For this particular sit down I started out doing three pages of unrelated stream of consciousness writing (definitely not a requirement for San Sibilia, but I wanted to do it because I was already familiar with the morning pages concept) and then I sat down to play.
The whole game was a very personal and intimate experience…to a surprising degree. I played my approximate self while also being mindful of the character prompt. It was me, in all the ways I can be an intrepid explorer. In the two hours I played, I was able to write two very long journal entries, so two days in San Sibilia (and I’m still not done with the second entry).
Some general thoughts, not incredibly nuanced I’m afraid:
By the third paragraph of me writing to find out, I was already hooked in the game. A “mystery” had jumped at me, gluing nicely with the establishing prompts for the first day, but also very personal of what I want to find out about myself through this experience. It felt like an interesting tension that would carry me through the first few days in San Sibilia and I kept focused on writing that first journal entry until it felt done. It was easy, exploratory and rambly in all the right ways. Awareness, without judgement.
In the past I have hated writing dialogue as it forces me to slow down in places where I want to jump ahead. I often find myself wanting to jump ahead. That’s where I think writing to find out made a big difference for me this time. Understanding that is no jumping ahead, because there is no ahead without resolving what’s happening now.
I think because of that, I loved writing dialogue this weekend. It really helped me figure out my NPC’s. It helped me become invested in them. Three line exchanges. Nothing crazy; just enough.
That “mystery” I mentioned earlier, all of the writing I did to figure out what it was, how I felt about it, what I did in response: completely twisted on its head for the second entry. Just like in any good mystery.
I don’t want to share specific details of it because, again, it was very personal…but for the second day I rolled a 6, meaning that six days had gone by, and I drew “a calculated funeral procession at dawn” as my prompt. It clicked immediately.
My actions on the first day had a REAL causal relation with what is happening on this second entry. I fucked up, I made a mistake…and I lost an opportunity for connection with someone who is now dead. And the mystery is now three times more personal and six times more spiritual/magical.
It didn’t feel like I had to figure out how to connect the prompt with the ongoing journey, I knew what had happened, and it broke my heart that it had to be that way. I am now contending with it and dealing with the fallout.
I really, really enjoyed the effortlessness of interpreting the prompt for the second entry. It was definitely a highlight of the whole experience. In the past I have bounced hard when I have had to engage in the analytical process of incorporating a prompt, looking for relevance and aesthetic cohesion with what has come before.
I wonder, and this is perhaps an open question requiring further exploration, if the reason why it felt so easy is because I had developed such a strong emotional and physical context throughout the first day, that the only thing the prompt needed to provide was the: and therefore, this happens.
I’m committed to flesh out every day in a similar fashion, so we’ll see if in fact my hypothesis holds and to what degree.
How to disclaim decision making
There were a couple moments were my RPG training compelled me to roll a die to decide something particular, about the setting or about what I would do, outside of the provisions of the game. It was A BIG temptation. I resisted that urge every time.
I can’t yet explain why, but I really feel like I did the right thing. It was important that all the writing that happened came as a natural exploration of that mental space. It was preferable to write, find out something shouldn’t be as it had been written, scratch and start over…than to commit to a die roll just for the sake of moving on.
Till we meet again
By the end of the second hour I felt I wanted to stop…but my second entry is still not finished and I felt that push to at least finish the chapter to reach the obvious natural place to stop.
Easy peasy, @PaulCzege 's got me and, as recommended in The Ink That Bleeds, one of my NPC’s was tho one who request time away before we sat down to speak. They need to figure out what they have to say to me, and thus I’ll wait.
I’m glad they are taking this time! Rushing to finish the chapter would have been a mistake. It would have compromised the great experience that it was, with an closure that it didn’t deserve.
I don’t have anything negative to say about this first experience, even if I really try to.
Is it a great piece of literature? Absolutely not. Will it make sense to anyone, but me? Possibly not. I really don’t care about any of this.
Was I engaged the whole time? I was! Am I romanticizing any of it in the process of retelling it here? I really don’t know. Is romanticizing a bad thing if I’m able to fool myself too?
I’m exploring all of this for the first time! Thanks for reading.
@Ouroboros-Binary02 - thank you for this introspective and lovely writeup! It felt personal, engaging, and inspiring.
I’m really curious if you played some more, and, if so, how the experience changed for you.
I’ve never engaged in real “journaling play”, but I do find that the “unconscious authoring” aspect of RPG play is often one of my favourites - one of the most interesting things that takes place. I usually enjoy watching it happen between players, but the experiences you’re describing here taking place on your own are really compelling to me as well. (I’ve read many authors who talk about this, as well - characters and events that “surprise them” in the process of writing, or speak to them in various ways.)
Your choice not to roll dice was particular interesting. How did you resolve those moments, and what came of it? What was your mental process?
I’ve often wondered about it the other way around: could and/or should writers experiencing uncertainty or “writer’s block” go to randomization? (I don’t know of any who do! But such constraints and prompts are well know to be fruitful to us as roleplayers.)
I recently ran a long-term campaign where I was pretty committed to randomizing a LOT of content (to an extent that shocked the players when they saw my notes afterwards! Some of the most significant details or elements of the campaign sometimes relied on a simple 50/50 roll). This was a lot of fun for me; it allowed me to be surprised and to discover things myself and to work through certain elements of the game as a game of personal discovery.
However, of course, it’s not the randomness that brings about that discovery; there are many other ways to resolve mental blocks or to answer unanswered questions or to explore dark spaces in our minds. I’m curious what that experience was like for you - especially those moments where you chose not to roll dice, and what happened next!
Yes, I resumed by “Visit to San Sibilia” a couple of weeks ago (Session 2, played for almost 3 hours).
The experience was equally intense at first (with a caveat I’ll mention below). So far 2/2 of my San Sibilia sessions have been very, very engaging at their highest points.
Hmm! This time a few things were different:
An NPC interaction prompted me to do something in real life as a reaction
I have an object that I have kept near to me for about seven years. I kept it because it had emotional significance and because I hold the belief it has brought me good luck in the past. Superstitious stuff.
I am a huge admirer of Alejandro Jodorowsky, the filmmaker. I ran into him (a character who in many ways IS him) in an old alleyway on my way to Bislo, the working class neighborhood in San Sibilia. At first, I didn’t know it was him, he didn’t look like him…when I wrote him in I didn’t know it was him, he was just a man dressed in black playing an accordion (who looked like Charles Aznavour, but poor and with no teeth). I made a movement that alerted him of my presence. Time stopped. Everyone froze except me and him. He becomes the Jodorowsky I know. He looks at me. He is talking to me, not the character…to Nico. I believe @PaulCzege calls these characters “perceptives”. These things happen to me by the way, I am not “deciding” them.
We had an intense dialogue. What this meant, practically, is that I initially wrote what I imagine he would say, I respond as if what was said is real and tangible and I have to deal with the consequences of my response, and I wait until he answers back. Here’s a little bit of that exchange:
I really don’t know how to describe how this process works, but it works! At no point am I finding that I am talking to myself. At no point am I doubting that I have “real” interlocutor. Maybe it takes me a couple seconds to get the next sentence out, but it does comes reliably. This with Jodorowsky, and but also with every other character I have ran into so far, some with real life counterparts, some completely made-up.
“It might be perceived as an insult.”
“To an indifferent master. Burn it.”
It took me less than a second to come up with such a powerful* and witty response to a very real objection of mine. It really feels like it didn’t come from me. I felt ON FIRE that day!
*: It might only be powerful to me, btw, and I think that’s the point. There is a lot of contextual baggage that comes with his response that only makes sense to me, but, oh boy, did I feel singled out.
Perhaps it is a little bit of how I imagine Jodorowsky speaks, what his beliefs might be, that influences how I write as him. Perhaps this is the natural by-product of free association.
Regardless, since this process is mostly invisible to me, I don’t pay much mind to it. I buy into the reality of our conversation, and so it gets experienced.
I decided to act on Jodorowsky’s words. I made a decision about the object I have kept for seven years. I accepted that there is some element of what I experienced talking with him that is true about my relationship with the object.
It felt meaningful to me! Perhaps an outside watcher could wonder why I made such an arbitrary decision based on an imaginary conversation. But isn’t keeping an object for seven years, without paying much mind to why you continue to keep it and whether its emotional significance is still relevant, also an arbitrary decision?
I didn’t realize I was getting visibly agitated. Was I? How did Penelope know?"
Most if not all of the things that are surprising, interesting, narrative-shifting in this game are my interactions with NPCs.
I was originally skeptical of @PaulCzege advice to slow down and write the dialogue between NPC’s and me. It is MY FAVORITE part of this whole thing!
I wrote: “Calm down!” as Penelope and I immediately decided I should stick with it. It is true in the fiction that she perceives me as being upset, which in turn shifts my train of thought to truly ask myself:
Am I truly upset? What is making me upset? How can she tell that it bothers me? I write to find out.
What was not so good:
My conversation with Jodorowsky prompted me to get out of the game to deal with the object in real life. I decided I would incorporate this action into another journaling game I have been gearing to start: “Wreck this Deck”. It…wasn’t as nice.
In “Wreck this Deck” you trap demons into a real playing cards (which you destroy, and restitch, and stain, and decorate) to later use for readings, rituals and hexes.
I decided that I would use my object as a bridge into the developing story of “Wreck this Deck” and actually trap something in my deck. (I bounce off hard of the game’s demonology themes, so I am trapping “Spirits of the Earth”). Still, I feel like it was bad decision.
I think I wanted to do this way it for several reasons:
Because I wanted to start experiencing what @PaulCzege refers to as the braided landscape of the unconscious, which happens when you travel game-to-game.
Because there was a thematic connection that I felt could boost me into starting “Wreck this Deck” with enthusiasm and a feeling of it being relevant.
Because I wanted to keep playing.
Result: It felt like a chore. It disconnected me from the original experience in San Sibila (which I was 1000 times more invested in).
Conclusions: Maybe I jumped the gun on starting another game. Maybe “Wreck this Deck” is not the right game for me. I wish I had concluded my affair with the object outside of the game and returned to find out what happened IN San Sibilia, as opposed to figuring it out in the “Wreck this Deck” world.
Just to make sure in case it wasn’t clear from my original post: I am avoiding the use of dice to determine choices and outcomes, but are very much using them (and cards) to generate the circumstances for the next prompt as designed by the game.
I’m with you in that rolling dice and committing to the results is often a fruitful constraint in many of these games we so dearly love. We are on the same page there ;).
My experience with rolling dice in journaling games (and my choice to not do it to randomize outcomes) is perhaps underlined by what @PaulCzege mentioned in “The Ink that Bleeds” with regards to subduing the role of the analytical brain in favor of a more intuitive unconscious.
When it comes to outcomes of my character’s choices:
As a good role-player, I have been trained to equate dice and resolution. There have been a couple of instances in the game where I recognize a point of uncertainty that would traditionally be handled by going to the dice. A dice roll would require definition of potential outcomes. It would require interpretation of the result. Those outcomes may require justification in the fiction. My initial thinking, and I could wrong, is that these are faculties of the analytical brain, which are looking for coherence and sense-making.
My analytical brain is shut off when I am sitting down to play, per “The Ink that Bleeds”. It’s the feeling of chasing something. I chase after the signs. I go towards that which gets revealed to me by the experience. There isn’t really the experience of “writer’s block” and I think that comes from relieving myself from the pressure that something interesting needs to happen next. Instead, I start by writing about my approximate self’s feelings, his decisions to go somewhere or to talk to someone, what his mind’s eye sees in the setting, what he focuses on…and I do that until the next “interesting bit” comes.
There is something behind this whole thing of my Visit to San Sibilia, a mystery of sorts, that keeps me coming back to it (I plan to play again this weekend!). When it comes to outcomes, it kind of feels like the right outcome is not one that moves us somewhere unexpected (as dice often help us find), but one that moves us further IN. Further into the mystery, further into the chase, wherever the stakes feel higher. I feel like the process of free-writing naturally does this. It’s always pointing us INWARDS, it’s showing us what truly matters to us.
Also because, from the get go, I got a HUGE dopamine hit when the one randomized element in the game (the drawing of the next prompt) took ALL that I had written (authored?) for the first entry, and transformed it in such as a beautiful and consequential way. Any surprises that I could have gotten from smaller outcome randomizations would likely pale in comparison to the huge and meaningful shift in the
It was the feeling of having a bunch loose threads, snap into coherence in a single motion. It’s about the weight of the surprise the cards generated.
Also, maybe, I’m finding that I’m getting plenty of push back from the NPC’s, those are taking the place of the smaller scale surprises that keep me going as described above.
That’s all when it comes to the non-randomization of outcomes outside of my character’s full control.
When it comes to my character’s choices:
you will find my response to this familiar, because I learned it from you! In your post you make the point:
In a dramatic game, similarly failure to decide whether you hate your mother or whether you want to poison or sleep with your rival will stall the game. The GM has tools to push things along, but the game doesn’t really “go” until the players take strong positions on those things.
I feel like it must be me who makes the choices in order for them to be consequential later on. The unconscious process of write to find out, kind of wants me to stand for something in order to comment on it (via NPCs, via prompts).
And often, like left or right (especially in a short-form game), they are arbitrary, so you can go with your gut. However, it’s important to pick one, make it strong, and make your choice quickly.
So, in my game, if I feel like I don’t know what my character should do next and I can’t make a strong choice…I kind of realize that perhaps they are not supposed to be DOING something about what is currently happening. I simply don’t care. It’s better to move on to the next bit I actually feel I want to write about. I know you MC this way already ;).
I’ve definitely had this experience. Not a few times I’ve played a two or three or six turns of a game and just can’t get into it, and I quit. It’s happened enough that I’ve had some realizations about when and why I get swept up into a game and when I don’t. A couple of times I was going to quit a game, but then tried again, from a different imagined angle, and I was in and had a great experience. So if you were thinking I should write a sequel to The Ink That Bleeds, you were right.
What a remarkable and detailed account! It’s very beautiful to hear about your personal experiences with this… artform? exercise? game? … in such an intimate context of sharing.
I will likely to be sending a link to this discussion to any of my friends who are interested in journaling games.
For me, roleplaying is very much about an authentic, creative connection with other people, so I don’t know if I will ever make it a priority to plunge into this kind of material myself, but this is really beautiful and thought-provoking. Thanks!