Day 15: When was the last time you unironically used the word “diegetic?”
Halfway point check-in!
Every day of our hashtag game I love to read the posts and comments our thing is generating, even when I stridently disagree with something someone says. That’s awesome, diversity of opinion is great. With the exception of the folks who are totally unequipped to laugh a little at this indie thing of ours now and again (and treat self-reflective laughter as an existential threat), it’s been more than two weeks of solid love letters. Amazingly positive. I’m changing nothing.
But also every day, there’s a tiny bit of me that wonders, is this going to be the day that it falls apart? It didn’t happen on the political day (9), it didn’t happen on the class warfare day (13), it very nearly happened on “let’s talk about talking about rules about rules” day (11).
I don’t want that day to be today, either.
Look. Diegetic? It’s jargon. It’s unfamiliar jargon, especially if you haven’t rubbed up against the freeform/nordic bleeding edge. I welcome the haters to consider other unfamiliar words, like thaco, or rollplaying, or crunch vs fluff, or “toon.” Ye gods, toon. How I hate toon. Aw crap, I set myself off with that one.
What is it about jargon that sets us off? It has to be all the implied baggage that comes along with it, yeah? Diegetic sounds academic and oh lord here come the gamesplainers. Toon is straight out of World of Warcraft and oh lord here come the munchkins. (Oh, add “munchkin” to the jargon list.)
As cultural signifiers, jargon is awesome. I say thaco and you know what it means? Meaningful nods, cool, we’re on the same page. I’ve just invoked basements, middle school hazing, Mountain Dew bottles and tiny painted figures. High five, I can safely talk D&D with you. I say diegetic and you don’t know what it means? Fear, uncertainty, doubt. Do we really share play goals? Do you think I’m dumb? Fuck you man, you don’t know me, I’m not dumb!
When I wrote the question, I was laughing at this totally throwaway moment from Dreamation this year, which was the first time I met Brand Robins. After many years of on and off sparring we had a lot of catching up to do. So we’re talking after hours, maybe a beer or something into one of those stand-around-and-bullshit nights. I can’t even remember what we were talking about! But at some point Brand is all “mumble mumble something diegetically resolved…diegetic means within the fiction by the way…” And I had two reactions: One, I immediately jumped in with “sigh, yes, I know what diegetic means,” i.e. my stop-patronizing-me reflex! Two, we had just done the little psychic high-five that said “yup, good, we both take game design and thinking seriously in this particular and academic way.”
There’s been some level of resistance to academic treatment of roleplaying since forever. I’m 100% sure the impulse to treat it as a subject of serious academic interrogation is well-intentioned: you can go really deep in the weeds on the subject, there are university programs for it, and you can travel the world to conferences. I’d also speculate there’s a little insecurity there too: if I treat this subject with enough seriousness, if I can show my work, then maybe it’s okay that I keep playing make-believe well into my adulthood. I speculate that because I know that’s in my brain more than I’d like it to be. My adulthood western work ethic is why there’s an Indie Game Reading Club.
The resistance to the academic treatment is totally understandable as well. It may all be bullshit: the experience is just too subjective and diverse for there to be meaningful research. It might make this fun escapist thing 99.9999% of us do seem like work. It’s draining the magic out of the experience. The all-in lifestyle heavy ludic thinkers might make us feel inadequate (cue my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote here).
So is all that heavy academic lifting actually producing better design? That was always the question at the Forge, yeah? If we can just dig deep enough, can we put that knowledge to use? I think the answer has to be yes. But yes relies on an assumption that freeform/larp is a game design technology incubator for games just-gamers will actually play someday. I think it’s readily apparent that it is (no, not the only one). And that’s where a lot of the most academic, serious thinking is taking place these days.
Tl;dr gamers have secret handshakes. NBD.