Friday, June 02, 2006

Lesson: Resolution - System

System is perhaps one of the most influential terms in RPG Theory. Indeed, one of the most wide reaching insights into system is the Lumpley Principle, which defines system as however the imagined things in play are decided. In this sense, system is any sort of resolution of the fiction (the imagined part of play).

On one hand this definition seems fairly simple. If it determines what happens in the fictional part of the game, then it is system. More conventional definitions of system are grounded in the idea of mechanics (something I'll discuss in the next lesson). But mechanical methods of determining fiction, are still methods, so the theory definition of system is an extension, allowing theorists to talk about a much broader phenomena than just mechanics.

Certainly rolling dice to determine which outcome occurs in fiction is system. But so are many non-mechanical aspects. Consider the following:

  • Ignoring a reference to a character performing magic, because it contradicts the setting.

  • An unstated rule that players always determine their characters inner motives.

  • Describing a fade to black, or using euphemisms to avoid touchy subjects.

  • Letting someone have the outcome they want because he or she had a bad day.

All of these are system, because they help resolve the fiction during the game. On the other hand, system does not include resolution beyond the imagined. System, as defined by the Lumpley Principle does not include favorite chairs, agreements about what game to play, or even the conduct of discussions about the fiction in the game. Unless it affects that fiction it remains a different phenomena, a more general type of resolution.

There are some gray areas, however. How much influence is enough to constitute the classification of system? If a social decision affects the fiction indirectly is it system? Is it useful to distinguish between solely fictional resolution and hybrid resolution, where both fiction and real relationships are in flux? Would it useful to refer to the general class of non-system resolution in a similar manner?

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