In his 1983 book, “Shared Fantasy”, Gary Alan Fine proposed three frames for play during the roleplaying game. Megan Connell neatly summarises this as follows:
“… the first frame is the frame of the player, the second is the frame of the game, and the third is the frame of the character. Fine noted that if players could not hold the three frames, a game could not occur.”“Tabletop Role-playing Therapy”, Connell (2023), page 42
For me, this maps neatly across to understanding that the third frame – that of the character’s perspective – is where the actual roleplaying takes place. It is in our role as the character, viewing the world of the game through their senses, that we make the decisions in-role which drive the experience.
With regard to the second frame – described as, “the frame of the game” – I feel a more accurate description would be the frame of the rules. To my mind, the game is the whole – the combination of the player, the rules, and the character-in-world. The rules are what we interact with in the second frame.
Which brings up an interesting consideration when we reflect on Fine’s assertion that if players cannot hold all three frames then the game cannot occur. In my experience, the simple knowledge and trust that the rules are in play – even if managed invisibly by the GM behind the screen – is enough. One does not necessarily need to know the rules to enjoy their use.
Through all of that, however, I contend that the more interesting frame is the third frame. Certainly we can never escape the first frame – that of being the player – and the second frame is necessary for a game to exist. But the magic lies in the degree to which we can inhabit and maintain the third frame.
Which is to say that, from the point of view of the psychological and sociological evidence (such as it exists) for roleplaying, the heart of roleplaying lies in our ability to enter into and hold the third frame. Without our characters and the world wherein they lie, there is no roleplaying game.
Surely this is enough to suggest that more effort spent on the characters and the world, rather than nit picking over the rules, will lead to richer experiences in the Otherworld?
I’ve been thinking about this lately. To me, the rules are a part of the worldbuilding. To make a blunt example, a setting that has magic allowing a character to throw an explosive fireball has different parameters than a setting that has magic allowing a character to talk to spirits that are physically capable of minor poltergeist-style effects. Or treating Magic Missile as a Cantrip that can be cast on demand is a different experience than treating it as a 1st level spell that takes a spell slot and has a number of missiles per casting based on the character’s level. Those, as I said, are worldbuilding decisions, only they are made by the set of rules being used.
The rules, after all, are the means by which the character interacts with the setting, with the understanding that “rules” here means everything in the whole spectrum between and including “rules as written” to “situational rulings”.
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