Thursday, November 23, 2006

Editorial: Actual Play

Hi ho, Matthew George here, talking about the concept of play.

The word 'play' has both an everyday, vernacular meaning, and a technical, specific meaning that has developed within the theory community.

This second usage usually involves implementing a game's mechanics in a social context to produce a complex structure, usually a sequence of events; the word is used in the same way that we say a written piece of orchestral music is 'played'.

The vernacular meaning is much broader. The way that people approach roleplaying games is broader, too. Before we use a system's rules to create events, we inevitably go through a stage where we imagine the world or worlds described by the game's setting. We don't create any specific sequence of events, but instead explore the possibilities for stories and associate between setting elements. It's what we do briefly when trying to create an interesting new character, and it's often what attracts us to an RPG - the sense of rich possibility. It's almost always a very personal process, not involving others, and not subject to explicit instructions or rules.

Some people don't need to go beyond this stage to enjoy RPGs fully, and there may be some who never bother leaving it. Why try the mission stages when you're having fun with sandbox mode?

It's possible that in the process of refining theoretical terms, the RPG design community has neglected a large part of how people utilize roleplaying games. It's time to take a hard look at how people actually play with our games, even if - especially if - we have to discard accepted theoretical terms to do so.

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