Plots and Attractors

There has been discussion on whether table-top RPGs are stories or drama and does they have plot in Roolipelaaja forum. That discussion made me think about some basic concept and views on RPGs.

Johannes Kellomäki argued that from narratologist point of view games are stories; RPGs represents human actions. I took that he meant that acted out events in a game forms a story. Which is perfectly valid view. However, it tells very little about the structures of the game before players have fixed their path with descisions.

Arzi pointed out in the discussion that the structures of table-top RPGs are close to Aarseth’s cybertext, but cybertexts are determinite. There are some modereating artefact, like book or computer, between reader/player and intrigue. Intrigue is also contains several, but (beforehand) fixed, possible outcomes.

Markus Montola has proposed elsewhere that RPGs could be considered as chaotic systems. He writes:

Even though they [table-top RPGs] are unpredictable, the chaotic systems tend to follow attractors. Attractor is a dynamic pattern of behaviour the system tries to follow. If the state of the system changes to far from the attractor, the system aqquires a new attractor.

This conceptation is interesting as it can be used to coceptualize structures of RPGs before a scenario is played. For example, goals of characters and possible goals of a group forms attractor. Also the skills, stats, and social relations of characters (and players) in relation to the rule system used chape the attractor(s): a group of thiefs would have different attractor that fighting oriented party even if the goal of the two parties would be identitical.

I think that the concept of attractor is valuable if one wants to discuss and aknowledge the process nature of the playing a role-playing game — and make a contrast to static narration structures of film and literature. The concept could be also valuable when analyzing computer games like Fable.

Published by lankoski

Petri Lankoski, D.Arts, is a Associate Professor in Game Studies at the school of Communication, Media and IT at the Södertörn University, Sweden. His research focuses on game design, game characters, role-playing, and playing experience. Petri has been concentrating on single-player video games but researched also (multi-player) pnp and live-action role-playing games. This blog focuses on his research on games and related things.

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