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Monday, 23 January 2012

The Debate Continues: Acting Or Storytelling...

 It would appear that non-gamers hold the view that roleplaying games are "acting", which is something I've never considered.

This is a view held by my wife and top author Philip Reeve (who was discussing this with Rachel on Twitter after my recent article about the conversation she had with Zak on why she didn't game).

However, on Google+ this morning, my online buddy Chris Freeman - host of late-lamented Grimm Studios gaming podcast - made the interesting analogy that it could be considered acting in the same sense that some people make the brum-brum noise when moving the miniature race car around the Monopoly board or 'act' the role of the banker.

Thinking about it, I do sometimes - when running a game - put on a silly voice when talking as a non-player-character, but that's just the same as I would do if I was telling Rachel one of my awful jokes. And I don't see that as acting, but part of the narrative of the joke.

Conversely, it's not something I do when I'm playing a game and I don't expect my players to do it when I'm running a game. It's just a way of differentiating my "dungeon master" voice from my "NPC" voice.

Not that I would quosh anyone so enthused that they got into their role and adopted an accent, or waved their arms around while talking (I do that in game as well, because I sometimes get carried away, and I also stand up sometimes while DMing, but then I can also be quite laid back), but, again, I don't see that as an essential part of the game.

At its heart - for me - roleplaying games are about creating a shared story and that makes the game 'storytelling' to me. Acting suggests a script and a constant commitment to remaining in character.

I'd be interested to hear more views on this, both from gamers and - if any read this - non-gamers, as I find this perception of our hobby a fascinating topic. I wonder if cracking this perception could be the key to attracting more people to our table?

At least we have gotten beyond the "spotty, devil-worshipping nerds who live in their mum's basement" cliché. 

10 comments:

  1. Tim - Interesting post! To me the "acting" thing is a huge misconception about rpg's! I've rarely ever played with wannabee actors in D&D games. Most people are just like you describe - they occasionally have fun with voice inflections and like to "get in the spirit" of their PC or NPC, but they're not exactly hamming it up in dramatic fashion.

    Lately, I've seen people say we should call RPG's "adventure games" instead of "role playing games." I couldn't agree more with that sentiment.

    The whole "acting thing" is why a lot of people think the hobby is so freakin' weird. Don't get me wrong - I cast no aspersions upon players who get 100% immersed in their PC's. But I just think the whole acting this is way exagerrated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, George. I've heard this suggestion for "adventure games" before - especially as computer games have erroneously hijacked the term RPG anyway - but I think the horse has already bolted there ;)

      But, yes, I do think this misconception is a major barrier to attracting new gamers (and blurring of the lines between RPGs and LARPs - not that I have anything against LARPers - doesn't help either).

      Delete
  2. I guess it could be argued that there are elements of both, but really I see it much like you do. In my personal experience, it's far more about the story, with maybe a few gestures and voices tossed in to highlight an effect here and there. Since I'm now playing by post, it's even more about the story-telling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For years I played by post (well snail mail) and ran games that way, so it was always story, story, story for me and I guess that's why I stick with this great hobby of ours. If it was simply improv acting, I'd have lost interest years ago.

      My half-hearted acting ambitions faded when I left prep school at age 13(which, ironically, is where I started role-playing as well!). But that doesn't stop me occasionally slipping in a bad, comedic accent here and there... either in games or real life!

      Delete
  3. I would say it has elements of both. As GM, what I do probably most resembles the sort of dramatic reading of a audiobook. I've got my narrator voice (my regular voice) and voices for characters (mostly). So there is a degree of "acting" involved, but only to facilitate immersion in the events unfolding.

    As a player, I would say I vacillate between just telling the story of what my character does (when in combats or whatever) and voice acting like what actors would do for an animated film--maybe so mannerisms or what have you, but mostly vocal.

    I've never really ever played with anybody who "got into character" and stayed there as an actor physically portraying someone in a role might.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The bottom line, I guess, for me is that I don't consider "doing voices" as acting. I see it as a narration tool as you say.

      The audiobook analogy is another very good one, as I don't consider that acting either per se, just an outward expression of the voices you "hear" in your head when you read a novel to yourself.

      Delete
  4. Most of my theatre friends do not equate RPGs with acting, though I do believe it can contain that element. I really love it when players get into character - I think that LARP & working at Renaissance festivals appeals to me: because it is the ultimate cross-over for my characters ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't expect theatre people to see RPGs as acting, any more than games would see a theatre production as an example of an RPG.

      It's the populace at large - who possibly do see the two things as synonymous (with respect to gaming anyway) - that intrigues me.

      Which, of course, leads to the bigger question of: how can we dispel this fallacy?

      Delete
  5. I often describe RPGs to non players as "Acting whilst sitting down where the "script" evolves as you play like improvisational theatre". Its much better than having to field the stupid questions like "How do you win?" or "What's the point of playing a game if you can't win?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think part of my problem these days is - after decades of gaming with gamers (d'oh!) and the matter simply not coming up with my non-gaming friends - I've never had to try and explain what RPGs were.

      And it's only now I've married a non-gamer that it's come to my attention how people can misconstrue my hobby.

      Delete

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