Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fairy tales are devoid of player agency

If I look at fairy tales from the classic player agency definition I'd conclude they're devoid of such player agency. After all the princess will prick her finger on the spindle no matter what. Some players would argue that it's railroading. No matter what the players do the door will be closed, no matter what passage they choose to go down it will lead to the same room, no matter what they do the story leads down the same inevitable road.

If something is to be learned from Maleficient is that the GM is also playing a character and that destiny is full of surprises.

In the classic story line the fairy/witch is a evil GM controlled character sent to make everyone in the kingdom miserable, specially the small and defenseless princess. I can imagine many players complaining about the unfair GM who, no matter what they do, always ends up pricking the princess with the spindle. "It's unfair!", they'd say. "We've journeyed east and west, north and south, we've brought everything onto the evil fairy, we've taken the precaution to lock the princess on that dreadful day to be, and still there's a fucking spindle! Come on! Give us a break you're just being a shitty GM and railroading the adventure". I can hear them say that and worse. Can you?

But there is Maleficient! A story with the same railroading. The princess will prick her finger on the spindle no matter what. Yet the story unfolds entirely different. We see a more complex antagonist. An antagonist who is full of dreams and hurt by having these dreams clipped. An antagonist who is an antagonist from the point of view of the men in the castle, who in turn are antagonists to Maleficent. So regardless of the inevitable destiny involving the spindle there is so much the players can do in between, so many internal struggles that can add to the story and so many ways to end the story. So many ways to come to a new and totally unexpected story.

So next time you complain that the GM is railroading the adventure because no matter what you do as a player there are things you can't seem to change, take a moment to think which Sleeping Beauty story are you living with your character. Are you rehearsing the same ol' Disney version or are you forging a new Maleficient?
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