those ongoing things. Give them a read and encourage him to pick up the thread again. (UPDATE: Ed has added another entry on the subject “here”:

UPDATE: Going back to reread Ed’s stuff, I realized that his Part 4 directly touches on some of the issues in Kim’s essay. Ed directly raises the question of whether game texts help _form_ the narrative or just _support_ it. My hunch is that in just about every case, there’s blending going on. I don’t want to relegate game texts to a merely supporting role.