In a recent blog post, Wil Wheaton writes about how he learns lines for his scenes, figuring out what the character wants and needs to get him as an actor to the right place. He goes on to identify three recent characters and their motivations:
As I said on Twitter recently, I realized that Doctor Parrish’s favorite thing in the world is “I told you so.” Evil Wil Wheaton’s favorite thing in the world is, “Ha! Gotcha, Sheldon Cooper.” Cha0s’ favorite thing in the world is, “I know something you don’t know, and never will know, because I am so much smarter than you.”
When I read this, I had myself a genuine AH HA! moment (earning many glares at the library), because I finally understood what all those insufferable, infuriating, brilliant FATE nerds have been yammering about for the last year or so. It’s the character through-line, the how, the why, the what for. Oh yes, it’s the Aspects. Now, for those out there who figured this out from the very first moment, please grant me a little grace, because I can be a real moron when I put my mind to it.
All this time, all these articles, all this peripheral material (notice I’m not saying, ‘All these games,’ since I have yet to actually play one of those FATE games, but that’s not as important as you might think), and with Wil Wheaton’s post, the clouds finally parted and the sun didst shine down and lo, it didst alight on my brow. Previously, I got it, but I didn’t really GET it. I understood it, but I didn’t really understand it.
Mowing Down the Understanding
The problem lies with the kind of learner that I am, which has become painfully clear just lately as I’ve had to figure out how to start and run a riding lawnmower. All my life, I’ve used a standard, cheapy-deepy, WalMart Special push lawnmower, which works like this: you shove this lever-thing to RABBIT, you push the little bubble on the side of the engine a few times, you yank fruitlessly on the ripcord until your shoulder dislocates, and then you go back inside and watch baseball. Simple and predictable.
Recently, I moved to a rental house with six acres, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to a push mower, assuming I didn’t want to have to quit my job and spend every daylight hour of spring and summer mowing my stupid yard. No, I’d have to figure out this absurdly complex riding lawnmower, which seemed to have dozens of buttons, levers, wheels, dials, and switches. It didn’t feel so much like a grass cutting implement as the cockpit of a jumbo jet. I reviewed the starting instructions, which covered multiple pages and included several IF YOU DON’T DO THIS, YOU AND YOUR FAMILY WILL DIE HORRIBLY type warnings.
Reading through this manual, I simply didn’t get it. Sitting on the mower and trying to follow the instructions, I simply didn’t get it. It was only after trying it again and again (and, by the way, again) that the process of starting it, and even DRIVING it, started to click inside my head.
Grokking and Gaming
I am a tactile learner, no question, but even bigger than that, I’m a comprehension learner. To understand a thing, I have to do the thing, but also, I have to SEE the thing. If a process makes sense in my head, in my language, I’ll be able to do it every time, regardless of the number of steps or the complexity of the concept. This is how it is with the mower, and this is how it is with character aspects.
Of course, my learning ability isn’t just about learning a thing and knowing a thing. There are lots of other elements that inform my understanding, so I’ll have to also give a tip of the hat to the 4E version of Gamma World. In order to play my characters properly, especially with the randomness of Gamma World, I had to figure out the defining characteristic, the “how’d he get this way” and the “what’s he like,” the… oh, what’s the word again? Oh yeah, its Aspect! If I had to describe the character to a semi-interested party, how would I do it?
- Gamma World Example 1: Giant Cryokinetic. That’s a 10′ tall snowman, complete with giant broom for melee.
- Gamma World Example 2: Photonic AI. That’s got to be Luxo, the hopping lamp from the Pixar movies.
- Gamma World Example 3: Electrokinetic Rat Swarm. Here’s a sentient bundle of socks crackling with static electricity.
This was just another brain-boot that opened up my understanding a little more, enabling me to look at the character I just created for Encounters–a sentinel Druid of Spring–and ask myself, “What does he look like? How does he act? What’s important to him? What would it be like to meet this guy?” Abruptly, all the pieces fell into place and I found myself staring at Feral, a huge, hulking guy, looking a lot like Sabretooth from the first X-Men movie, always traveling with his big grey wolf, Cain.
Without having ever played this character, I knew all kinds of things about him, and I feel like I could run him immediately and understand how he would interact with others, how he would act in a city, how he would respond to an enemy threatening someone in his wolf pack. Oh yes, I’m ready to play this character, and it’s all because of Wil Wheaton.