Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Framing Our Discussion

The point of theory is to answer questions.

I'm going to take a look at the theory schtuff that we have so far, and what questions those are answering. Because, really, so much of debate can be set aside once the boundaries of the query are established - that is, a lot of the time, people argue about shit that the theory isn't trying to address.

The Big Model is kind of incoherent on this question, which is one reason why it's easy to attack it for not being "complete", I think. But, looking at different parts of it in semi-isolation makes it a little easier to see what it's addressing. At base, the question the Big Model is trying to answer is "Why do people roleplay," with the requisite after-questions of "Why is much gaming dysfunctional," and "What do the previous answers mean for a designer?" The recognition of Social Contract, and then the formulation of Creative Agenda are the responses to the first two questions, and I think they are sound ones. The last one is trickier. Thats where all the stuff about Stances and Techniques and Ephemera come in, but again most of this stuff mostly descriptive. So it's talking about stuff that exists, but there's little connection to how to, like, put it into a game. Which is fine - I don't think this is what the Big Model is about.

So, it seems to me that the Big Model has done a bang-up job of observing and describing what people enjoy when they roleplay, and how that stuff creates and/or can ameliorate dysfunction.

Joshua BishopRoby's Interaction Model, on the other hand, is about the actual processes that create that enjoyment. That is, he's talking about what elements go into getting everybody on the same page, and then how they interact with each other to produce an enjoyable experience. So, the Interaction Model is about describing what actually happens when people get together and play.

Chris Chinn on Deep In The Game, talks more about the roots of dysfunction in game texts and how that can be changed. So, he's bridging into design here, in terms of what designers need to actually do in order to provide a good experience. This is also what Troy is doing on Socratic Design - here are questions that the designer needs to answer in order to design their game. These guys are both talking about the groundwork that needs to go into your game, keeping things like CA in mind.

Now, the best example that I've seen so far of taking a good, hard look at actual design elements of a game is John Kirks Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games. Basically, he analyzes common design patterns in order to both identify common mechanical elements, and describe how they work when put into different combinations. So, Design Patterns is about actual mechanical design stuff.

If I were to put together a syllabus for this stuff, it would look something like this:

- What is roleplaying? (What I've been working on, there should be a new post about this soon)
- Why do people roleplay? (CA. Also Technical and Social agenda stuff, from Ben

- How does roleplaying work? (Interaction Model. Techniques, Stance and Ephemera. Conflict/Task resolution.)

Beginning a Design
- Recognizing and avoiding dysfunction. (Chris's stuff, and CA)
- Beginning a design. (Troy's stuff)
- Elements of design. (Design Patterns. Forge stuff about scene framing, conflict resolution, etc)

More Design Elements
- Ritual in roleplay (Ben & Polaris. Meguey. Chris Lehrich's stuff)
- Fruitful Void/Emergent Dynamics (Lumply)
- Other stuff.

- DIY (Clinton)
- Everything on the Publishing forum at the Forge.
- Con Presence (Luke)

Hmm. This post turned kind of rambling.

The point is, in an academic sense, we need a framework of some kind to hang discussion on. Not that I want to compartmentalize people or ideas, but there needs to be a synthesis of thought before it can be robust. This is why I'm a fan of the RPG Design Journal idea. Something central, that can be challenged and critiqued as a unit, not just dismissed as voices in the wilderness.

I think this is a great stab at organizing much of the theorizing that's going on, and it certainly makes sense in my mind to try and formulate a more coherent structure for how to use the different parts for design considerations. I, too, support having some central place with appropriate links and connections.

- Christian
Overall, I talk about everything from design to play to the social stuff. Hopefully you'll get to see more stuff from the other side emerge in the future.

I'm not all gloom and doom :)
Thanks Christian. I look forward to refining it.

Chris - I know, I know. But I think your most insightful stuff has to do with recognizing, and fixing, fucked gamer culture, at least thus far.

Well, that and the Fluffy Bunny Game post. That kicks ass.

I like what you're doing. Sooner or later a coherent codex of all the blogs is going to be needed. You're doing some great groundwork.


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