Saturday, July 16, 2005

Creating and Re-Creating

Ginger Stampley's post here directed me to Lumpley on setting and source material, which somehow I'd glossed over when it was first written. I read it and my head started buzzing, and I hadn't even read the comments yet.

It's basically about trusting, enjoying, and exploring one's own power to create vs. subordinating that to the process of recreating another person's creation.

I think it's very healthy for everyone to recognize their own power to create, and to enjoy it, instead of leaving it to the "talented" people or the "experts." I think that the difference between creating "good" art and creating "bad" art is trivial compared to the difference between creating "bad" art and not creating, and therefore if something artistic is worth doing, it's worth doing "badly." (If I didn't believe that I wouldn't be playing the ukulele...)

This is all a new discovery for me, btw. Historically I have tended to shy away from doing anything unless I convinced myself I had attained some kind of competence in it.

This is, of course, paralyzing.

It led me to seek out arenas where there were no standards of competence to enjoy myself creatively. Roleplaying games are one of those areas. Language creation is another, though I killed that for myself by inventing standards of competence for it (involving knowing tons about linguistics) and obsessively trying to achieve them.

I think one reason many people react badly to things like the Forge is that they threaten to eliminate the sanctuary of roleplaying as a place where there are no standards of competence. In a culture unhealthily obsessed with expertise, which segregates people by their skills and denies creative pursuits to people without "talent," relegating them to appreciating creation and not participating in it, zones where those rules do not apply, where people just have fun and don't worry about their skill, are rare and valuable. People see RPG theory as threatening that sanctuary status.

One way we can shield ourselves from the culture's prohibition on original creation by people not designated as "talented" or "experts" is by, well, fanfic. By recreating things which have been produced by the designated experts, and creating variations on them.

I would not go so far as Vincent and say:

Here's me: fanfic is, across the board, inferior to original fiction. Our fetishization of source material is creatively unhealthy.
But I would say that the impulse to turn to fanfic rather than original fiction can be motivated by an unhealthy internalization of the cultural lie that creation is best left to experts. Maybe that's the same thing as "fetishization of source material," maybe not.

The basic idea of building on what has gone before, though, there's nothing creatively unhealthy in that, and it's been going on forever. Ben Lehman talks about it using the term "bricolage."

Vincent quoted Ron in this forge post where he revealed what he learned from Jonathan Tweet about the development of Over The Edge -- that the OTE rulebook as we know it is the results of the original playtesting, which took place in a much looser and less defined world, and created the Al Amarja we know now.

Ron and Vincent are understandably interested in creating games which can give you the kind of experience the original OTE playtesters had, rather than the kind of experience people who buy OTE had.

This reminded me of my one public effort at RPG design, Odyssey (In Terras Incognitas) and its origins. I originally wanted to try to produce a narrativist engine for Talislanta, but when I thought about what was the core story of Talislanta, I decided it was the original adventures of the wizard Tamerlin, discovering the world. That ended up diverting me into trying to create a game about discovering an alien world (whose theme was the degree to which the protagonists allow themselves to become part of the world, or retain their outsider identity). In the process the specifics of Tal got lost, but if I ever finish the game it will be a game about exploring worlds the players and GM co-create.

Talislanta:Odyssey :: Published OTE : playtesting OTE :: Firefly RPG : Prime Time Adventures in a vaguely Fireflyish style

One further thing popped into my mind...

Let's sum up first.

We've got several phenomena:

* Original Creation
* Fetishistic Re-Creation which denies the power of the re-creator do do anything original, and attempts to simulate/elaborate on the original but does not challenge or change it
* Creative Reinvention which takes something old and reinterprets it in terms of the new creator's choice, possibly challenging or changing it

I think the line between the second and the third is blurry. I'm not sure that the second ever *really* happens. I think people can't help creatively reinventing things, making them their own -- but they squelch themselves by not daring to embrace the fact that that is what they are doing, and so you get something like the second that is inevitably the third but is ashamed of it and minimizes itself.

Perhaps the line between the first and the third is blurry too, since what in the world is wholly "original"?

Perhaps creative reinvention is all that really happens; in some instances the reinvention is so great it approaches original creation, and in some cases it is so minimal that it approaches fetishistic re-creation.

Anyway, here's what I'm wondering...

What if theory is itself creative?

What if the "old school" forge posters and game designers were in the position of the original OTE playtest group, creating as they go along, and establishing a lot of "canon" as they did so?

What if Forge theory as it exists now is the equivalent of the OTE rulebook as it was published? The fascinating results of somebody else's creation, presented for people to accept, use, and elaborate on.... fetishistically?

Eh, probably not a perfect analogy.

Now I can finally go back and read Ginger's post. I had to get all that out of my head first.


Matt Wilson said...

What if Forge theory as it exists now is the equivalent of the OTE rulebook as it was published?

Totally. The terms and how they relate to each other remind me of how the Inuits have all those different terms for snow (it's the Inuits, right? I'm such an ignorant white American). New terms, or lack of them, will influence how you talk about games and how you design them.

On a related note, I got better at writing music when I learned the theory well enough not to think about it as much. I think RPG theory hasn't developed enough for that to happen yet, but man, when people know that stuff instinctually, there's gonna be some serious shit happening.

John Harper said...

I disagree (surprise!)

All the Forge stuff is not like the OTE setting, because it is instructive, not descriptive. When I read game theory, it is a tool that instructs me in a method to go about my own process of creation. Like the process of learning any creative discipline.

The OTE setting (and those parts of the game book) on the other hand, are descriptive of someone else's creative process, without any insight or instruction about how that material came about, and how I might go about making my own.

The Forge (and theory in general) is like a manual that teaches guitar chords, not a book of finished songs.

Ed H said...

The question of to what degree theory is analogous or identical to "creative writing" is a pretty deep one, and not one which has a simple answer. I knew that was pretty tricky when I made the analogy, which is why I put it in a "What If."

Anonymous said...

In a comment late in the thread I retract my hardline statement about fanfic, just for anyone keeping score.

Ed H said...

Cool. Sounds like we're pretty much on the same page about that, Vincent.

John Harper said...

You must not be disagreeing with me as much as you think, Lud. Because I think you're spot on.