Comics Culture, Games Culture

July 4, 2008

So I finally picked up Scott McCloud’s Making Comics. It’s a good read, though it didn’t strike me as deeply as Understanding Comics, though whether that’s because of the writing itself, the fact that it’s more techinical and dry, or the fact that I’ve internalized a lot of it’s concepts already, it’s hard to say.

Nonetheless, it has a couple of good parts that do make crossover to rpgs.

The section on character design covers motivation, building characters as part of a cast, contrasting them to one another, looking at character motivation without overbuilding the character before the story begins, a lot of good stuff.

The chapter on Comics Culture was the most interesting with rpg crossover to me. He talks about folks using comics as art for art’s sake, art for technical expertise/experimentation, art for expressing life and art for speaking to larger truths.

Yeah, tell me that doesn’t happen in rpgs, both from the design side and the people playing side.

It didn’t just lay out for me the issues of people talking past each other, but also the passionate commitment to the hobby people have. Unlike comics, it doesn’t leave this long lasting artifact we can interact with and call art, but roleplaying does have a value as a performance entertainment- it’s a participatory entertainment.

With other things, you have something left behind that can be judged by someone outside of the experience- and eventually you form a body of critics who spend a lot of time thinking, comparing and talking, and with that dialogue, those of us who are less informed can get the analysis after the fact. We don’t have to do all the hard thinking about it. (This applies to anything from sports commentators to Lit Majors, so…)

For roleplaying, only the people present can fully analyze the experience, so unless someone who thinks along those lines is there, basically our critical culture is limited to the people with both the inclination to think about games that hard and their game experiences. Imagine if music criticism was limited to only the times you’ve played music, as part of a band or larger group, and that only very few people took the time and effort to develop their own music theory from the ground up.

Anyway, Making Comics is a good book on it’s own. I wouldn’t recommend buying it for rpg stuff, but if you can borrow it, or time to spare at a chain bookstore, read those sections. I’d love to see rpgs get their own book that has such clear and down to earth analysis of our hobby, but I think we’ve got probably about 20 years more stuff to work through first.


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