From Scrabble to Dungeons & Dragons, gaming will make you a stronger storyteller.
Admittedly, this week’s post is a blatant excuse to mention what I’ll be doing for the next four days: Gen Con 2015! That being said, while taking a break from drafting this post I browsed the various writing seminars offered during the convention. Lo and behold, one sports the title Tor Presents: Gaming the Novel – How Tabletop Gaming Informs Worldbuilding in Fantasy Fiction. Thank you, Gen Con; blog topic justified.
No matter the genre in which you write, tabletop games are a valuable mental workout. Some games have easily identifiable correlations with writing, but any game will have its benefits. Games are calisthenics for storytelling. Stuck on a plot point? Have a flat character? Think like a gamer.
Cheaters Never Prosper
Thanks to the games we grew up playing – Monopoly, Clue, Uno, Scrabble, Candy Land, Go Fish, etc. – we understand that a game relies on its rules of play. A chess pawn cannot move like the queen, and a knight can only behave as a knight would (in the world of chess, anyway). A victory isn’t satisfying and a defeat loses instruction if the rules are ignored. When writing, we avoid characters who take the easy way out, and we resist the urge to throw in a twist that works against the grain of the established tone and style of the plot. Who wants to read a book that cheats or takes shortcuts?
Whether you prefer Carcassonne or The Settlers of Catan, strategy games have us thinking ahead as well as working on the goals established at the start of play. Do you focus on finishing individual routes or attempt to have the longest train track in Ticket to Ride? Do you always purchase more abilities or amass wealth to gain more land for your Dominion? Do you over-pay to snag architectural elements as they arise or wait to pay exact change and get another turn to build your Alhambra? Strategy games are great practice in examining various courses of action and the consequences that will be attached to each. Undergoing a strategic struggle in something as simple as a game reminds the storyteller that seeing a character wrestling with the options is just as important as his/her final decision.
Bluff & Weave
How convincing can you be? How are your improv skills? Games like Sheriff of Nottingham or The Resistance test your ability to portray the most innocent behavior while identifying those among your companions who might be working at cross-purposes. Weave ridiculous and morbid storylines in an attempt to make your game-family members as miserable as possible using the cards dealt in Gloom. Create a story out of the most random and unfortunate of events to freshen an old approach to a dusty manuscript or pick up on the signs of guilt around the table to sneak into your character descriptions while attempting a bluff of your own.
Play It Out
Embarking on a role playing game (RPG) campaign requires submerging oneself in a fictional world, fleshing out a few stats into a three dimensional character whose life choices and experience can be vastly different from one’s own, and carefully examining the motivations and goals of the group while navigating the various obstacles that come along. There are scads of RPG systems out there: a million variants of classic fantasy, techno-savvy Sci-Fi, chilling thrillers, medieval epics, and more. Take the plunge into a saga where the dice determine your fate. Or start out with a two-hour foray into an alternate existence where character stats aren’t decided by the dice but by a questionnaire filled out by each participant prior to play – games such as these often have no game master, or narrator of sorts, which may allow a group new to RPGs to share the responsibility for the shorter duration of the story instead of one individual directing the course of events session after session. Role playing engages the imagination immediately to inhabit the personality, abilities, and ambitions in a work of pure fiction.
Short & Sweet
On the opposite end of the game-duration spectrum are microgames. An entire story arc can be developed in a round of Love Letter, Shushi Go, or Niya. Sometimes the goals and methods of a protagonist need not be a drawn out affair. Short stories are no less powerful or enjoyable than ones that take days, weeks, months, or years to play out. Microgames remind a writer that a certain plot might be best served by less rather than more.