For further discussion in another thread, perhaps: what are the limits of disinterest in performance among those who like gamey games? After all, there are much less performance-oriented yet engrossing games like chess. Presumably one undertakes role-playing games because of some affinity for limited identification with a character, or to contribute to a story. Yeah, that’s clearly another thread.
I feel like I remember a better way to start threads by literally opening a new one from a reply, but hope this suffices!
Anyway, I wanted to clarify the distinction I made between performance and a lack thereof in roleplaying games, since I think that’d help get the conversation going. There’s a definition of performance often used in psychoanalysis and feminist theory that I worry, with my background, I was implying in this case. If we define performance as the appropriation of a social or cultural desire (i.e. “the Other’s desire”) as the subject’s own, and one that the subject is compelled to constantly live out in desiring, then I would be hard-pressed not to identify this definition with role-playing as such. Like, performance is role-playing and vice versa. To play a role is to perform. Et cetera, whatever.
However–and this might be a blind spot on my side–I’d like to use the word ‘performance’, or maybe find another word, to refer to the imaginative indulgence that is expected of players in some modern games like D&D 5e. Retired Adventurer’s blog post about the six cultures of play comes in handy as always:
OC basically agrees with trad that the goal of the game is to tell a story, but it deprioritises the authority of the DM as the creator of that story and elevates the players’ roles as contributors and creators. The DM becomes a curator and facilitator who primarily works with material derived from other sources - publishers and players, in practice. OC culture has a different sense of what a “story” is, one that focuses on player aspirations and interests and their realisation as the best way to produce “fun” for the players.
For one, I want to offer a take that this relationship to a player-character, or at least the relationship before it enters the space of the game, does not constitute role-playing. Although it is, of course, a reflection of the player’s own fantasies which are socially determined or whatever, it is not yet a role that exists in a symbolic framework external to the player-as-subject’s fantasy.
Maybe I’m not imaginative enough, or not comfortable enough to express infinite permutations of my ideal image to my friends, but this expectation in ‘OC’ play feels very exhausting to me. Being whatever the game wants me to be, and not having to worry about it or plan it ahead, is what makes classic (and even ‘trad’) play more appealing to me.
So the question I’d like to throw back is, how do we constitute identification with a character as a player? Is there a consistent definition of that relationship for what we consider a role-playing game?