Storium Theory: Get Emotionally Invested

This post originally appeared at Gaming Creatively on September 7th, 2017.

I’ve finished up my Storium Basics articles, so now, I’d like to take a little time to write about one more thing. This is something that I think is important for anyone playing Storium, or indeed any sort of RPG or storytelling system. Heck, it’s important for general writing as well.

You have to let yourself feel.

If you want to tell powerful stories, you have to let yourself feel.

If you want to truly portray your character, you have to let yourself feel.

If you just want to have the best time you can roleplaying, to have an experience you’ll remember and look back on fondly, you have to let yourself feel.

Some people can do this really easily. Others, myself included, have a tougher time with it.

I have a tendency to get pretty mechanical when I’m writing, particularly in RPGs, storytelling games, or the like. I find that I distance myself from the events of the story, from the emotional impact of what goes on, in a way that I don’t if I’m just watching a movie or reading a book or playing a video game. When I’m not participating in the writing, I can get involved in the emotion of a story easily. But when I’m participating…

When I’m participating, I spend more time thinking about what should happen next, or what I’m going to do, or what cards I’m going to play, or what my strategy should be for the next step, what abilities I want to use, how my tactics will affect my dice rolls…any or all of that, depending on what sort of writing or gaming we’re talking about. It’s really easy to distance myself from feeling what’s happening in the story, and look at things as the basic exercise of writing or gaming rather than the full-fledged emotional experience of a tale.

There’s a social aspect, too, though that’s less of a concern in a play-by-post sort of game like Storium. But still…I’m not a guy who likes to have his emotions on full display. I’m not that open, really, and so I tend to consciously or unconsciously resist letting myself react to story events emotionally when I’m writing or playing with others.

I’ve learned that I have to try to break out of that shell.

The best moments I’ve had in Storium, in tabletop gaming, in online roleplaying, in MUXes, in any kind of collaborative writing experience…those moments have all been when I let my walls drop. Those are the moments I remember most fondly.

The moments when I let the tears come while I read and wrote.

The moments when I felt anger at the deeds of a villain.

The moments when I worried for a hero who had disappeared.

The moments when I dove into my character’s mindset and felt the fear he would about the monster lurking in the dark.

It’s so very easy to separate ourselves from the tale. Sometimes we do it because we’d be uncomfortable otherwise. In a horror game, for instance, we’ll crack jokes or make table talk about the real world, reemphasizing the unreality of the horror. In the midst of a tragedy, we’ll have our heroes stand bold and proud, brushing off the sorrow and just going on being heroes. We can’t have them break, because someone might think we’ve broken too.

But I’ve learned that when I allow myself to feel, when I allow that fear or horror or sadness or pain or joy or hope or dream or love to affect me, and then allow it to affect my writing, I get an experience I can remember, and an experience others can remember as well.

I’ve learned that I can best write a character who has gone through struggles and pain when I let myself feel the sadness, just as I would if I weren’t participating in the writing. I’ve learned to force myself to treat roleplaying and collaborative storytelling just like watching a movie or reading a book or playing a video game with a great tale – I’ve learned to drop my guard and let things hit me.

Because when I let things hit me, I let them hit my character, and when I let them hit my character, my character’s reactions are more honest, more powerful, more raw and pure. It makes the character feel like a full-fledged person, with hopes and dreams and fears and pain, who is affected by the tale, driven by the tale, pushed to react and to experience emotion and to be changed by those experiences.

For me, it’s hard. It’s honestly hard. It’s so easy to slip back into just thinking, “Well, what should happen next?” or “What card should I use here?” or “What tactic seems best?” or “What would be a cool thing to do?” or “What’s my next one-liner?” And look – all of those questions can be, frequently are good things to ask. But not if they separate you from actually feeling. And for me, they can, unless I force myself to into the right mindset. For me, they can, unless I specifically connect myself with the heart of the tale.

This isn’t something I can tell you how to do. Everybody’s different. Everybody reacts to a story differently. For some of you, this isn’t even something you’ll have to think about. Some of you are reading this article and thinking, “Wow, I mean, I just get in my character’s head and I feel this stuff anyway.” And that’s great! There are people who can just do that, who can just feel like a character, get in their head, think like they do, and feel like they do. It’s something you hear about from great actors all the time, and it’s something I’ve heard from great roleplayers as well.

But if you’re like me, and you find yourself thinking clinically about stories, thinking about plot designs, thinking about cards or dice or what-have-you, thinking about character motivations from a distance…I can’t tell you how to do it, but I encourage you to try to break that. Think like a reader, think like someone who is experiencing the tale. Don’t think what your character should do, feel what your character will do.

If you’re like me, that isn’t going to be easy, and you aren’t going to succeed all the time. But those moments where you do succeed? Those are going to be the moments you remember, the moments you deeply treasure, the moments you look back on years from now and relive in your mind.

When that happens…you see the true treasure that roleplaying, that collaborative storytelling, that writing in general can be. You leave a part of yourself in that story. You become a part of it, and it becomes a part of you. It is a beautiful, wonderful experience.

So…let yourself feel. Open yourself to that experience. Let the story in.

 


This will be the final weekly article of Storium Theory. I’m not going to say that I’m solidly done, that there will never be another article, but I’ve said just about everything I can think of to say at present. I’ve written one hundred and thirty-three articles about Storium, counting this one, and I’ve written about it since November 2015. That’s…probably more than I’ve written about anything else in my life, ever. And that’s not counting my participation in Storium Arc, where I’ve spent many hours talking about this great system and community as well.

It’s amazing to me the level of depth that a system like Storium has turned out to have…the fact that I could find so much to write about it, the fact that I could write for such a long time on it and it alone…that honestly surprised me. When I started this out, I didn’t initially set it up on my blog. I was just going to have four or five little articles on a webpage somewhere, just a quick little guide of sorts for new Storium players or narrators.

But Storium was deeper than that. Storium was more than that. Exploring Storium took longer, took more thought, became more interesting to me. I found myself exploring the ways the system could be used, the ways you could use challenges to do interesting things, and that got me thinking about how things could work in my own games or with my own characters, and those fed back into articles here.

Now…again, I can’t say I’m done. I’m still playing Storium, and topics will still likely arise. But for now, this is the end of weekly articles, of regularly scheduled articles.

I hope that those of you who have read these have found them useful. I hope that I’ve helped you get more comfortable with the Storium system, and to learn to use it in creative ways, ways that can enhance your stories and lead to memorable and fun games. I hope that I’ve helped you get into your characters and explore them more deeply.

But now, as ever, I want to emphasize something: My way to play Storium is not the only way to play Storium. My way to write is not the only way to write. As I close up this post, and with it, the regular Storium Theory articles, I want to encourage you to look not just here, but to the community in general, to other Storium games, to other resources. If you need help, ask for it – the community is willing. If you need examples, look for them among the other games out there. See how things have worked. Explore. And come up with your own methods, your own interesting ways to use the system, your own house rules.

Storium is a simple system in concept, but a deep one at heart. Take the time to get to know it and it will reward you.

May the future bring you friendship, great stories, and treasured memories.