Friday, June 16, 2006

Editorial: Why RPGs?

Hidden in the major RPG theory question of why we play is the observation that in RPGs we have great flexibility in choosing what we want and receive from playing. This flexibility is the source of some of the hardest problems in RPG theory. But in a very important way, those reasons go far beyond the scope of RPGs.

RPGs are structured interactions which, if all goes well, produce the kind of play which satisfies all of the players. But we are surrounded by structured interaction, the key difference is that our social activities outside of RPGs are driven by overwhelming goals. You strive to keep your job or make a good impression, or just to purchase groceries. These are overt, definite goals, but in each you adopt and play roles. And while the goal is overwhelming, it is not alone, people rarely behave in the most calculated manner, instead the goal pressures the interactions and play towards a definite purpose.

But, at its most basic, RPGs focus on playing roles and interacting with structure, but without driving goals. And, importantly this makes RPGs more complex phenomena, because the goal is not slanting play into simpler structures. And, what's more, if we want to understand what happens beyond simply the overt goal, an understanding of the undirected play and interaction is essential.

RPG theory is essential, not solely to improve RPGs or playing them, but to build an understanding of how people interact and play roles on their own, without such a level of necessity. This understanding in the least applies to social interaction without significant outside pressures. And perhaps it may perform as a foundation for understanding how people interact when they have important goals as well.

The sign of RPG theory reaching a basic maturity will be when we stop simply borrowing from other theories, and start making something which can be borrowed in turn. Only then will RPG theory become part of a dialogue of theory and practice, and I for one, believe that RPG theory has a great deal to offer.

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