Radical Transparency and Noobs
Had a chance to process some more of how our Firefly game went down Saturday night. So here’s an interesting thing, mostly due to debriefing with Karen, my favorite new player.
K: “You know in the game where you told Emily (my 14yo niece) a bunch of secret stuff?”
K: “And then at the end you said Now, this is all stuff that only your character knows. How much of this do you want to share with the other characters?”
Me: “Yeah. I do that on purpose.”
K: “But why? I think it was confusing to her.”
Me: “You think? It’s important she get the difference between players and characters.”
K: “But I thought the fun part was pretending you’re someone else.”
Then we talked a while about immersion, bleed, and author/actor stance stuff. Which to a noob? Holy shit, really really obscure high-level considerations.
Once upon a time, I looooved using all the actor-stance immersion tricks. All of them! I’d pull off players to give them secret information, I’d pass notes, I’d encourage players to secretly discuss stuff. Secrets secrets secrets. I’d coordinate with players to give an unreliable account to a player whose character was “insane” or drugged or in VR or whatever. Pull out all the stops. Huge fun. Hugely problematic.
Karen is sad that I don’t do that stuff any more. She thinks it sounds awesome. And here I am, more than 3 decades into this experiment, thinking nooooo…
Right around my time tearing apart Burning Wheel, we flipped the script and went for total, radical transparency. GM shares the “secret” stuff with everyone, treats the players like adults who can separate fantasy from the people at the table, rely heavily on dramatic irony, very firm author-stance play. Hold your terrible flawed character out there at arm’s length and play as true to them as possible. Advocate for truth, not for effectiveness.
Now, talking through this stuff with brand-new players, I wonder if that entire radical-transparency approach only works once you’ve gotten immersive actor-stance play “out of your system” (pejorative I know!), or seen the problems that can come out of it, or whatever. I wonder if the normal default reflex is for total immersion and close character identity, and arms-length authorial play is just mental gymnastics we’ve invented to create a layer of safety (one interpretation) and/or a way to dig more directly into the story-stuff of theme and clear lines of conflict (another interpretation, not necessarily incompatible with the first).
I just thought it was interesting. Given literally no other instructions, the assumption is that you should “be” your character. And that doing otherwise is less fun.