I am conflicted by conflict. (There’s a sentence for you.)
As a person in my daily life I am not fond of it. I don’t seek it out, and I don’t want to try encouraging it. As a writer I enjoy it, but that’s also a much more controlled situation for me. Even if I don’t have everything planned out, I am at least able to make adjustments. And if worst comes to worst there’s always fixing things in the revision process.
Yesterday, a small group of my friends got together to play a round of Fiasco. It’s a tabletop-style roleplaying game where the general gist is to come up with — to quote from the website:
“FIASCO is an award-winning, GM-less game for 3-5 players, designed to be played in a few hours with six-sided dice and no preparation. During a game you will engineer and play out stupid, disastrous situations, usually at the intersection of greed, fear, and lust. It’s like making your own Coen brothers movie, in about the same amount of time it’d take to watch one.”
This is the second time my friends have played it, and my conclusion has ultimately been that while it’s a lot of fun to watch, it’s not really the sort of game I want to play a lot in. If there’s something I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I don’t generally enjoy taking part in escalating drama, even in the safe situation of a game. And again, it’s not that it’s a bad game; far from it! It has been genuinely entertaining to watch, and my friends have been enjoying themselves immensely. It’s not a knock against the game, and it is hopefully not a knock against myself.
I suspect in part it’s because my stress levels have been high in general for a while now — I am a naturally high-strung person, really. I get excited and then I over-commit and then I exhaust myself. Or maybe I just get worn out even before we hit the commitment stage; whatever the reason, I get worn out pretty fast as a result.
Which I suspect ties at least partially into something I’ve talked about before, both in this blog and just with friends in general: I am so tired and sour about this prevailing notion that a “darker” story is somehow the “better” one. Stories where characters are ground down and broken, where everything is bleak or things just keep going wrong and keep going wrong, or stories where things are bitter and unresolved — these all certainly have their merits and fans! I’m not trying to say that they’re all bad. I just continue to be… not resently, precisely, but perhaps low-key irritated at the attitude that the opposite is somehow boring or trite.
Yes, a story requires conflict. It’s not much of a story if it’s just some happy little scene — but it’s not really much of a story if it’s just a bleak crushing one, either. To me, there has to be some sort of movement, whether forward into the positive or backwards into the negative, to distinguish writing a scene for the sake of the imagery one wishes to convey.
But forward motion in a positive setting doesn’t need to be a boring thing. A happy character with a good life is not somehow inherently a worse protagonist — it’s just a matter of personal taste. It’s so easy to assign objective value based on one’s subjective tastes. I’ve done it; even being aware, I’ll continue to do it. It’s not any less true for being a subjective opinion*, after all; for me, personally, things I like in fiction are good and things I dislike are bad. There’s always going to be that conflict, and the defensiveness that comes when one’s own point of view is disparaged. Thankfully my friends have never actively tried to make it its own conflict (haha), and for that I’m grateful.
(* I want to clarify, even if it’s unnecessary, that this is all about things in fiction only. Obviously there’s a lot of stuff in fiction that skirts into real life issues as well, the bad and the uncomfortable. There is a difference, I think, between fiction that uses ugly and horrible real life things to tell a story, and a story that uses those things to get off, and to encourage others to get off. That line might be thinner for some than others and it’s all subjective, but still an important distinction.)
What it all ultimately boiled down to is the fact that I enjoyed being the audience to the disastrous “movie” my friends created yesterday (involving demon penguins rising up from a fault line in the Antarctic and the douchebag bro becoming the Penguin God and– well, it was pretty spectacular), I’m not sure I would want to participate much myself.
But for anyone who would be into that, I do recommend giving Fiasco a try.