First things first.
Many attempts to examine this medium begin by asking what is roleplaying? Regardless of how many times that question is asked, we will never develop a true definition. “Roleplaying” is a category which has changed dramatically and continues to change as different creators, works, and audiences bring different perspectives to bear on established concepts. Every published game text and every instance of play has the possibility of forever changing our conceptions of roleplaying. A more interesting issue then, in a medium whose boundaries are constantly being negotiated, is not what roleplaying is but what roleplaying could be. This transforms the process of definition, of putting limits and restrictions on roleplaying, into a process of discovery.
This journal exists to be a forum for new thinking about roleplaying, a place to allow a more thorough and less ephemeral exploration than what occurs on Internet bulletin boards or in the blogosphere. I also hope that this journal will constantly strive to reveal unexplored aspects of roleplaying, and continue to expand the envelope of possibilities. That why it’s called Push.
Excuses & Ancestors
This is not what I initially had in mind. Push began as a column for RPGnet, a more practical, hands-on sequel to my discussion of aesthetics in The Fine Art of Roleplaying.
But that was soon interrupted by another project; Chris Lehrich and I decided to co-edit a roleplaying handbook. We planned to recruit a bunch of intelligent, fun people to describe, discuss, and theorize about all the various and sundry ways in which people roleplay. But the handbook project, in turn, fizzled.
Wanting to try my hand at a more modest undertaking, I imagined a progressive roleplaying journal, published as often as we could manage, modeled after several notable ancestors:
- McSweeney’s: Dave Eggers is a post-modern Kerouac with delusions of grandeur. Aside from writing the quirky, self-conscious, and bestselling memoir-of-young-adulthood, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, he also founded Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, a literary journal originally intended for pieces too odd, experimental, or emo for traditional publications. The result is something akin to She-Ra and Salman Rushdie co-hosting an NPR program, but in book form. Brilliant.
- Flight: Kazu Kabuishi edits an annual anthology of all new, full-color comics written and illustrated by Canadians, art school kids, and 20-somethings (sometimes all three at the same time). Flight continues to build a following, gaining the attention of comics readers of all stripes (superheroes, indie, manga, webcomics) as well as people who are not normally comics fans. It did this by just being really good.
- Beyond Role and Play: The largest roleplaying convention among the Nordic countries is called, in various languages, Knutpunkt (Swedish), Knudepunkt (Danish), Knutepunkt (Norwegian), and Solmukohta (Finnish). Each year, the roaming convention produces a book of articles on roleplaying, and 200’s volume was Beyond Role and Play: Tools, Toys and Theory for Harnessing the Imagination, edited by Markus Montola and Jaakko Stenros. Once I got my hands on a copy, the pieces began to come together.
- Daedalus: Matt Snyder is my hero and, also, the creator of Dust Devils and Nine Worlds. Daedalus is his periodic PDF ‘zine, devoted to publishing whatever’s been submitted since the last issue. Matt proved that a regular publication about independent roleplaying games and progressive roleplaying thought was both possible and strongly needed. Push is forever in his debt.
If you want to know what Push is about, check out one of these other publications. You’ll be glad you did. Or just continue reading.
Push contains several different kinds of content, the most obvious being 1) articles describing newly emerging or less well known varieties of play and design, 2) articles describing new opportunities for play and design within existing roleplaying traditions, and 3) complete and playable short-form games that demonstrate new play possibilities. The contributors who created our content were invited to participate, wrote proposals, listened to preliminary suggestions, wrote drafts, received feedback, made changes, expanded certain sections, presented final drafts, approved my final edits, and participated in the proofreading process. Push is a group effort and everyone shares the credit for making this happen.
Each issue also features running “guest commentary” in the margins. Our Guest Commentators are hand-selected by me, the Lead Editor, for their previous contributions to roleplaying, as well as the intelligence and clarity of their writing. They also have to be really fun people! Additionally, I’ve made an effort to invite Guest Commentators from outside The Forge, the online community where the idea for Push began.
Finally, each volume of Push features a cover image by an up-and-coming visual artist, preferably one who supports Push‘s progressive values in their own medium. For this initial volume, we are lucky enough to have a fantastic cover image by Clio Chiang, whose portfolio of comics and illustration work speaks for itself. Artists contributing to Push retain complete creative control over their work, just like any other contributor.
Aside from Clio’s cover and this introduction, Push 1 contains the following:
- Emily Care Boss, in Collaborative Roleplaying: Reframing the Game, provides an overview of games which seek to distribute control of the play experience more evenly among the players involved and speculates on the future of this type of play.
- John H. Kim, in Immersive Story Methods for Tabletop Roleplaying, describes his own experiences planning an on-going game in which each player’s character was the protagonist of their own story and offers advice on how others can do the same.
- Shreyas Sampat’s game, Mridangam, draws on the vocabulary of classical Indian dance, handling all out-of-character negotiations and narrative structuring through the silent exchange of gestures between players.
- Eero Tuovinen, in Against the Geek, Choice, expresses his concerns about the rampant Americanization of Finnish tabletop roleplaying and explains how his small publishing operation is working against the current trend.
- Finally, there’s me, Jonathan Walton, and my game, Waiting for the Queen/Tea at Midnight, which is inspired by early computer games of the “get lamp” variety and strictly limits character choices while not limiting a character’s ability to express themselves.
The end notes feature what other journals dub a “Call for Papers,” encouraging clever, witty folks like you to propose content for Volume Two. The next book will indubitably be twice as exciting as this one, featuring many new friends with bold new ideas.
A Diversity of Perspectives
I hope the practice of inviting less familiar faces to participate in Push continues in subsequent volumes, so that our circle of comrades will never become too comfortable and the Push community will continue to grow in size and the diversity of backgrounds. Additionally, I hope that Push will quickly expand its focus beyond the boundaries of tabletop roleplaying to examine how other communities are roleplaying. That will, of course, require people doing other kinds of roleplaying to come write for Push, so one of my major tasks before the next volume is to begin tracking likely candidates down.
I Cast Magic Missle on Mo
Push had been in the works for a year and a half when Moyra Turkington, now one of our Guest Contributors, published a blog article which categorized different kinds of player interactions as “Push” or “Pull.” That wouldn’t have been a problem except that Mo, being a very intelligent gal, said some really great things and the terms actually began to catch on. This, again, wouldn’t have been a problem except that I’m personally much more interested in exploring Pull-oriented play techniques, which renders the title of this journal completely antithetical. Sigh.
But instead of hating Mo forever or changing the title of this journal back to the one I originally proposed (“Magic Missile”), I decided to get over it. So if you see mention of “Push/Pull,” whether in these pages or elsewhere, don’t be confused. Push was here first. Mo is the imposter.
The Bigger Picture
Over the past few decades, media forms that were traditionally marketed towards male youth – comics, video games, cartoons, martial arts films, roleplaying – have begun to stretch their legs,transcend genre limitations, and find a more diverse reception. This is partially due the audience for “boys’ media” growing up and forming part of the next generation of creators. Another major contribution come from media forms being transformed by their development in other countries (Japanese comics and cartoons are a great example). However, these general trends are largely the result of individual creators and small enclaves honing their craft and taking these media forms in unexplored directions.
Roleplaying is not unique in going through a rocky, transformative period. Twenty years from now, roleplaying and the community that supports it will have changed dramatically, but the details of these coming changes are largely up to us. Despite all the forecasts of doom, I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a great time to be playing.
- Eggers, Dave. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Simon & Schuster, 2000.
- Eggars, Dave ed. Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. McSweeney’s, 1998-present.
- Kabuishi, Kazu ed. Flight. Image Comics, 2004-2005. Ballantine Books, 2006.
- Montola, Markus & Stenros, Jaako. Beyond Role and Play: Tools, Toys, and Theory for Harnessing the Imagination. Solmukohta / Ropecon ry, 2004.
- Snyder, Matt. Daedalus. 2003-present. 8 July 2006.
- Turkington, Moyra. Push vs. Pull. Sin Aesthetics. 10 Jan 2006. 8 July 2006.
- Walton, Jonathan. The Fine Art of Roleplaying. RPGnet, 2004. 8 July 2006.