Reverb Games: Fantasy & Reality

Question #15: People often talk about the divide between what happens "in game" and "in real life." Do you maintain that divide in your own play, or do you tend to take what happens to your character personally? Why?

To be honest, I have difficulty in conceiving how someone could not make this distinction - and I suspect that the only people who think this happens aren't gamers. And they're probably the people who think that the actions of fictional characters represent the opinion of the author, too.

My interest in this area is precisely the opposite - what elements of real life can I carry over into games? Whenever I learn something new about the world, from geology to current events, there's a background process going on in my head about how this - whatever "this" is - is represented in the campaign world.

There's a strip in Knights of the Dinner Table where BA is saying that he spent a long time on the orcish threat gestures, something that has plainly never entered play. That's me. I know stuff about the geology and climatic zones of Davon that will never, ever enter the game - but it gives me a considerable sense of satisfaction to know them anyway.

I do try not make the parallels clear. I feel it's jarring if someone can say, "Hang on, this happened in Spain in the 17th Century!". The material I'm currently studying in a History module, for instance, concerning the Wars of Religion in France, likely won't be identifiable when it appears in the game. But it will appear - though probably separated into distinct pieces, with a weak monarchy there, rapid switching of allegiances over here, and maybe two enemies with the same name in an entirely different campaign.

There's also the observation that if you put the events of real history into a game, stripped of the national identifiers and half-known narratives that surround them, players might well refuse to accept that NPCs could be that stupid, arrogant, or evil, and go looking for the demons or compulsions that are clearly behind such actions.

Likewise, this year's entire sociology module will reappear at some stage, chopped up and made into a sort of narrative soup. Hegemonic ideas have already made an appearance; that was too juicy a concept not to press into immediate use. Effects on societies of inequality will be another one; I've already done a lot of thinking about the effects on human societies of long-lived elves and dragons, and how those creatures' societies would handle, say, inheritance.

News and current events are an obvious thing to add to the mix. I keep notes for myself; abstracted out so that I don't connect them with the real events, and look back on them every couple of years for stuff to include. I don't know where "weak leader establishes power-base by clever use of gutter journalism" came from, nor "personal beliefs cause rift between politically aligned families". But they're good things to integrate into a game world.

I've done a lot of reading in geography and economics over the years, and that turns up in the games too. Climate science, chaos theory, causality, all those are elements from the pages of New Scientist and Focus that have landed here and there.

I can tell reality from fantasy perfectly well. But I get great entertainment out of bringing one into the other anyway.

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 27, 2012 12:53 PM

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