Welcome to Accelerated Story part 2, where we’ll continue to look at Willem Larsen’s “Rules of Accelerated Learning from his Language Hunters blog, and explore how to apply those rules to story gaming/roleplaying.
As always, Willem’s disclaimer: Each rule is very contextual; these are not silver bullets or cure-alls.
The second rule is Fluency over Knowledge:
Even after much training, it can be disappointing how little you are able to do (or remember)…
Therefore, prioritize doing over knowledge-about.
This looks to me like it has a lot of overlap with Rule 1: Alive. As I examined last post, a big part of focusing on what is alive is prioritizing practice with living, present participants over book-learning and amassing knowledge. This rule deepens that concept, giving us some practical techniques for maintaining that sense of alive-ness:
- Do something, anything, rather than speculating on how you might do it.
- Observe and make use of your experience as you experiment with doing your target skill.
- Interact and collaborate with other learners who are focused on doing over knowledge.
The first point is addresses several story gaming phenomena. Players can get stuck or paralyzed as they search for the perfect thing to describe next. Or they can “play before they play,” discussing the possibilities: “Or maybe you shoot the assassin in the shoulder and her hood drops back and it turns out to be your mother! Or maybe…” And sometimes a player can be led by their enthusiasm for a game to spend hours alone thinking, reading, and writing material for it, but not actually playing it with people–the so-called “lonely fun.”
Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with taking a pause when you need to, or with holding your ideas lightly as you listen to the input of other players, or with spending your alone time lovingly cultivating your favorite game material. But the question to ask, in all these cases, is, “does doing this keep the game alive, and does it facilitate fluency? Or is it piling on complexity, breaking flow, and quashing spontaneity?”
Focusing on fluency over knowledge is about freeing yourself to live in the moment. It’s an attitude that accepts that what you do will not be perfect and refined, but it will be something, and it will be alive. Better a rough around the edges narration that actually happens and moves the game forward than an immaculate description that never makes it into play. And as Graham Walmsley points out in his book Play Unsafe, if you say the first, obvious “boring” thing that springs to mind, usually it will be absolutely fitting, and occasionally it’ll be brilliant.
The second point tells us how to cultivate fluency in the long term. When I turtle up, mulling over my contribution to make it absolutely perfect before sharing it, my inputs are few and strained, and I don’t learn anything from it. Next time, I’ll turtle up again, anxious for my narration to be “just right.” But if I “do something, anything,” then I’m giving input all the time, and I have plenty of opportunities to reflect on what I’ve said, note what worked well and what didn’t, and refine it for next time. That’s why these are rules for accelerated learning: by simply doing, we put in the necessary practice to rapidly hone our craft.
The last point is simply an observation on the effect your culture of play will have on your craft. If, for instance, you play with a group of rules-heavy, page-flipping detail lovers, that inertia will work against you in your quest for fluency and flow. Or if your friends all dig enthusiastic what-if oneupmanship sessions before finally settling into one course for the story, it may be hard to remain in the present moment and just “say something.” More basically, sometimes the player indulging in the “lonely fun” of endless late-night character and campaign building may be doing so because they plainly don’t have anyone to play with, or no one who wants to play their favorite game.
I’m not advising anyone to ditch their friends. But be aware that the social and creative dynamic of your group will have a profound effect on your play experience, and be prepared for a struggle if that culture doesn’t match the techniques you want to develop. You may choose to power through and accept small gains, or negotiate a shift in your group’s play procedure, or find other players more suited to your needs (this may or may NOT involve quitting your existing group, of course). Whatever you do, it’s worth addressing with eyes open.
In conclusion, when we value fluency over knowledge, we can better focus on what is alive, and actually do the things we love, not just think about doing them. See how that works? Future rules of accelerated learning will continue to build on each other this way.