So at Nerdcon, a convention about telling stories in early October, there was a game of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It was a programme item. It was played on a stage in front of a big audience, with big-name SF authors including Mary Robinette Kowal and Patrick Rothfuss—Nerdcon’s organiser—playing it. Nerdcon has just put the first Youtube video of the session live, and it’s a blast.
Here’s the odd thing, which you’ll notice if you watch the video. At no point does Patrick Rothfuss or anyone else mention that Munchausen is a published game, designed and written by a person, in print and for sale. He just talks about it as an activity, he gives it no cultural or commercial context at all. And that isn’t just on the Youtube video. The convention website doesn’t mention the game-as-created-object at all, even in the page for the programme item. Nor the con’s Twitter feed, nor its Facebook page, nor its Tumblr, nor the description text on the Youtube page. Nobody created The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, say these authors. It’s just a thing to do, to show off our creative brilliance.
This is at Nerdcon, a convention that’s all about stories, the act of creating them, and how much we should respect them.
But Munchausen is a game about interactive narrative, not passive storytelling, and it’s a game that also produces an output, a collection of stories. (Caillois said that a game should not produce anything so Munchausen is Caillois-incomplete.) Narrative games occupy an interesting space, culturally and consciously. When we tell a story in a Munchausen session we want to think it’s all down to our personal genius, we don’t like to be reminded that someone created the metastructure that allowed the narrative to come together the way it does. And at the same time people who write fiction have always looked down on people who write games as a lesser form of creation: less important, less culturally interesting (coughbiggerthanhollywoodcough), and I suspect there’s some of that going on too.
Rothfuss and his companions don’t treat other non-book forms the same way. Nerdcon invited authors, podcasters, storytellers, improvisers, comedians, singers and puppeteers as guests, but no game-narrative people. Nobody from video games, nobody from RPGs, nobody from story-games. This is an event in downtown Minneapolis, a few minutes from the headquarters of two companies that have been championing good storytelling in games for decades, Fantasy Flight Games and Atlas Games. But there were no games guests at Nerdcon.
I emailed Patrick Rothfuss a month before Nerdcon to offer help with the Munchausen event, and I heard nothing back. And then Rothfuss completely mangles the name of the game as he introduces the event. But it’s okay, it’s just a game, right?
Put it this way, if I organised a public reading from The Name Of The Wind at a big games event, and at no point before, during or after the reading mentioned that it was a book by Patrick Rothfuss published by DAW, and in introducing the event I called it ‘A Name of a Windbag’, firstly that would be bizarre, and secondly I’m certain a bunch of people would call me out on it. Why is the converse fine? It’s weird.
It’s all a bit weird. I really don’t know what to think about it.