This is RPG-ology #55: The Process, for May 2022.
Our thanks to Regis Pannier and the team at the Places to Go, People to Be French edition for locating a copy of this and a number of other lost Game Ideas Unlimited articles. This was originally Game Ideas Unlimited: The Process, and is reposted here with minor editing [bracketed]. Some of these were republished out of sequence, so this list will assist in getting the original order.
This article, number twenty-six in the [Game Ideas Unlimited] series, was expected to appear on November 16th, rounding out half a year. Although all twenty-five prior articles have run, it took a couple extra weeks due to the Gaming Outpost shutdown in October. So although we’re behind schedule by a couple weeks, we’re celebrating six months’ worth of articles with this one. Also, this entry [
is free. It] does contribute something to our overall theme; but on reflection it also points back at the earlier articles in the series, and I hope might encourage some [ to subscribe so as] to read those.
When we started this series, it was announced with words much like this:
Multiverser developer M. Joseph Young is writing an eclectic series aimed at uncovering and encouraging the creative thought process. It promises to touch on every genre, being sometimes theoretical and sometimes practical, but always different.
It sounds a bit like the blurb for a college course in creativity. In such a course, I would have expected a psychological consideration of left brain versus right brain activity. I would have anticipated that we would have taken the best examples of the medium and deconstructed them to see exactly how the greats achieved that status, how they constructed their masterpieces. We would have presented the rules of form, the theories and structures and any other named notions by which we dissected and categorized our subject. Probably we’d have spent thousands of words talking about game mechanics, player objectives, system goals, control; and more about heroes, archetypes, mythoi, allegory, fable.
I won’t say that we didn’t do any of that; but it certainly has not been our focus. Rather, we’ve been looking at the creative process another way. Let’s pause a moment to review.
In our fourteenth installment, Who?, we talked about making our characters more like people by letting them discover things about themselves that weren’t on their character sheets when they began.
Left Hand, number fifteen, was an exploration of how each of us perceives directions and dimensions, and how to make our worlds more vivid through understanding that.
Learning was about reading, and also about watching television. More precisely, this sixteenth column stressed the importance of knowing as much as you can about everything, so you have the background needed to fill in the gaps in your creations.
In the seventeenth entry, Deceased, we attended a funeral, and wondered why our characters don’t seem to have the depth of character to care about each other enough to hold such ceremonies within our games.
Left or Right? was not about directions or dimensions at all, but about the illusion of choice in a game, and how the referee can use that illusion to improve the game experience–by making choices matter when they should, but not when they shouldn’t. This eighteenth article also shows how a tool designed to give more power to the players can as easily be used to give more power to the referee.
After the October hiatus, we returned with our nineteenth, entitled Embraces, talking about bringing romance into the adventures we role play.
Believable Nonsense addressed superstition. Completing a score of articles, this one considered how to create superstitions, how to bring them into the game, and what difference they make.
Stitches may have seemed like another of my forays down memory lane, but in this twenty-first effort the point was to make sure you get the details right when you use a real setting–especially if your players are likely to know them.
Number twenty-two, Sentience, attempted to examine what makes human minds seem human, and how we could alter that to achieve the impression of something alien in our non-human characters.
The twenty-third article was about Motivation. We looked at one fictional character, and saw how behind everything he did was a single reason, something that was uniquely his reason for being part of the story. And we saw how when it was taken away he either had to be given another reason or taken out of the story.
We considered the insights of Thomas Alva Edison in the twenty-fourth installment, how a great idea is nothing without work, although no amount of work can turn a bad idea into something great.
The twenty-fifth column, Names, considered how nicknames attach to people and don’t always mean what they seem.
We’ve done much more in the past six months; but I took a look Over My Shoulder back in the thirteenth column, in which I summarized the earlier columns and spoke of the importance of looking at the past as a way of preparing for the future. If you don’t remember the earlier entries, you can find them there. [
Unfortunately, due to the changes here at Gaming Outpost, the links there aren’t any good and I can’t (at least yet) access the article to fix them; but the names and synopses are there, and you can find the old articles in the vault.]
But why have we done this, instead of that? Why haven’t we talked about left and right brain activity, or deconstructed masterpieces of games, or addressed the nuts-and-bolts issues of game design? Because I don’t believe that’s how creative thought is learned.
When I was knee high to a grasshopper, I was a musician. My kindergarten teacher said I was her little songbird (I hope that was a compliment). By the time I was entering seventh grade, I could play piano, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, ukulele, fife, and a silly little instrument called a tonette. I wanted to be a great composer; already I had studied a surprising amount of music theory. I took staff paper and wrote music. And none of it was any good.
Then I met a kid who did write music. He didn’t write it on paper–he barely knew his way around the staff, played only the guitar, and sang. And I suppose he didn’t really write great songs (no one ever offered to buy one of those). But he wrote good songs, real songs that you could sing to your friends and impress them. And thankfully he needed someone to play keyboard, so we became friends, and I started working on arranging his songs so I could play along with him on the piano or a cheap organ I had. And sometimes I would be there when he would start to write another song, and more and more I worked with him to turn an idea into a finished piece. In a sense, I apprenticed to the task of songwriter.
Our collaboration didn’t last more than a couple of years. But I learned from him what I could never teach myself. By the time I finished high school, I was conducting the school chorus in concert in a piece I’d written, working with the band on a symphonic work of mine, and playing with my rock band in coffeehouses, parties, and wherever else we could find, performing songs I’d composed and arranged and taught to the others.
I learned the most important parts of the creative process by watching Jay Fedigan write a few songs.
So I’ve taken this tack for the past six months, because I think that the best way to learn to be creative isn’t by studying some set of rules about creativity (music theory was no help until after I’d learned to compose music), but by watching the creative mind and seeing how it works. From what I’ve observed, that’s helped many of you. As we move forward into the second half of the year, perhaps you’ll let me know how to continue.