Friday, September 28, 2007

Lesson: Forge Theory - Creative Agenda

Last week, I described the four different scopes of the Forge model: Social Contract, Exploration, Techniques, and Ephemera. But these are not the typical introduction to Forge theory, in spite of how fundamental they are to the theory. Instead, the most prominent feature of Forge theory is how it deals with agenda.

Creative agenda are a particular way to describe how people play RPGs, and in this theory they have several unique features. First, a creative agenda is similar to an aesthetic judgement and it can be seen at different scopes at the same time. Thus a creative agenda would affect the social contract of the game, the nature of the exploration, the techniques used, and even the ephemera happening during the game. For this reason they are sometimes visualized as skewers that cross through the different scopes.

Another feature of creative agendas is that they are properly a description of how a group plays, not the desires of an individual or design goals of a game. In this way, a creative agenda is an aesthetic for judging what happens in play, that comes to be shared during play by all of the players. If everyone is valuing the same things in play, then it is much easier for players to focus on them and make decisions with those values in mind.

As described by the Forge theory, creative agendas are not automatic, they will often not arise in play, something called incoherent play from the idea that multiple possible creative agendas are struggling for dominance in this case. The first major claim of this model is that coherent play is generally more reliable than incoherent play. The second major claim is that creative agendas come in three categories: Step on Up, Story Now, and Right to Dream (more recently called Constructive Denial).

Both of these claims have produced some controversy in RPG discussion circles, for a variety of technical and social reasons. One result of this controversy has been an understanding of the limits of the Forge theory. Specifically, the theory doesn't claim that play without creative agendas is less satisfying, merely that is is less reliable. In practice the Forge theory is used in a therapeutic sense, either to make games that better support certain creative agendas or to help players achieve their preferred creative agenda during play.

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