Remember when you were a kid, and you had a bunch of toys (transformers, kars, lego, whatever) and you played with them?
I used to play out story fragment after story fragment (rather repetetively, sometimes, actually), filling in the voices of both Robot A and Robot B, doing some (faux) tactical maneuver, shooting, etc.
Whether something was effective in combat had nothing to do with it - sometimes robot A dominated cause he was cool, sometimes it was a rough fight with whole limbs getting blown off, sometimes some mooks had to die to make a point. Sometimes is was all A-teamy, after the fight, everyone brushed off the dust and the whole thing started up again.
(I'm around 8 here, I think, I'm not sure. Does it matter?)
Where did that go? Is it a developmental phase you grown out of? Does the need for audience become too big? The need for meaningful opposition or questions posed so there will be something fresh to react to? Or is there some juicy tidbit in that kinda play most people shove away as they grow older? (Except those that play a lot with miniature trains, cars, models... or even roleplaying?)
I used to do that too, with Legos. I'd create a castle, an exiled prince, a Darth Vader type, allies of both, a princess held captive, and play out the story over and over and over. Where did that kind of play go? It went the way of knowing technical details about Porsches, which I also used to do. It stopped being fun.
edit: I've transplanted these first three comments from the open house post.
1. On 2005-03-14, Jasper Polane wrote:
Tobias: Actually, that sounds like an awful lot of storyteller / World of Darkness games I know of...
I think the difficulty in 1-player RPGs is the difficulty of generating an ongoing verbal record of "what happened."
In a tabletop roleplaying game, "what happened" is the collective memory of the players about what was agreed to have happened.
In an old Flying Buffalo "Solo Dungeon," "what happened" is the sequence of paragraphs that you chose your way through.
In a "solo roleplaying game" you almost have to write down everything that happens, and at that point, you're just kind of writing a story. Unless there's some in-game notation/logging system rich enough to provide a useful definition of "what happened"...
Also, "solo roleplaying games with rules" play havoc with the Lumpley Principle -- if what the rules really do is apportion credibility among the players, and there's only one player, why bother? (I don't mean to say that this means that Solo RPGs are impossible necessarily, but if they are possible then they are an unusual enough case that some otherwise useful theoretical apparatus, e.g. the Lumpley Principle, fails to apply to them in a clear way.)
Yeah, they're a strange duck, aren't they? And unless you go into Solo-Books or CRPG, keeping track of all that happened (if you insist on doing so, perhaps in the hope of building on it) could be a chore.
Your comment about memory is a good one, though. I've been experimenting and puzzling with some bits:
- the (fallible and flexible) memory of 1 player
On this, I've tried some tricks - for instance, in a game I was designing that's been mentioned on the Forge (YGAD), I had something called the Bag - which was a drawing-bag that determined success or failure, but could also yield special event stones. That's become something else (actually, a DitV variant), but from the conversations held at that time, I've retained the thought that a 'bag' might be used as some sort of memory. Another thing I've been experimenting with are memory tiles as a form of challenge to the player (a form of randomisation combined with a personally challenging mechanic). Fang Langford also wrote an interesting piece in Iron Game Chef - Simulationism (on the Forge). I'm pondering if you can't have a Code of Unaris-style 'system' that hacks a few the words in the logbook you use (randomly), as you try to keep the 'story' consistent, adding what you like, but forced to keep creative to incorporate the hacks the system throws at you.
But that's me flailing away at creating a game. Let's go back a bit to first causes.
In keeping with dispensing of theory and just talking about what happens, I'm not going to bother to see whether 1-person roleplaying is possible by definition - I'm just trying to see whether a method of play that is close to indistinguishable from it will is possible.
In the beginning, there was the player, and the player was one and all-powerful.
Without any rules, the player can dream up everything and has no limits on the story he can create. Fantasy. Not a 'game', though.
Fantasy's fun, and I used to do it a lot as a kid (still do, I'm happy to say). Mostly, though, they were little snippets that i thought were cool. Recreating something I saw on TV, adaptation of something from a book, a bit of power-fantasy for yourself in your own social circle (I often entertained myself with books and fantasy, but also wished I'd be more popular).
They were little snippets, story fragments, mostly. Why they weren't longer, I don't know. I'm not really knowledgeable on child development (no kids, no learning). Maybe the fragment was cool enough on it's own? Maybe I wasn't sophisticated enough to build elaborate structures - or it wasn't worth it to me? Perhaps it was all meaningless without something, someone, to relate it to, test it's worth (on the other hand, no-one could condemn me for my fantasy, right? I was free.)?
Now, at least, I think I need some form of challenge, either from another player, from reality (building the highest possible stack, jumping farthest, etc.), or from the game itself (solitaire, or chess against an AI could be considerd a whole game, for example).
In the solo-game, how do you build that challenge? Well, you could introduce some dice that oppose some values you write down on a paper ('character'), and see how often your character beats those rolls depending on whatever rules you write when and how to roll. You could tune that very finely to give exactly the rate of success, variance, failure, you desire. If you introduce alternative options (tactics) that may or may not lead to success, you've got yourself a game, which you can play.
If you want to call that character a 'role', you've got a 'role' playing game - but it might as well be called a 'tactical personnel choice' game. (No slurs or opinions on D&D implied, btw).
So, getting into that role, or, at least, caring about some (human) aspect of that character - or the story that develops from the rolls and free tactical choices of a large part of my creativity, would be required for me to experience it as close enough to 'roleplaying' - and thus a worthwile roleplaying experience.
Any reasons for 'caring' relating to other people (overcoming opposition, peer appreciation, etc.) disappear when you are alone. You could try to create 'another you' and simulate two agenda's at the same time. You could also make some of the tests, difficulties, be self-referential (memory?!), and thus appreciate your own creativity in overcoming opposition or your power of memory.
I'm floundering. There will be no nice conclusion to this post. Still, the process might be worth something. Just warning you in advance.
Roleplaying (with a group) can be a (masked) challenge game to me, or I can explore "what's important". (It's tempting to refer to theory here, but let's keep it this simple - this is what tickles me).
Solo challenge games exist a plenty. I'm sure there are also story-writing games (and I'd appreciate links to RPG-esque variants!). There are 1-person CRPGs. I've tried to use Universalis as a 1 person 'story building' game by faking several 'positions' and 'agendas' and seeing if the randomisation in coin expenditure would force me to be creative in ways I wouldn't have expected - but it doesn't (which is a failure in my expectations, not in Universalis).
I haven't found that solo-RPG that uses my own creativity, makes me care about the characters (they're all mine, aren't they?), challenges me, etc. I'd like to find it (even if it only fullfills some of the wishes).
Right now, I'm thinking some kind of logbooking game that hits close to home and uses a Code-of-Unaris word hacking scheme on the lines you write yourself might be something. Gotta do a lot of writing, yeah, but the physical result might be something fun to have as well. Like Fang Langford's game, encourage doodling, drawing, etc. (I've already considered a rule that pictures/drawings would be unhackable by the game (since it can only hack words in sentences), which would force me to draw a little more, which I've always wanted to do anyway). Like Fang's game, it's a game that would take on the shape of the person playing it.
Tx for splitting this off Vincent - as well as the transplant.
A simple but true answer, I think, 'stopped being fun'.
Of all the activities that become fun after that phase, role-playing looks a lot (the most) like the kiddie-play does, though.
If there's some part of that kiddie-play which can be used, redeemed for more adult (1-person-RPG-)play, I'm interested in seeing whether that can be incorporated somehow.
Jasper also notices some parallels to WoD/ST play. Given the use of the word awful, it seems he sees a problem with that (which wouldn't be strange, if expecting (more) mature behaviour from players/groups but not getting it). That's not the angle I'm coming from, but I'm game for talking about that anyway.
Stopped being fun? You are on crack Vincent. I don't think it so much stopped being fun as it stopped being socially acceptable at some point to play with your GI Joes or Legos. I also think and interest in girls (or boys as the case may be) plays a big part.
That kind of play is still there, waiting for us to come back to it. We try very hard by creating rules that allow for collaborative (I don't remember your new term) play. We try to create rules that allow us to play the way we did when we were younger.
Tobias: "I haven't found that solo-RPG that uses my own creativity, makes me care about the characters (they're all mine, aren't they?), challenges me, etc. I'd like to find it (even if it only fullfills some of the wishes)."
It doesn't exist. Or rather, it's called "write a short story."
What makes roleplaying cool isn't the audience, but the GM - the GM-type investment of another person in your character. Or yours in theirs. It's an active, collaborative, critical relationship, you and another person working effectively together.
Absent that, you've got fiction writing on one hand and fiction consumption on the other - including text adventures, choose-your-owns, game books. I don't see anything that roleplaying theory, which is about people in immediate communication, can teach us.
Keith: I play with Legos a lot! I just don't set them up and enact and re-enact stories with them any more. Now I build cool things with them and wish that there were fun rules to play a game with them with, and think about how to design that game.
Building with Legos is extremely fun and satisfying.
And yeah, I even make sound effects when I'm building. I march my little mecha around going grrcrunch, grrcrunch, grrcrunch!
But how long is that fun for? Like twenty seconds? And then I want to play an actual game with them instead.
Bah, Vincent... we've tossed around all kinds of ways to distribute the GM's tasks here, why stop at talking about ways to "distribute" them which only use one person?
I know, I know. Czege principle. But that's basically where this thread goes; is the Czege principle inviolate? (Jargon explanation: the Czege principle states that if the same person generates the adversity and also its resolution, t'ain't no fun. Inspired by Vincent's Chalk Outlines, which suffered from this, though I suspect it could be repaired if he wanted to.)
I submit that we are very clever monkeys and precious little is inviolate, especially when it's the kind of rule which ends in "...ain't no fun."
Postulate. One-man RPG, violates Czege principle. Can you do it? I can at least put the training wheels under one, I think. Use the fact that our memories are fallible, and use displacement in time to take the place of displacement among people.
I wrote up an example game right here, but it was WAY too big. You can find it here if you're interested. I think it's shaky, but kind of cool. And anything where that volume of text gets written in, oh, an hour... has to have something going for it.
I think aside from the social acceptibility issues, this activity generally shifts to other fields as one gets older. Instead of fantasizing whole stories, people play out conversations(past, and potential future ones) in their heads, over and over, fantasize about dream jobs and sex, etc. etc. For those who still keep to the sugar side of their Frosted Wheats, they end up playing with minis/wargames, painting models, collecting dolls & dollhouses, etc. It seems the process shifts from fantasizing the world to physically building or arranging it.
I know as a kid, I used blocks, legos, plastic army men, matchbox cars, magnets on the fridge and even draw little space battles, scribbling out a ship whenever it got "exploded".
Funny enough, this being way before my family got videogames, there was a big influence on it from cartoons and the games I saw at the arcade. I've found as videogames have made a bigger and bigger impact on people's lives, kids tend to do this fantasy play a lot less. After all, videogames are a lot easier to pick up and hurt your feet less when you step on them than legos :)
I still do this. My son's playmobil pirates have learned to fear the wrath of Dark Captain Totoro, as well as my other daddy-toys (except for slinky... slinky's a wimp). And yes, for the record, I also do it without the child (or anyone else) as an audience.
The Czege principle still applies. The way I do it is no more a roleplaying game than taking practice swings against a batting machine is a baseball game. It's practice. If anyone figures out how to make it a solo game in its own right, that'll be great. But I don't need that, y'know?
Me, personally, I enjoy the practice for its own sake. I like working the imagination muscles, and trying out new techniques. Some people also really enjoy batting practice. Not me, but some people.
But mostly I enjoy showing off the results to my gaming buddies. I'm able to play with more confidence because of the practice. Before my supers games, all the little lego guys suddenly start saying things like "You're a fool, Captain Liberty! My robotic cockroach army will crush your feeble morality under their scuttling cyber-treads!" Take my word for it that you don't want to be saying that for the first time in front of an audience... it's too hard to keep a straight face the first couple dozen tries.
I'm finding this discussion really interesting because I STILL do this ALL the time. Though I don't play with Legos (anymore), sometimes I'll hear some song lyric that inspires some sort of scene in my mind. I'll then replay the scene a couple over and over until something else catches my imagination.
Persoanlly, I think it's something cultural. Generally-speaking, American culture has simply lost its sense of wonder. I would be curious to hear from other countries about this sort of thing.
Vincent: But how long is that fun for? Like twenty seconds? And then I want to play an actual game with them instead.
You just illustrated what I mean. As adults we are looking for a justification for this fun (rules, meaning, etc.), but as kids we did this shit for hours and hours man. Hell I used to weave little grass huts so I could use them with my GI Joes. Its still fun, we just let shit get in the way of it being fun.
I appologize beforehand if this sound rambling and / or incoherent. It's hard to do this in english.
This pretty much discribes my creative process when I'm writing a story. The unrestrained imagining, not caring if or how it fits: It's BRAINSTORMING. We do it all the time.
What has changed since we were kids, I think, is that we learned to EDIT.
A way to incorporate this sort of "kiddy-play" into actual games would be to, well, make stuff up as you go along, letting all the other players do the editing. Actually, my recent PtA games are a lot like this: Everybody talking at once and throwing around ideas, using the other people as editor to decide what makes it into the SiS.
As to why your description reminded me of the awful WoD games I escaped from:
The GM does all the brainstorming pre-play, imagining play, writing a story and calling it "prep". If you're lucky, he uses actual play as "editing", but most of the time he does this beforehand to. Repetitive story fragments, filling in the voices of both Vampire A and Vampire B, whether something is effective in combat has nothing to do with who wins...
Yeah, I'm badly hurt by past game experiences. (Don't get me started on some of my D&D play.)
Timfire: I'm from the Netherlands, by the way. I'm not sure if it's something cultural. Let me think about that...
A lot to respond and read. Thanks for the replies so far.
As to cultural backgrounds: I'm from the Netherlands as well, but I've lived in the States for 4 formative years (14-18). Since my 18th till now (29) I've been back over in the Netherlands. I'm going to ponder how 'grown up culture' overlays 'kiddie-play' as well, but it's not key to my searching, I think. I'm willing to be wrong as well, of course.
I've even AD&D'd Spelljammer once with Jasper Polane. That was an interesting game experience, hope it wasn't one of the scarring ones. :)
Eric - have read the blog-post, it's interesting. I don't think i have the patience to wait multiple years, but I like your use of memory. Will reply more when it's settled a bit more in my mind.
My step-sister and I lived in different states- (me PA, her FL) and we role-played when we go together most of the summer and once a month on the phone and in winters we wrote letters. The letters went out weekly as they developed.
I called them Junk-stories, I wrote in a kind of compic book shorthand, maybe a paragraph to describe the setting, and lots of dialogue using our beloved roleplay heroes.
I'd write to the teaser parts, someone was about to get killed, someone got kidnapped, and so on, and I was writing to an audience of one, (she'd write a few of them too) then I'd break the Junkstory off TILL NEXT TIME!
make comments on her story about what I think the characters would do, heap praise on stuff I liked
but in winters we were writing fiction about our charcters as opposed to playing with them. And fiction writing is different. You can get a creative rush over a good piece of fiction, but its not play to me.
I was thinking what if you used Mechanics like Vincent's Otherkind dice. Where the villain has a set motivation:
He will always act to succeed, then to hurt, then to defend. You can role for the villain and you know ahead of time how to arrange his dice.
Most writing also involves editing: putting it in the right order, paragraphs, structure, etc. Some of it is done beforehand. In Kat's example, knowing you'll end with a cliffhanger and writing "towards" it, I see as a form of editing.
I think "kiddy play" as Tobias describes it completely lacks any form of editing or structurising. You don't know which robot is going to win the battle until one of them won.
(Tobias: Man, spelljammer was 16 years ago! I feel old!)
Real-time quantitative testing is underway as we speak. (Grin.) Or not; you're right, I'm really not sure. Which is why it was a gedankexperiment only. Long, long periods of time was the easiest way I could think of to "split" one person into effectively two roles per the Czege pr.; I'm sure there are others, but they're probably even harder to set up. (Self-administered electroshock, heavy drug or alcohol use, or MPD are the others that come to mind. I'll wait the three years, thanks.)
Hence my comments about not being sure whether it's playable or not, as written. The non-pure version I float at the end of the post, which is basically a twisted real-time PBEM with a kind of randomized remote GM function, is honestly much more interesting as an actual game. Still probably not playable, though.
I would note, though, that the possible risk of "t'ain't no fun" due to waiting three years (or administering EST!), while totally real, is different in kind than the "t'ain't no fun" the Czege Principle was intended to address, which has to do with frustrating your own protagonism. So I think it does break the Principle itself, even if there turns out to be a different barrier-to-fun hiding beyond the break.
Blink. The mind is a strange place. I had a sudden urge to wait until xoxing becomes feasible and then play A Year And A Day with a copy of myself.
Back on-topic for this thread, though, I think there's a lot of cool ground hiding in the scattered observations that kids are having fun with this because they're omitting some kind of expectation... expectations of judgment, witnessing, meaningful adversity, and so forth. The implication being that the Czege Principle is actually something that creeps up on us and isn't present in kids. They don't mind providing mock-adversity and then resolving it themselves.
Here's a thought. I submit that kids haven't ever learned Stances a'tall. Not the theory, the actual concept. The kind of play we're talking about here is, seen in Stance terms, a neato kind of naif Actor/Author/Director meld with no distinctions... IMO, not even at any given instant. Which is something we just can't seem to manage as adults. I'll submit that the when Vincent says But how long is that fun for? Like twenty seconds?, the point where it stops being fun is the point where your mind tries to figure out which Stance, or other consistent approach, to use here.
Which may just be another way of saying that they don't analyze the fun they're having.
Eric: Smart. Kids not having learned stances makes a lot of sense. I'm not sure if I agree with you on adults not managing it, though. You know, when writers say, "the characters seem to write themselves"? I think it's pretty much the same "state of mind", so to speak.
Perhaps solo-RPG play (other than CRPG) is less fun because it breaks flow - because you are required to perform both in-story as well as out-of story. "Out-of-story" being neccesary to introduce the game aspect, otherwise it's just fiction "writing itself".
Similarly, (adult) expectations/justifications can also break flow.
(Although, to refer to an earlier post, I'm not sure Kids don't do editing. I DID know which robot was going to win a bunch of (faux) conflicts). Sometimes the outcome was open, sometimes it wasn't).
(And, of course, Kids learning to play together has a strong parralel to gaming groups learning to play together - but that's another thread).
In CRPG games, the jarring effect is removed by smooth computer operation (hopefully), at the cost of computer limitations on flexibility.
Solo-RPG by the numbers books are just crude implementations of software versions.
Perhaps a Solo RPG could work by making the parts that are normally considered 'meta' to the story, part of the story.
Which is something I'm looking into with my solo-writing-code-of-unaris thing. I've got a (half-baked) setting where the role of the editor (and the rules forcing specific edits) both are an integral part of the setting, and applying them is as much story as the text you're editing.
I'm hoping it will be "an active, rules&self-collaborative, critical relationship [you will be critical of your own quality of editing both sentences and overall story when the rules force you to do something], you and another story-viewing and altering system working effectively together."
It may be a fiction-writing and consumption game, that allows you to take on a role (Of editor. With powers depending on your role (graphics editor, memory editor, chief editor, print editor). Close enough to (solo-)RPG?
I'm not convinced I'm good enough to design a game (or assist others with a state of mind) that shatters the expectations/justifications and just reverts you back to being able to do kid-play by yourself. (Although we could do a clinical study of solo-hobbyists that make sounds to themselves for longer than 20 seconds. ;) ). But if someone can.... who knows? I'm sure it has some benefits for group play as well, if that's more to people's liking.
I'm not demanding kid-play. I'm demanding a fun 1-person RPG-experience, or as close to RPG as I can get.
Reverting back to kid-play, to me, is a useful tool for seeing which processes were fun back then, and which have disappeared. If they've disappeared for any reason *other* than that they're not fun anymore, it pays to know these reasons.
Other people may have different reasons for reverting back to kid-play, but I'm sure they'll let you know on their own.
As to demanding sophistication up to our own 'adult' level - we don't - at least, not all the time. We often are content with something way below our level of sophistication. Because it would get too strenuous, or serious, if we went to maximal level. Witness several types of movies (Dumb & Dumber?), games (Tic Tac Toe, Monopoly, Risk, Planescape: Torment), boozing at the local pub.
btw, a game designed to be playable as a solo RPG exists: it's called "Mythic." http://www.mythic.wordpr.com/ I have a copy. I haven't taken a serious shot at playing it, but maybe I will and report back.
I write (bad, unpublished) fiction as well as gaming, and they're definitely different things -- but the most fun I've had writing was when my wife and I brainstormed together. I got the same thing out of this as I get out of gaming: the pleasant surprise of somebody else's brain. That's the great joy of collaboration (or even competition) that's missing from solo play.
(A short post, and 100% dead people free. I'm getting better, really I am).
Vincent wrote: Why is reverting back to kid-play a worthwhile pursuit?
It's appropriate for us to demand entertainment as sophisticated as we ourselves are, and to be bored by entertainment less sophisticated. We haven't lost anything.
I'm not sure that a solo rpg is reverting back to kid play or that its less or that it would be less sophisticated entertainment if done right.
I'm playing in a buffy game, after the game I'm all in my head about my character, I'm having conversations in my head as my character with other PCs and NPCs I'm placing myself in dangerous situations, kicking butt and taking names.
This excess creative energy I have would be happy to be channeled into a game of one.
A solo RPG would fill a different need than a social RPG, I'd rather be playing poker, but alone I'm happy to play several different versions of Solitaire.
I have in mind a Scenerio based adventure. Mini one shots with specific tasks, Like rescue the princess.
The Evil Mage can only react a certain way as is the nature of Villians. He acts to succeed first, then to Hurt the Hero then to Protect himself. He has a varied number of Henchment, who act to hurt the Hero first then to succeed in thier task then to defend themselves.
The princess has one die, she must use it to either defend or escape - if she tried to escape she can not defend herself, if she is defence she can not escape
and ofcourse the hero, how can use his dice as he likes.
anyway thats the skeliton of the idea of a solo rpg oneshot.
I can get behing that 'excess energy' concept, Kat!
I'd prefer my solo rpg a bit broader than a one-shot, but there's no reason why there couldn't be a story-scripter mechanic running alongside your 1-person play, whether it is Otherkind-esque, or Code of Unaris-y.
Anyway, this thread seems to have lost it's "hotness". Have people taken away anything? I have - I've been inspired to a few more concepts, etc., but perhaps there are others still unsatisfied out there.
Young kids will also play with water for hours on end (check out your local kindergarten and you'll see the water trough).
Where did that go?
You learnt it all, learnt every nuance of it. There's nothing else to be gained there. To make a bit of a joke of it, as a human you may under the impression that fun is just there for your enjoyment, and will be a bit surprised when fun is removed as the real agenda (learning) has been completed.