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23972Re: [mythsoc] RPG fiction

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  • David Bratman
    Dec 23, 2012
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      To "Joshua Kronengold" <mneme@...>

      I think the discussion of whether what has been called, by various people,
      gaming- or RPG-style fiction, has reached the limits of its fruitfulness in
      regards to how well it fits the variety of contemporary RPG practice, not
      least because of the limitations of my knowledge of that subject.

      But about the kind of storytelling I was referring to, whether or not it's
      exactly what Dale and Larry were referring to, I can say this:

      1) It does exist;

      2) You can call it "early D&D style" if you want to; in regards to itself,
      and apart from critiquing RPGs for RPGs' sake, which I have no interest in
      doing, the label is unimportant;

      3) It is not merely "bad RPG", as some have tried to categorize the style
      depicted in "DM of the Rings";

      3) It has been very, very popular and attracted many, many people, as the
      huge surge in popularity of D&D in those days proved, and as demonstrated by
      my friends who kept playing for decades the very game that I walked away
      from in boredom - these are smart people with quite sophisticated tastes in
      fantasy literature;

      4) Whatever else may also be going on in RPG land, this style is still
      around in gaming today and still popular, as "DM of the Rings" demonstrates;

      5) It has been hugely influential on written fantasy literature and on film;

      6) It didn't start with gaming, as my cite of William Morris intended to
      show; in fact, I think that D&D was invented to fill a desire for this sort
      of storytelling;

      6) I find it wholly unattractive and failing to meet my wants and needs in

      Its salient characteristics are:

      1) A detachment of the protagonists from the story and the landscape, either
      in the form of the lack of an overarching plot, when the characters are just
      out seeking for Adventure, or, if there is one, a sense - frequently
      mentioned by the author of "DM of the Rings" as what he tries to create -
      that the characters are riding along it on rails.

      2) A front-loading of backstory, which the reader is supposed to care about
      before having any reason to, i.e. before becoming captivated by the
      characters (a particular flaw of Jackson's in contrast to Tolkien).

      3) An absence of depth: everything is there for the purpose of serving the
      plot, not for its own sake (a particular flaw of Morris).

      4) A quotidian approach to character motiviation; they're there to advance
      themselves rather than a greater cause (a particular source of hilarity in
      "DM of the Rings").

      5) A mechanistic treatment of magic and even of fighting (strangely, the
      worst example of this I've read was in Thomas Berger's "Arthur Rex").

      6) A sense that the created world is minute and limited, and that there's
      nothing significant or relevant outside of what's known to the reader,
      unless it's pulled out of a hat as a deus ex machina. (This contradicts
      point #1, and mostly comes from tabletop board-gaming rather than D&D-style

      7) A pressure on the reader to identify with the protagonist as yourself or
      a person you could be, rather than as someone you like and care about as a
      separate individual. (Emphatically not limited to this kind of fiction.)

      Again, a lot of readers seem to like and want this. They flock to stories
      told in this manner, and, most interestingly to me, they try to assimilate
      The Lord of the Rings into this kind of storytelling. (Point 6, the most
      directly antithetical to Tolkien, is particularly striking in some criticism
      of the actions of Tolkien's characters, particularly by a writer named
      Michael Perry. They sound as if they think the characters' mistake was not
      having read the book first.)
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