Thursday, June 14, 2012

Adventures and Quests

One of the things that regularly irks me is the use of the word “adventure” in general culture, and roleplaying culture in particular. Yes, as a descriptivist, I admit that definitions change and that they’re ad hoc at best: if people at large use a word to mean X when I alone think it means Y, I’m wrong and they’re right, because words are not eternal, but only for shared meaning. Still. The original idea for adventure was caught up in the idea of randomness: it’s from the French  aventure, or “at random” or “by chance.” A knight on the Platonic ideal of an adventure mounts his horse and goads him on without touching the reins. Whatever happens, happens, and he surrenders control over the situation. When a person sets off on an adventure, he’s saying from the outset, “I have no idea what’s going to happen. In fact, I’m planning to make sure.”

By stark contrast, questing has a purpose. The most famous quest literature affords us, the quest for the Grail, has a set beginning, middle, and end. While an adventure is a serial story, a quest has the beginnings of something greater: a plot.

Both have their advantages, but again, I want to turn my attention to words and definitions, because I believe that this differentiation between adventure and quest—the de-synonymization—doesn’t limit us, but instead opens up our expression. Did you have a plan that turned out differently? That quest became an adventure. Did you just do whatever came into your head, only later realizing that it all linked together and set up a conclusion, not just an end? That adventure turned into a quest.

Through this terminology, we can even describe many smaller quests as part of a larger adventure through life, or many episodic adventures as part of a greater destined quest. When a person organizes a game (such as my friend Ian has been theorizing about), differentiating between the two is helpful. After all, if you want to set off into the unknown, or if you want to pursue a set goal, isn't it nice that we have specific words to mean each concept?