Sunday, March 27, 2011

Character Oriented - Character Run RP

I've been thinking about this for a while, probably since I first began RPing in SL. The concept of character oriented - character run RP (CO-CRRP).  People likely already have a concept of it, and probably already do this in some form.  But, I'll go ahead and give a form of definition to what I mean.

For the most part, RP is primarily associated with a particular sim, and the particulars of what that sim tells you is approved as far as types of characters you can play.  Sure, they may add on to that the reasons for why certain types of characters are allowed or not allowed within their sim - such as the setting, period, genre, 'realism', etc.  That may be valid and logical to the sim and it's owners and hierarchy, but not necessarily so for the individual character.  After all, who says that a samurai can't be found a urban setting, or a street thug in the countryside of  China or Japan?  Why couldn't someone of today be transported back in time to the Dark Ages, or some neanderthal/cro-magnon man be found in today's world, or some future distopia?  And why would it be considered 'not real' for there to be genetic hybrid species of humanoids in a suburb?  In SL, they can be there, and often they are! These sorts of things, among others that may seem like bizzare mixes and meshes of characters, they make up the diversity of what SL is, and who we are on SL, whether as an expression of a persona that is unable to be fully actualized irl, or as creative expressions meant for the purposes of exploring variety of ways to present one's self and interact with others in the SL metaverse.  The focus here, though is on the diversity of character and expression within the realm of characters made for the purpose of RP.

But why is this expression limited in RP?  The real answer is because sim owners and their crew make the rules about what they will and will not approve/allow to participate in a given sim.  There may be good reason for that, but often it rejects the ability of individual characters to reason for themselves.  While it is valid that some stories do not call for certain types of charcters, races, etc.  The problematic of this is that where there could be stories made by characters in these sims, they are denied the ability to do so.  And this is because RP is run by and large on a owned sim - cohort run RP (OS-CRRP) system.  Basically, it's a difference of group v. individual conflict.  In OS-CRRP, the whole purpose is to serve the whims and will of the sim owner and group that runs the sim.  In CO-CRRP, individuals each have autonomy to run their characters as they see fit, and agree on whether to interact in certain stories or not.

I am not saying that either system of running RP is right or wrong.  Both have their pros and cons.  For OS-CRRP, a major pro is in the building of a community which works towards its own self preservation.  A con, though is that, with the growth of community standards, conformity arises and can make things stagnant and the community less adaptable to change, or otherwise close in on itself and implode.  For CO-CRRP, each individual having the freedom to choose their reality and have that greater amount of control over how their story develops can be refreshing for some.  However, a con comes into play in that, while each person has freedom of choice, conflicts can arise when there is not a consensus among individuals about a clear vision on what should happen in a story, and what direction to move it in.  Thus, there needs to be a balance between order in hierarchy and individual freedom of choice.  But how to come to such balance?

For me, I understand the need for hierarchy.  I also understand the need for individual freedom as well.  And what I want to try for is to give a certain amount of order and guidance to help keep an RP environment stable for all who decide to participate in it.  I also want each individual RPer to know and feel that their individual ability and freedom to choose who and what their character is, as well as what it does, is not trampled on by a tyrannical governing body that tries to press too far into an individual's right to the creation of their character.  For this reason do I find specific group counsels, or rules about character creation a horrible plan.  In my opinion, the expression of an individual character and its creation by its creator is something that should not be controlled by exterior force.  Should a person decide to ask for advice on how to form a particular character among peers of similar said character, then that is the choice of the character to ask for that.  It is a completely different thing than said peers dictating to the said individual that this, and only this is how this sort of character/species should look.  It is for the individual to decide what sort of character they want, and how it should look, or who to go to in order to get advice on how to make such a character. It is not the place of a governing body to do that.  If anything, what a governing body should do in any RP is make sure that those in the environment are holding to set rules about the particular game.  They can also remind people that the particular environment is set in a certain setting, theme, period, genre, etc., but they ought not be the judge of what sort of type of character expression is allowed.  Primarily, making sure that interactions are consented to, and that in the interactions, people are not being godmodded, metagamed, and griefed are the things that a hierarchy should be most focused.

For instance, say a dragon lands in the middle of the street in a modern city, the alarm shouldn't be at the dragon's presence, but if the dragon, as well as all other characters are conducting their RP in a way that keeps any conflicts within the IC story, and whether it is made clear that all parties involved are thusly involved in a consenting manner.  If one cat has the head of a lioness and calls herself Bast, and another that has more human distinctions calls himself Sekhmet, the differences in interpretation of the feline is to be disregarded as a surface issue.  If they keep any conflicts about the differences in IC and don't make drama OOC about it, then it's fine.  The diversity is a good thing and should not be destroyed just because the two particular felines interpret their expressions of their characters in a different way.  If one particular character wants to be considered an Inu (dog), and the other a Garu (werewolf/lycan), they can make those distinctions if they like, and have conflict about differences in IC.  They may not let it cross over into OOC drama and metagaming tactics to ruin one or the other individual in personal grudge matches that have nothing to do with RP and ruin the experience for themselves and others.

These all seem to be common sense things.  But, as my real life work experience has taught me thus far, common sense is somewhat of an oxymoron among all who call themselves a 'common' person.  However, I do believe that CO-CRRP is possible with a limited amount of OS-CRRP interference, and is desirable.  It takes trust among those involved in the RP, and, if anything, lack of trust and communication are among the top reasons that most RP fails eventually.  But to gain the trust of fellow RPers, and to be able to communicate with them well brings about amazing results and leads to less hierarchical dictatorship.  If done well, OS-CRRP would have so limited an involvement in the RP to the point that it seems nearly non-existent.  And that is what should happen - let the CO-CRRP be in the forefront and be the majority of an RPers experience, and the OS-CRRP be in the background, primarily managing the basic rules and potentially being a part of the core group that helps in the guidance of character development and both personal and general storylines in the RP as needed.  An RP that can hold that sort of balance is potentially the utopia of RP.  Even so, it's worth striving for.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Brainstorming: Rewriting of the Dream

Some of you may remember the pyramid diagram I sent out the past week.  If not, or had not, and for the sake of those just joining in on the discourse, you can see the diagram here:

This diagram is part of the beginning phase for the making of this new RP, or even in general the 'rewriting of the dream'.  How this works?  We'll get to that as we go through the concept for the building of the story we come up with for the RP.

We have already started the process in the build itself, which is a part of building the initial concepts for forming the physical setting(s) that may be a part of the RP we are looking to create.  We have started with the major chunks of what is needed for RP to begin with - particularly a place, a setting -, and we are working on developing that more.  The setting is where the story takes place, wich is the base level and foundation that must be put forward before the rest can be put in place.  Along side that, there is needed the key players, individuals and groups, that interact within and breath life into the story.  As the characters interact within the setting, they eventually will pose situations that need to be responded to - that bring a call to action.  And with that, comes the action of the story, the actual doing of what sets things into motion and brings the excitement to its climax, and resulting conclusion.

Thus have been made mention the four main aspects of the process of story - the story/setting, the characters, the situation(s), and the action(s).  Once the basic concepts and vision is put in place to address these four, then the dialogue and words flow out as they come into play.  But first, we need to make sure the story works.

To begin with, to make sure the story works, there are some basic aspects of a story that we need to have answered and summarized in our minds.  These aspects are as follows:

1. The opening (the beginning/origins)
2. Inciting incident (what calls your character to act in the story's setting)
3. First turning point (what first invites your character into the story/brings about the call to action)
4. Mid-point (the arc of the story, where the pieces of the story seem to come together and you think your character has it all wrapped up)
5. Second turning point (what pulls your character further into the story, what new elements of the story come to play and need to be payed attention to)
6. Crisis (where the pieces seem to fall apart, or mix and match up differently than percieved, or something pulls the original ideas and theories apart, or prevent them from being put together as previously thought possible)
7.  Climax (the pivotal moment, the beginning of the end, and high point of the story)
8. Resolution (how to put the pieces together, what starts to bring closure to the story)
9. Final page (The ending, what closes the adventure, and may set up the events for a new one)

It is suggested that one should be able to summarize each of these aspects in one sentence apiece.  As it is, in RP, these can be made into the qualifications for story specifications and approval. That is, if a person wants to propose a story arc that will cover more than a personal drama and want to comprise more of the whole of the RP community, they ought to be able to lay out each of these nine aspects in a summary of what they propose to do for this particular story.  Not all these things necessaryily have to be put together in personal and freeform RP in genderal.  Natural process likely will bring out these aspects, or at least later reasoned by a person as they try to tell the story of what happened. But, when working in a group to make a particular story in the whole, these aspects should have a basic draft to which the key players can follow and impose as need be to push the story along.

A key element for aspiring RP storytellers to consider is conflict.  For stories we read in a book, or watch in a movie or TV drama (even radio dramas, for any that still listen to them) or even in theatre, we look for something unforgetable that captures our attention.  Conflict is an important aspect of this.  It's what drives all stories in some way or another.  The key is that the conflict has to be clear.  Unfocused or ambiguous conflicts generally are what a good RP story fall apart the easiest and often cause the particular unwanted dramas and OOC conflicts because we don't know what the other RPers are doing, nor why they are doing it.  And that is a problem, especially if you are trying to build trust between these RPers in order to make stories that all involved can enjoy.  This is not to say that we can't make mystery and surprise conflicts, but we have to be careful and earn the trust of fellow RPers before we involve ourselves in such things.  Otherwise, going into such things without knowing you can trust the RPer to do what is best for the story is going to leave those nasty burn marks that many of us know already from previous bad experiences in RP.  So, start with the basics and work through stories together is a good policy when either first starting out, or when beginning an RP with new or unfamiliar RPers.  That way, what emotional dilemma may come from the conflict is primarily IC, and very little, if any, OOC in its basis, and thus a lot more manageable, because you trust that the conflict will come to resolution later.

Something important among writers, and what could improve the development of RPers, is the drafting and redrafting of ideas.  It is suggested that a one page summary of a story ought to be made in two versions.  You could do it as a 'book report' style, and/or outline the vision of what the story can become.  You could even make a short story, or 'picture book' of these things.  However best suits your way to better visualize the concept(s) you have in mind. The more you have the story mapped out in your mind, and even having multiple concepts of how to go about things the better prepared you will be when it comes to impliment such things in the actual time of the RP.  Aspiring RP storytellers should have the original concept, as well as work on a Plan B, and even a Plan C and beyond so as to help them be ready for when a story they start takes a turn that wasn't initially considered in the original formation of the RP in their mind.  Think of it like a Chess match, or any other game where you need to be two steps ahead and keeping on your toes.  It is the twists and turns of RP that makes for the entertainment and addictiveness of the stories, and wanting to go further into them.  So be ready, be prepared.

Considering the outline, and especially when an aspiring RP storyteller, you want to give the best expression of the vision.  Why?  Because, especially when there is a need for group approval to implement it out into the RP setting as a whole, you want to make sure that you put your best foot forward when presenting the story idea to those involved in giving the ok on such things.  It's not just about them 'buying in', but also you want them to trust your vision, and be certain that you are up for the task of putting together a story arc that, hopefully, won't go into a lot of OOC drama and chaos.  Everybody wants a good story, very few people want that story to turn into a OOC drama fest.  And if you can present the story as something compelling, and show that you have ideas on how to keep things on track and limiting OOC crapola to a minimum, then you have gone a long way into gaining people's trust, as well as bringing them into buying in on your concept for a story arc to be implimented into the RP's general story as a whole.

Probably the most important thing after having the concept developed and polished is to step back and look at the story.  Take yourself away from the immersion that we all share in making and being in a story, and give it a critical review from outside of it.  Do you see any problems (both in the IC aspects of the story, and in any OOC elements that could be percieved to creep in) that need to be solved?  In screenwriting terminoligy, this is where you would see if the 'spine is straight'.  In other words, do things fit together?  Can you see any areas that might bring unnecessary confusion or ambiguity about what is going on?  Are there things that could be better improved upon, or may need a few extra options in case Plan A and/or B prove to fall short.  The crux:  is this RP story arc something manageable, and if not, then what can be done to make it so?  And that would be something that an RP storyteller will need to be able to also convince those involved in the maintenance and development of a RP story about.

To summarize, and put it into context for us Zigs, first and foremost, our focus needs to be on the four main aspects:

1. the base story, the origins of the setting (what is it, and what would we like it to develop into),
2. who we as the characters are (character background, and some concept of what we would like our characters to become),
3. what situations we would like for our characters to get themselves into, and
4. how to put it all into action.

I would like to also propose that we make a 'Story Summary Board' and have in place two notecards to be used by this Board.  One would be a basic outline for aspiring RP storytellers to use in order to make their summary to the Board.  The other notecard would be a sort of key card for making the assessments on whether the proposed RP story arc has the essentials and could be implimented into the main RP story.

Along these lines, I'd like to test out these notecards among ourselves, and have each of us summarise our visions of what we would like to see happen within the RP that we are trying to develop.  We really haven't come together on these things, and I think the sooner we can do this, the sooner we will be able to focus and be able to produce a general RP background, and initial set of story arcs that would make this project take form and become something compelling to RP.

Once we've shaped out our own summaries and outlines, I'd like for each of us to then take our steps back, and both review our own ideas, as well as those of our peers, which is each of us Zigs in the group.  I think, knowing each of us is looking to get out of this project in the form of stories we'd like to participate in will better help us focus and regroup our efforts to move things along and get into what we all want to do, and that is RP.

Above all, this project is for fun, and I propose these things to challenge us, and to help further develop our prowess in becoming better RPers and storytellers.  When we can show the quality of our abilities, we attract others to that quality, and thus help refuel the story with new ideas and people that want to be involved with the best stories that we can possibly make together.  And that's what I hope to provide to all of you, and our future Zigs, in whatever form we eventually take.