Recently, I’ve been thinking about negative space. In terms of art, negative space is the empty space between objects, or parts of an object. It can also be the space that surrounds an object. A really famous example of this is the picture that can be either two faces or a vase.
Let’s think about a stone sculpture for a minute. The artist produces the sculpture by removing the rock around the form they are creating. Bit by bit, they remove layers to get the masterpiece. Since the sculpture is what remains at the end of the process, you could say that the sculpture is defined by the artist’s decisions about where the negative space should be.
When a game begins, it has all sorts of potential. The possibilities are endless. It’s up to the group to make the story. Their actions and their decisions define what’s important and shape the world of the game.
Let me give an example. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play in an Apocalypse World re-skin based on Battlestar Galactica. I chose to play a pilot. The GM asked me to scout ahead and see what the bogey was on the far side of the star system. He asked me what I saw, so I said that I saw a battlestar that had been totally decimated. And there were raiders.
Without batting an eye, the GM said: “Ok. I can work with that.”
The entire rest of the game was defined by the description that I had given. I could have said that it was a merchant ship. Or maybe it could’ve been the Ship of Lights from the original TV show. That would have given the entire game a different take. It would’ve definitely had a different feel from the 21st century show if that root had been taken.
(Damn, now I’ll totally have to try that storyline out at some point.)
It’s also interesting to think of the game’s rules as its negative space. Last week, I played Fiasco online with two friends. When we rolled the dice, a lot of threes came up. I offered to re-roll (technically against the rules), but they declined on the basis that limitations increase creativity. And, really, that’s the point of a rules system, isn’t it, to guide the play in a fun, creative way? The penchant for messing around with the mechanics is interesting. When approached this way, you could say that people are trying to re-cast the negative space.
Gaming is a hobby of possibility and exploration. Isn’t it interesting that it’s almost as fun to define what doesn’t happen, as it is to define what does happen?
Just a quick interest check: would people be interested in audio versions of the GM’s Corner posts? I’ve been considering recording them and adding them to the feed.