|By Tallent Show|
Storytelling Versus Gaming
by tobie abad (http://surf.to/tobie)
Originally published December 2001.
Author note: This article is written with White-Wolf Gaming Studio's Vampire: The Masquerade in mind. But the ideas and concepts within can apply to any role-playing game.
No, this is not your typical Storytelling is Vampire the Masquerade, Gaming is Dungeons and Dragons statement. Nor is this a Simulationist - Gamist debate. After all, as many of you are probably loathe to admit (and yet deep inside realise its true) more than half the Vampire: The Masquerade games have approached a Gaming method than a Storytelling one.
Considering how people would most likely have their own interpretations on what constitutes as gaming and storytelling, it would be easier if I defined the difference between the two before continuing with this article.
Storytelling = Playing the game to make a great story and have fun in the process.
Gaming = Playing the game to have FUN and creating a story in the process.
In as much as it seems trifle, there is a big difference between the two. And this becomes evident if you've played both types of games.
Gaming - Let's pretend that you're the storyteller. You wake up one night and think, "I'd love to hold a Vampire game focusing on the Camarilla and how the players try to gain political power and yet not fall into the Elder ennui trap." So you begin crafting your plot thread, setting up the major points of the game and work out the NPCs. Before you know it, you're talking to your players and they begin grabbing the character sheets and asking you if they can play this or that Clan. You moderate their characters to not only be "well-developed concepts" but to actually have a reason of existing in the game. Many real time months pass and the characters develop further, going through conflicts and trials, emotional barrages and release... and the game goes on.
Storytelling - Let's pretend that you're the storyteller. You wake up one night and think, "I'd love to hold a Vampire game focusing on the Camarilla and how the players try to gain political power and yet not fall into the Elder ennui trap." So you begin crafting your plot thread, setting up the major points of the game and work out the NPCs. Before you know it, you're talking to your players and they begin grabbing the character sheets and asking you if they can play this or that... HOLD IT, you're probably thinking, why am I reading the exact same thing? Well, that's because Storytelling and Gaming types of games are nearly 100% identical in their presentation.
Notice I mentioned nearly.
Storytelling types of games have an ENDING.
"All good things come to and end," is a quote which many of us have heard and sadly, I cannot recall who deserves the credit for such a wonderfully meaningful line. A story, i believe all would agree, would be one of the "good things." Thus, a story deserves an ending.
In a Gaming Type of game, the story is second of importance. So in the said example above, the characters would eventually reach a peak in the game... say, each player is now portraying a Prince of a City, or maybe they have all decided the Camarilla is not worth it and join the anarchs with the knowledge of the whereabouts of the City officials, or perhaps something in between the two threads... but the game keeps going on and on and on.
Because its fun.
In a Gaming Type of game, FUN is what is of primary importance. Yep, stop any Gaming Type of game for a brief moment and try to describe your character in a sentence and you'll find yourself in trouble. "He's a Gangrel who began as a woodman, embraced out of spite, struggled to learn the ropes of Vampiric existence, eventually became a Prince, fought the Sabbat, endured a Justicar's wrath, seiged against the Independents, awakened the beast, etc, etc..." But so what? He's still FUN to play right? And I'm not even speaking in the "powerful vampire" manner of fun. Imagine the emotional ranges you can have access to with everything he had gone through. Or perhaps try and see what new political ideas would actually form in his head to bring a unity and oneness in the Camarilla. Again, I say, it is FUN.
But it falls into the eternal trap:
"When does the Storyteller know its time to END the Chronicle?"
Gaming Type of games tend to go past the Storyteller's "Chronicle End" point. After all, they had fun and why should the fun end there?
High profile comic books such as Spiderman, Superman, X - men, Avengers, WildC.A.T.S are of this type. Notice that now, loking back at their histories, you find yourself going, "These characters when through WHAT???" Somehow I suspect that was in a large part why DC Comics recently threw away a HUGE chunk of their backstories (and fans) with the new DC Universe reboot.
Sadly, this tends to lead to many wonderful games either turning sour and becoming absolutely distorted and multi-complexed due to the Storyteller's attempts to "keep the game going." A state which can even be detrimental to the Storyteller himself ("Did i give a good game? In the end, it sucked so bad...")
Storytelling Types of games have a definite end.
They are structured towards that end in mind. Just like movies. Or novels. Hence, they tend to have the more spectacular and memoreable endings.
"But don't Storytelling games sacrifice the player's freedom in the game?"
No. Because in a Storytelling game, BOTH the players and the Storyteller CRAFT the story as they move along. And as an added benefit, both the Storyteller and the players have a hint when to go for the more "heroic" moments for their characters. It may seem like cheating since you know that the story is nearing its end point, but come on, how many stories have the characters faltering every move and being afraid to finally give it their all in the end?
Take for example books such as Sandman, Enigma, Gen 13:Ordinary Heroes, Age of Apocalypse line of Marvel Comics. Notice how they have definite endings and their stories were more structured and yet they were still FUN to read and even interesting to imagine being in.
|Even this movie had an ENDING.|
So which is better?
Neither. Everyone of course has their own game type of interest. Some like things to focus on the story. Others like the game to simply be a moment where we can explore the character's experiences on and on. Some like a mix of both.
But KNOWING that these two approaches exist is helpful to BOTH the Storyteller and the player as a whole. When I told my players about these two types of games and asked then which one they wanted more, they all replied that it depends on what they feel like playing on certain days.
Thus we have a Vampire game set in the Dark Ages, played Storytelling Type, which has a definite end: Year of Revelations date.
And we have an Aberrant to Trinity game, played Gaming Type, where we see if they can avert history for taking its course.. and struggling to make the world a better place to live in.
Try having your gaming circle read this article. Then discuss what you want to achieve. Try one or the other at least once and you'll see how much better games can become with a clear understanding of what Type of game you are truly to play.