Thursday, February 01, 2007

Editorial: Your Own Theory

Everyone who has ever played a RPG, and most who have even seen one has their own theories of RPGs. This collection of ideas, associations, and contexts for what happens when we play RPGs can be as constraining as it is enabling. Without some context, we couldn't play. But that same context can limit our views, and encourages an intolerance of other contexts and those who hold them.

One of the purposes of more formal discussions of RPG theory is to give people a language to express their own theories. And remember, there is no reason for these theories to be unified or even consistent. What matters is that we, as players, designers, and observers of other people's play and design are aware enough of our point of view of RPGs that we can talk, work, and play with others who do not share all our perspectives.

"Enough" is very important here. We can't expect to have found all our biases and to have fully plumbed the depths of our expectations. But we must never give up trying. As I like to see it, the reason we can't seem to answer "What is a Roleplaying Game?" is that it is the wrong question. A better one is "What can a Roleplaying Game be?


Joshua A.C. Newman said...

I like that last question there.

I've avoided using the word in my games because I don't care to enter the debate — categorizing something as an RPG doesn't help you explain what it is unless it has the parts that the listener assumes are the requisite parts. Better, I think, to say what a game does. Because clearly the category of what we do is very large.

So, indeed, what can they do?

Bradley "Brand" Robins said...

Thanks for saying this. One of the things that drives me nuts is when folks say "I hate theory in RPGs, you don't need it" when its obvious they have plenty of theory of their own. What it generally means is "I don't like talking about your theory" or "I'm comfortable with/defensive of my assumptions, leave me alone."