Gaming as Writing Workshop
Said Holly, "They're not so hot for putting together stories, but they're fine, fine, fine if you're wanting to figure out how to build your own world."
Here's the thing. Back in my misspent youth, I think my gaming actually hurt my writing. I developed bad habits regarding conflict (mostly killing things) and plot (fairly superficial, linear, action-adventures). Maybe it was just the folly of youth--but I really think gaming encouraged me to stay within that comfort zone much longer than I would have otherwise. I wrote an epic fantasy novel in college. I swear, you can almost hear the dice rolling. Much of the action had no point in the larger story--just another random encounter thrown in the character's way. It was bad, bad, bad.
Sometime in my mid-twenties, things began to turn. My fiction broke out from behind my gaming and the stories began to explore issues that truly matter. My hopes and fears made it onto the page. My protagonists fell from grace--no longer the golden heros of adventure fantasy, they had their own hopes, daydreams and moments of weakness. Combat, when it occurred, was now a symptom of a larger conflict--not THE CONFLICT.
Then a funny thing happened. My writing bled back into my gaming and improved the stories that we told at the table.
Still, that's not enough for me. I want to play games that actually improve my writing. I want those dinner-table stories to be so engaging, so moving, that they challenge me to reach even deeper within myself when I write. I don't know if I'll ever get there, but that's where I want to be.
When you play a game, the audience is right there, just arms length away. The other players provide near-instantaneous feedback. You can see when they get excited or confused or bored. So, why can't roleplaying function as a workshop for things other than world building? Why can't we use the game to hone our sense of plots, pacing, themes, characters, or any other writing technique?
Game stories and written stories are different--in some ways very different. Not all techniques can cross from one to the other. So is this just a hopeless dream? Or will we actually get there some day?
I don't have an answer to this. I'm just throwing it out.