Monday, January 30, 2006

Weekly Review Jan. 22nd to Jan. 28th

This week has been dominated by a discussion of protagonists and character ownership. Concurrent with that have been several attempts to refine the language used in RPG theory.

Who is the Protagonist?

Continuing to develop his "dangerous idea" of RPGs without players, Vincent Baker has put forward the interesting idea of games which "Let the events of the game's fiction choose whether your character is a protagonist or a supporting character." In essence, Baker is asking how deprotagonizing a character can be done beneficially. And in the context of shared ownership of characters, this is not as far fetched as it seems.

This proposal has generated significant discussion. Brand Robins expanding on the idea by contrasting the types of stories RPGs usually make with more traditional fiction. Victor Gijsbers argues that this can help to remove the romanticist assumptions from RPGs. On the other hand, Jason L suggests that this strategy will mean very little to the majority of roleplayers. And lastly Joshua BishopRoby and Ben Lehman both suggest that Baker's ideas, while useful, are not particularly revolutionary.

Finding the Words

While dangerous ideas are being bandied about, several people have been attempting to find better terminology for RPG theory. Fang Langford continued his earlier development of diegesis and mimesis, describing diegesis as a process. Levi Kornelsen, at both RPGnet and Story Games, has introduced a new lexicon for RPG theory, inspired by the Big Model work at the Forge.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Editorial: Why Theory Matters

Years ago, Ron Edwards posted a short essay, System Does Matter. In that essay he argued that in RPGs, system is not irrelevant, and a system that works for what you are trying to play is far better than one which does not. Choosing the right system can help ensure that you enjoy play better and that you get what you want out of RPGs.

Today I would make the same claim about RPG theory, for both play and design. The right theory can make all the difference in how you play and how you design. And what's more, there isn't a "The One Theory" any more than there is a "The One Game" or "The True Way to Play". RPGs are complex systems. They cannot be reduced into a conceptual framework without removing or generalizing major portions of how they work.

What is important then is to find the right framework for what you want to design and play. This means experimenting and understanding different theories and ideas. This means being willing to accept that one theory or another doesn't handle what you need, and that this doesn't mean something is wrong with the theory. It also means that theory must consider its limits, as well as its uses.

It does make things more difficult. But trust me, when you find the right piece of theory to fit what you want, the quest was well worth it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Weekly Review Jan. 15th to Jan. 21st

This past week has been a sparse one for RPG theory developments. After dangerous ideas and push/pull dynamics, the current topic of interest dwells on the social agreements of play.

Knowing Your Boundaries

Meguey Baker brought up the topic first discussing the difference between I Will Not Abandon You (IWNAY) and Nobody Gets Hurt (NGH), namely that a promise to stick with what happens means you cannot expect social protection from emotional injury. A further level was suggested in To The Pain (TTP), where everything short of emotional injury is encouraged.

From this discussion of social boundaries, Ginger offered another category describing the difference between hard boundaries, and boundaries which can be crossed when the opportunity has been earned, as she puts it, "Earn Me Going With You". On the other hand, John Kim presented some of the history of these types of agreements in RPGs.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Lesson: Player

It seems that RPG designers enjoy creating new terms for concepts which are already fairly well know to their audience. Witness the plethora of names for the person who runs the game: Gamemaster, Referee, Storyteller, Control, etc. The term Player is much less controversial, it has pretty much the same meaning for most people who play and buy RPGs. However this meaning is not the same as the one used in RPG theory.

One of the first barriers of understanding between the layman and RPG theory is that when a theorist says "player", they usually mean anyone involved in playing the game, whether a traditional player or a Gamemaster (or what have you). This distinction is very important, because it removes the isolation of the Gamemaster and reminds the theorist that everyone at the table is in fact playing the game. This opens the door to different approaches to RPGs, from communally run games to carefully divided roles in running the game. The Gamemaster role is recognized as an artifact of how most people play, not an intrinsic part of what RPGs are.

But in expanding the definition, additional questions arise. Does the organizer of a larp count as a player, even if he or she doesn't participate? Does a game designer or an author whose work inspires a game count as a player? And if so, how does that change our understanding of RPGs?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Weekly Review Jan. 8th to Jan. 14th

This week in RPG Theory has been a busy one. After reacting to the series of "dangerous ideas" from Attacks of Opportunity, the theory community has encountered a much less dangerous one, namely the idea of Push and Pull.

Push, Pull, and Making Things Happen

The most prominent development this week was Mo's introduction of Push and Pull. Push is forcing a state of game events. Push can either be passively accepted or actively resisted. Pull is enticing players to cause the game events. Pull can either be actively engaged or passively ignored. Push and pull are two very common ways to influence the game, and directly encourage or discourage other players' influence on the game. It has also been likened to a Yang and Yin relationship, for example by Jonathon Walton.

The current discussions have gone the gamut from social behaviors to rule mechanics. On one hand Mo and Bradley "Brand" Robins have presented both discussion and specific play examples of pull. On the other hand, Mark Woodhouse has described the relationship between push and pull and the mechanics of the RPG Polaris, and John Kim shows a somewhat different perspective.

Ownership and Characters

Stemming from the Vincent Baker's dangerous idea, and dipping into the newly minted push and pull dynamics, Vincent has been forwarding co-ownership as a way to break assumptions about characters and players. Can RPGs allow multiple players to own and control pieces of single character? Vincent seems to think so, and is exploring where that might lead.

Taking this development even further is a series of questions made by Emily Care Boss about different ways to break down the ownership of imagination. She points out how much could be done differently and asks why the character and world separation is so prevalent. And what may be gained by moving outside of it.

Another Look at Diegesis

While diegesis has developed a particular meaning among the certain immersion heavy larp theorists, Fang Langford in his call for productive terminology has put forward a classic interpretation of diegesis and mimesis as terms which might be of use for RPG theory.

In particular, diegesis describes the process of explicit sharing of imagination, a sort of telling what you see is happening. As a dual, mimesis is the implicit sharing of imagination, a showing rather than a telling.

Farewell to Stance?

Stance is a RPG theory concept with a fairly long history, enumerating the ways by which a player can relate to a character. Joshua Bishop Roy argues that stance had outlived its usefulness, except possibly as teaching tool. In its place Joshua places a series of information and authority tools which affect how a player can control a character.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Editorial: Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this site is:

To provide impartial, approachable, and informative reporting on current public advancements in the field of RPG theory.

To provide the RPG theory community with perspective and continuity in their work.

As such I will be presenting several types of posts:

Weekly, Monthly, and Yearly reviews of RPG theory - these posts will summarize influential and novel developments in RPG theory over the past week, month, or year, based on reading of blogs, websites, and forums. I ask readers to help provide links and references to developments in RPG theory which have not yet been recognized.

Lessons - these will be comprehensive, but accessible descriptions of a particular influential or well-accepted topic of RPG theory.

Editorials - these will be posts where I will discuss matters about RPG theory as a field and a community. These are my own opinions, except where I explicitly cite otherwise.

Guest Articles - these are RPG theory articles provided by a reader on a topic of their expertise. Guest articles will be edited for readability and appropriate references.

I have no intention of posting about my personal developments in RPG theory at this site, and will only reference such theory as it becomes influential in the community. I have other sites for my own work. The topic of this site is to reflect the work of the RPG theory community as a whole.