Home > RPGs as a Medium > The Medium Is The Message

The Medium Is The Message

The other day, I read a post entitled Show vs. Tell: Why “Visual” is Not Optional by Aaron Diaz. I encourage you to go read the whole thing, but for those that don’t want to, or don’t want to right now, he talks about how the writing and the art in a comic cannot be separated and produce a good comic. He is basically asserting that the co-existence of the two is the hallmark of the medium and that if they don’t feed back into each other, then you’re not playing to the medium’s strength. He then shows a lot of examples of framing leading the eye and building up the information conveyed in words in a sort of symbiotic way, rather than just illustrating the action dispassionately. In another post, he talks about creating focal points and drawing the eye from place to place within a frame and how that can be used to make a comic awesome.

The thing that got me thinking, and inspired this post was that in those two posts (and several others), he refers to established understandings from academia about things like painting and writing. And he examines how their pairing in comics differs or augments the usual rules for those two things. It reminded me strongly of the whole RPGs as a Medium category we have on MR.

And it made me realize how little we have to fall back on that’s akin to painting and writing. We can look to acting a bit, but improvisational acting is the closest to roleplaying and it’s mostly used for comedy, so not all lessons there are relevant. We can also look to story-telling or oratory… whatever you want to call the art of telling a story aloud. But it seems to me that academia hasn’t spent nearly as much time talking about storytellers as it has about painters.

So I think that makes a stronger call for me (at any rate. I certainly welcome help) to pay closer attention to the things that are absolutely central to the rpg medium. I posted about the Circular 4th Wall before, which is certainly something unique to roleplaying. It seems like it’s more of a pitfall to be aware of, though, than a technique to hone.

So I’m officially starting out on a journey to identify the things that are not optional in good GMing. Especially the tactical things that really happen at the table, not in planning ahead of time. One very fruitful avenue that I feel I’ve ignored up to now is the oral storytelling aspect. I don’t know where this will lead, or if it’ll bear anything fruitful, but I’m going to find out and I’ll let you know when I come across something interesting. If you have any ideas you want me to investigate, let me know and I’ll plan a detour in that direction. Once I feel like I’ve identified the words-and-pictures-must-synergize of roleplaying, the next step is, of course, to figure out how to become good at that.

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Categories: RPGs as a Medium
  1. Dann
    August 3, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    For a ton of discussion on RPG as Medium, check out the “RPG Theory” boards at The Forge: http://indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?board=4.0.

    The posts in that forum introduce some very academic vocabulary, touch upon many of the same issues you have discussed, and talk about the Indie Roleplaying movement’s solutions to the problems you are concerned with. Many of the solutions listed there are notably different than the ones used on MRM.

    I am not 100% in agreement with many of the ideas from The Forge, but it is definitely food for thought.

  2. Dann
    August 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    This is several links in, but it is a pretty important starting place for the Indie Roleplaying view of the world: http://indie-rpgs.com/_articles/glossary.html

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