Peter Adkison Presents…

Can Roleplaying Games Create Good Stories?

Today I’m launching my first Kickstarter campaign (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/peteradkison/the-devil-walks-in-salem) to help produce a film called The Devil Walks in Salem. I’m blogging about this because I want to discuss how this project fits in to a bigger aim of exploring how roleplaying games and filmmaking might interact.

I love roleplaying games but I’ve always wondered if there was a way to make roleplaying experiences less ephemeral. We have these magical moments, but the descriptions of our sessions to others are not nearly as engaging as the experiences themselves. A group of us gets together and we create awesome characters and stories, but when we try and share that excitement the sharing is never as exciting as the experience itself. These magical moments can be reminisced with the other participants, and often are for years and years, but there’s no way to really share capture the excitement for someone who wasn’t there.

There have been some excellent attempts at filming roleplaying games. Probably, Zak Smith and Wil Wheaton have done the best job at this with their respective web series, I Hit It With My Axe and Tabletop. I’ve also attempted this with my own series, The First Paladin. But I fear this only takes us so far. Zak adds a lot of spice to his series by featuring attractive young ladies from the adult entertainment industry who, at the beginning of the series, are beginners at roleplaying. The series is fun to watch not just because of the sex appeal, but there’s the enjoyment of watching newbies learn what roleplaying games are all about, reminding all of us of when we first picked up the polyhedrals. Zak’s also an excellent GM and the series is quite entertaining. Wil Wheaton uses his tremendous charisma and star power to attract celebrities to his table and Tabletop has added an infusion of popularity and broader-market acceptance and awareness of tabletop games, further promoting the acceptance of geekdom into the mainstream.

I am obsessed with the question of whether or not roleplaying games might help us create stories that are interesting enough to adapt to narrative film. Last year I filmed about 30 roleplaying sessions and in one of those sessions in particular the players collaborated to create a story that inspired us to write a screenplay adaptation of that story. The more we worked on the screenplay the more we became convinced that, indeed, this story would make for an excellent film, which we call The Devil Walks in Salem.

If the Kickstarter is funded, we plan on entering pre-production right after Gen Con Indy with a goal of filming it in late October for a December release, adding a data point to support or refute the question of whether roleplaying games can be used to create stories worthy of screenplay adaptation.
I could be wrong (that’s happened more times than I care to admit), but I believe we’ll be successful in adding a data point that supports an affirmative answer to this blog’s question.

Where Next?

I have an idea of where I want to take this next. I’m not committing to this, yet; for now I’m just blogging about it to help crystalize my thoughts and perhaps solicit some feedback. Right now it’s an idea that’s just buzzing around in my head and the more I think about it the more excited I get.

I’m thinking of filming several roleplaying games at Gen Con Indy next year as something of a contest and then picking one of those games to adaptall our bandwidth. As a film company creating media for gamers we need something interesting to do at Gen Con anyway, and after the convention we’d have a whole year to do make the film. This seems doable, promotable, and on target.

What I’m hoping this might help inspire is more analysis and creativity around the topic of sharing roleplaying experiences.

Why?

My personal goal, transcending any sort of career aim or business plan, is to help push roleplaying games into broader acceptance and visibility in the world. And I think something that could help is a mechanism to share our experiences. The best way I can illustrate this is by comparison to another activity I enjoy, snowboarding.

As a snowboarder, the best experiences are those where I’m actually snowboarding. There is no substitute for the real deal, a sunny day with fresh powder and a sparse wooded section where I can play dodge the trees. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to watch snowboarding videos. Watching expert boarders do things I’ll never be able to do stimulates my desire to hit the slopes. I can dream of being 22 years old, riding rails, spinning out of the pipe, and living the life. Also, it’s fun to watch videos and learn tricks and see places I haven’t been. Snowboarding videos inspire me to go snowboarding!

Similarly, could films related to roleplaying in some way inspire roleplayers?

I also wonder if roleplaying videos might inspire roleplaying game designers to consider designing roleplaying games that might be fun to watch. I enjoy asking designers, “What are the most important criteria for designing roleplaying games?” Usually they answer with something reasonable along the lines of “fun to play”, “express my art”, or “capture the feel of a movie license.” No matter the answer, I respond with, “What if the most important criteria were that the game would fun to watch?” Some Jeepform RPG’s have probably pushed the envelope in this direction the furthest, where the audience is a part of the session, and players who aren’t in a given scene join the audience to participate according to the guidelines of audience participation.

I have no idea where this will lead, if anywhere. But I’ve never been one to shy away from chasing crazy ideas. You never know where the journey will end—except that it won’t be quite what you expect. I love that!

Peter Adkison
July 23, 2013

One Comment

  1. Orion Canning
    July 23, 2013

    This is something I’m also very interested in. Me and my friend Robert Bruce wrote a game called The House designed to be played over youtube (http://www.youtube.com/user/thehousethegame , http://thehousethegame.blogspot.com/).

    Viewscream is another game designed to be played over live video chat like google hangouts (http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/113064/ViewScream)

    Sea Dracula is a game designed to be performed in front of an audience which I have video of on my youtube channel, and I’ve heard of games of Fiasco being played performatively in front of an audience as well. I could easily imagine many Jeepform games being played on a stage in a theater in front of an audience.

    I recently filmed a session of Ross Cowman’s Life On Mars (thanks for backing him by the way!) and I plan on posting a video of the game on his kickstarter. Me and my designer friends are also planning on beginning a project soon to write a comic book based on a game.

    So I’m very interested in what you are doing and look forward to the movie’s success!

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