Making Space for Imagination

Happy New Year, everyone!

As 2017 drew to a close, I found myself reflecting on the art of creating space through one’s games and stories. In the RPG sessions I run, I insert many strands of fantastical travel writing and make-believe ethnography into the setting – there’s always details on what people are wearing or eating, relationships between people and their environments, cultures and customs.

When I create and perform the worlds in my games, I like to use my words and gestures to facilitate and encourage the players’ imaginations, and help them travel in their minds to distant vistas and meet the people in those lands. These details make the immersion so much easier…

Now, the players know consciously these places and peoples are not real, but through their experiences of play, there is a barely perceptible change, a gentle shift, a moment when imagination becomes memory and the players invest some energy and belief into the stories… and just like that, they make the worlds real in their minds and hearts.

To me, that’s a pretty big motivation why I like to run and make games, why I like to listen to and tell stories.

I love to create and nurture little bits of enchantment in people’s lives, much in the spirit of J. R. R. Tolkien’s poem, ‘Mythopoeia’, a gentle rebuttal to his friend, C.S Lewis, on the place of the fantastic in everyday life.

(a choice verse:

Yes! `wish-fulfilment dreams’ we spin to cheat our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream, or some things fair and others ugly deem ?
All wishes are not idle, not in vain fulfilment we devise – for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill…)

Anyway… as a child, I had a lot of practice creating these worlds. I was very shy, and due to my self-consciousness, I grew up drawing and reading more than I spoke and played with others.

There was a lot of anxiety in my heart; I often felt stressed out by the demands of the society around me and often felt unable to meet the standards of this world.

Thus, I created many fantasy worlds as a sort of way to escape from my surroundings and also… strangely, to immerse and make sense of my surroundings too. It was an escape that allowed me to engage, and an engagement that allowed me, in turn, to escape as well.

I drew from my wandering and observing of places and buildings, of plants, animals, and people, and later I would put to paper what I witnessed and felt. I found this far more interesting than school lessons, and thus my grades often suffered.

Due to my lack of focus, my teachers often disciplined me. I did not perform well in my studies, or sports, or team activities, and since I was one of the “strange kids”, so I would often find myself the target of bullying, and I would fight back as well as I could.

As a result of these scraps, I spent a lot of time in detention. (This was also where I learned the power of stories; the kids who are often well-behaved, with good grades, would get their stories believed by the teachers with more regularity and consistency.)

Hence, my ability to create these stories of faraway lands became a refuge from my strange tormentors and dismal surroundings.

Stories about places, stories about people are powerful things. Imagining other places can set one free momentarily, allow one to rebel in one’s mind and heart even as one is bound within rude barriers of wood and plaster; imagining other people can bring salve to one who feels disconnected from society.

These stories made the awkward pains of growing up somewhat less ungainly, somewhat more bearable.

Now, I’m not saying these are perfect, or even serviceable, substitutes for exploring reality; that’s not my claim here.

It’s more…. I want to talk about the creative process of making worlds and animating its peoples. This is a process which may involve, as in my case, wandering aimlessly and observing, learning from interactions with one’s fellow sentient beings, and later, at one’s leisure, transmuting and translating these experiences into some form of creative work.

Through playing with others, these imaginary places and peoples change – other people do what they feel, move around as they will, and nothing remains exactly the same, but it is good, because this change is growth!

I believe that is why RPGs can provoke change in their players, because they are played by many people together, not just one person… and so, the solipsism of one’s horizons being all horizons begins to falter, and indeed, fade…

It is through the unpredictability of play and other perspectives, that one’s creations truly come alive, that they take upon a real life of their own! No one person owns or controls everything, and to some that is utterly terrifying; to others, it is utterly freeing. I shall leave you to mull over what and how you feel about that, on your own.

As January moves along, the Curious Chimeras is excited to present Dungeon Bash 2018… an exciting competition where we invite teams of participants to collaborate and create one-page dungeons!

In RPGs, dungeons are often the basic unit of space for players to explore and interact with; dungeon designs can range from simple affairs to baroque fashionings of bizarre architecture.

We hope this competition can excite the creative energies of participants and get them to think more about game design, storytelling, as well as the worlds around us. What would be a cool place to explore, and why? What do you want people to experience in their wanderings of the neverspaces you craft, and why?

Put your pen to paper and let the dreams flow like ink! Make things that wow us, and more importantly, things that move you. Without you moving into these realms of imagination, these places of your mind and heart, who will show us the way? Lead us to the wonders of your creativity! Stay Curious!

– Chimera Shao