Framing scenes. Conflicts. Story arcs. Main and minor characters (or PCs and NPCs if you prefer). The characters don’t see it but the audience does. Fade to black.
Roleplaying games imitate media. More and more they model themselves after movies, television and (to a far lesser degree) books. The thing of it is, movies, television and books are themselves imitations of reality — sometimes reality as it would be if there were romantic vampires and magical middle schools, sometimes reality that looks just like ours.
Like it or not, when we game, we’re imitating an imitation. We’re twice removed from our source material, which is life.
How many people have you watched kiss in real life? I’m going to take a stab in the dark and guess that you — along with everyone else in the world — have seen far, far more people kiss in movies and television than in reality. You probably saw long lines of people kiss on the big or little screen years before you ever put the playground moves on Chris in the third grade (yep, gender neutral name, fill in the blanks as you see fit — no angsting, late bloomers!).
Lacking firsthand experience, we model our behavior after that great secondhand experience, the media.
You learned to kiss from watching movies and television. So did Chris.
Hold off being disturbed about that for a moment, because here’s where it gets weird: you learned to kiss from watching an imitation, a staged re-enactment, but the directors and actors creating the fiction you learned from went through the same thing back in their own youth: they learned from an imitation as well. So it’s an imitation guided by watching an imitation of an imitation of an imitation. Cue the rabbit hole.
Who’s having an original experience, untainted by this media training? Anybody?
How far removed from the original does this spiral of imitation get?
What does this have to do with gaming? I could launch into the whole roleplaying games => video games => roleplaying games feedback loop and drag poor D&D 4E into the mix, but I won’t, for now. That’s later.
I will say this: aggressive scene framing, building conflicts, and razor-focused story arcs all make really fun games. When it’s done right, it feels tight… but that’s because it’s successfully imitating the media we know and love. It’s like we just made a movie, which is pretty awesome, because we like movies. But to the exact same degree that it’s an awesome movie, it doesn’t model real life. Not really. In real life we don’t cut when a scene becomes disinteresting, we just keep moseying along.