Monday, October 29, 2007

Weekly Review October 21st to October 27th

This has been a slower week in RPG theory, but has seen some developments.

Color or Target

Ginger continues her discussion of techniques by talking about the risks of misunderstanding whether a character element is simply a colorful feature or a target for interaction and adversity for other players. She describes how problems can easily arise due to these misunderstandings and the advantages of letting everything about a character be a valid target.

Freeform Evolving from System

Over at GameCraft is a discussion on the evolutionary relationship of overt systems and mechanics with more freeform styles of play. This includes examining how rules get internalized and how the effect of many systems is a form of social training.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Editorial: Challenge - Text Becomes Play

One of the critical theory questions facing designers, players, and theorists alike is how the text of a RPG becomes the game which is played (something I've called induction). The simplest solution has been to ignore this concern and assume the game text is translated faithfully into what happens during play. But realistically, this is only an approximation.

Game texts include fuzzy or interpretative rules which will not be used in the same way by different groups, or even the same group over time. Indeed, the game played will change over time, due to recollection bias, due to social pressures, and even due to interactions with new material. In any case, the principle object of interest for RPG theorists and designers is not a static object, it is ever-changing.

What is needed are theories of induction, theories which combine what we know about game texts, people, and social interactions, and gives us an understanding of how those become the living thing that is a RPG. One important part of this, is understanding how RPGs fail, how unintended effects arise from the rules, advice, and ideas in a game text. Developing methods and solutions for this alone would significantly benefit the play and design of RPGs.

There are many ways to attack induction, whether by experimental design, by observation and analysis of games, or by extending existing theories. I believe it is a challenge that cannot be left to a few thinkers or designers. We must attack it from different directions, and share ourdiscoveries, regardless of success. And so my first challenge to design and theory communities is to meet this problem.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Weekly Review October 14th to October 20th

This week has seen several advances and developments in RPG theory, from revisiting resolution to building a dynamic sense of player stance.

Handling Outcomes

Rich Warren returns to the topic of task and conflict resolution. Specifically, he details his concerns and thoughts about the differences and similarities of resolving a task versus a conflict. He concludes that agraduated approach might work best, with scales of resolution being variable or fractal, while ensuring that the outcomes of resolution remain engaging.

Changing How We Play

Over at GameCraft, Levi Kornelsen describes an alternate look at player stances during play. He details four immediate approaches to play: Exploration, Characterisation, Collaboration, and Adversity. Then he shows how these can combine and interact during play to produce a rich set of play behaviors. He also expands on the benefits of flexible play behaviors with discussion on amalgams, contrasting a strength through diversity approach with a more focused play group.

Competition and Gamism

John Kim extracts some of the complicated history and sociology of competition and status inRPGs and related games. He starts by critiquing some ideas about how status is distributed in skill-based activities. Then he suggests that it is problematic to confound challenging play with competitive play, and specifically cites the Forge idea of gamism as a place where such a confusion occurs. Ultimately, he argues that tactical and strategic challenges are a separate interest from social stakes and competition.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Editorial: A Reflective Revival?

Reflection has often been a technique for psychological and philosophical analysis. It can be used to compare models with ourselves, as a process to explore our own biases, and even as a method of discovery. When merged with a community, reflection as a practice demands a degree of responsibility for all involved. It is a vulnerable process, and one which can be as benefited as injured by the involvement of others.

Much of existing RPG theory has been based on observation, classification, and reflection. However, in the past few years, some events in the broader RPG community have suggested a focus more on observation and classification, and a diminishment of the importance of reflection. The dominance of the Forge theories and the infamous Brain Damage debate are two examples of this general trend.

What makes this intriguing is that more recently there has been a building counter-pressure, you might say a revival of reflection in the exploration and examination of RPGs and their respective theories. Perhaps the most critical turning point has been the construction of I would knife fight a man, by Vincent and Meguey Baker. This forum focuses on self-reflection about many things, including RPG theory. More recently there has been further growth in this area in new RPG theory sites using this reflective approach: Theory Decides and Story 'Prov.

It remains to be seen how this revival will affect the development of RPG theory and RPGs as a whole. In the very least it seems a clear message. Whatever we know about the games we play, there is more to be discovered within ourselves.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Weekly Review October 7th to October 13th

This week has seen further activity in RPG theory, including yet another RPG theory related forum, Story 'Prov.

Jeepform Versus Larp

Emily Care Boss continues her discussions on jeepform, a story centered form of play developed among the Nordic RPG communities. Specifically she contrasts jeepform with larp, another major focus of Nordic RPG theory. She describes how while both are theatrical, larp is a distributed experience and jeepform keeps the players and their story unified.

Hierarchies of Control

John Kim sums up recent discussion about the social context of the GM. He then continues by describing the interaction of hierarchical structures of authority in games and how its presence delineates creative control, and sometimes its absence can lead to other forms of dominance.

Evolving Rulesets

Chris Chinn describes one effect of the RPG supplement process, namely giving RPGs rule which change over time. He suggests that this tends to form distinct sub-communities, as different changes are accepted or rejected by a given social group, unlike similar effects within CCGs and MMORPGs. He also suggests that looking at those other games may provide an insight to better use evolving rules.

Supporting Play

Over at Story Games, Mike Holmes examines the question of how game theory and related approaches can be used to understand the claim that a RPG design supports a specified kind of play. He suggests that to address this question it is first necessary to delve deeper than simply removing what gets in the way, and further to evaluate how much the intentions of the players may matter versus the influence of the system.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Monthly Review September 2007

This month has seen numerous attempts to push the boundaries of RPGs and RPG theory. One notable example is Graham Walmsley's on-going series on improv techniques in RPGs. This month he started with being obvious and moved to guarding yourself, discussing both blocking and accepting. Later on he includes more storytelling methods, including reincorporation, setting up routines and breaking them, as well as making platforms
and tilting them.

Also during September, Emily Care Boss brought up how game design can be a form of communication, between designers and to players. Ginger describes how some of the principles of traditionalRPGs apply to online fanfiction roleplay. Jonathon Walton discusses his view of strategy-free RPGs , as a sub-class that he considers under investigated and designed. Over at Theory Decides, Tommi Brander classifies different ways that play can progress, giving three categories of scripted, sandbox, and character-driven. Lastly, FangLangford describes how complications work with his spotlight formulation of RPGs, showing how success can reduce the spotlight, while complications can are balanced by an increase in spotlight.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Weekly Review September 30th to October 6th

This week has seen some growth in RPG theory, including several calls for papers in RPG related thinking.

Aura of RPGs

Over at Theory Decides, Tommi Brander brings up some relationships between the theory of aesthetics and RPGs. Specifically, he talks about the aura of a piece of art, which sets it apart from everyday experiences and how this aura is diminished by mass production and media. He suggests that the unreproducibility of RPGs may lend games an aura of their own.

Serious RPGs

John Kim discusses the history and ideas behind serious RPGs, whether therapeutic or educational. He describes some recent RPGs which lend their way towards serious application. He also suggests being restrained in serious RPGs, as it is easy to over-attempt the design of such a game.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Weekly Review September 23rd to September 29th

This week has seen new developments, as well as continuing threads from previous weeks.

Complications and Spotlight

Fang Langford discusses the way that resolution can affect spotlight. In particular he suggests that often resolution ends the spotlight regardless of how positive or negative the outcome is. He suggests that complications are a way to keep the spotlight in terms of failure, or pass if off in success.

Improv and Storytelling

Graham Walmsley continues his series on Improv techniques, venturing into the territory of storytelling. First he discusses the reincorporation of previous elements with a particular view to how a story evolves and concludes. Then he brings up two ways to elicit interest at the beginning of a story: setting a routinue in order to break it and constructing a platform (baseline expectation) in order to twist it.

Foreground and Background

Ben Robbins describes ways to break down situation between foreground and background. He suggests that background can give perspective and context for the more direct foreground situation. He also indicates that sometimes background should fade away to support a very character focused situation.

Styles of Play Progression

Over at Theory Decides, Tommi Brander describes a way to look at play progression, how the situation can change during play. He breaks this down as three (non-exhaustive) styles of play: scripted - where sequential events are pre-planned; sandbox - where the environment is fixed and characters play within it; and character-centric - where situations arise specifically to challenge the characters.