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📄 posts/genre-ramblings.poly.pm
#lang pollen

◊(define-meta title "Genre ramblings")
◊(define-meta published "2022-03-08")
◊(define-meta topics "Genre, RPGs, Burning Locusts, Burning Wheel")

Two weeks ago, we held a Trait Vote in our game of Burning Locusts. It is
well-documented here◊sidenote{◊link["https://takeonrules.com/2022/03/01/trait-vote-sessions-in-burning-wheel/"]{Trait Vote Sessions in Burning Wheel}},
but there is a particular point I want to expand upon as it relates to
something that I think role-playing games do very well, even if there
is a strong trend against it in the industry. During the vote, we hit
a place where the thesaurus could not help describe the changes that
happened to the characters. The characters have evolved into something
complex enough that we have had to resort to using phrases instead of
single words. In other words, we've entered uncharted territory.

I've seen a lot of cultural changes during my trips around the sun.
I've witnessed the birth of video games, hip-hop, techno music,
computer animation, the web, smartphones, and on and on and on.  These
were all life changing events that we now take for granted. (I've also
seen many things I love disappear only to be displaced or replaced by
something inferior). None of these things were created in a
vacuum. But all of them were paradigm shifts that required a big
cognitive leap. It is easy to trace a lineage from innovation to
innovation when looking backwards but it would have been impossible
for someone looking forward to predict those changes.  Those things
might not have happened at all or they might have happened
differently. In each case, someone walked off the map, and the
cartographers had to append to the map to keep it accurate.

I've seen the maps change over and over again. I don't want my
possibilities to be limited. Strict genre emulation, re-enactment, and
fan fiction don't put me in that exploratory space. I am not interested
in this kind of fan participation in genres (down to specific expressions
of genre via licensed properties). This kind of participation treats
walking off the map as a failure state.

Genres ◊i{can} serve as a familiar starting place because it is hard for
us to conceive of something that doesn't exist yet. But when we
invent or discover something entirely novel, the world grows, even by
an infinitesimal amount (as it did in our Trait Vote). I think that's
desirable, even when we start off in someone else's world. Genre is a
bigger unit of change than what happened in our game, but it is built
upon these tiny atoms that we create when the thesaurus fails
us. Repeat this enough times at the correct scale, and a new genre
will emerge, even ephemerally and without an audience or critics to
codify it. But I think that works better as a side-effect rather than
as an explicit goal.

Like many other gamers, I have spent my whole life obsessing over
books, comics, music, video games, film, television, and RPGs. If I
find a place in play that I've never been to before, that place is
bound to be pretty interesting.

I want to know where the map ends and how to recognize when that has
happened. I want to know how to resist the instinct to course-correct
back into familiar and safe territory. I also want to set
up conditions where this exploration is allowed and not
judged as a failure state.