Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Storytelling is like roleplaying...

So, posts have been few and far between. I apologize for that. Believe it or not, Storytelling students do have a lot to do around the end of the semester! Like, writing papers on werewolves. And sirens. And the lost oasis or Zerzura. And Aicha the demon-hunter. And... stuff. Not to mention gigs and performances.
Anyway. Semester is officially over now. It was great, and a lot of fun! And there is another one coming up, right after the holidays...

Here is the big news: during the Spring semester, for the first time in its history, the Storytelling department is starting a course in Collaborative Interactive Storytelling.
Which, ladies and gentleman, is a fancy name for roleplaying.

Yup, that's right. Time to break out the dice and the character sheets, storytelling students are taking over the gaming world!

(Nerd alert, read on at your own risk)

It kinda, sorta, started with me. *toe kicks dirt* We played Changeling with my classmates, and had tons of fun doing it. Have you ever played any roleplay game with professional storytellers before? It was a blast! We are living it, and doing it, why not play it? Changeling (the Dreaming) is the perfect game for storytellers.

Well, some time later, going home from a gig, we started talking about it to Dr. Sobol in the car. We brought it up as an example of storytelling improvisation, and mused about the Jungian implications of Changeling (believe it or not, there are quite a few. Not a die-hard Jung fan, myself, but it does fit the shape we have been wrestling with all semester). Anyway, conversation went on, and we ended up with "hey, we do need a special topic for next semester's Storytelling Performance class..."
And the idea was born.

Basically, the class will look like this: we will talk about roleplaying as a cultural phenomenon; we will discuss some background and history. We will talk about how roleplay games figure into storytelling, and vice versa. And, naturally, we are going to play a series of games to test the theory. Right now, D&D, Changeling and Werewolf are on the menu, with a side of samples we probably will vote on (my choices would be 7th sea, Pendragon, Piratas!, or Star Wars, but that's just me). Then, in the second half of the semester, we are going to build a game world together, and create a storytelling performance that presents to people what gaming is.
And we shall have a lot of dice.

When I tell my friends I'm going to be roleplaying for a whole semester for graduate credit, I get all kinds of reactions. Mostly along the lines of "What the..." and "I hate you!" (of the nice kind). Gamers generally applaud the initiative.

But, seriously. Wanna know why a storytelling department is interested in roleplaying?
Read on! With the authority of someone who has been a gamer for 11 years, and a storyteller for 6, I present you:

Things gaming and storytelling have in common

1. "It is like writing a story, but with other people."
When you are playing a roleplay game, you are essentially creating a story together. It has a beginning, it has characters, it has a plot, and adventures, with the occaisonal monster thrown in, and then it has an ending, hopefully the successful kind. Some adventures follow the Hero's Journey quite closely; others meander away from the trodden path to create a whole new story no one heard before. In the present, sitting down together, us players give birth to new stories every time we play.

2. Adapting to the audience
When you are a DM (Dungeon Master), GM (Game Master), ST (Storyteller - isn't that just adorable?), you are telling a story while the others play the main characters in it. You have to twist and tweak your pre-planned tale every time they do something, to be able to tell them what happens next, and keep them on track for the plot you have planned. Or, in my case, kinda planned. You have to be ready to improvise to fit their mood, their characters, their decisions, their experience lever, and their personal tastes. Again. Just like storytelling, your version of the tale is born in the moment, based on feedback from your audience.

3. Brings people together
Just like live oral storytelling, live gaming (also known as tabletop gaming, as opposed to online gaming) brings people together. You sit down with your friends, cover the table with character sheets, maps, dice, books and notoriously unhealthy snacks, and you spend hours talking, laughing playing together. It doesn't get any better than that. Actually, this is why I prefer live gaming to online games, just like I prefer live storytelling to watching a video: it happens in the moment, and it is a community experience. We are in desperate need of those.
Storytelling and gaming also teach teamwork. In a roleplay game, you are part of a group that has to accomplish things while working together; in storytelling, you work with your audience and give them a collective experience of sharing a tale.

4. Teaches values
Courage, teamwork, logic, creativity - just a few things stories and roleplay games can teach people. Playing together a game of any kind is a valuable experience, especially for children - just like listening to stories and having discussions about them. Children instinctively seek out both forms of entertainment: they were born longing for stories, and born ready to play. And besides, as it has been pointed out recently (see further readings), some games are great for teaching simple math...

5. Myths and legends
Many games are based on world folklore and mythology; some more than others. Both gaming and storytelling carries on the characters, motifs and tales people have been fascinated with for long centuries. Gaming is rapidly creating a moder folklore where everyone has a chance to chime in... just like storytelling.

6. Shared memories
Good stories stick with you for a very long time; our brains are wired in a way that make it easier to remember things through narratives rather than as data. Your favorite tales are with you all your life. Same with gaming; there are adventures you will never forget, and talk about them every time you sit down with fellow gamers. Just to have a laugh.

7. Great fun!
That needs no explanation. Never underestimate the power of fun.

8. Nobody believes it is useful
That is why we have to explain it over and over again.

9. Creates a community
Wherever you go as a storyteller; you will always find other tellers to talk to, who are going to be unbelievably nice and friendly to you just because you are a storyteller too. Because they are nice people. And if you meet other gamers, you have at least one common topic to break the ice...

See? I bet our storytelling class will get a lot out of gaming together. If nothing else, definitely a bunch of good stories to tell...

Once a gamer, always a gamer.

Further reading:
Everything I know I learned from Dungeons and Dragons (Awesome book! The Bridget Jones of the gaming world.)

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