Monday, May 29, 2006

Weekly Review May 21st to May 27th

This week has seen a rise in RPG theory discussion and related topics.

A Little More Push and Pull

In response to Vincent Baker's discussion about the relationship between push and pull and where resolution happens, Bradley "Brand" Robins puts down his thoughts on how push and pull work with resolution. Among other things, he talks about how resolution can happen at various different stages where we may not normally associate it. In the chain of Intent, Initiation, Execution, and Effect, he suggests that resolution can happen not only at any step, but at all the steps in the same game. And at each juncture there may be room for push and pull to work, based on the present social situation.

From another direction, Nathan Paoletta relates push and pull with the audience / participant dichotomy. He suggests that the involvement stemming from push and pull may include a change between participant and audience within the game.

Play What You Own?

Vincent Baker, presents a long awaited discussion of character ownership. He states that from the level of system, looking over RPGs as a whole, character ownership is an illusion. Even though it may be a design goal or an intrinsic part of a specific game, it is simply not necessary for a game to be a RPG.

Influencing Play

Thomas Robertson discusses the differences between designing with rules versus guidelines. Rules, he suggests, cause specific behaviors to emerge during play. Guidelines on the other hand help mold the behaviors that do arise into the desired look and feel of play.

Teaching RPGs

Jessica Hammer describes her experiences teaching RPGs in a high school classroom setting. She notes the successes and difficulties. She also asks how games can be designed to make them more accessible and more easily learned in this situation.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Editorial: Say Again

Theory is one of those areas where the most interesting things seem to be the most novel. We set out to take a place that hasn't been explored, at least to our satisfaction and grab a hold of it and refine a theory from our observations. If we don't like a theory, we try to build a new one, or extend the old theory to territory where we feel more comfortable.

In all of this we miss one of the crucial tasks of theory, reformulation. This is, in essence saying in new terms or distinct ideas the same thing as the theory said before. Only with this new formulation the theory has become more open to use and understanding. Indeed, the form in which a theory is discovered is often a poor form for communication and use. This also means that the originator is a poor person to do this. A fresh perspective is helpful, if not necessary to reformulate and trim down the theory.

The task is not a simple one. In many ways it is much easier to form a new theory than it is to take an existing one and re-envision it. The need to stay true to the theory's foundations while moving away from them can make reformulation a daunting task. The rewards of success may also seem inferior, because the result is not wholely your own. However, even the attempt is a rewarding process, and something that can lead to a much deeper understanding of the process of theory.

Consider this an informal challenge to anyone who considers themselves a serious RPG theorist. Find a theory and try to reformulate it in some fundamentally different way. Do your best to keep to the results and interpretations that the theory's author did, but place them in the new context. And if you want a place to post them, I'm always looking for guest articles. And if I get a reasonable amount of interest, I may turn this into a more formal challenge.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Weekly Review May 14th to May 20th

After last weeks revival of push and pull discussion, things have become more focused this week. At the same time, other theory is brought up in its wake.

Pull in the Middle?

Bradley "Brand" Robins advances the understanding of push and pull, codified last week by Moyra Turkington, by offering the concept of a "moment of crisis". This is the moment when something significant to the players becomes decided. Based on this idea, he identifies push as forcing a specific moment of crisis, while pull is soliciting a cooperative moment of crisis.

Vincent Baker has taken this idea to imply a strong relationship between push and pull, and the two resolution approaches of resolution at the end and resolution in the middle. Specifically, he parallels push with the idea of validating a players input as a complete whole, and pull with the idea of negotiating the input before it is fully introduced.

Setting Matters

Troy Costisick offers several reasons why setting is an important part of RPGs. Ultimately he suggests that settings which support the purpose of the game are almost as important as the system.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Lesson: Resolution - Conflict

While resolution is a continuous process, one of the most evident types involve resolving conflicts. A conflict occurs when one or more players become aware of a difference of common ground, and decide to resolve this difference overtly. The key point is that the common ground is accepted as broken, and the process of resolution is to overtly repair it.

If this is conflict is of a social type, then resolution is much like how personal conflicts are resolved in much of life. At best, mediation and other techniques are used to disarm the situation. At worst, authority is exercised, and the conflict is not so much resolved as postponed. Examples of these types of conflicts include player to player arguments, often caused by rule interpretations, feelings of unfairness, and all too commonly the stresses of life outside of the game.

If the conflict is based on the imagined material, then the resolution often involves competing visions for the outcome of a situation. In most game texts that discuss conflict resolution, this is precisely the kind being discussed. One player may decide that he wants to rescue the ambassador, while the other wants to rush to the dying ambassador's side, hearing his last words. This discontinuity requires conflict resolution. In this way conflict resolution is distinguished from task resolution, where imagined elements are added iteratively without overt discontinuities.

Now in practice many types of conflict resolution mix these two types. After all, a disagreement on the player level will often be reflected in disagreements on the imagined level. Likewise, conflicts over imagined situations can build to real conflicts. How important is the resolution of social conflicts in RPGs? What does it mean when social and imagined conflicts mix? Can social conflicts be resolved by something similar to task resolution?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Weekly Review May 7th to May 13th

The major development for this week has been yet another revival of the push and pull discussion. In parallel, has been the organization of some tools for play and design.

Push and Pull

The discussion of push and pull first escalated this week with, Joshua BishopRoby presenting his difficulties with the terms and their use. A little while later, Chris Chinn invited Moyra Turkington, who introduced the terms, to a dialogue on the subject. After this dialogue, Moyra presented a conclusive definition for push and pull at story games. Push was defined as the use of individual authority, while pull was defined as soliciting for collaborative input.

In the midst of these developments other views were presented on push and pull. Thomas Robertson discusses various issues about push, pull, and authority, including other ways to influence the use of authority in play. Also, Jonathan Walton sends out a plea to keep push and pull from becoming technical jargon, a process all too common in RPG theory.

Tools At Your Disposal

Troy Costisick enumerates four ways in which character death can benefit players. His approaches span from atmospheric to player goal fulfillment. Also this week, Joshua BishopRoby has finished compiling an elaborate list of skills used to play RPGs, broken down by such various categories as creative, reasoning, and game skills.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Editorial: Building Communities

There has been a fair amount of talk of late about how to build a community for RPG discussion, in many ways a new place to build theory. In particular, this has focused on bringing in people who have previously not felt welcome in such a community. The problems are two-fold. First, no community can welcome everyone. And second, a community is an organic, unpredictable thing.

Building a community is a good goal, but it requires a broader context. Many people will be excluded, despite or perhaps because of best efforts. In some cases those people will join other communities, and so on. What is important is to keep those communities interacting. Mobility, membership overlap, and the general effort of communication are all essential to keep the various safe places from stagnation.

To make matters worse, some people are just not community joiners. No amount of building safe places will help those people. For those people, and the people who cannot find a community of their own, it is important to have less safe places, more open areas of discourse. This process of meta-communities never ends, it is a continual growth, just like each community within. At each level it connects to broader groups, moving further from safety. It is this web in which any community finds itself, unless it chooses to entirely isolate itself.

Constructing a community can be very important, but you cannot neglect the connections around it, those are what sustain it and allow it to have a meaning outside of itself. Constructing resources and places of meta-community is also important, and should not be passed over on the search for each person's safe place.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Weekly Review Apr. 30th to May 6th

This week has seen a variety of different ways to ask similar questions.

A Deeper Look

Joshua BishopRoby brings up the question of what types of character experiences different people find engaging. He separates people who want to feel their character fall apart, from those who want a return to hope after the struggle. He presents this as a way that a two similar styles of play can be quite different.

Elsewhere, Jere Genest presents his procedure for evaluating and refining RPGs as you play, summative evaluation. By continual conscious refinement, he proposes that many problems in play can be identified and designed away.

Communities of Practice

Over at Story Games, Jonathan Walton began an introduction to the community of practice as a model of RPG groups. These communities have a similar type of social interaction as RPGs. Namely, communities of practice consist of a shared enterprise, as well as an engagement in that shared enterprise, and lastly, from working together a collection of skills and understandings are reached which enhances that enterprise. In this there is a sense of growing into a more capable and cooperative group. Jonathan suggests that this growth can be observed to better understand how RPG groups come together.

Design Virus

Guy Shalev suggests that RPG design is something not unlike a viral disease. He describes the process where each design acts to make the next easier and more tempting. The result is a building desire to design more and more.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Monthly Review April 2006

One of the themes of RPG theory this month was the discussion of inclusion and exclusion. While much of this evolved from debate about gender which rose to a new pitch last month. The first piece of this was Moyra Turkington discussing her two styles of social influence, push and pull, and how they related to places and behaviors surrounding RPG design and theory. In particular she discusses how many web forum provide an environment centered on push style debate, rather than pull style discussion. In this way, those forums inadvertently exclude people more comfortable with pull than push.

In a related discussion over at Story Games different fictional origins were suggested for RPGs other than the wargame, such as board games or experimental fiction. Of particular note these different origins suggested not only differences in the common types of games, but also the common ways that RPGs are discussed.

Returning to the subject of gender and RPGs, several people began to discuss possible ways to make RPGs and the arena of design and theory more inclusive. John Kim remarks on this as a major goal, but separates it from a feminist approach to RPGs which would involve an attempt at actually changing ways of thinking about gender. At about the same time, Jonathon Walton demonstrated how difficult it is to build an inclusive place of discussion.

In the midst of the subject of inclusion, there was a basic undercurrent reminding that inclusion cannot be so important that it overrides certain necessary types of exclusion. Both Vincent Baker and Chris Chinn bring up concerns of this sort.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Weekly Review Apr. 23rd to Apr. 29th

This past week has contained several discussions pertaining to RPG theory, whether bringing up new ideas, clarifying old ones, or seeking insight from related fields.


Mark Woodhouse began a discussion of the history of the playsheet, the various aids and note sheets used in play. He sees the movement from the numerical list character sheet to simpler "index card" characters amidst notes, as the beginning of other avenues of evolution.

The Question of Incoherence

Chris Chinn offered an explanation of incoherence, as a concept and as he describes it the bane of enjoyable play. As he puts it, incoherence happens "when people come to the table and AREN'T on the same page about the point of play or what is the 'stuff that matters'." Elliot Wilen, in a very different manner, puts forward a contrary perspective on incoherence.

Serious Games

Over on Story Games is a major discussion due to a conference, the Serious Games Summit. In particular, the discussion centers on how then theory of practical games for simulation and training, relates to RPG theory. Also, the question of assessment is broached. Could assessing the quality or utility of play be of some use for RPG theory and design?