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.

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