First posted: October 04, 2005. Reposted: May 18, 2006.

This inaugural episode of The Working Title War is based on a true story…

Our household just about runs on dreaming. Oh, the stories we could tell. It even makes up a significant part of our gaming design.

Barbara does most of the alcheric1 research in our house, by far. She’ll be off in the dreamtime nearly every night, and bring back reports each morning of other lives, or other worlds. Much of what she discovers is actually highly useful info in the waking world. By contrast, Chris, if he dreams much at all, almost never remembers his.

So when Chris awoke early one morning with the memory of a distressed Yamara having precisely the dream recounted above, he carefully wrote it down. The dream did draw out the sharp observation that many comics which focus on gamers themselves employ the visual shorthand of lining up the players in a row on one side of the table. (In the cases of Dork Tower, Commissioned and Knights, pictured above, it’s almost always the GM on the left, with the players upon his left hand.)

Of course, in real life this never happens; players usually want to sit close to one another. In the comics, the right hand side of the table is there to make room for the fourth wall. In literature, and in cultural ritual, the implication of the seat reserved for an absent guest, a hallmark of many an old mystery or ghost story, is that someone known, but extremely unexpected, might arrive and take their place among us. And yet the empty table setting also suggests that the honored guest might be more highly regarded because of his absence: Not because they are secretly disliked, but because they would defy some natural order by their presence. What would the reaction be if the empty chair were to be filled by the body and not the airy honor? Be it a deity, the beloved dead, or a friend of the mind’s invention?

Yamara is an rpg strip which has joked directly about rules and metagaming, but within its panels we have remained dead silent about the existence of characters’ players. This has been deliberate. It’s a temptation few can resist. Whether it be a nascent tour de force, like Thunt’s new hit Goblins, or a manic confusion like the plots of Spells & Whistles or White Hydra‘s the original incarnation, the curiosity of humans confronting the sentient forms of their deepest wonders cuts too close to moral and philosophical truths to not be investigated. And webcomic artists are hardly alone in this. The question of an author’s relation to his creations have captured minds from Stephen King to Rod Serling, Beerbohm, Tolkien, and Jung.

In our household, we’re ever aware of this issue, and have held our silent place open for the player. Because the player is so often absent from her character. Most of a character’s life, of course, goes unwatched and unremarked. Does such a thing as a being that only takes command of your fate at moments of crisis really exist?

Barbara points out that Thomas Aquinas tells us that the true dreams come in the morning hours, when we’re past our exhaustion and closer to waking. Almost as if the more polite muses wait until you’re ready to have audience. Characters, on the other hand, are callously abused by their creators at whim, every day.

One wonders what that says about us. About whether we can ever take the hint.


1Alcheric is an adjective, evocative of alchemy, but derived from Alcheringa, a word from the Arrernte language of Australia, corresponding to dreamtime.