When you play an RPG, you aren’t telling a story.
What are you doing? Eating pizza, rolling dice, talking to each other, and pretending to do other things. (Fight orcs, whatever.)
Roleplaying is all about pretending to do things.
It’s not about telling stories. It’s not about making stories.
After it’s over, you can tell a story about what you did at the table: “Then he spilled a Coke on the DM’s notes!”
After it’s over, you can tell a story about what you pretended to do: “Then we charged the bastards, yelling and screaming and waving our swords!”
But during the session, you aren’t telling a story. You’re playing the game.
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Now, let’s talk about why. For me, it’s simple and clear: storytelling isn’t roleplaying. The two are separate mediums, they are not the same thing.
This is a functional description, based on what you actually do in each medium.
Telling a story is relating a series of events. Event A leads to Event B leads to Event C.
When relating a series of true events, this is done after the fact. “Telling a story” is an exercise in retrospective sensemaking. We make sense of our lives in retrospect, after the events occurred.
In the moment, we just live the events.
The same goes for the pretend lives that occur at the roleplaying table. In the moment, we just experience the events. Later we can tell stories about what occurred, but while it’s happening, we aren’t making a story.
Storygames are hybrids of cooperative story-telling/-making (an activity called simming) and RPG’s. A large part of the GNS/Forge movement was an attempt to blur the lines between simming and roleplaying.
They’re not the same. Their fundamental characteristics are very different.
Simming is an act of “authoring” the world, in concert with others. Roleplaying is taking on a role.
Simming is fine, in the abstract. Not my cup of tea, but not inherently wrong.
What was wrong, and foolish, was the blinkered demand that these two things were utterly identical, completely the same, and that anyone who thought differently was brain damaged. (A direct quote.)
From the point of view of media studies, this is patent nonsense. It cannot be true, and a basic, practical description of both mediums reveals why.
You don’t roleplay in a storygame. And you don’t “tell stories” by playing an RPG. It’s that simple.