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January 24th, 2006 (12:34 pm)

Thank you for reading me. I like you. And I want to share some thinking I’ve been doing. I was going to go into detail about what I got wrong in my last post, but let’s just start over.

In the simplest fashion, diegesis is ‘telling’ and mimesis is ‘showing.’ After that, it gets complicated; these terms apply to most forms of art.

Before we go too much farther, I’m going to lay down how the word ‘art’ is interpreted for the sake of this article. (Which means we can discuss it at length later or elsewhere just NOT HERE!) Art is not a media; gestural drawing is art, technical drawing is craft; oil portraiture is art, house painting is craft; novelizing is art, filling out tax forms is craft; and scenic photography is art, mug shots are craft. Art portrays something more than simply what is shown (what that is, is left as an exercise for other blogs). Ergo role-playing games are art, corporate training role-playing is craft.

Let’s get back to diegesis / mimesis. Writing is almost completely diegesis, except, you might guess, dialogue. For example:

    ”I’m going to catch that dog.”
      This is written mimesis.

    ”That rabid dog bit me,” Bob cried.
      This is partly both.

    Bob said he was going to the hospital.
      This is written diegesis.
Theatre is roughly the opposite. Actors portray their characters through dialogue and action or simply mimesis. Some plays make use of a narrator for various effects; this narration is diegesis.

In sculpture, it seems entirely mimetic, until you take the title of a piece into account; sometimes the artist adds addition commentary into his art by juxtaposition with the title. The same is true for painting and photography. Storytelling (often cited as role-playing gaming’s closest relative) makes more use of mimesis than most writing, but still depends on heavy use of diegesis.

Film has made itself a whole ‘nother animal. Past filmmakers have deemed all of what they present as diegesis, going so far as to include ‘background’ elements only mentioned in the presentation. (For example, if a character says they went to UCLA, then the University of California in Los Angeles becomes a part of the diegesis.) Now this may seem incorrect until you realize how rare it is that film depicts things as they really are. If you look into the ‘language of film,’ you’ll learn that most everything visibly depicted is considered, while apparently realistic, a form of symbolic or metaphoric discourse. Given this ‘language,’ it makes sense to call it diegesis. Years later, in an effort to account for everything placed into a film that would qualify under this interpretation, the term ‘non-diegetic’ was coined; the most famous example is music that is imperceptible to the characters of the film. (The musicians in the Cantina Scene are playing diegetic music; the orchestral swell just before the Death Star explodes is non-diegetic.)

As an aside, comics, comic strips, comic books, and webcomics take this to an even more refined level. Not everyone realizes that virtually all components of comic imagery are presented strictly for their symbolic value (or the degree they emphasize other symbolism); this makes it diegetic in the sense that the cinema is, possibly more so. Otherwise the commonality of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ would be very difficult to classify. But I digress....

That being said, one important point must be made.

Diegesis is a process.

You could not say that diegesis is a world or a picture or a scene or a figure. Diegesis is the process by which these are communicated or shared with an audience. Saying ‘the diegesis of Moby Dick’ means you are talking about how the novel goes from characters on the page to the narrative understood by the reader. A painting alone in a room is art, a person with it, perceiving it, makes it diegesis. When you discuss diegesis you are talking about how something goes from the imagination of one person to the comprehension of another. This shows in terms of ‘found art;’ you might see a cloud, but diegesis occurs when someone coaches you to see the doggy.

This puts me in direct conflict with the Meilahti schools usage of the word diegesis, so for the sake of clarity I suggest we call their theory ‘Meilahti Diegesis’ in the same way we might say ‘cinematic diegesis.’ I respect their work a lot and it has been very informative to me; I don’t think I could have come to understand shifting role-playing game play from the mostly diegetic mode of tabletop play to the mostly mimetic mode of Live-Action Role-Playing. I probably couldn’t have come to see Civil War reenactment as a form of highly mimetic role-playing either. I have nothing but positive things to say about their field of study.

I also could discuss the uses of diegesis and mimesis in various forms of role-playing games and go into length to discussing how they speak to role-playing gaming’s close relatives, but that’s topic for other articles. I will leave you with one idea though: referencing or invoking role-playing game rules is simply diegesis using a game-specific vernacular.

We could also talk about what is being shared between participants, how it gets shared, what the act of sharing means (both to the diegesis and the social relationships of the participants), and how the style of sharing adds that ‘something more’ that makes it art (in my mind). Feel free to start an article on any of these and other issues mentioned in your own blog with a link here and I’ll be happy to contribute. Here I’d like to focus strictly on using the terms diegesis and mimesis in role-playing gaming theory.

Thank you so much for reading this; I really appreciate your time and value your opinion. Let me know what you think or how I’ve misstated things below.

Fang Langford


Posted by: darklordforhire (darklordforhire)
Posted at: January 26th, 2006 03:38 pm (UTC)

I must admit, I'm a bit hazy on the difference between mimesis and diegesis. It seems that mimesis simply avoids verbal structure, while diegesis is based on it. But in each case communication is the goal.

How accurate is that? I've not encountered these terms in their original contexts, although I've delved into hermeneutics fairly deeply. To me they both seem to be processes of interpretation. The distinction seems to be that much of what we would interpret through mimesis in life is interpreted via diegesis in RPGs.

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: January 26th, 2006 10:44 pm (UTC)
Excellent Question!

Diegesis isn't necessarily based on "verbal structure."

    In the anime Big O, Roger Smith, upon meeting his future partner Dorothy Waynewright, is told that she isn't a 'her,' that she's a 'that.' For a half second, we're shown an image of a derelict, disconnected, jet engine. At that point both audience and Roger realize that Dorothy is an android via 'the language of film.' It is diegetic because it doesn't show us her androidness by an action of the chara, but by inferring it symbolically, even though no words were spoken.
Diegesis is a matter of explaining something rather than demonstrating it. Mimesis also does not 'avoid' verbiage, however its use is mostly depictive; you say the dialogue rather than describing it (like in my example). And life isn't mimesis; mimesis is the depicting of things without directly expressing them.

What I'm trying to do here is divorce the idea of gaming from an overtly textual format. Yes, tabletop role-playing gaming is most often conveyed orally, but Live-Action Role-Playing is more a discourse of actions. Computer role-playing games more and more rely on anything but text, even though early network adventure role-playing games gave us the cardinal textual example in MUSHes.

Neither mimesis nor diegesis discuss interpretation; they represent the conveyance. The diegesis of a game is how the game 'happens,' not how the participants interpret it.

I hope that helps you understand the underlying meaning I'm trying to portray. I very much appreciate the attention. You done me a favor with my manner of explanation; thank you very much.

Fang Langford

Posted by: darklordforhire (darklordforhire)
Posted at: January 27th, 2006 03:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Excellent Question!

Is the distinction then that diegesis uses symbolic semantic structures to communicate, while mimesis uses only direct semantics (i.e. the thing always is what the thing is.)? It seems that diegesis must acquire something vaguely textual (albeit not text or verbal per se) in order to become an explanation rather than a demonstration.

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: January 27th, 2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
I'm Grateful

Right on!

I would only pose that it should be 'representative' rather than "symbolic."  I bet the 'vague' sensation is based on representations.  Letters represent sounds; groups of letters are words; words represent things, actions, and ideas.  If you represent something, most often you do it with words, but if you stretch, you can do it in other ways; these are the ways of diegesis too.

Mimesis is demonstrative; so you're right there too.

I really have to thank you for pushing my research in this direction; I think I can write a credible definition now.  You helped a lot!

Fang Langford

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