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It's a Big, Big World We Play In

Last time I spoke about things which fell pretty closely to role-playing as in role-playing games (RPGs). Now let's examine some that fall outside the limits presented.

We'll start with 'solo' games. Erring towards the boundless side, I'll start with one suggested in the course of my original discourse on the subject. Let's take a moment to consider how 'lying' could be an RPG. (Being a liar or a con man was held up as an example of playing an RPG without anyone noticing.)

It does have a lot of the qualities most people associate with RPGs, but can anyone give an example of where it differs? I'll start: the person playing (inside the chara or liar) isn't really relating to anyone socially. Imagine bluffing your way into a fancy dress party; it could be fun and all, but in the end, you're all alone. Even the 'spoils' aren't really shareable; you can't reveal 'role-playing lies' without a certain amount of negative response. You might get your jollies, but you're all alone.

Given this, how could we change to making it more like an RPG? What would you do? I'm kinda naive here so I could use some suggestions. My first thought is to recruit others...and set some boundaries. No one should get hurt with this (how is that fun?), even bystanders. I'd also limit the participants to a sort of uniform or shared milieu. What I wouldn't do is require them to know each other or begin at the same time. For the most part, this sounds like an alternative reality game. We'll close; what do you think I'm missing?

Another suggestion was Holiday Villages (I love these, I don't know how I missed it¹). These are little dioramas that people often display during the winter holiday season. They have small houses and even smaller figures (sometimes moving about them). Aficionados really try to tell a story or two through this kind of sculpture. The question is, if you thought of this as an RPG, where is it deficient?

That one is a tough one. I can't really think of what it's missing or how to 'fix' it. I just have this vague sensation that it isn't. Can anyone help out here? (In the comments below.) I suppose the same answer would almost be true for model railroad layout builders (who do much the same, but with moving trains...and keeping to scale-sized schedules). But I'm stumped.

I do know I have some of the most well-read and thoughtful readers, so I thought I'd reach out to you. Thanks!

Next time we'll look at many of the different kinds of writing.


¹ We're planning to start a small on for all-year-round Halloween in our apartment!
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If It Might be a Role-Playing Game, Would It...?

I've been considering the list of 'could be looked at as gaming' hobbies and thinking. I have to thank all the contributors to this list (see earlier post); I couldn't have gotten this far without your great input! Here's a recap (edited and organized for your consumption):

Role-Playing (from Abstracted to Verisimilar | from Independent to Interpersonal)
Constrained Writing - Letter Games, Lexicons
Computer Gaming
· Networked First Person Shooter
· Multi-Player CRPG
Role-Playing Games
· Tabletop
· Forum
· Post
· Email
· Internet Relay Chat
· VoIP / Teleconference
Live Action Role-Playing (LARP)
· Social
· Boffer
Parlour Games (e.g. Murder Mystery Kits)
Improv Games
Make Believe
· Cowboys & Native Americans
· Cops and Robbers
· House
Sex Games
Society for Creative Anachronism
Civil War Reenactment
Psychological / Corporate Training Role-Playing

You may have noticed commonalities with those that I listed. So did I. To look at something (like these) as if it were role-play gaming, I think it should:

1. Requires the live (even asynchronous) participation of more than one individual
2. Uses at least some fictional content that can be affected
3. Has explicit or implicit rituals that guide or limit

I found the implications of these simple ideas to be profound and difficult to understand. Here is some of the first things I've noticed:

Number One
One thing that happens here is a social framework is formed for both communication and coordination.

Number Two
And it's likely that there is some use of the imagination, but this may also occur in some very subtle and sophisticated ways.

Number Three
This suggests that there is something working above and beyond the usual rituals of the social intercourse implied in number one.

We might consider what these mean in pairs, too.

Numbers One and Two
Most often, social dominance leads to more creative control.

Numbers One and Three
It seems like group dynamics gives a stronger indication of how well things go then the design of the game.

Numbers Two and Three
I've noticed that the imposition of the practices of a game rarely support the type of fiction the game is intended to emulate, putting them in conflict both with each other as well as part number one.

How this is settled by either the people or the game becomes the unwritten centerpiece to each session. Do you, my dear readers, have any ideas how to discuss this amalgam within the 'not quite games' I listed above? I'm at a loss.

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Old Familiar Skewed Battles

To paraphrase Vincent Baker: "Role-Playing's Fundamental Act is our ongoing [content] agreement, nothing more or less."

Most expectedly, this turned into another discussion of Ron Edward's Big Model (REBM) vs Social Gaming (SG). This shouldn't matter much, except these roads are well traveled, but completely lost.

Why is that? It's like arguing oranges and IBMs (over an Apple iPhone).

Let me draw a diagram that relates these and most Role-Playing Game (RPG) theory to each other:

Not as Good as I Wanted

Now, to understand where REBM is coming from you must consider that all that can be observed about play is how the players behave. By categorizing behaviour and finding structures within it, you can readily arrive at the Gamism / Narrativism / Simulationism (GNS) at the heart of REBM. When you consider the issues around this (like socializing) you can work out the rest of REBM.

Why does this have nothing to do with SG? Simply because SG is about WHY players play. REBM is about HOW they play. REBM does say that socializing is 'how' to play, but it can't say what is prioritized; that's a motive not a behaviour.

Now if you wanted to discuss what is fundamental in REBM, it would be people behaving in a fashion recognizable as RPG play. No 'why' and no 'priorities,' nothing about what comes first or what can't happen without another thing. Just 'how.'

In ways this is an ideal approach for a publisher. Publishers, but nature, are concerned with their product (whether or not they want to make money). How recognized this product is, is more or less how you could say they value it. That puts a high accent on the product and it's use. How do you measure use? By tracking the behaviour of the consumers. How do you determine the quality of use? By how closely their practices and outcomes mirror what you intended (measuring fun has never worked in product development). A model of how you can categorize behaviours is ideal for both these uses.

More on 'the other side of the coin' later.

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Okay, I admit it. I'm stuck. I need help.

So deadlines, right? I'm good with them. As a matter of fact, it's what makes me just about the best at what I do for a living. However....

When I set my own deadlines I never meet them. I procrastinate, I find more interesting things to do, I catch up on my sleep, whatever it is, it isn't what I'm supposed to get done. (This is one of the things which makes me a lousy leader.)

So here's the deal. I'm really good at breaking projects down into clear, measurable steps; I create a really targeted agenda when called upon. I can even set appropriate deadlines. But if I'm only answering to know.

I need someone who can set the deadlines and chew me out if I miss one. This project is too important to me.

So who cares enough about and the promise of a protected space for game design ideas that subvert the mainstream of 'the community?' Who can keep me on time, on track and on point?

I'd really appreciate it!

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To Join the Mainstream, Avoid the Fringes

In the comments to my last post, R. Earley Clark makes some incredibly valuable points:
Backlash Within the Hobby Community:

One is the Grognard-effect: When you've put in a lot of time and effort (often enthusiastically and certainly voluntarily!) and mastered a style of activity, it's pretty human to loathe the idea of putting that away and doing something perceived as very different.

I think this is even [truer] with mainstream wargames and RPGs, since they tend to give real benefits to those folks willing to take the time to master them.

I also think that's why I've seen a good bit of resistance to "Lite" rules of different sorts. It just seems backwards to go to a simple/short way of doing things once you've internalized a more complex way of doing things. You don't see many Poker players taking up Go-Fish, for example.

Identification: People identify with their hobby, the way fans of music styles or bands identify with those things. It can be hard when you perceive your favorite "thing" as being displaced by the new hotness, especially if you don't like the new hotness. People can also be very unwelcoming to newcomers that they see as not understanding the social rules of a scene.

Backlash Outside the Hobby Community:

Devil Worshipping Geeks: I honestly think this one is truly on the way out and I'm thankful for it. I suspect that younger gamers (I'm in my mid-30s) really didn't go through as much of that nonsense, and I think gamers starting today really don't go through too much of that at all. An enormous improvement. Culture has just plain changed. The only broad societal thing I see right now is a sort of negative impression of anything that doesn't either produce wealth or show status based on wealth. That's bigger culturally than geekiness or scary devil-worshipper misconceptions.

Related Stuff: Broader or Multiple Markets/Demographics

With over 30 years of existence, RPGs (and other adventure games) literally have multiple age and income groups they can target in a way they couldn't in an earlier period. I think it was Ryan Dancey who recently wrote something about the key ages for players to become involved in and actively play RPGs (Tweenagers to Pre-Driver's License Teens, then a gain during college age/military first timers).

If he's on to something (I think he is, btw), it explains a whole lot about the relation between rules style and consumption of mainstream games as well as the fight over limited market share by mainstream game makers. I also see a lack of success in developing other markets, but that is very likely where a new form of breakout game **might** occur.
What you say really makes sense. You make a very, very good point. I shouldn't let the RPG2FW project suffer from the expectations of the current market of RPGers.

I'm glad you make it obvious that RPG2FW shouldn't appear as if to 'replace' current games. In fact, I can also hear you saying that I shouldn't even take RPG2FW in front of the current market. Good advice.

From the perspective of having lived through it, I have to say I thought having Pat Robertson fanning the flames over AD&D was the best PR TSR could get. It drove all the 'fringies' and malcontents into gaming (and the 'geeks' appear to have stayed).

While I completely agree that culture has much changed since then and take as good advice not to make dated assumptions, I believe that younger consumers don't understand why they parents / source of income push them towards appearing affluent. I think a polished enough product could appeal.

Heck, outside gaming, Goosebumps invented a whole new market of young adult readers. No wealth or status there. But I digress.

Your advice via Dancey is well taken; I hear and obey. However, I disagree with the implication that there even are "mainstream game makers" (meaning RPGs); I just don't think our market leaders produce anything that could be described as mainstream.

That's the untapped market I'm thinking of for the RPG2FW project. Thank you for making it clear that developing a market out from the current RPG community is not a good idea. I'll have to concentrate on something new for the mainstream that only a critic could realize is an RPG.

So much to consider! So little understood (by me)!

Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

How Do We Bring Role-Playing Games to First-Worlders?

How Do We Bring Role-Playing Games to First-Worlders?

I'm a big fan of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project. They began with the idea that the world would be a better place if all children (not adults) everywhere were give the real and technological tools to educate themselves. This primarily meant areas where computers had never gone before.

I was just pondering if the same kind of 're-invention' might help create some new ideas for bringing role-playing games to the real mainstream. So I got to thinking about the challenges a typical role-playing game faces when simply put into the hands of a 'first-worlder' (arguably the nearest mainstream market to me and mine). It does remind me a lot of putting a MS Office desktop computer into the hands of a third-world preschooler.

At the heart of the initiative was the idea that the OLPC machine wouldn't come with a western ideal of learning system embedded in it. The idea was to make it as flexible as possible and leverage the natural curiosity and learning patterns of the child themselves.

That sounds like a great place to start the RPG2FW project. Give them something so flexible they really can do whatever they want with it. But provide enough structure to leverage the resources of their community (OLPC mesh networking for example). The RPG2FW would have to be much more approachable and yet play on the strengths of D&D and Vampire: the Masquerade (arguably the most popular role-playing games making up most of the market).

Many hurdles had to be overcome with the OLPC machines; durability, price, connectivity, power and several more. The same position should be true for the RPG2FW. But what are they?

Here's a few I've come up with in about ten minutes of thinking:
The Tabletop
First-Worlders just don't spend any time around tables. We need to unthink the 'tabletop' part of it.

Where would they play? When do they have un-distracted time? Shouldn't gaming be THE distraction sought out?

The Character Sheet
First-Worlders don't keep that kind of thing (paper) around much anymore. We need to recreate the Character Sheet in some other form.

Are character sheets really necessary? What do they do? Do we need so finely detailed descriptions of characters? Should we track possessions so closely?

The Dice
First-Worlders might have a couple of six-sided dice if you're very lucky. We need to take away those dice and rethink resolution.

Is conflict resolution really necessary? Very Cutting-Edge Idea: Get rid of resolution systems! They're not in Make-Believe, SCA, Model RR and never used for conflict resolution in board games! But then what about tension? What about creating detail?

The Gamemaster
First-Worlders aren't willing to prepare all that much. We need to uncreate the Gamemaster as the source/guidance of 'the fun.'

What's his name (was he D&D's former owner) says that this hobby is a high-preparation pastime; must it be so?
And that's just the top of my head. What I really need is some stimulating conversation about this metaphor, cuz I know my perspective is very narrow and needs to be shaken loose from my experiences.

Can you help?

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Shared Imaginary Space vs Edwards' Big Model

Over in I Would Knife Fight a Man, they are arguing about "hardcore Big Model: The thing(s) about Shared Imagined Space". That got me thinking about theorizing again.

Most people don't realize that Shared Imaginary Space (SIS) can't function in Edwards' Big Model (EBM) for a very simple reason. At its root, EBM is about what the participants are doing, their perspectives on the game, how they play it and what they get from it. For that you would have to rename SIS as 'shared imagined space,' focusing on it as a practice rather than a subject. EBM is a player-centric theory.

Using SIS, you are focusing on the perspective on 'what' is in play. You consider how players, rules, social relationships and other factors influence what is in play at any time, but they are not considered the center of interest in this perspective. SIS is at the heart of a play-centric theory.

To confuse those is to force arguments that go right past each other, center on straw-man argumentation and ad hominem attacks. It also suggests the problem EBM has with the numerous things which fight to be termed 'immersion.

Immersion (in many of its meanings) is most like a process. This doesn't work in a player-centric theory. Players address SIS through a process called immersion. That is not player-centric; it might be play-centric, but so many of the definitions for immersion make it impossible to determine.

This explains many of the reactions of EBM-adherents to immersion as psychosis. If a player immerses, without a game or any other context, they are crazy. But immersion doesn't exist in a vacuum and can't be considered an independent tool or practice in the player-centric EBM.

Now since the play-centric use of SIS requires players to share it, immersion suggests a number of different possible processes (remember, immersion doesn't have a single agreed upon definition) for connecting the player to the play.

I think.

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Okay, I Tried

After 78 straight Blog-a-Day entries, I give up. I just can't keep up.

From here on, the goal will be twice a week (or more as inspiration strikes). Hope y'all don't mind.

Still 78 is a lot further than I ever dreamed.

Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

A New Start for Old Ideas

Okay, I said I was going to review what I wrote for those articles and reconsider what I can now say about those issues. Let's start with the original outline (highest order).
  • Welcome
  • Why (Design a New Role-Playing Game)?
  • Why Not?
  • An Overview of Creativity
  • Intentional Design
  • What is Gaming?
  • How Does It Work?
  • What Do You Get Out of It?
  • The Play of a Role-Playing Game
  • Parts of the Game
  • How to Design All That
  • What to Do?

First let's just cut out "An Overview of Creativity." The only reason I put that in was because I am a Scott McCloud and his book, Understanding Comics fan. I totally stole it and honestly, I don't think I have anything worth adding to it. If you're curious, go get a copy of this terrific book.

"Why" and "Why Not" are both good to go, always relevant (but nothing I can add to). I should make "Intentional Design" its own series of articles, in fact, I will. It is what I'm really good at. Not that either I know all about it or explain it very well; I can however provide a fairly deep look into one way to do this.

"How Does It Work?" and "Parts of the Game" will need to be retuned to only what I'm familiar with, typical or traditional gaming. I can talk about those things and how they work beneath the surface in ways unclear. I think that will make a great series. (I need to backtrack and tag a few articles I've already written for this series.)

"What Do You Get Out of It?" and "What to Do?" will be tough for me to parse; my only interests were getting attention and glory. I believe I couldn't really add anything to this that everyone couldn't guess already or things which other sources treat so much better. I'm not a publisher yet and could only guess at this stuff; best to leave it alone.

I'd love to be able to write an article about "How to Design All That," but I'm thinking that this is all I ever write about here. No point in thinking I know much about this one, eh?

And of course, lest we forget, the flaming hot topics: "What is Gaming?" and "The Play of a Role-Playing Game." While I fully plan to talk about these, you may note (from a few days ago) that I've reached a point where I don't think anyone can answer those questions definitively. Like I said, it should be, "Consider EXAMPLE as a role-playing game; what makes it different from the common practice?" or some such. That I can answer (but only the parts I have experience in.

So that will be three different threads for me to follow. Fortunately, I have an old body of work to jar some new ideas out of.

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How Not to Design a Role-Playing Game

Here it is! This is the last section of my oh-so-dated articles from back when I knew everything (and was treatable for insanity). I bet your glad this is over. I'm not; now how am I going to fill those days I can't get to a computer?

This is a "Blog-a-Day" project after all.

What to Do?
Designer-Intent must exist in every part, but not overshadow any.

Later 'finishing' sections should review 'ingredients'
End with 'What Have You Done?'
  1. How Should I Know?
  2. It's Your Game, Do with It as Thou Wilt
  3. I'm not a game doctor; ask other forums.
  4. Remember to Ask Yourself, "Does This Do What I Wanted?"
  5. Know What You Want to Know When You're Done
  6. If it works, please share your wisdom with others. Knowledge is only useful if it is shared. This was my purpose for creating this series of articles.
  7. If you aren't enjoying what you do, stop doing it. Remember this throughout your whole process.
  8. So Long!
Say, "There is No Right Way" throughout; this is just a starting point (series of articles)
  • Review the work: each potential paragraph of the articles must be at least one line of outline. Every major 'turning point' in the article should have an introductory paragraph regardless if formally in outline. Each article should have a distinct voice throughout its length, whether frustrated, joking, angry, mocking, or otherwise (establish it up front 'loudly'). Approach all at least from the same 'place' as most of the blogs in terms of voice.
  • Final Drafting: Make each article have a singular (in not overly-friendly) voice. Consider incorporating a Message into each (not completely in keeping with the text, but augmenting it).
  • 'Build up' sections must hint at later criteria - backtrack concepts like Appeal to ensure proper introduction.
There actually are a few gems in this, the very last, section.

VI. and VII. glitter intensely. Good advice in everything you do. Sections IV. and V. are the maxim of intentional design; I didn't invent them, but I was smart enough to use them. Sections I. through III. are my way of saying, "Yer on yer own!" I wanted to have a whole series of articles and all the attention that I madly thought it would bring. (Being insane, I thought everyone would worship my wisdom - not too wise, huh?) I didn't want people to attack them and I didn't want to deal with sycophants; what I big ego I had.

Sometimes I wonder, what would have happened? Then I ask myself what it would have been like to have been on medication by then? Realizing the line of thought, I usually finish with some question like, "What if I posted it from a LaGrange Point?" The old saying is, "If wishes were horses, then even beggars could ride."

Looking back, I do think I will go back and discuss many of the issues I raise with this series of articles. This time, though, I expect I will consider it more along the lines of what has been done, what might be done and what should be done. I might be able to dig up a few intuitions people might not have thought about. (Or at least people who are just starting out.

I'll start tomorrow....