Free Play vs. Scene Framing
Friday, September 01, 2006This post comes from a reply I wrote in a discussion on Story Games. The thread is worth checking out, but I felt that this bit stands on its own so I'm giving it a home here.
Think of free-play as this rolling wavefront (this is Ron's analogy, btw). The game rolls along, people say things, the GM cuts from location to location, etc. As you go, conflicts arise and "pop" out of this rolling wavefront of fiction. Then the wavefront has to pause (this is the jarring transition), you have to pick up on the conflict that popped out, take out your dice, etc. Depending on the mechanic, the fiction wave might start up again as you engage the mechanic (like in Dogs) or it may not. Either way, there's a feeling like you have to "get rolling again" and out of the freeze-frame that the conflict put on your wave.
(Quick aside: I've seen some players who get very impatient with this. They sort of bounce in their seat like, "C'mon, c'mon... let's get this over with and get back to the game. When to a player who is used to meaty CR methods, the conflict resolution part is the game. This can lead to some friction.)
Think of scene framing like making a pizza. We make the dough and sauce and put the toppings on and bake it, all so we can eat that pizza with those toppings. Will it be good? Will it be bad? We have to eat it and find out. Making the dough is not eating the pizza, but we have a goal in mind when we're making the dough. We know that soon we will be eating the pizza. Just making dough and slicing pepperoni isn't the point, and we're not going to keep doing that over and over, hoping a pizza will just happen. We have a goal and a method to get there before we even start.
Conflict is eating the pizza. By framing the scene in a way that points to conflict as our goal, then we are already most of the way there. Conflict happens inside the scene, and is relevant to the parameters of the scene -- "the stuff inside the film frame" as Ron likes to say. The specific nature of the conflict might be discovered as the scene develops (like suddenly deciding to add pineapple to your pizza), but conflict with the scene elements is already a target for us when the scene is framed. We don't have to wonder if we're going to eat pizza at all -- that's why we're in the kitchen in the first place.