Gaming for Life
I’m a gamer. I get that that word has some pretty bad connotations these days, but I was calling myself a gamer before most of these people were born, so I’m going to stick with it. I started with board games, I moved to strategy games when I was in junior high, and I’ve been playing RPGs and tabletop war games since I bought my first d20 in high school.
Actually, longer than that. My parents were very strictly religious, and so I wasn’t allowed to play D&D. Instead I settled into a long stream of Cyberpunk, and then Cyberpunk 2020, and MERP, and then I just made my own systems for a long time. I didn’t join a long term D&D campaign until well after college, not because I was still following my parents’ injunction, but because I felt other games simply had better systems, and more interesting worlds. I guess I stand by that, even now. I only play Pathfinder because that’s what my group is used to.
But there’s a point to this. The point is that gaming taught me everything I needed to know about storytelling. If you look at the notes for the Pathfinder game I’m running currently, and then looked at the notes for the Wraithbound novel I’m plotting, you wouldn’t find a lot of differences. I create the worlds the same way, I sketch out the characters the same way, I look for vectors of conflict and alliance and motivation in pretty much the same way. The problem with this is that I run really, really complicated games. Most of our sessions involve the players just sitting around talking about what’s happening, and what might be happening, and slowly unwrapping the puzzle I’ve set before them. And then we roll some dice and someone dies, and then we schedule the next session.
In books, that doesn’t work as well. The Wraithbound novel has run into a lot of problems because my basic concept was this: I wanted two heroes, working toward the same goal, but in opposition. Do you know what that looks like on the page? A god damned mess. These are both good people, you want them both to succeed, but only one can win. And being the writer that I am, obviously neither of them actually win, they both just lose in particularly interesting ways. And you can’t sell a book like that. Not to readers, anyway.
But I think the underlying principle stands. I think games are the best story you can tell. Because not only are you hearing the story, you’re living it. When Aerith dies in FFVII, god that hurts, because you’ve worked with her for so long, you’ve done everything to protect her, and still she falls. And when a good session of D&D is done properly, the GM, the players, and the world are working together in tandem, in concert, to tell the best story that they can.
Maybe I run my games strange. Maybe I think too much about narrative structure, and the way characters align themselves to different structures. But when I present my players with problems, and watch them run wild with the possibilities, and then drop narrative beats into their path and watch them build off the world I’ve created… man.
Books don’t compare. It’s writing as rock band. It’s storytelling as fireworks. It’s a thing of fucking beauty.
So. The curtain falls away, the band is gone, the theater is full of an unearthly shrieking, and there on the stage is a god, a demon, a twisting, writhing, damnation-fanged beast of destruction.