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Originally, an "after action report" (AAR) referred to a blow-by-blow account of an engagement prepared by a military official. These reports were typically prepared for military analysts who would read them in order to deduce the enemy's strategy and refine their own. As many early Strategy Games were essentially tactical combat simulators, it was only natural that fans of these games wishing to share their own stories and compare strategies adopted the format for their own use.
Also related to sportscaster analysis, where they analyze the play-by-play and deliver a verdict on why Team A lost.
An AAR occupies a sort of odd place in Fan Fiction; since the media they're based on often feature few or no named characters and little concrete characterization, the author generally has to resort to creating his own characters within the setting. This tends to have the effect of having them resemble a Web Original work more than actual Fan Fiction.
Nowadays, AARs can be divided into two distinct formats: Gameplay (or play-by-play) AARs and Story (or literary) AARs
- Gameplay (or Analytical) AARs most resemble the original format. The events of the game are typically presented in a straightforward fashion, with game mechanics being explicitly mentioned in the narrative. The author may also outline his goals and discuss his strategies. Any "characters" who appear are typically mentioned as exactly what they are: Game-generated pawns for the player to manipulate in pursuit of his goals. This is an account of a gameplay session, plain and simple.
- Story (or Literary) AARs, on the other hand, simply use the game as a source of inspiration for their own narrative. Gameplay events serve as a sort of framework in which the story itself is set. The player is little more than an invisible hand guiding one of the factions in the game; his actions may shape the world in which the characters live, but very rarely is his presence made explicit. In brief, the game scenario is treated as if it were an actual Universe in which the characters exist as real people. (Well, real fictional people, at any rate.) Games which cover larger timeframes may instead get the "historical narrative" treatment, where the author tells the story of his faction as if recounting the history of an actual nation, sometimes using Fictional Documents as sources within the story.
Of course, these two categories aren't mutually exclusive; most AARs typically have elements of both formats present along a sort of sliding scale between the two extremes.
The "after action" aspect is less emphasized these days; often such accounts are begun while the game is still in progress and often with a degree of reader participation. For instance, some authors will allow their audience to provide suggestions for or vote on their next course of action. This spontaneity can sometimes generate a narrative akin to that of a Random Events Plot - as can actual Random Events in the game itself.
Fan Fiction set after a film which included a battle may contain a literal after-action report, but the form in this trope applies to games.
After Action Reports with their own pages on This Very Wiki:
- Children of the Fatherland
- Fire Warms the Northern Lands
- Holding Out for A Hero Gustav Stresemann Survives
- I Am Skantarios
- Land of the Aryans
- Rome AA Risen
- Rumors of War
- Ynglinga Saga
Other Notable After Action Reports and / or websites devoted to them include:
- After Action Reporter, a blog devoted to finding the best AARs on the Web.
- The Blue Casket, another blog which collects AARs from across the Web. It also hosts a few itself (including one for Mirrors Edge). Sadly, it hasn't updated since late 2009.
- Paradox Interactive Forums features literally thousands of AARs and sustains its own subculture of AAR writers, complete with their own archives, quarterly awards, and even a serial newsletter... all maintained by the fanbase.
- Many fans got into Paradox games due to stumbling across a particularly good AAR.
- SomethingAwful.com's Let's Play accounts are essentially a variation of this.
- Noah Antwiler's Let's Play of SWAT 4 ended each mission video with a summary of the mission, frequently putting a humorous spin on the mission's events.
- This gameplay AAR on Galactic Civilizations II depicts an epic game where the player intentionally honks off the entire galaxy at every opportunity, yet manages to squeak out a win anyway.
- The Civ Fanatics forum has many threads dedicated to playthroughs of games.
- Madden NFL generally attracts the Story variant. These can take on wildly different tones - some resemble typical newspaper reporting on the player's season, some will try to add external elements, and others still tell truly bizarre tales of Jack Nicholson taking over the Dallas Cowboys, drafting a female halfback, and then being disenfranchised for fixing games.
- Battle reports are a long-standing feature of the Warhammer 40000 community, and tend to come in either or both varieties, depending on the writer. Gameplay reports are mainly used to solicit feedback and advice on strategy, troop selection, and sometimes commiseration.
- A long long time ago (the late 1990s, to be precise) there was a website called "There I Was..." which was devoted to AARs written by combat flight simulation gamers. As in: "There I was in my Mustang, at 30,000 feet over Wuppertal, escorting a wing of B-24s, when suddenly...." There was a particularly good one about a duel between an A-7 and a MiG-29.
- The popular Record of Lodoss War franchise began as an After Action Report on Japanese tabletop RPG player Ryo Mizuno's Dungeons and Dragons campaign; Lodoss was eventually adapted to its own tabletop game system after TSR passed on buying the campaign.
- Dedicated players of the Roguelike Nethack often write these up as "Yet Another Ascension Post." Which kind of AAR you get indicates which kind of player the writer is, with players who roleplay their characters during the game usually writing the more "literary" AARs. "Yet Another Stupid Death" posts may contain elements of this as well, if the character had particularly heroic or interesting exploits before getting nibbled to death by a newt.
- The Knights of the Dinner Table spinoff Knights of the Dinner Table: Illustrated (KILL for short) is a Story AAR-styled adaptation of the exploits of the Untouchable Trio (plus One), as seen in the original series. The storylines feature in-character versions of the players' antics.
- This is done for Football Manager, with stories being written around the player's career, with occasional stories actually having a whole plot written around it. The developer's forum even has a section to place them in.
- In eRepublik you have player written ones, some of the more popular papers have thousands of subscribers.
- An individual by the name of Thexder has chronicled some of his multiplayer games of Steel Panthers on his website. It's been a while since it's been updated, though.
- Robin Burkinshaw (of Alice and Kev fame) also wrote a "game diary" for Space Rangers II chronicling his Ranger's rise to the seat of top Ranger -- by killing all the competition.
- The Realms Beyond Forums contain reports for several single player 4X and strategy games, as well as frequently-updated threads for a number of Civilization and Fall From Heaven PBEM games in progress.
- Nuzlocke Comics are either written stories or (more commonly, as evidenced by the name) comic strips that relate a player's experience with a Nuzlocke Run of one of the Pokémon games. A lot of them add their own original stories on top of the relatively bare-bones Excuse Plot of the original games, but with the general series of events kept more or less intact.