2008-05-12 : Expressionism in Roleplaying

I think it was Cape Fear, the original. Emily and I watched it a bunch of years ago. There's this one moment in the film. As I understand these things, it's an example of the influence of German Expressionism on American Film Noir.

The villain is going to come into her house and kill her, right? In this moment she comes down the stairs or around the corner into the front hallway. There in the shadow behind the door is a guy - long coat, hat pulled low, hunched shoulders, this sinister figure we can't quite make out. Quick reaction shot, she startles and covers her mouth or something, and then we cut back: it was just a coat stand. Hat on one hook, coat on the one below, maybe an umbrella at the bottom too. She only THOUGHT it was a guy. The director had an actor stand in for the coat stand to give us her point of view.

So, sure, German Expressionism influencing Film Noir, no big.

Here's a made-up moment from a roleplaying game. It's Poison'd. I'm playing Ned McCubbins, murdering pirate; Mitch is playing Ned's shipmate Filthy Peter. Emily's the GM.

Me: I come up behind Filthy Peter while he's leaning against the rail watching the lights of Kingston. He has no reason to fear me so I don't bother sneaking.
Mitch: [narrowing his eyes]
Me: I put my pistol against the back of his head and blow his brains out through his face.
Emily: Cool. Roll brutality vs soul to attack someone unsuspecting.
Me: [rolling] Mother crap.
Mitch: Ha ha.
Emily: You flinch at the last second, and so do you, and the bullet opens his scalp above his ear but doesn't blow out his brains at all. Filther Peter, what do you do?
Mitch: Oh I bring the fight, oh yes I do.

I propose that "blow his brains out through his face" exists in our Poison'd game the way that the guy in the shadow behind the door exists in Cape Fear. It doesn't turn out to be real, but it sure does matter.

1. On 2008-05-12, Julie, aka jrs said:

Ah. That's a thing. I want to say it's a "no brainer" (excuse the pun), but I think the introduction of a very specific visual image associated with "murderous intent" (and having full authority to do so) is more important than that.


2. On 2008-05-12, Marco said:

Is there some context I'm missing here? Where are the threads that suggest this is controversial?



3. On 2008-05-12, Vincent said:

Oh, no threads. It's probably not controversial.

I think it's a neat connection; I'm all pleased with myself for drawing it.

It may turn out to be groundwork for this thing I want to say about "setting" the supernatural dial in Dogs in the Vineyard, which may in turn turn out to be controversial, but I don't know yet.


4. On 2008-05-12, Z-Dog said:

I know when players say, "I kill him," it's interpreted as, "I'm now going to roll dice to attempt to kill him." With the GM, it a whole different ballgame. Say, before rolling dice, the GM says, "He stabs you in the stomach and your guts spill out" everyone at the table jumps.


5. On 2008-05-12, Arturo G. said:

The trick works nicely when the system invalidates a declared intention. But if someone (with authority enough, let us say a GM as a director) tries to do it directly, telling that something happens and afterwards saying it was a delusion, everyone gets annoyed. It is part of the social mechanics of the game. What you say using your authority is always relevant for the audience. And it is measured according to the authority you have at that very moment.


6. On 2008-05-12, Meserach said:

Hiya Vincent,

I remember we talked about this before in the context of IRC play, so I'd just thought I'd not that again here:

While saying stuff that turns out not to be true as a graphic way of stating intent works just fine in face to face, where narration in any case is an ephemeral thing that is forgottten about almost as soon as it is said, in play on IRC where narration is stored as text in a log, it requires more care.

In an IRC environment, I think it's necessary to set out explicitly at the start that narrated events haven't always actually happened if invalidated by later narration and/or to do the invalidation explicitly, like by typing "IGNORE PREVIOUS SENTENCE" or something.


7. On 2008-05-12, Meserach said:

Then again, very skilled IRC players might simply type new lines which recontextualise now invalid narration as fantasies/expressionistic touches/etc.

It depends a lot on narration style, I guess. The idea that narration might contain more than a mere statement of the fictional events, or "flavour text" for the broad establishment of mood, is a little-explored area in RPGs, I think.


8. On 2008-05-13, Julie, aka jrs said:

While saying stuff that turns out not to be true as a graphic way of stating intent works just fine in face to face, where narration in any case is an ephemeral thing that is forgottten about almost as soon as it is said ...

Hmm. This is often the case, but what if you want it to not be forgotten, or not always forgotten. And down the road Mitch could have Peter say about Ned, "I don't trust him, he wants to see me dead—I can see it in his eyes," with little dispute from the other players.


9. On 2008-05-13, Chris said:

Hey Vincent,

Do you think because so much of roleplaying revolves around the idea of consensus around "what happens" that people have become uncomfortable with playing with ambiguity around what happens?


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