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.


Thomas Robertson said...

I've always considered this a vital part of teaching, not of theorizing. (Though it can be a good theorizing tool.)

Of course most people who do theory in roleplaying at this time are also doing teaching, so the advice is still good here. However, I think that in the next five years we'll see the first viable communities devoted to pure theory, in which this sort of thing won't be as vital.

Does that match up with your thoughts?


Judd said...

Theory is one of those areas where the most interesting things seem to be the most novel.

I disagree with this statement entirely.

The most interesting things about theory to me are the most basic, taking the parts of gaming that we take for granted (shared imagine space, bangs, scene framing) and really thinking about them until they become something we can use to shape our games with.

Good theory isn't about reinventing the wheel, it is about looking at how the tire meets the road and examining the rubber marks.

The more valuable way to ask this kind of question is to base it firmly in actual play, without which, theory descends into wankery.