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.

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