September 29th, 2004


Games as Books

There has been a bunch of discussion of late comparing Games to Books. It hasn't sit well with me. I thought I throw out some thoughts and see what people thought.

First of all, I don't think it is useful to consider RPGs to be similar to books. Yes they are both narrative forms...but stand-up comics also often create narrative forms and that is nothing like a book. I think comparing them (heroes don't die in books, they don't have to die in games) obscures important differences.

Games are first and Books are not games. There is a sense of challenge and struggle in a game where there isn't in a book. Games that are very book-like can begin to feel very rail-roady very quickly. Books also tend have a situation where the main character knows more about his/her abilities, history, plans, etc than the reader does. Part of reading a books is finding out what the main character knows/does/etc...something that in an RPG, the player already knows about his character. Also RPGs are almost always ensemble affairs while books often aren't--same with many action movies actually. RPGs (well, 95% of them anyway) tend to focus heavily on randomizers (dice, cards, etc) books don't have random elements because they are already through-composed. That is a huge difference. Also, RPGs are a co-operative creation process...while books also tend not to be.

RPGs are their own artform. Are they related to literature? That is in the root of the game...but just as much in the roots of the game are strategy war games. RPGs also have as influence radio plays, TV shows, movies, improv theatre, playing make-believe with your friends.

I think focusing on literature is not the best thing to do to the hobby. I'd prefer that we look at RPGs as their own special form of art and then delve into and analyse what makes an RPG a special and excellent experience.