Okay, so someone finally commented a post in such a way that I can respond to it effectively. Good. Thank you. I like questions, they feed ideas for posts. And that person was… Jay Paulin. Of course it was, why wouldn’t it be? -Sigh-
Let’s get this over with.
In my last Virtual Writing Seminar I said that “I’ll never believe that you can get that kind of divine spark from role playing games.” I’ve gone on rants about gaming and gamers with regard to writing before, and I guess Mr. Paulin finally had enough.
He asks: I’m curious why you would discount the notion that a person could never find inspiration playing a game — one that involves imagination and story-spinning — and then admit mirror-gazing works for you.
The answer is that I find the sort of story-spinning involved in role playing games to just be working the wrong storytelling muscle. These games are fun, but the storytelling in them… see, I don’t want to say it’s bad because then I’ll have a million people freaking out at me. It’s not bad. How do I put this? Let’s put it this way: the type of stories I’d like to read, even fantasy and sci-fi ones, can’t be generated from a game. So much of great literature exists in the quiet, reflective moments that don’t come from games. Also, there’s a tendency in games to try and make your character as powerful as you can. Which makes sense, you’re bringing him into battle. But making-ultra unbeatable and infallible characters makes for boring literature. It’s the Superman problem.
Beyond those reasons, there’s the big one: I’ve seen it not work. This is the biggest one. It’s not that I have a bias against games. It’s that i have a bias against gamers who write, especially ones that write in the same genre that their RPG gameworld exists in. This is a bias formed from many, many tiresome experiences. Games have a different narrative than movies, and the gap is even greater with novels. Ever see a movie in recent years where it seems like the characters just advance from room to room killing bad guys? People comment that these movies “feel like watching a video game,” negatively. The TMNT CGI movie had that complaint a lot. And I can see it. Now, imagine that without even the benefit of visuals… it gets tiresome.
Another issues is that “The Gamer” already has a support structure. They have 5-10 people they play with that all agree that the writer’s story is awesome, either because they have similar interests or because their characters are also featured. Or they’re just Yes-Men, that’s always an option too. Because they have these people telling them it’s awesome, they have no room in their minds for even the slightest criticism.
So, that’s my issue in a nutshell.
Then Jay writes:
My comment may come across as critical but I am legitimately curious. I believe inspiration can come from anywhere so what makes one avenue impossible and another acceptable?
Could you go into a bit more detail in your methods? Do you act scenes out in the mirror, using physical motions and/or facial expressions as starting points for emotion? What negative experiences do you have (first-hand or otherwise) regarding role-playing on a table compared to the success you’ve had role-playing in your mind?
This could lead to an interesting discussion! Hopefully other writers post their opinions on this matter as well.
I absolutely act out scenes in front of the mirror, usually when I’m alone in the house. Typically it’ll be a tense verbal discussion / debate among several characters. It lets me hear what they’re saying out loud so that I can make sure to give each of them different voices and make sure the dialog sounds legitimate. Doesn’t matter that they’re talking about an evil organization bent of the genetic overthrow of the human race, as long as the dialog sounds genuine.
But you’re right, inspiration can come from anywhere. My problem is when people stay too close to the “source material.” It’s like the Watchmen movie. That’s what happens when you stay too close to the source and don’t remember that movies are different from comics. Hear that, gamers? i bet your game is awesome (but stop asking me to play), but a novel is different from a game. You need to realize that before putting pen to page.
Satisfied? (He’s never satisfied).
Never Look Back
(PS: Does Jay have the writing chops? Judge for yourself this April, when his story Gristle While you Work is released in the Engen anthology Light|Dark.)