Examine Your Source Material

This article on The Forge by Ron Edwards is of relevance to the following article: Redefining Mainstream

We live in a world with A LOT of media.  We can’t engage all that’s avaialbe and certainly can’t begin to engage all there has ever been.   For the last few months I’ve been submerged in The Dresden Files.  I recently said to someone, “I don’t really like them, but I can’t stop reading them.”  To me that says the first part of my statement was a lie.  I must be liking them on some level or I’d have stopped.  Further, to its credit, The Dresden Files is the only book series of its kind I’ve been able to stick with at all.  I stopped reading Harry Potter after book three.  Hell, I can’t even make it past the first book of Lord of the Rings.

This has been a life long problem.  The media I enjoy most doesn’t seem to line up with my other hobbies and interests.  Growing up I got handed a lot of Asimov and Heinlien because I appeared to be “that kind of kid.”  But I found that stuff too dry and sanitary.  In school I was fed Tales of a Sixth Grade Nothing and Super Fudge and later Johnny Tremain which even at that age I would have told you didn’t have enough sex or violence.  I was pretty much convinced that books were dumb.

Until at the age of 15 I read “Phantom of the Opera.”  Whoa!  Where had THIS been all my life?  From there I moved to Dracula and then to Frankenstein.   Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde was soon to follow.  I jumped on to that teen trend of my generation and devoured a lot of Stephen King.  I even read Interview with the Vampire (which is pretty good when considered in isolation of the rest of the series).

Looking at other media I’m reminded that I didn’t read comic books until my early 20s and even then it was stuff like Sandman, Sin City, The Maxx, and GloomCookie.   I saw Amadeus four times in theater when I was 8 years old.  My favorite films of all time include Dangerous Liassons (and it’s modern twist Cruel Intentions), 12 Angry Men, and Shooting The Past.  Even my taste in video games runs more towards the cinematic with Monkey Island, Gabriel Knight and The Last Express topping the list and games like Silent Hill coming to the top of the more “actiony” pile.

As I said, it would be a lie to say I’m not enjoying The Dresden Files.  But the books are not engaging me in the kind of deep personal satisfaction that some books do.  This prompted me to take a cold hard look at my shelf and see what does make me feel that way.  I see James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet.  I see Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie novels.  I see Harriet The Spy (god damn, that book).  I see my GloomCookie comics.  I see A Series of Unfortunate Events (the author has admitted writing the series from the same frustration I had with childhood reading).  I see Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden and Patrick McGrath’s Asylum.  I see Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books.  I see The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales and Mathew Lewis’ The Monk.

Now, I generally keep on top of geek pop-culture.  I’ve seen almost all of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  I’m, as I’ve said, reading The Dresden Files.  I’m a long time Doctor Who fan.  I’ve read Watchmen and seen the movie.  I’ve watched a fair number of Anime.   There is stuff in there I enjoy and some of it even produces that deep sense of personal satisfaction.  But my point is there’s a profound pattern that emerges when I cut away, “stuff I enjoyed” from “stuff that’s genuinely inspirational to me.”

By now you’re probably asking what has any of this got do with role-playing?  I looked at my shelf and I realized holy shit, I’m HIM.  I’m THE GUY.   I am the dude we keep talking about in various places around the internet.  You know, the guy who by all cultural logic *shouldn’t* be role-playing.  I’m the guy with deep literary and creative investment but NOT in traditional gamer/geek source material.

Whenever a big blockbuster movie comes out there’s usually a number of threads that pop up around the internet about “how do we role-play this?”   When I walked out of Inception I knew exactly what was going to happen in gamer-dom.  There would be a number of people talking about how to role-play Inception but largely focusing on the team heist element and the multiple layers of reality and different time scales.  Something told me I’m one of the few who walked out thinking, “Gee, how do I create a role-playing game where the players delve into their own psyche and confront hostile manifestations of their own guilt?”  Oh wait, I already wrote that game.

My point to all this is that we live in a very noisey media filled world.  And I’m going to go against conventional wisdom and say that most of it has a lot of merit on some level for a wide variety of reasons.  But my experience with The Dresden Files and my book shelf have reminded me that there’s a gap between simply what one enjoys and what actually speaks to one on a personal deep inspirational level.

So I ask you, look at your media.  Draw that line in the sand.  What have you enjoyed vs. what has gotten really and truly under your skin and into your heart?  What would role-playing with THAT material alone look like?

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3 Responses to “Examine Your Source Material”

  1. playsorcerer Says:

    I was just writing about this for PLAY SORCERER the weekend before you made this post. I call it the difference between the “Chrome” of a story (all the genre stuff) and what the story is really about.

    I’m really fascinated by, and someone made to feel lonely by, the fact that so much of what RPG hobbyists care about has so often so little connection to what I care about. Like you I tried reading the stuff from SF section for a while when I was a teenager, found it lacking, and moved on.

    In PLAY SORCERER, at the top of the book, I take a moment to explain who I am — and who I am is a guy who does watch a lot of anime, doesn’t keep up with Dr. Who, and doesn’t assume that the Kewl of a story is what makes it worth watching. This, honestly, is one of the six tension points of the text for me: trying to communicate to folks who seem to be drawing a different way of thinking of what is valuable about story. When I’m watching THE SHEILD or DEXTER or DEADWOOD I see all the things that make stories worth telling — no matter that the setting or chrome are different.

    When I watched INCEPTION I had my own take away from the movie — which was it was a movie about lying and deception (as you and I have already discussed). The movie so excited my imagination about this theme that it gave me the final push to finish a feature spec I’ve been working on for a while. But my script is about a con woman in New York who poses as a spiritual medium. It never would have occurred to me to try to recreate the dream world logic somehow for another whole story. My imagination is boggled. No matter how you interpret what happened in the movie, it’s all played out.

    I’m fascinated that there are people who think along these lines — “That was a cool setting. Let’s go recreate that cool setting.” My first impulse is always, “That movie was about this cool or compelling quality of human behavior. How would I explore that?”

    You and I, Jesse, are similar in this. Which, I suspect, is what draws us to SORCERER. That’s exactly what SORCERER is set up to do.

  2. oberonthefool Says:

    Now I totally want to see a Harriet the Spy / The Maxx crossover… I’m thinking the purple sock replaces the lampshade, yeah?… and based on some of Sam’s other work, I can totally see Harriet as being an inspiration for him.

  3. It’s possible to be fascinated by something you don’t enjoy. Don’t let yourself think, “I’m lying to myself when I say I don’t enjoy this.” You probably aren’t enjoying it. The trainwreck effect is like that. When people say they’re fascinated by something they don’t enjoy, and this means they must actually enjoy it after all, all I can think is that they must never have been trapped in a closet by some object that inspired a phobic response out of them. Such an object is fascinating beyond all fascinations, but the next step down on the torture scale is actually being tortured.

    If you find yourself fascinated by something you don’t enjoy, what you’re dealing with might just be a failure of self-control. Something has hooked into your emotional processing and made you complicit in your own suffering.

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