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Title: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 11, 2006, 10:04:06 AM
About the brain damage. This is coming in a series of posts. Comment freely as I go, but bear in mind that it is a series.

Everyone who's interested, please review my missing-limbs analogy in the Why complex conflict is so confusing (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=18690.0) thread. I'm going to proceed on the assumption that you've done this. Please focus on this sentence:

Quote
If you say "creative social interaction" instead of "walking," in that paragraph, then that's what early-to-mid 1990s role-playing procedures concerning so-called "storytelling" were like - Vampire leading the pack, as well as a number of other offspring of a particular application of Champions. You've seen these role-playing experiences too, Jesse. You know all about the social and creative equivalents [of dealing with a badly-designed prosthetic -RE].

... keeping in mind that I'm talking about the specific Creative Agenda of Narrativism, in its most abstract form (i.e. not talking for the moment at all about Techniques). Never mind all the kewl rhetoric and color of the game texts, or the hip/dangerous subculture they purport to offer. Think of any actual play of this so-called storytelling. Remember who you were with and what it was like.

I'm going to start with a claim that a human being can routinely understand, enjoy, and (with some practice) create stories. I think most postmodernism is arrant garbage, so I'll say that a story is a fictional series of events which present a conflict and a resolution, with the emergent/resulting audience experience of "theme." I also think that stories concern a fairly limited range of possible conflicts, but the angles one might use for presentation, and the interactions among the range, make for quite a stunning array of individual examples or expressions of them.

Again, my claim is that this is a human capacity which is swiftly learned and shaped into a personal characteristic ("what stories I like") as a basic feature of the human experience, used as a constant means of touchpoints during communication, along the whole spectrum of polite conversation to icebreaking all the way to the most intimate or critical of conversations. I am completely unconvinced by the suggestion that what we call a "story" today is a local historical artifact, or that people in past epochs or in different cultures had or have utterly different fundamentals for stories.

(Related point: as far as I can tell, there is no meaningful "cultural gap" regarding stories. Differences in content and presentation which seem jarring at first contact are swiftly overcome with further contact. This is common. People refuse to do this, when they do, not because the foreign story makes no sense, but because they are invested in not paying attention for any number of reasons.)

Now for the discussion of brain damage. I'll begin with a closer analogy. Consider that there's a reason I and most other people call an adult having sex with a, say, twelve-year-old, to be abusive. Never mind if it's, technically speaking, consensual. It's still abuse. Why? Because the younger person's mind is currently developing - these experiences are going to be formative in ways that experiences ten years later will not be. I'm not sure if you are familiar with the characteristic behaviors of someone with this history, but I am very familiar with them - and they are not constructive or happiness-oriented behaviors at all. The person's mind has been damaged while it was forming, and it takes a hell of a lot of re-orientation even for functional repairs (which is not the same as undoing the damage).

If someone wants to take issue with my use of the term "brain" when I'm talking about the "mind," I just shrug. As I see it, the mind is the physiological outcome of a working brain. Mess around with the input as the brain/mind forms, and you short-circuit it, messing up steps which themselves would have been the foundation of further steps. You could be talking about an experience such as I mention above, or you could be talking about sticking a needle into someone's head and wiggling it around. Brain, mind, damage. I don't distinguish.

All that is the foundation for my point: that the routine human capacity for understanding, enjoying, and creating stories is damaged in this fashion by repeated "storytelling role-playing" as promulgated through many role-playing games of a specific type. This type is only one game in terms of procedures, but it's represented across several dozens of titles and about fifteen to twenty years, peaking about ten years ago. Think of it as a "way" to role-play rather than any single title.

I now hold the viewpoint that in every generation, inspired and interested young teens and younger college students are introduced to a fascinating new activity that they are eminently qualified to excel at and enjoy greatly. However, subculturally speaking, it's a bait-and-switch, especially during the time-period outlined above. Instead, they were and are exposed to damaging behavior as they learn what to do, and therefore, the following things happen. (1) They associate the procedures they are learning with the activity itself, as a definition. (2) The original purpose which interested them is obscured or replaced with the "thing," or pseudo-thing, of the new purpose, which no one is qualified to excel at, nor does it offer any particular intrinsic rewards.

The vast majority of people so exposed quite reasonably recoil and find other things to do. Some stay and continue to participate. Socially, the activity occurs among the generational wave-front of the young teens and young college students, losing most as it goes, retaining a few each iteration, but always replenished by the new bunch. Of the ones who remain involved, many are vaguely frustrated and dissatisfied, and some of them gain power within that subculture and work hard to perpetuate it.

[edited to fix link to parent thread]

Next: The Big Picture


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 11, 2006, 10:04:56 AM
THE BIG PICTURE

To engage in a social, creative activity, three things are absolutely required. Think of music, theater, quilting, whatever you'd like. These principles also apply to competitive games and sports, but that is not to the present point.

1. You have to trust that the procedures work - look, these instruments make different noises, so we can make music; look, this ball is bouncey, so we can toss and dribble it

2. You have to want to do it, now, here, with these people - important! (a) as opposed to other activities, (b) as opposed to "with anybody who'll let me"

3. You have to try it out, to reflect meaningfully on the results, and to try again - if it's worth doing, it's worth learning to do better; failure is not disaster, improvement is a virtue


My claim is that the hobby of "story-oriented" role-playing as expressed by its most aggressive marketer of the term, and as represented and imitated by countless others, fails on all three counts. (1) Since the procedures don't work, and everyone knows it, you get the Golden Rule. (2) Since there is no "it" to do, and since social function is ignored as the necessary context, the ideal becomes to play "at all," with no social or creative metric to judge it as successful. (3) Since play is not fun, the only way to enjoy or validate the activity is to edit one's memory of play to recall it as fun, which carries the additional negative safety feature of critical repair of the techniques.

The fictional content itself is characterized by a hell of a lot of fictional "wandering," and not in the sense of setup or atmosphere, either. Fictional confrontations tend to be extremely inconclusive, what a movie-viewer would call a "meaningless car chase" or "chewing the scenery."

The big-picture result of committing to this ... I don't know what to call it, this thing, is a pure inability actually to understand and enjoy stories of any kind. See Simulationist reality and Narrativist reality (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=1448.0), and read all the posts, but most especially Jesse Burneko's. See also my entire chapter on dysfunctional Narrativist play in the Narrativism: Story Now (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/_articles/narr_essay.html) essay, and Dave's self-reflective posts across at least a dozen threads in the Adept Press forum (note especially his shift from resenting the "disorganized and unclear" rules to "oh shit they make perfect sense" between 2004 and 2005), in which he identifies himself as a poster child for exactly that chapter.

A brief list of the specific features, or telltales, of the damaged story-capacity.

- The person cannot distinguish between "hopping over a fence" and conflict, between "this guy meets that guy" and a decisive plot event, or between "dramatic close-up" and character decision-making

- The person cannot summarize any story in simple four-point structure (conflict, rising action, climax, conclusion) - they typically hare off into philosophical or technical interpretations, or remain stuck in narrating the first ten minutes of the story in detail

- The person will devote many hours (and can talk for many hours) to commenting on the details of the story's presentation, either feverishly supportive or feverishly dismissive, but entirely uncritically

Most people I have worked with about these issues, which includes hundreds and perhaps a couple thousand in different capacities (classrooms, etc, never mind role-playing), pick up these skills within minutes of basic instruction and a little discussion. Absolutely consistently, class after class, year after year, the subgroup which offers the consistent exception is the gamers. They flounder terribly for weeks, and some just never get it.

In terms of role-playing technique, at the group level, the inability is expressed in two brands - the ones who persist in rolling dice periodically, often not especially correlated with any importance to what's going on, and the ones who make a big point out of abandoning the dice, claiming a thespian ideal of "getting into it." As story-faciilitating techniques, neither work. This is the roll/role dichotomy, which I see as the distinction between syphilis and gonorrhea, or perhaps, having had one's legs blown off by a land mine, pulling oneself along on the ground by one's left arm or one's right arm. Which is to say, not much distinction at all. Both are the rather appalling result of trying to carry out a social, creative activity in the absence of the above three principles.

Next: the Details


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 11, 2006, 10:06:05 AM
THE DETAILS

Ah, geez, let me count the ways ...

Consumerism and subcultural identification
Owning walls and walls of books from one or very few companies, in a classic expression of brand loyalty - the cultural code-word is "support," but it's really about staying committed to "fun eventually" at the expense of fun now
Application of the periodical model (comics, magazines) to the role-playing product - one must buy regularly in order to be involved
Frantic attention to what's coming out next, feverish interest in what everyone else has heard or might be interested in
Consistent impulsive and submissive purchasing habits at specific stores, as influenced by specific people there


Cronyism and isolation
Confounding inclusion in play, friendship, and social appreciation in the fashion I described in Social Context (see the Infamous Five)
Social huddling as opposed to social endeavor or friendship
Intense, long-term tensions based on romantic partners who do not support one participant's inclusion in the group; usually accompanied by an increase of dishonesty among former friends


"Story-oriented" without story
Deprotagonizing is the baseline, the pure default of play; when that's the case, "permission" for one's character to matter, however momentarily, becomes the key reward, often withheld
No situation or conflict yielding Premise, therefore no developing of Premise through fictional events
No consistent use of a given technique for a given situation - sometimes you roll, sometimes you don't; sometimes a shouted announcement "counts," sometimes it doesn't
Disappearance of the reward system, replaced by fiat and the fact of inclusion
* Force is the basic technique, the only accepted manner of generating story-ish content, and it is usually expected to be invisible *


[Side note: it is no surprise to me that of every term I've ever suggested, introduced, or adapted in my writings about role-playing, Force is the one most consistently elided or illustratively mis-applied by readers. You should go read the definition in the Glossary again. It doesn't say what you probably think it says. The damage to your own intellectual pathways is preventing you from reading it.]

Co-dependency and reinforcement of emotional dynamics which aren't rewarding
Childish behavior during play: pouting, crumpling up papers, tuning out, arguing to disrupt
Ongoing power-struggle over outcomes of game techniques, a brinksmanship of flouting "rules"
Socially poisonous dynamics surrounding play: ostracizing, overriding, currying favor, participating in a running dialogue of "who said what about whom"
Specific and utterly tacit power-structure reinforced by the above: impossible expectations of fun - you have to guess what I want and provide it consistently


Disconnection between what is done and what is produced
Hyper-tension about one's investment in a given character creation (not play, creation), resulting in posturing and defensiveness during play, which can only be a threat to the potential of that creation
Inability to reflect meaningfully on the experience, including resisting discussing actual play in any accurate or critical fashion
Inability to identify a reward system, "play is its own reward" - which means, inclusion is the best one can hope for
Insistenced that play is awesome and that the other participants are the best possible, focusing on rare and fleeting instances of shared imagination as evidence


We are all familiar with this state of mind - it is precisely the profile of those individuals committed to storytelling role-playing as presented by White Wolf games and many similar others that preceded them or came afterwards. Its origins in terms of game texts are probably traceable to AD&D2, for content, and to some applications of Champions, for rules.

And by "state of mind," I mean something profound and developmentally reinforced, a value system, not just a momentary mood or habitual tendency. For people who are in the "zone" of the age and subcultural target market, they try to make it work (after all, it should work, they think) and in failing, adopt this new value system instead, and eventually they leave, their original interest in the activity (which they never experienced because it didn't happen) diminished. For the people who do more than dabble in this ... thing ...., they undergo forms of indoctrination which are rather horrible to watch, and their behaviors are most especially fascinating when the following opportunities are made available.

1. Actual Play posting - they flatly cannot do it

2. Encouragement to identify their personal creative goals - they react with rage at being labeled

3. An assortment of low-buy-in games, rather than a single "chosen" high-buy-in one - they defend their own consumerism

4. Rules which actually work - they hysterically insist such rules couldn't possibly work, and they cannot actually bring themselves to pay attention to the rules during play, and resist learning at all costs

Next and last: In Conclusion


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 11, 2006, 10:07:23 AM
IN CONCLUSION

There now exists, in the wake of my own efforts at discussing role-playing in a critical fashion since 1996, a fairly laudable tendency to say, "Well, if it's fun for you, then it's OK." The idea is to raise awareness of a variety of functional priorities and techniques for play, and to eliminate the existing, uncritical prejudices and insults that have characterized past discussions of role-playing diversity. I did not initiate this; I give credit to Mary Kuhner in particular for the original formation of the Threefold Model. I do take credit for developing a community in which these ideas and values could develop and spread (even among those who purport to deny the community).

That awareness and seeking for understanding is a great thing. I've championed it for years, and I still do.

That is not, however, the same thing as saying any and all activities ever called "role-playing" must be fun, must be good, must be wonderful, and must (for someone somewhere) be successful. Note the use of "functional" in the above paragraph.

It is not challenging the principles of awareness, critique, and mutual appreciation of functional play to point out other phenomena, dysfunctional ones. I am saying there is one "way" in particular for which I have not been able to identify a single fun quality even for its staunchest advocates, based on their very words, and now, at this late date, I have concluded that it is demonstrably damaging. It is, to use my jargon terms, Broken Narrativism, with all the features of Prima Donna and Typhoid Mary described in my essay, but wrapped up in a subcultural package and reinforcing procedures that impair normal human mental function as consistently as, for instance, inappropriate sexual experiences prior to a certain age.

I call it "damage," and I mean it. People are story-creatures. The characteristic loss of the capacity I see across almost all story-ish role-players, especially those of a certain age range, is like seeing a bunch of people with physical objects sticking out of their punctured skulls. Some of them, presented with alternative (or more accurately, functionally-prosthetic) procedures, say "oh!", extract the damaging material, and move on (that's you, Josh Neff). Others see that something functional is available, but suffer and grapple with it because they mistake some of the damaging material for required parameters (that's you, Jesse, Lisa, and Dave, or was for a while). Still others clutch the end of the object penetrating their brains and shriek protectively (that's you, Joshua [mneme]), which I can do nothing about.

Jesse's first post in Why complex conflict is so confusing (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=18690.0)makes a very clear point: the Sorcerer rules work, but the gamer brain (well, the "story-oriented" variety) does not. Confronted with these rules, the mind recoils and re-interprets and retrofits what "must" be meant into a tortuous shape which does not work, but at least the frustrations and confusions are familiar.

Best,
Ron

[edited to fix link to parent thread]


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Brand_Robins on February 11, 2006, 03:02:06 PM
Ron,

Despite disagreeing with you about post-modernism, the nature of story, and all the other introductory theoretical material (could you have guessed?) I still agree with the majority of this series of posts.

Years ago I did a livejournal post in which I talked about gamer damage.  (http://brand-of-amber.livejournal.com/55814.html) At the time I lacked a lot of the language that you used, and was obviously playing in the shallow end of the pool, but I think the basic points I was making were in the direction of the things you've said here more clearly.

So I'd just like to reiterate a point and make an AA style statement.

I, Brand Robins, am brain damaged. I have had to work long and hard in order to learn how to tell stories and enjoy them, because my youth of gaming screwed me blue. (I also had to do a lot of damage that gaming gave me towards other things: such as understanding of religion, mythology, and social structure -- but that's a rant for a different day.) I am still not all the way out of it. I continue to work, and like to think that I am making progress. Yet the fact remains, I have damage. I have scars. I am doing all this "Forge theory moon language" not because I think I am better, not because I think I should sell my illumination to the masses of peons. I am doing it because I need to fix myself.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Piers on February 11, 2006, 03:14:12 PM
Ron,

I want to start by saying that I generally agree with your analysis of the problems that role-players encounter in the process of gaming with each other.  The point where I begin to disagree is not the analysis of those difficulties, but the account of how they came into being.  I don’t think there is some sort of fundamental disagreement here, but I’m interested in the results of broadening your critique.

Here’s the thing—describing these problems as primarily arising from within the rpg scene has the effect of dividing people into those damaged by traditional role-playing and a healthy Natural (straw) Man who has not suffered this damage.   This distinction between the inappropriately civillized and what people would be like if this ‘bad thing’ hadn’t happened is, as I’m sure you know, a very old trope, one which, for the rhetorical purpose of critiquing one culture ignores the fact that there is no-one outside culture, no-one who isn’t subject to or seen through some sort of cultural lens.

Now, the traditional rpg scene presents a peculiarly interesting witches brew of influences that result in some rather strange behaviours, but it isn’t by any means unique.  Moreover, I want to suggest strongly that some of behaviours that have such a detrimental effect on attempts to role-playing not only come from outside the field, but are actually fairly deeply rooted in western culture as a whole.

A case in point—the ‘physics model’ of game systems.  Neal Stephenson has a particularly interesting digression in his _Cryptonomicon_ which not only misunderstands role-playing games fundamentally, but does so in a way which is very revealing not just of his understanding of how games work, but of the attitudes to the idea of role-playing as simulation of a whole sub-section of society.  (Unfortunately I don’t have a copy with me, so if you want to read it, you’ll have to wade through the text to find the section yourself.)  It details a bunch of role-playing nerds working on a computer system to aid ‘role-playing’ by taking into account every variable and cultural detail and making that available to the players as aggregated data.  (They have a falling out; break up their basement company; and the person who wrests control of the rights from the others goes on to make a fortune from the system.  Radically implausible.)

This endeavour is very much like the late-70s, early-80s trends in rpgs—I’m thinking particularly Chivalry and Sorcery—where the impetus was to pile on more and more detail to make the setting ‘realistic’.  What I want to argue is that this aberration a) lies behind the obsession with ‘modelling’ the world that blights many systems, and b) comes not from inside gaming but from outside it.  You can see this strain of endeavour in all kinds of predictive modelling employed naively in our society.   Yeah, this is a computer geek mentality, which has a fair cross-over with gaming, but it’s also a sort of modelling that comes out of a view of the world derived from Newtonian physics, one which ignores chaos, complexity and emergent effects, and which goes back all the way to Descartes and mechanistic accounts of the world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

My point: Most people in the world are bad at seeing the complexity of the events around them; they abstract poorly between the relatively controllable and understandable results of the combination of a small number of factors and what happens when another magnitude of complexity is added to the situation. 

A corrollary: The reason why the Sorceror combat system causes such so many headaches for people is only partly because it is unfamiliar to gamers’ training.  The problem is its very strength and efficiency.   Because it resolves everything at once, rather than breaking actions down into simplistic steps, it forces players who are trying to understand what is going on to do so all at once.   People in general aren’t good at seeing that much all at once.  Take D&D for comparison—anyone can understand the progression of ‘to hit’, ‘damage’, ‘does he fall over’, because it is broken down into steps; likewise, Attacks of Opportunity—once you get when they happen resolving them is simple; the emergent effects of the combination of these things are not so simple, but not many people are trying to understand them on that level, because the system allows them to deal a lower level of complexity.

You say that most non-gamers intuitively ‘get’ narrative, rising action, when a scene is important—that sort of thing.  My experience teaching also says you’re generally right.  The question for roleplaying is not about that ability, but about the ability to combine such insights with their model of understanding how the world ‘works’—and the reflexive desire to create mechanics upon this basis, whether the ‘system’ is explicit (eg encumbrance) or implicit (eg the refusal to divorce how persuasively a character is roleplayed from how effective that character is at persuading).  Getting the two to mesh, to work in sync without falling into various sorts of incoherence is the problem.

Where I agree with you is on how easy it is to introduce a person who has never roleplayed before to indie-style games—they get them very easily.  The idea that relatively abstracted story-like action should be controlled by mechanics directed towards the premise of the fiction makes intuitive sense.  However, traditional style games also have a suprisingly easy uptake of player understanding on certain topics.   Something like, say, GURPS makes an unfortunate amount of sense, and that’s not the result of roleplaying ‘brain damage’, but of the wider acculturation of our society.  The same goes for the relation between GM and author.  And once you've learned it is fairly difficult to undo.

But I don't think there is anything special about roleplaying in that sense.  Take post-modern fiction, which you take a side-swipe at in your first post, for instance.  There is a lot of bad post-modern fiction, and a huge mess of post-modern criticism to go with it, but its project--the self-reflexive critique of a form in that form--is at least potentially interesting.  But it is also difficult and a little bit navel-gazing.

The thing is, the reaction of many readers and critics to post-modernism almost exactly parallels the reaction of tradtional games to rpg theory and indie-style games.  At its best--and that is often when it is least ostentatious--it provides a salutary critique of the process that it is involved in, rather than attempting to patch over the 'problems' of fiction and fictive accounts.  But you don't have to like it--it's okay to go on reading the old-style books / playing the old-style games / thinking in the same old way. 

It's just, that's what's got us in the mess we're in, not just in roleplaying, but in the organization of our civillization in general.  And that, in part, means I'm seconding Brand.
 


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: mneme on February 11, 2006, 03:28:59 PM
Some of the ideas are useful.

Some are not.

The ad homenim is not -- it more or less comes down to "I have disagreed with you, therefore you are brain damaged" -- Ron, you're not a shrink, and don't try to be so.

Maybe your training wheels hurt because we're not used to using our legs.

Maybe they hurt because we'd rather, you know, just walk, or run, or because we're used to wheels that aren't square, or aren't made out of something sticky -- or various other flaws that come from using training wheels designed from someone "brain damaged" in a different way than we are.

Maybe one reason some people have problems with Sorceror is because it's trying to communicate concepts they're not used to or not willing to accept.

Another reason some people have problems with Sorceror is because it's badly written.  It may be going somewhere, but it doesn't communicate its ideas as well as Everway, PTA, Capes, Nobilis, or even D&D3.

A third is because, frankly, it doesn't go far enough -- it retains garbage like hit points, initiative, and rounds that are an artifact of D&D-like play.  In essence, there are too many rules, and if one actually tries to use all of them, they get in the way and stop play cold as people start hunting through the book or arguing over them.



Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: mneme on February 11, 2006, 03:55:25 PM
Oh, FWIW -- since as far as I can tell, I'm the only one you (Ron) singled out for a gratuitous insult, I'd like to know -where- you draw your conclusion from.

As-is, I can't tell whether it's from something said on the Forge or whether it's a particular annoying Gencon conversation (which mostly amount to me saying "the sky is blue" and Ron saying "no, the ground isn't a single color" -- just talking straight past one another.



Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: joshua neff on February 11, 2006, 05:39:47 PM
I'm looking at Brand and nodding. As you already know, Ron, I am exactly that damaged player that came out of the "storytelling game" era. I first stumbled upon Ars Magica and Vampire early in my undergrad years. That's a time when people are traditionally seen as impressionable, formative. Boy, was it for me. I was sold this idea, attractive to a young English major, that RPGs could be Very Important Stories. The mechanics of the game had absolutely nothing to do with creating these Very Important Stories. The method was put out very simply in the rulebooks, but it was done in such a seductive way, with language that made it sound as if it were all about people getting together and having fun by playing a game, that many of us didn't realize what we were actually being instructed to do. The way to make a Very Important Story with these games was this: the GM comes up with a story that s/he thinks is good; the GM then bullies and coerces the players into acting out his/her story; the players, meanwhile, get to emote about non-conflict issues ("chewing the scenery" is spot on) which they think of as conflict issues; bingo! a great time is had by all, right?

Geez, it's such a load of horsefeathers, it makes me laugh and cry at the same time. I'm little by little realizing exactly how I've let myself become damaged and how I've perpetuated the damage. I'm little by little realizing how I can shake off the damage and relearn how to have fun playing RPGs. Sometimes it seems like an awfully slow process. There are a lot of learned habits that, in the heat of playing, are hard to break sometimes. And you can't do it yourself--this is a social thing, so you need other people playing with you who are either undamaged or want to fix the damage.

Anyway, thanks for posting this, Ron. You've really nailed some things that have been in my thoughts lately. And you given me more to think about.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Jonathan Walton on February 11, 2006, 07:25:22 PM
Hey Ron, I find myself nodding at what seems to be your main point:

Quote
(1) They associate the procedures they are learning with the activity itself, as a definition. (2) The original purpose which interested them is obscured or replaced with the "thing," or pseudo-thing, of the new purpose, which no one is qualified to excel at, nor does it offer any particular intrinsic rewards.

But surely the culprit here is not repeated play in the model that you are criticizing, but the lack of a wider perspective among the players involved and, honestly, in roleplayers, Anglo-Americans, and modern human beings in general.  Brand's point that we are ALL damaged, that we have been fucked up by modern culture (whether roleplaying culture or otherwise) such that we can no longer tell good stories is spot on.

If people really are associating the "second wave" of roleplaying with storytelling, that age-old human activity, surely it's because they don't have any other storytelling in their life.  If most roleplayers attended the National Storytelling Festival (http://www.storytellingcenter.com/festival/festival.htm) or similar events as often as GenCon or Origins, you'd think they'd have a much broader perspective on storytelling as an activity, since they would realize that the kinds of stories that roleplaying has traditionally engendered, as well as the ways in which these stories are told or presented, is not the be-all and end-all of storytelling.  But they don't.  And neither does anyone else, relatively speaking.

Truth be told, most roleplayers and most people in general have little non-roleplaying-based experience with formalized oral storytelling.  Maybe they were read to as kids.  Maybe they read to their kids.  Everyone tells stories everyday, of course, as part of normal interactions and conversations, but most people don't think of that as storytelling, since it doesn't take place in a ritual space that says "now we are going to tell stories."  So they don't consider telling their friends about some funny experience to be storytelling.

I agree, it's cringe-worthy when smart, creative people continue to reach for game concepts, styles of play, and character types that only allow them to tell a very specific and often mediocre kind of story.  But even people who are involved in other varieties of storytelling might do the exact same thing because this is what people think roleplaying is and these are the kinds of stories people believe roleplaying is fit to handle.  Sure, you can tell people to listen to other styles of music, to broaden their horizons, that listening to a single style of music is making it harder and harder for them to appreciate other kinds of music, but some people truly believe that Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (for example) are God's gift to music (which is true) and that there's no point in trying other things (which is totally false).  Sometimes people need help finding new stuff to like.  Sometimes people just need to be left alone, so they can grow out of that phase on their own.  Some people will be wearing a different Priest shirt every day for the rest of their lives.  I tend to feel that individuals' tastes in roleplaying are similar.

If you think you're gonna make much headway trying to convince the existing roleplaying community to get more variety in its diet or to reconsider what storytelling is, I wish you the best of luck, but I don't think you're liable to get very far, especially if you begin by criticising their favorite variety of play.  In my experience, roleplayers (whether new or exiles) who are not interested in the existing hardcore community seem to have more diverse interests in general, including a broader interest in exploring different types of storytelling.  That's where I'm focusing my own attention and hope.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on February 11, 2006, 08:16:06 PM
I don't agree, here.

Something has often been dressed up as collaborative storymaking that is not.  With that, I'm onboard.

The acceptance of this falsehood at face value has created habits.  Still onboard.

These habits aren't easily broken.  Yep.  Still along.

These habits have done actual damage, as opposed to merely creating habits that can be surmounted?

Nope.  Not onboard.  Simple as that.

My experience simply does not match the assertion.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Keith Senkowski on February 11, 2006, 08:50:29 PM
I don't have all that much to ad besides my agreement.  Well that and how I would say it. 

These behaviors are like smoking.  They fuck everyone up to a greater or lesser degree causing damage.  They can be beat down.  For some people they can go cold turkey, and never look back.  Others are constantly quiting and coming back for more.  Others work damn fucking hard for the rest of their lives to beat that fucking monkey. All of them wax nostalgic about the good old days when they smoked.  How they would run a mile easy or play basketball all day with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth.  But this shit is just nostalgia.  The behavoir is still fucking damaging.

And what about those that keep fucking smoking?  Some are aware of the damage and just don't fucking care.  Others are blissfully ignorant.  The majority die from it and a rare few get hit by a bus instead...

Keith


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: ffilz on February 11, 2006, 10:42:47 PM
Ron,

I curious how much of what you talk about was forumulated in the early years of RPGs. Reading through your "the details" post, I see some things that definitely have gone on in my gaming experience. You mention AD&D2 as being a foundation, but when I look back on my gaming, I started into a lull in gaming just before AD&D2 (I was gaming heavily for a couple years or so after, but it was all Cold Iron). Between then and my Arcana Unearthed campaign, the only long term campaign I ran was a Rune Quest campaign. Now I did get at least somewhat involved in a couple of the "story" games, 7th Sea, and Deadlands. But I've got 2 game sessions experience with each of those, a 7th Sea demo, playing 7th Sea with my friend once (both using their first module), playing Deadlands with my friend once, and running an RPGA Deadlands scenario at a con. The RPGA module was a horid disaster and when my friend and I played the 7th Sea module, we saw right through the "story" and that was the end of 7th Sea (though consumerism kept me buying the books until recently).

Frank


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Darren Hill on February 11, 2006, 11:18:25 PM
So, let’s say I have this gay friend. I tell him that this lifestyle he’s chosen is causing him damage – he’s facing discrimination at work because his colleagues find him uncomfortable company, and he and his partner are facing higher taxes than his married friends, and occasionally bricks get thrown through their window, and so on. Life would be so much easier if he gave that up and became heterosexual.
He looks at me like I’m a loon, and tells me it’s the way he is wired.

I’ve often wondered about the term gamer baggage. Is it possible that these people are drawn to roleplaying games because that meandering, worthless (from a creative agenda POV, or at least narrativist/gamist POV) style of gaming is exactly what they wanted?

I have no idea. But if so, why would people thing gamer baggage is a result of gaming? I can think of some possibilities.

Maybe the reason Ron sees the greatest resistance to narrativist-style games from gamers, is that the gaming hobby (in its current form) actually appeals to those people whose brains are wired in such a way that they will find narrativist games hard. If so, you could easily expect to find a higher proportion of people who appear to be ‘brain damaged’ among gamers than other groups.

The advocates of narrativist games often claim that newbies pick them up quicker than established gamers. If the above hypothesis is true, this would in fact be expected. But there might also be more at work.

For example, confirmation bias. A narrativist GM runs games at gaming convention after gaming convention. He comes in contact with new gamers and old gamers in large numbers. When he encounters new gamers, and they learn his games quickly, he notices that, and mentally stores away that evidence of his theory. When he comes across a traditional gamer who struggles with these games, he also pays attention to that, and stores it away.
But, he also encounters novice gamers who struggle with the games, and traditional gamers who don’t – but his memory of those numbers might be unreliable, because confirmation bias will encourage him to forget or at least minimise those that don’t match expectation.

Even worse, the experienced narrativist GM might be reaching out to new gamers, so when he encounters them, he showers them with more attention and teaching effort than he would traditional gamers. Plus, if he expects traditional gamers to struggle with his games, he might inadvertently give them less attention, because after all, it’s a lost cause. This would reinforce the teacher’s pre-existing prejudice, and the teacher would probably be unaware he was contributing to it.

I don’t know if my counterpoint above holds any weight. But if it does, it means there’s a substantial body of gamers out there who aren’t, or don’t want to be, creative as defined in the creative agenda model. I think this is plausible.
I’ve known gamers who like random roll character design, so that they don’t have to ‘create’ their character, and gamers who prefer point design, so they can basically create the same character over and over. I’ve known gamers who (appear to) like the GM to do all they creative work, they just turn up to play through the process of discovering his plot.
I know one player who, when presented with a new indie or forge game, is the first in the group to grasp how the game rules work, how they contribute to encouraging a creative agenda, and leads the rest of the group in learning how to play. Then after playing, he points out how much he hates those games, and can we get back to playing proper games like Vampire.
All of which is anecdotal, and thus must be taken with a pinch of salt. But the point here is that there might be gamers for who roleplaying is not a creative social hobby, but is just a social hobby.

Ron outlined three things gamers must be; the third one was:
Quote
3. You have to try it out, to reflect meaningfully on the results, and to try again - if it's worth doing, it's worth learning to do better; failure is not disaster, improvement is a virtue

I have a bunch of friends who get together every few weeks to play poker – not for money, just for fun. One of those has clearly been improving since we started, while the rest of us basically haven’t. We haven’t taken the time to learn how the game really works, and what the best strategies are. We haven’t reflected meaningfully on the results, we just turn up to kick back and have a bit of fun.
It’s just a social pastime.
I think it’s possible that for these gamers we are talking about, gaming is just that kind of social pastime. The creativity that occurs is similar to the kind of creativity people show when watching a whodunit or sporting event and start to imagine what might happen next, get excited and start shouting out or telling each other. (And maybe getting creative with their insults at the opposing team, or getting in convoluted debates while trying to establish who has the best understanding of the plot.)

I do agree that the social environment needed for this approach to the hobby is highly disposed to producing the kinds of dysfunctional relationships Ron has highlighted. But if such gamers are not created by the hobby, but are instead naturally inclined to seek such games out, then such dysfunction is just an occupational hazard of gaming in this way– in much the same way that boxers risk brain damage just by taking up the sport.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Seth L. Blumberg on February 12, 2006, 12:38:26 AM
So...Ron, if I understand you correctly, you're not saying that the brain damage comes from playing these games (Vampire et al.), it comes from playing these games in the expectation of creating story. At that point, the product of the game starts to displace your native notion of story, and you are crippled in ways that extend beyond role-playing.

Am I getting it?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Bill Cook on February 12, 2006, 01:21:28 AM
Wow, is this thread interesting. I'm cool with the three requirements, except maybe "with these people." I agree, I'm just a bit guilty of being accommodating. And to some degree, I dissent; you can train. And certainly, you must also prune and walk away. Two great ways to make progress on this point: (1) Nix the RPGs. Let's have a LAN party (or whatever); and (2) build a second group. The latter (while arduous to the uninitiated networker) not only gets you what you really want (or so you thought), it also can enhance your experience with your steady group.

Re: The Details.

Man, I was humming along, reading this list, .. (nope, don't do that .. ha! people actually do that?) .. and then started to feel more and more ashamed! Really, it's only been within the last year that I've identified the need for a consistent technique to settle something. My second try at a TSOY one-shot really caused it to click in my head as far as knowing when to apply the rules manual. Uncritical rules application has been the root of so many of my unsatisfying game-play experiences.

There's a line in the Narrativism essay .. something like "open discussion about the direction of play" that made me recognize my frustration play as a catty statement along these lines. (e.g. "I roll to grab my own elbow" instead of "Fuck the rules! I don't want to play if I can't hit at least half the time! I mean, this isn't even that important. Why don't we just say I hit him?")

I've been slow to come around to the value of reward systems. It was really Artha in BW that demonstrated its worth to me. I had this conflated with advancement up until a couple of years ago. (Which, I have no interest in advancement with the possible exception of buying off a Key [TSOY].) But rewarding story-relevant role-play with currency to budget immediate advantage? Like, in the moment I could really use it? Sign me up.

** ** **

Piers Brown:

I imagine gamers with a focus on world modeling are probably not the most Nar inclined.

Darren Hill:

I think the purposeful gamer is a rare animal. And I would almost add doomed. For how can he hope for community?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Halzebier on February 12, 2006, 03:28:19 AM
I'm little by little realizing exactly how I've let myself become damaged and how I've perpetuated the damage. I'm little by little realizing how I can shake off the damage and relearn how to have fun playing RPGs. Sometimes it seems like an awfully slow process. There are a lot of learned habits that, in the heat of playing, are hard to break sometimes. And you can't do it yourself--this is a social thing, so you need other people playing with you who are either undamaged or want to fix the damage.

Amen to every single word of that.

Progress is hard and slow for me, too, but it's there:

(1) In the last D&D campaign I ran, I asked my players to let me officially and completely abolish PC death ("The PC(s) will just be unconscious or I'll use a deus ex machina and that's that."). They were not convinced - "Where's the thrill?" -, but humored me. And now they like it and the next player up for DM duty wants to keep that approach. We've never had permanent PC deaths anyway, because nobody in our group liked them. But now the illusions (e.g. fudging, which IME is a surefire way to kill 'the thrill') and insecurity ("Will the DM save my PC again?") are gone and, contrary to expectations, things work better than before.

(2) A few weeks ago, our PCs split up in a game of DSA which left one player with nothing to do. So I asked him to take control of my PC's kick-ass warhorse in a big fight even though it was its first performance ever and I had been looking forward to that. We had tremendous fun joking, competing and overcoming our foes. A few years ago, whenever I or another player had to sit out half the evening, I would think "This sucks!" but also "These things happen from time to time." Today, I think "This is simply not acceptable" and act on that.

(3) Most importantly, I've run InSpectres (mixed success) and The Pool (epiphany) and am in the process of running The Mountain Witch for one group (a bumpy ride so far, but we're getting better) and prepping it for a second.

I'm damaged and, arrogant as that may sound, so are my friends. I'm not sure they, too, want to fix the damage - want it hard enough, that is, to embark on this journey with me. I'm trying to get them on board by introducing them to Indie games (learning myself as I go along), but eventually I and they will know whether they want this or not. I'm daydreaming of our journey together, but I'm also trying to steel myself for the possible realization that they might not come along.

Regards,

Hal


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 12, 2006, 04:59:28 AM
This may be the worst piece of crap I have ever read.

I agree that doing something in a specific way for a prolonged time tend to form your mind in a way that makes it harder to do it differently.

But your belief that this "storytelling" you talk about should be more "damaging" than playing Sorcerer is only a proof that you have been severly brain damaged by your own theories and way of designing games. Showing page upon page of "proof" why your way is "better" is one thing, but trying to define fun is to me nothing but delusional.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: ricmadeira on February 12, 2006, 05:41:16 AM
Showing page upon page of "proof" why your way is "better" is one thing, but trying to define fun is to me nothing but delusional.

Maybe you missed this point, Jonas?

... keeping in mind that I'm talking about the specific Creative Agenda of Narrativism, in its most abstract form (i.e. not talking for the moment at all about Techniques).

At least I take it to mean that if your Fun does not equate with Narrativism, you need not apply. As a regular reader of your blog, I guess that's the case. :)


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Gregor Hutton on February 12, 2006, 05:55:07 AM
To no one in particular ... more a statement on what I see in Ron's initial posts at the top of the thread.

If anyone... played the games Ron talks about ... bought the shelves and shelves of books that the companies shifted (and you don't want to know the f'in weight of books I personally bought, hardly/in some cases never read, and then left lying as some pointless badge of gamer culture for all to see) ... and hasn't experienced dysfunctional play first hand, and had their mind clouded to what the f'k we were really trying to do along the way,  then...

...I can only conclude that you are in one of three situations:
(i) you are walking around with you eyes closed, your stumps held tight to your ears, but quite surely not with your mouth shut,
(ii) a liar (and I don't care about to me, it's to yourself, honestly),
(iii) you are the rarest of cases that somehow dodged the bullets, and until I see you for myself I'm not entirely convinced you exist.

Ron, you have a way of putting things in an unpalatable way. But I agree with you.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 12, 2006, 06:44:25 AM
At least I take it to mean that if your Fun does not equate with Narrativism, you need not apply. As a regular reader of your blog, I guess that's the case. :)

If it is just from a strict narrativist view of fun, how can one way of doing it be more brain damaging than another? Why is one damaged by playing for example Vampire and not when playing Sorcerer? Wouldn't narrativism be equaly damaging to the abality to have non-narrativst fun? If so, what's the problem? Everything we experience shapes our mind.

I what Ron really mean is that players of traditional games are not having fun "from his point of view and personal preference", he does a very poor job of communicating that.

Fun is 100% subjective and there is no general definition of "story" requiring it to contain the parts that Ron describes.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 12, 2006, 07:01:31 AM
...and hasn't experienced dysfunctional play first hand, and had their mind clouded to what the f'k we were really trying to do along the way,  then...

I have certainly experienced that, but I have also experienced dysfunctional play and known exactly what was wrong (read: not fun) with it, and then taken steps to correct that. It has happened both with traditional games and narrativist indie type games, sometimes as a function of the game itself and sometimes as a function of how the players used the games. But if you mean that narrativist games can never trap players in dysfunctional play.... I highly doubt and have not seen anything supporting that. My own solution to the dysfunctions I have encountered have never been narrativism, thou I have been inspired by that way of thinking, incorporating parts of it into my own play. Your experience may differ as minds are different. A difference in gaming preferences is hardly enough to call one or the other brain damage.

As the expected function of the game is subjective, the game being dysfunctional is also subjective. That way I can claim that My Life With Master is highly dysfunctional and you can claim it to be highly function, both being equally right.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Halzebier on February 12, 2006, 07:12:44 AM
Fun is 100% subjective[.]
True, but there are kinds of fun which are bad for you and can cripple your ability to have 'good' fun.

Think back on Ron's (drastic) analogy of (consensual) sex between an adult and a twelve-year old. The child may conceivably consider this to be fun - it may feel loved, enjoy the attention etc. -, even though it is being abused and irrevocably scarred for life.

There are numerous other examples of abusive and self-abusive behaviour which is fun (e.g. overeating, mobbing someone, drug use).

So there is, in fact, 'good' fun and 'bad' fun.

Regards,

Hal


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on February 12, 2006, 07:27:09 AM
Jonas, a behavior is dysfunctional only if you were set out to obtain one goal, but the methods you use bring you somewhere else and you still think you will one day eventually get to where you were headed in the first place, although you're walking in a completely different direction. Dysfunctional because it leads you to all sorts of behavior that have been described in this thread (it's okay I guess if people play rpgs as Darren plays poker).

The games Ron mentions place themselves as a means of creating a compelling story, but the methods (techniques) they present do nothing to support that. But a lot of gamers are convinced that if they try hard enough bashing with a hammer, they will manage to repair the vase.

If you never really where interested in what those games promised to deliver, but rather in that which its methods did deliver, then you aren't "brain damaged" at all.
You had a different agenda in mind from the start and supported it with a proper system (at least at the level we are discussing now).

This discussion doesn't look to me as judging what seems to be your case, so you mustn't feel as being the target of the sexual abuse example.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 12, 2006, 07:53:37 AM
The games Ron mentions place themselves as a means of creating a compelling story, but the methods (techniques) they present do nothing to support that.

Maybe they do not create a compelling story in the way Ron defines the word, but that is not the only definition of story.

Ron says:

"A brief list of the specific features, or telltales, of the damaged story-capacity.

- The person cannot distinguish between "hopping over a fence" and conflict, between "this guy meets that guy" and a decisive plot event, or between "dramatic close-up" and character decision-making

- The person cannot summarize any story in simple four-point structure (conflict, rising action, climax, conclusion) - they typically hare off into philosophical or technical interpretations, or remain stuck in narrating the first ten minutes of the story in detail."


To me this simply tells me that the person do not know the same theory that Ron does and/or that he is not interested in theoretical aspects of his storytelling at all. When did Ron get to define the word "storytelling"? Would it be better if the games claiming to be storytelling games called themselves "experience creating" instead, but othervise remained the same?



Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Caldis on February 12, 2006, 08:15:50 AM
To me this simply tells me that the person do not know the same theory that Ron does and/or that he is not interested in theoretical aspects of his storytelling at all. When did Ron get to define the word "storytelling"? Would it be better if the games claiming to be storytelling games called themselves "experience creating" instead, but othervise remained the same?

I can only go by my experience but Ron's definition of story matches with what I expect in good TV, movies and books.  If that's what I'm after (and it is) then I can easily agree with his definitions and see his advice as valuable.  If you want stories that are of a different nature then I can see how they may not be valuable to you.



Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 12, 2006, 08:25:06 AM
I want a fun and/or rewarding experience. If that experience happens to qualify as a good story or not do not matter at all.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 12, 2006, 08:39:40 AM
Hello,

Apparently some of you are under the impression that I care about how you react, in terms of emotions. I don't.

Some of you also apparently think that I have some desire, or am under some obligation (!) to make myself liked, to make myself understood to the maximum possible audience, or to represent some sort of community or generalized interest. None of these are the case.

What about my goals in posting this? To "save gamers?" To "make people change?" Hardly. Guessing about my goals and then responding to your own guesses is waste of time. All you can do is make whatever you will out of what I've posted, if anything, somewhere else. Don't expect my goals to be explained or defended; if they're not obvious to you from my personal history of posting, site management, and publication, so be it.

Some of you apparently never learned the primary lesson of dealing with me and my posts - which is, bluntly, I could be mad as a hatter. You are perfectly free, at all times, to say, "That guy is a mad old man mumbling in a corner. There is paper litter stuck to his clothes by substances that I do not want to identify." Letting me know that this is your assessment is futile. Announcing it to others is your prerogative - but you can do it somewhere fucking else. People who fit this description are not predictable in their actions and I can assure you, that if it applies to me, that I will be intractable to any such announcement. In this forum, I don't obey Forge rules. Instead, my rules, and I make them up.

Some points so far that I'm happy to address include ...

1. The nuances of Deconstructionism and Postmodernism are pretty complex, and I totally favor deconstruction as an activity, but not the "ism" it's become especially in academia. So I'm sorta weird that way, rejecting the old-school author-intent model but not buying various developed versions of the newer approach either. I think my outlook is well-represented by the Narrativism essay, so there you go. My statements above are definitely too brief and broad to be taken as a manifesto and then debated.

2. I don't think it's worth debating whether "story" is as broad as I think it is, as a species-character rather than a localized artifact. As long as we're agreeing about ourselves in the here-and-now, I'm happy to split the difference. I do not, however, find the notion convincing that Anglo-American or any sort of modern/civilized cognizance is necessarily impaired about story (or myth, or whatever you want to call it). I'm one of those weirdos who thinks modern peoples are, you know, the same old peoples just dressed up. That's not a point for debate, but rather an orienter for where I'm coming from, and it's up to you to decide whether disagreeing with it also leads to disagreeing with my main point.

3. In line with #2, yeah, I'm talking about a specific subset of role-players compared to the larger society. Gotta tell you ... my extensive experience with the story-understanding of people in general, specifically college kids, leads me to be impressed. Not necessarily in terms of analytical glibness, but definitely in terms of the bare-bones, rock-solid perception of what stories are and how they work, given only the most basic of tools. (No, I'm not an English prof. Biology. Yes, I teach about stories in at least some classes. No, I'm not going to explain that here. It costs tuition to learn that.)

Let me say that again: my perceptions, experience, bias, whatever you want to call it, is that the default-citizen of modern society is not story-impaired in the sense I'm describing here. Whether they're uniquely impaired in some other sense, for example gullibility in the face of an effective story (e.g. advertising, propaganda, values-imprinting), is damned interesting but out of the scope of my point.

And in clarification: I'm not talking about "gamers" and certainly not about "geeks." I'm talking about a very specific bunch of role-players who might be tagged by these labels, but not about defining features of these larger labels, insofar as they exist as things (if they do). I do think it's a pretty broad and consistent bunch of people that I'm talking about, especially when considered in terms of the age-based wave-fronts I mentioned, and thus much larger than people currently active in the hobby if you include the ones who recoiled from what they initially experienced.

4. Brains are fascinating resilient organs, in a way which isn't immediately obvious. We're all familiar with the localization of certain brain functions, such that a very small amount of physical damage can impair an enormous range of activity. Yet certain tremendous malformations or other sorts of horrific damage to the brain apparently have little if any effect on behavior. And recovery or reparability of functions/behaviors is, in some cases, remarkable compared to the extent of the initial impairment.

The same points also apply to psychological (i.e. associations, responses, habits) phenomena as well as morphological (i.e. injury with sharp or blunt objects).

All of which is a fancy way to say this: nowhere above did I say irreparable brain damage. In fact, rather the opposite. Levi, you might want to take that point to heart.

5. Early role-playing history includes a vast diversity of play-approaches and game design. Commercially, it was canalized toward specific forms of Gamist play in the late 1970s, and that effect had a big impact on role-players of approximately my age (41), and a little younger. However, especially if we (this age group) didn't participate in role-playing much between the late 1980s and late 1990s, it's hard for us to understand what happened to the new wave-fronts. The commercial canalization was absolutely overwhelming, dropping the diversity of published game design to practically none. Gamist play and its troublesome relationship with other agendas is simply not the issue that drove the values-issues in role-playing culture during that time. Yes, it's hard to buy that, because to us, "good role-playing" was predicated on nothing but how one dealt with Gamist play (yes, no, how much, in what way, etc).

Instead, starting with the college crowd in the late 1980s, hitting the next wave of high-schoolers in the early 1990s, and peaking in the middle-late 1990s, the primary issue was as I've described above, this whole "story" thing, and again, dividing and re-coalescing and agonizing over (as I say above) "just say it, the dice don't matter," vs. gutting it out with the dice and saying it anyway. Both of which ultimately rely on Force for anything resembling story to emerge.

In many ways, the older bunch, especially a specific subset of RuneQuest and Champions players, understand how stories can emerge through actual decisions and actions during play better than the younger bunch. Not that it was common back then, but at least it was a matter of groping in the dark rather than gouging out one's eyes as a starting point. (Hey, John Kim, I think this is where you and I, for all our disagreements, do connect and recognize one another.)

Thanks to all who posted thinking responses.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on February 12, 2006, 11:50:51 AM
All of which is a fancy way to say this: nowhere above did I say irreparable brain damage. In fact, rather the opposite. Levi, you might want to take that point to heart.

I noted that.  I still don't agree. 

I'll assume that you're interested in a dialog on this point, and proceed accordingly.  If you're not, please simply say so.

We are, indeed, creatures of story.  I would say that stories inform our actions, and make up part of how we think about things, to the extent that many of our memories - often, the ones we share with others - slowly become kinds of parable that we tell one another.  So, from my perspective, this topic in general terms is one of some import.  Now, we're specifically talking about stories in the context of making them, which is fiction, and doing so through collaboration, and that brings it down a few pegs, so that a statement that damage is done to the mind specifically here is simply serious, rather than damningly brutal.  But it's still serious.

With that as a basline of where I'm coming from, here's why what you're saying doesn't match my experience:

Inside the context of a roleplaying game, the habits that prevent us from creating collaborative stories as freely as possible are much as you've described them.  Some of us want to make stories, and want to use roleplaying games to do it with.  And many of us find that we can't do so as naturally as we should.   Because there's an image built up in our minds that prevents it, of what a roleplaying game is and does.

But if we step outside of the context of the roleplaying game, we drop the habits.  We can sit around a table and just shoot the shit, and stories can emerge, change, and grow, in a fully collaborative fashion.  We can improvise theatre without rules, and have stories come from that naturally and easily.  The falsity and the habits you're talking about apply only when we step into the context of roleplaying games - that's why I object to the title of "brain damage" for this habituation.

Still, though, the block of habit tells us that we shouldn't be doing that in the context of a roleplaying game.

The solution is obvious.  Create or find different means by which groups can collaborate on the creation of stories that are not, themselves, framed as roleplaying games, but borrow heavily from that tradition.  Borrow back and forth across the block of habit, simply bypassing it, and let it dissolve on it's own.

Further, I find the idea of framing this difficulty as "brain damage" to be unhelpful and potentially even forming of negative habits all of it's own - Self-deprecation that doesn't lead to positive change is useless, and condescension at any level, which is a natural outgrowth of framing things in such a fashion, whether or not it's your intent, actively retards any process of growth and learning.

That's my position on it.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on February 12, 2006, 12:14:33 PM
Quote
Further, I find the idea of framing this difficulty as "brain damage" to be unhelpful and potentially even forming of negative habits all of it's own - Self-deprecation that doesn't lead to positive change is useless, and condescension at any level, which is a natural outgrowth of framing things in such a fashion, whether or not it's your intent, actively retards any process of growth and learning.

That's my position on it.

Levi,

I completely agree with you. This "brain damage" term is insulting. Personally, I find this discussion less than pointless. It's Ron venting something, and responding is, well, like responding to anyone else who'd come on the Forge and wave around his personal problem.

For the rest of you, let me point something out, and then ask a question. This is a discussion that's gone like this:

Ron, a person who's made it quite clear in the past that arguing with him doesn't really help anything: I say this thing that will insult almost all role-players who don't believe in my theories!

Others: Wait! That's not right, we don't think!

Ron: (hands over ears) I am not listening to your feelings about this!

Others: Wait!

Why are you even arguing? If you don't agree, let it drop. I would have never posted here, except it's gone too far, and I guess I've got to moderate this one.

(Edit: Crap. Because of the way I read threads on the Forge, I didn't notice this was in Adept Press, which is Ron's own personal territory. Carry on, but seriously, I'd think about what I said above before doing so.)


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: jburneko on February 12, 2006, 12:18:14 PM
Wow, that was more unsettling, personally, than I was expecting.  Whenever, you start bringing in your Biology background into your gaming observations I'm never quite sure what to make of it.  I certainly agree with your data (observed bevhaviors) and the corrolations with other behaviors.  Whether that's a form of brain/mind damage to the extent you imply -- well, it strikes me as something you're not interested in debating and frankly, since that technical feature isn't the overall point, neither am I.

However, what I'm drawn to is the things you list as features of story impairment.  The thing is, I see LOTS of sub-groups exhibiting those symptoms.  I'm thinking about non-gaming geeks who spend hours meticulously arguing over technical details of sci-fi films and seem unable to enjoy the *story* because they couldn't buy into some minutia of the presentation.  I'm thinking of fan fiction authors who can't tell the difference between their own work and genuine article or who insist that their absurd extention of source material events is really there in the core text.  I'm also thinking of the academics who insist on writing article after article on how "Frankenstein" is really all about lesbianism (yes, this exists).

Now, perhaps this is out of the scope.  Certainly, no where do you assert that dysfunctional "story" gaming is the ONLY way to become story impaired, but I do see the symptoms you describe in a lot more people than than just the broken gamers.

Jesse


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Wormwood on February 12, 2006, 01:19:06 PM
Ron,

I concur that some roleplaying produces the "story-blind" pathology, where people lose the ability to understand what goes into a story. But that is not the only pathology involved in this. By struggling to escape or strenuously avoid story-blindness, you risk becoming "story-obssessed", holding that stories are an end in themselves. This pathology already causes intra-narr dysfunction, and promises to only get worse.

Always remember, stories are means. We have to find the ends on our own.

  - Mendel Schmiedekamp


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Lisa Padol on February 12, 2006, 01:44:45 PM
If people really are associating the "second wave" of roleplaying with storytelling, that age-old human activity, surely it's because they don't have any other storytelling in their life.  If most roleplayers attended the National Storytelling Festival (http://www.storytellingcenter.com/festival/festival.htm) or similar events as often as GenCon or Origins, you'd think they'd have a much broader perspective on storytelling as an activity, since they would realize that the kinds of stories that roleplaying has traditionally engendered, as well as the ways in which these stories are told or presented, is not the be-all and end-all of storytelling.

Or Story Swap -- I think there's a group in the Boston area. I've been to at least one SCA story swap there, and at Pennsic, Enchanted Grounds is a good place to listen and to practice. Some filk circles at cons are set up to allow stories as well.

Reading's also useful. Every year, I'm reading and voting for the Mythopoeic Society's Adult Fantasy Award. Forced, I say, forced to read a list of books that are trying to tell the kinds of stories I like to read. (Well, mostly -- some are telling verry different stories, and the variation in signal is useful. That's how I read Nalo Hopkinson.)

-Lisa


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Troy_Costisick on February 12, 2006, 05:53:48 PM
Heya,

Quote
I noted that.  I still don't agree. 

I'll assume that you're interested in a dialog on this point, and proceed accordingly.

-Levi, you're in over your head, bro.  Reread what Ron wrote and think on them for a while.  A long while.  And no, he's not interested in dialogue at this point.  And I'd rather ya not reply to this particular post either.  It won't help.

-Ron, thanks for making your point clear.  I've been wanting to communicate to my gaming group for a while now why I don't enjoy the same sorts of games they do anymore.  You've helped me out a great deal.  'Preciate it.

Peace,

-Troy


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Kim on February 12, 2006, 10:44:24 PM
Early role-playing history includes a vast diversity of play-approaches and game design. Commercially, it was canalized toward specific forms of Gamist play in the late 1970s, and that effect had a big impact on role-players of approximately my age (41), and a little younger. However, especially if we (this age group) didn't participate in role-playing much between the late 1980s and late 1990s, it's hard for us to understand what happened to the new wave-fronts. The commercial canalization was absolutely overwhelming, dropping the diversity of published game design to practically none. Gamist play and its troublesome relationship with other agendas is simply not the issue that drove the values-issues in role-playing culture during that time. Yes, it's hard to buy that, because to us, "good role-playing" was predicated on nothing but how one dealt with Gamist play (yes, no, how much, in what way, etc).

Instead, starting with the college crowd in the late 1980s, hitting the next wave of high-schoolers in the early 1990s, and peaking in the middle-late 1990s, the primary issue was as I've described above, this whole "story" thing, and again, dividing and re-coalescing and agonizing over (as I say above) "just say it, the dice don't matter," vs. gutting it out with the dice and saying it anyway. Both of which ultimately rely on Force for anything resembling story to emerge.

In many ways, the older bunch, especially a specific subset of RuneQuest and Champions players, understand how stories can emerge through actual decisions and actions during play better than the younger bunch. Not that it was common back then, but at least it was a matter of groping in the dark rather than gouging out one's eyes as a starting point. (Hey, John Kim, I think this is where you and I, for all our disagreements, do connect and recognize one another.)

Ah.  Well, I don't agree with the "brain damage" metaphor -- but I agree that the early nineties was a low point in the history of published RPG design, where a lot of diversity dropped away and most new games channeled into imitations of Vampire and Shadowrun.  You can also see very clearly the rise of published adventures which are written as linear stories.  Torg and Deadlands in particular have adventures which are written as a strict sequence of specific scenes, but White Wolf has their share of them.  I'm 36 now (close to you), but I wasn't particularly absent from gaming during this time.  For example, from 1991 to 1993 I was involved with the Columbia University Games Club which had various undergrads and a few grad students.  After that I was playing more with friends rather than clubs or conventions, but I was active on the rec.games.frp.* newsgroups and so heard a lot about other people's play. 

But while I agree with some points, I still think that your original post is fucked up.  I have three objections:

1) You write from a high horse of "story" as a good thing, but in my opinion it was failed pretensions to "storytelling" that caused the whole mess.  It's exactly the games which held up a structured notion of story which were the worst cases, while the non-linear-story games held their own.  White Wolf brought in themes, flashback, and so forth as suggestions.  Torg advocated adventures with scenes structured into acts progressing towards dramatic climax.  In your conclusion, you write: "the Sorcerer rules work, but the gamer brain (well, the "story-oriented" variety) does not".  I appreciate the parenthetical comment, but by failing to explicitly recognize non-linear-story games in the rest of the posts, you are implicitly associating them. 

2) The "brain damage" metaphor implies something drastic and uncommon.  While bad RPG design is a bad influence on social relations, it's much less so than, say, television (in my opinion).  It's not like the normal state of human relations is all love, roses, excellent authorship, and good times.  Thus, citing that you've seen dysfunction in gaming groups is not proof of some extraordinary state.  People are fucked up.  When I look at, say, the local Parent-Teachers Association (i.e. the other PTA ;-), I see a seething mass of disagreements and dysfunction.  My grad student in my post-doc was regularly covered in bruises from his soccer games, which were fucking vicious. 

3) I also don't think that storytelling is particularly natural.  That is, take the average schmoe off the street, and they don't have a good appreciation of story structure.  They can't tell the difference between hopping over a fence and conflict.  They won't write good stories.  Maybe our experiences just differ here.  Story-oriented gamers may have specific blocks regarding playing narrational RPGs, but outside of RPGs I don't find them any different than the average. 


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Marco on February 13, 2006, 03:28:22 AM
Further, I find the idea of framing this difficulty as "brain damage" to be unhelpful and potentially even forming of negative habits all of it's own - Self-deprecation that doesn't lead to positive change is useless, and condescension at any level, which is a natural outgrowth of framing things in such a fashion, whether or not it's your intent, actively retards any process of growth and learning.

That's my position on it.

If nothing else, I emphatically agree with this (I have a teacher friend who is certain her students have been brain damaged by cell phones--not through radiation but by reinforcing ADD-style behaviors. Year after year her sample-group--her students--proves her conclusions!) I'll go one step more: I think the kind of storytelling that is done with something like, say, Champions, produces a fundamentally different product than other forms of traditional storytelling (and even other forms of collaberative storytelling).

I have a family of people who attend story-telling conferences and productions. Some of them game. Whatever the impact from gaming is, it hasn't prevented them from taking home prizes.

-Marco


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Matt Snyder on February 13, 2006, 09:11:34 AM
Quote
Intense, long-term tensions based on romantic partners who do not support one participant's inclusion in the group; usually accompanied by an increase of dishonesty among former friends

Ron, can you further explain this, perhaps with a concrete example? I’m not quite sure I'm getting it, and I definitely want to make certain I understand this one for my own personal experience, as you probably can guess.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 13, 2006, 09:53:03 AM
Hi Matt,

Um, since you were actually the most recent example I had in mind when I typed that, I decided not to be more specific. I guess in order to stay within the range of public decency, I have to say, "Disclose as you see fit," because you're exhibit A, if you want to be.

Heh. Public decency. Like that's any sort of standard people seem to be willing to spot me ...

Marco & John, thanks for posting here; you guys don't often drop into the lair, and actually I think we might do better in it, by and large. My responses ...

1. John, I think we fundamentally disagree about Joe Schmoe and stories. It has a lot to do with asking specific questions of people. I agree that most people aren't spontaneously going to give you Premise/Conflict, etc, but with non-jargony, basic questions, they pump'em out without a problem - even saying "of course" and other "this is obvious" signals.

However, arguing about that doesn't make sense anyway. Your #3 comment wasn't really an objection, but rather logging a difference of perspective and perception. We can see where each other is coming from, at least. We merely disagree. No rhetorical problem seems to be at fault.

I don't see your #2 comment as on point. I'm talking about a specific kind of impairment (or symptom or whatever you like). I'm not talking about a generalized unpleasantness of any kind, including any and all "meanness," but a highly characteristic profile, with very specific features. Just 'cause other human activities have their own features of ruthlessness and so on, or even that other sorts of unpleasantness might show up in role-playing, doesn't have anything to do with what I'm saying.

Regarding your #1 point, I think you're supporting my point rather than refuting it ... my point is that "story" is an awesome thing, but that so-called "storytelling" as presented/sold in the games I'm talking about has nothing to do with any such thing. In other words, yes, it was failed pretensions at storytelling that caused the problem. I'm suggesting that instead of failed pretensions at the thing, we do the thing, period. Because, in my view, that's what a lot of people came looking for.

2. Marco and Levi, as a general thing, it always puzzles me when you or anyone objects to me saying X, because it might hurt others who are not you. There's this protective thing going on in your responses, Levi, and it's shown up in posts of yours, Marco, from a few years ago, which I just don't get. "Oh, it might hurt others, the way you said it!" Really? The children? The pets? The starving masses? People who need you to protect them?

I don't see things that way. I don't consider myself powerful enough for my words to reeeeeach out and hurt people, especially some unspecified mass of them, somewhere. I really can't imagine being concerned with the impact of my points except with those who are experiencing the impact.

3. Marco, you might be overlooking the point that I'm not talking about "gamers" and "gaming," I'm talking about a very specific point-of-attraction to role-playing, and a very specific procedural-aesthetic for role-playing which betrays it. I guess also, I have no idea what you're talking about the types-of-storytelling point, or how that point goes further than some other point. So after your initial sentence agreeing with Levi, I'm not gettin' your post at all.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Web_Weaver on February 13, 2006, 09:53:39 AM
Ron,

Your primary point is I believe this. to selectively quote you.

Routine human capacity for "understanding, enjoying, and creating stories" is damaged ... by repeated "storytelling role-playing"

I have to agree this is a locical conclusion to your GNS modelling essays. I suspect you may be overstretching the usage of the model, and if you reflect on your own model this would make an interesting story premise.

My problem with the theory is that the kind of observed behaviour that best supports the theory:

- The person cannot summarize any story in simple four-point structure (conflict, rising action, climax, conclusion) - they typically hare off into philosophical or technical interpretations, or remain stuck in narrating the first ten minutes of the story in detail

Is observable in many walks of life (despite your assertion that a subset of roleplayers are somehow unique), and is expressed in many ways in our culture.

Roleplayers are just one subculture that has been encouraged to over-analyse and over complicate as a result of positive feedback from peers. Its no wonder that when asked to simply summarise a film they have difficulty, and so on this point we agree. But, I would assert that many other subcultures have the same problem the most similar being related subcultures that have no roleplaying experience but still have a version of this feedback loop (Sci-fi, horror or fantasy fans).

For instance many academics get sniffy when they here the old cliche that they lack "common sense", but often this is not merely the uneducated attempting to snipe back, they are sometimes seeing through the over intellectualised stance that academics are encouraged to take within their sub-culture on otherwise simple issues.

I would highlight as an example that breed of film reviewer who seems to have forgotten that films can be fun or silly, and still be artistically valid or even profound.

I have deliberately left my primary concern with your theory until last: Your Brain Damage metaphor is unhelpful.

There are a number of obvious reasons for this, and I am sure you consciously decided to ignore them, but making controversial statements to notch up the emotional response for the reader is best left to fiction.

Your "If someone wants to take issue ... I just shrug" is just self encouraging pre-emptive behaviour, you knew right from the start that people would take issue.

Lets try and look at the very real phenomenon you are detailing with a little dispassion. I suggest the term Mental-Block.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: LandonSuffered on February 13, 2006, 10:10:26 AM
John Kim – Your point #3 doesn’t necessarily conflict with Ron’s original post:

Quote
I'm going to start with a claim that a human being can routinely understand, enjoy, and (with some practice) create stories.

Understanding and enjoying stories doesn’t mean appreciating story structure. And most Joe Shmoe’s need some practice to begin writing stories.

Wow…great post; glad I read it!

I’d like to look at Darren Hill’s idea and expand on it: that perhaps certain people are wired in a particular fashion. Maybe there is the possibility of “damage” to developing minds, but couldn’t some minds be more susceptible to damage than others?

I’m 32 and got into Vampire/WW towards the end of high school. Previously I’d played a lot of AD&D (not 2nd edition). My prior gaming group had been drifting our games to create stories, and the WW game system seemed to me as a breakthrough at the time…saying that story was important and mattered. Plus it seemed to give validity to what was otherwise a money-suck/time-suck hobby (“you are discovering something about yourselves and characters through the telling of stories”).

But why did I get into gaming in the first place? Escapism, really. A kid with an overactive imagination and too much brain power that had friends of a similar temperament. I played some sports in school, and had friends with whom I interacted socially even before discovering RPGs. But I wanted more…I wanted to BE a character in a story (name any fantasy character you can think of), and yet I wanted to have rules and game structure, a refereed game rather than a free-for-all. I didn’t know anything about story structure, or how to create a good story, but I wanted to enjoy myself in a story with magical powers and fantastic adventures. Perhaps I should have started writing instead of gaming, but I was at an age where I still wanted to interact with peers in play, rather than the voices in my head.

Enter WW games…and I start meeting people in college that are similarly interested in telling their own stories (about themselves) and want a structured setting in which to do this. I also meet players who simply want to blow things up…that don’t give a shit about telling stories or describing character, they want a video game about werewolves and there isn’t one, so they turn to an RPG. Most players I’ve met in the last fifteen years have been this type:

-   escapists, they want to love themselves in a game(whether an RPG or video game)
-   imaginative (if they wanted a set structure they’d play a video game; they play RPGs because “anything is possible,” i.e. RPGs appear more open-ended, though defined by genre)
-   they want structure, rules, paremeters. They want a referee that officiates, keeps things “fair”

Here’s the point: these folks (including me, I am sad to say) are still “story-ish” – we want to create stories all right, but we are SELFISH storytellers. Some fall into the Typhoid Mary or Prima Donna syndromes, but even if they are not so over-the-top to “wreck the game,” their number one concern is still “what happens to me/my character,” not “what happens to the story.”

The sorcerer games I’ve read in the posts here describe a level of maturity in play that I have not found in gaming…table-top or on-line…since I was 13, playing drifted AD&D. But even in those old games, there was a lot ego attachment to characters; they were the protagonists of the story after all.

But again, to the point: what does a person with this kind of inclination do, besides gravitate to these dysfunctional “story-ish” games? I’m not so sure I was damaged in the head…I think I began with a particular type of damage and it became exacerbated with poorly constructed RPGs, and the failure to find satisfaction in gaming (c.f. the bitterest role-player in the world; ha!).

My first stories were read to me from a book by my mother while too young to read. My style of telling stories is to tell stories…me tell you. They come from my ego. They are not shared. They are not collaborative, except in only the barest way (give me some input to which I can react, so that I don’t have to do all the work myself…I want a dialogue, but I want to control the direction of the conversation).

I agree there is brain damage in most players. I think the brain damage is the reason many game in the first place. Telling stories is an art form. Telling stories with true collaboration is tricky, and requires some un-damaged brains working together. Otherwise, egos get in the way of the story and the group splits…kind of like a musical band breaking up.

One more thing: I don’t believe this topic is about self-deprecation, but about bringing to awareness an issue that prevents full enjoyment of a hobby; yet another reason behind dysfunctional play. Nothing wrong with posting to a board…it invites open discussion from the “Forge Brain Trust.”  : )


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on February 13, 2006, 10:17:35 AM
There's this protective thing going on in your responses, Levi, and it's shown up in posts of yours, Marco, from a few years ago, which I just don't get. "Oh, it might hurt others, the way you said it!" Really? The children? The pets? The starving masses? People who need you to protect them?

I don't see things that way. I don't consider myself powerful enough for my words to reeeeeach out and hurt people, especially some unspecified mass of them, somewhere. I really can't imagine being concerned with the impact of my points except with those who are experiencing the impact.

I will explain my stance on that.

It is my firm belief that every single act of communication has the potential to affect others.  It can affect them in ways that they carry on with the subject matter, and the way that they communicate with others about it.  It can flavour perceptions.  You are powerful enough that what you say can affect others in this way.  We all are; everyone is.  Every time we speak.  Every time we write.

The person communicating and the person recieving the communication share responsibility for what takes place in the act.  I don't consider myself protective.  I try to be responsible, by my own lights, and believe that it would be good if others were, too.

You don't share that view.  Given that, I don't think I have any more that I can usefully bring to this conversation.  If I'm incorrect in that, please correct me.  Otherwise, thanks for bearing with me.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Matt Snyder on February 13, 2006, 10:51:56 AM
Quote
Um, since you were actually the most recent example I had in mind when I typed that, I decided not to be more specific. I guess in order to stay within the range of public decency, I have to say, "Disclose as you see fit," because you're exhibit A, if you want to be.

Understood. Concrete example indeed!

My only comment right now is that I haven't been able to date to put that situation into context as it relates to my role-playing hobby especially well. I believe I have a solid grasp of the larger, more personal issues, but thinking of it in this new light is instructive.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Walt Freitag on February 13, 2006, 11:22:36 AM
Since this apparently isn't a debate anyway, I'm just going to post my own very different -- but not at all contradictory -- observations. My perspective: I'm half a decade older than Ron. I may very well be one of the older gamers he referred to, who avoided the damage. In any event, I believe I did avoid the damage. Or at least, that particular type of damage. I started playing D&D in my junior year of high school (early 78) and founded a role playing game club (and began my first GMing) in my freshman year in college (late 79).

At the outset, role playing and dungeon crawling were pretty much synonymous. I've posted elsewhere in defense of dungeon crawls, about how dungeon crawling is uniquely functional in ways that quickly get lost when the focus shifts to adventures built around "stories." Also, in those days, the do-it-yourself spirit concerning rule systems was still predominant (though it went from a necessity to an option with the publication of the AD&D 1e hardcovers), and was still to some degree being actively encouraged by TSR and game-accessories publishers (though that changed completely, very soon thereafter). (The DIY spirit that I'm referring to is not the "golden rule" as applied in forceful play; it's more like "agree to your own rules and stick to them.") The official modules were predominantly dungon maps that deliberately avoided linearity. Story was limited mostly to frame story (how the PCs learn about the dungeon, mostly), easy to modify or ignore. Typical play aids also included catalogs of "things to put in your dungeon" such as All The World's Monsters, Grimtooth's Traps, and articles in the Wild Hunt APA and Dragon magazine along the lines of "20 new magic potions." Also stuff that no one could figure out what it was good for, such as "dungeon geomorphs" (sheets covered with unlabeld dungeon floor plans)

What I'm building up to is this: as unbelievable as it seems, and as clueless as it might make me look -- I played D&D for a year before any notion that role playing had anything to do with stories or storytelling crossed my mind.

And when that notion did occur to me (in 79, still in high school), I remember it vividly as a flash of insight, a huge intellectual leap that none of the people I'd played with had yet made. I began imagining a story-oriented game system (which I cleverly named "Characters & Conflicts") and thought it would make me rich and famous. From all of this you might reasonably assume that I was dim. But "story" just wasn't in the role playing culture then, at least not in the tiny portion of it that I'd been exposed to. I had to reach out quite far to grasp for it, though many other people must have already been there well before that time.

In retrospect, I'm sure my gaming friends and I had an easier time finding functional story-oriented play by extrapolating the limited source material of dungeon crawling and homebrewed AD&D than later gamers had trying to sift it out of the mountain of published misinformation and rubbish. My solution was a particular no-myth technique (though I didn't have that term to call it by, of course), based on my eliciting and picking up subtle clues from the players as to how they wanted the conflicts to develop around their characters. This ran counter to most of the advice dispensed in all the how-to-play sources, the old ones as well as the newer ones. (Going against that advice didn't seem odd, though, because from my point of view I was trying to do something "different from regular role playing" -- create stories through play -- so it made sense to me that I'd need different techniques.) I never had to deal with being specifically told "here is how to create stories through play" using techniques that wouldn't actually work.

When the bad advice did start coming out, I just igonred it. "Lather, rinse, repeat" says the instructions on the shampoo bottle, but no one really "repeats," do they? Everyone knows that the "repeat" part is just a way to try to sell you twice as much shampoo -- and furthermore, if you really followed it literally, you would end up shampooing over and over again forever. So, the whole phenomenon that Ron reports -- essentially, that there were and are large numbers of people out there stuck in an endless "repeat" loop because their shampoo bottles say so -- I missed it. There were a few clues: people I've met at gaming conventions; people who signed up for my LARP events requesting Elric-clone shadowy aloof all-powerful characters and couldn't seem to understand why in a LARP, where nothing happens except social interactions between PCs, such characters would be not only inappropriate but impossible to play; crowds of role players in game stores that had nothing in common, techniques-wise, with me or my role playing friends; and later, AP accounts at the Forge. Otherwise I assumed that role playing consumers were happy doing what they were doing.

However, I did see the mass of published material as, at the very least, useless to me. I did come to the Forge and write, in one of my earliest posts: "Many GMs including me regard the content of a typical sourcebook to be more like [what should be] the output of play than what should be the input... In other words, to put it crudely (though not as crudely as I'm tempted to): publishers are selling us waste product and telling us it's fuel."

I wasn't being completely honest about the "...selling us..." part, because I never bought the stuff myself. But in the cruder words I didn't choose to use then, I said they're publishing shit and telling us it's food. I originally meant this specifically in the context of my own particular techniques and theories of play. As far as I knew, masses of other players out there could be thriving on the stuff. But Ron is now standing up and saying, essentially, that shit is shit, period, and a steady diet of shit not only has undesirable effects on the hobby -- which he's been saying for years now -- but undesirable real-world effects as well. Effects that he has observed first-hand. That merits serious consideration.

"Brain damage?" Inflammatory rhetorical noise. To me brain damage is something you can see on a CAT scan. (My twin brother's problems, which can easily be seen on a CAT scan image from across the room, have less to do with story proficiency and more to do with counting to 20, reading at a first grade level, and keeping his balance while walking.) Something appears to be going on that I might call cognitive maladaptation (though that may be too imprecise a term for a bio prof). However, the null hypothesis must also be considered: what evidence is there that the problem isn't a pre-existing condition that the role playing hobby selects for?

- Walt


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Supplanter on February 13, 2006, 12:03:20 PM
Ron, if I read you right, you're explicitly disclaiming the idea that most non-gamers can make good stories untrained, which some people seem to read you as saying. Your claim is narrower - that you can prompt stories out of them in a way that you can't do with "broken nar" gamers, right? IOW, if you ask certain questions in order about a book, play or even anecdote, their responses will fill out the four-act structure of motivated, thematic action we call story, right? And that in your experience, broken nar gamers can't do this, even with prompting? Ask them to "re-tell" Die Hard (a fave of yours, IIRC) or Lord of the Rings or What I Did at the Beach - or what happened in their most recent campaign, and they can't retell it in "story shape," as briefly defined *passim*?

Thanks,


Jim


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Calithena on February 13, 2006, 12:06:47 PM
Um, guys? The question about how many people can just naturally tell stories, 'get' story structure, have stories elicited from them, etc. is an empirical question. Ron's experience is that the basics are pretty commonly graspable; others have divergent experiences. Is Ron too optimistic about his students' learning abilities? Are John, Marco, and Levi too exposed to people who just can't do it, or demanding too high a level of ability to count such people as 'competent'? Are some or all of those people working with too limited or skewed a sample? Who knows? We can't settle that on a messageboard by talking, alas.

The question about whether mental blocks are brain damage is a very complicated question bringing in questions from biology, psychology, philosophy, and probably other disciplines. Again, no amount of arguing is going to settle it here, because even though there are members of all three academic professions on the Forge, we're not going to settle the brain-mind question to everyone's satisfaction on an RPG board. It may not be settled during any of our lifetimes, in fact. So we're left with the question: does Ron's rhetorical choice succeed by shocking people into seeing what's going on, or fail by alienating and pissing off people who otherwise would have got something useful out of what he was saying? And how much does it matter what some imaginary neutral audience would derive from the words anyway? (Levi, I guess you've already answered that for you, and that's cool - I'm more with Ron though.Still this does point to the fundamental ambiguity between public pronouncements and private conversation that makes internet message board conversation difficult in certain ways.)

So with all the stuff we can't argue about usefully stripped away, what's left? When you think about mainstream RPG production in terms of playstyle, there have been two big waves so far. The first wave was the late seventies wave with AD&D1, where Gygax, in conjuction with the Blumes and Schick and the tournament scene in general, decided to use their considerable share of the industry to focus D&D, TSR, and thereby a certain amount of play more generally around (a) a consistent ruleset and (b) gamist play in general. If you were a certain kind of gamist you were served OK by this, otherwise you were screwed; if like me you were part of the earlier, more incoherent/free-wheeling/locally CA-adapted D&D scene, you read Gygax's new Dragon editorials with bitter tears as the man you looked up to as the creator of your game started telling you you were playing it wrong. But that's all a long time ago now and peripheral to Ron's main point here.

The second wave, as Ron identifies correctly in my view, begins with certain applications of AD&D1 (Dragonlance) and Champions and got heavily enshrined in a lot of AD&D2 and Vampire/White Wolf games (and on through the history John Kim talks about in his last post) - this is the 'storytelling' style that he's talking about. Surely there are some people who enjoy playing this way and some people who play this way but don't get the 'brain damage', they just assume 'that's what roleplaying is', maybe they're friends with the GM and like being pawns in his story every week or two while they do their own thing at other times, I don't know.  That's another claim that we can't really assess because it's big and empirical, other than to say that we all know that there are people and games out there like Ron's talking about, even if we may know some who aren't too.  

But whatever. It seems undeniable there's a big something (call it 'Narrativism', 'story', whatever) that a lot of people want, that these games claim to provide, and that they then betray through the procedures of play they encourage and support.

I know I'd rather not play at all than play in one of those games. That's what I did in grad school: the local game groups were playing extremely railroaded, follow-the-GM's-story Ars Magica and Vampire and Werewolf and Champions; I tried to sit in on a half-dozen sessions but couldn't take it, I didn't have time to GM, the AD&D guys were OK but just doing their monster-bashing thing, so I said fuck it and went and played chess for five years instead.

So anyway, Ron seems to me to have both the problem and the history of the problem right. If you don't like the way he expresses it, OK, I don't always like the way he expresses things either. I learned to PM him to ask what he means in such cases. Maybe he's exaggerating the empirical scope of the problem too, though I know for a fucking fact that what he's talking about is not extremely rare in the current gaming population, and that it didn't just come out of the blue, it has causes, which I think he's right about both at the level of psychology (biological or otherwise) and game publishing history. Does anyone want to dispute that? Because that's the only thing it seems to me we have a prayer of settling in this thread one way or the other; the rest of it requires social science that none of us really have the time or funding to conduct properly.

Oh, and here's a follow up question: assuming Ron's even partly right, what do you do about it? My call: make games that really satisfy that 'story itch' and don't help train people to the behaviors Ron identifies. Which, come to think of it, there are a certain number of people doing right here on the Forge, though there are certainly others to be found elsewhere as well. Hmmm......


P.S. Walt, though my precise history varies in certain ways, my path to story in RPGs in the late seventies/early eighties was astonishingly like yours in general. I think Ron's right that there were especially large percentages of Runequest and Champions players who got functional narrativism early on without especially supporting mechanics (though a nod to Champions disads is due, that was a big breakthrough even if the implementation varied in quality), relative to other games, but if you look to people like the early Alarums & Excursions contributors in the broader D&D/FRP community of the mid-late seventies, you see other people making the leap very early on too. In some ways the shift to AD&D1 effectively marginalized this, but that's the last war, so I'll leave it be....


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 13, 2006, 12:49:02 PM
Wow - any thread that elicits a one-two from John and Marco, then a one-two-three from Walt, Jim, and Sean ... that's a thread indeed.

Let me see, I'll focus on what I think are the outstanding direct questions rather than musing or clarification or (in recent posts) considered reactions.

1. Levi - that's an interesting viewpoint. I don't share it, and from my viewpoint, you're perhaps over-invested in pleasing everyone at once, but each to his own. My only comment about my own viewpoint is that you should not slot me into the absolute-opposite case which entirely dismisses the importance of communication. My focus, however, is on the two-way street of direct communication, ideally within a reflective, participatory community, not on a blanket broadcast to them-out-there with "effects" like a gas.

2. Jim, you got it. Yes, that describes my point. I also think that the story-features which can be easily elicited from people are exactly the same things which excite and interest them about the story in the first place, before the dialogue. I'll send you a PM with more info about all that, to avoid various potential threadjacking.

3. Sean, what do you do about it? Well, presuming that a person wants to do something about it (definitely not an obligation), he or she develops games which operate on different starting principles, which facilitate getting the story-issues into direct interaction among one another, without some kind of expectation that they "just happen" by themselves. He (let's say he) plays a bezillion games in good faith that they work, thus discovering what makes them not work (for his purposes) when they don't. He fosters a community of dialogue and constant feedback about the issues, using actual-play as the touchstone. He encourages this community to value individual vision and critical reflection when designing, and to reap commercial rewards from a creator-owned viewpoint.

That's what I did, anyway, with others' help, notably Clinton's. I also recognized that my own preferred aesthetic priority (Creative Agenda) wasn't the only fish in the cioppino, so tried to make it as clear as possible that knowing one's agenda was a good idea too.

4. Walt, "inflammatory rhetorical noise" ... I'll give you inflammatory, in that it seems to have inflamed people, although I suppose no one will ever believe me that I could have come up with lots worse, equally applicable, and chose not to. I still think it's diagnostic but will be happy to acknowledge that the term simply doesn't mean the same thing to you.

Rhetorical? H'mmm, as you know, that just means "toward the argument," really, but I think you are using it in the sense of "word trick over content." I don't think so. I'll tell you why: because the terms like dysfunction and dissatisfaction are not being processed, in the community, as they should. Chris Chinn pointed out that he's been talking about dysfunction and dissatisfaction for a long time, and just not getting it across that it's really Not Good, rather than a nice comfortable relativistic haze of who drives on the right and who drives on the left.

Noise? Good question, but I'm optimistic that it's not, in the extreme long term. I'm accustomed to my ideas (well, some of them) undergoing the classic progression from "Oh my God! Heresy! Outrage!" to "Confusing debate full of red herrings and other topics entirely" to "Dissection, application, excitement, re-tooling" and finally to "Everyone knows that." This one might be like that. Or maybe it'll disappear in all the fireworks at the outset, who knows. That's what ideas are like, you can never tell. Bit early to be calling it noise at this point, I think.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on February 13, 2006, 02:19:58 PM
Hm.  Seems there is still stuff I can put contribute, here.

1. Levi - that's an interesting viewpoint. I don't share it, and from my viewpoint, you're perhaps over-invested in pleasing everyone at once, but each to his own.

*Snort*

I'm interested in doing my share, and being sure I've done it.

Once I'm certain that I have honestly done my share towards communicating well (certainty on this takes a bit for me, granted), anyone that's still displeased can go fuck themselves.  But making sure I've done my share comes first, assuming I'm thinking clearly at the time.

My only comment about my own viewpoint is that you should not slot me into the absolute-opposite case which entirely dismisses the importance of communication. My focus, however, is on the two-way street of direct communication, ideally within a reflective, participatory community, not on a blanket broadcast to them-out-there with "effects" like a gas.

So noted; that fits your tone and statements to date, and remains a valid mode.

"Dissection, application, excitement, re-tooling"

I think there's enough real grist in what you've said here (though I think the whole phrasing needs to go) to merit at least a full dissection; I suspect that there may actually be more things going on here, each a distinct and very different part of the total disconnect many of us face, or have faced, when attempting to collaboratively build a satisfying story by means of a roleplaying game.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Kim on February 13, 2006, 02:28:54 PM
I don't see your #2 comment as on point. I'm talking about a specific kind of impairment (or symptom or whatever you like). I'm not talking about a generalized unpleasantness of any kind, including any and all "meanness," but a highly characteristic profile, with very specific features. Just 'cause other human activities have their own features of ruthlessness and so on, or even that other sorts of unpleasantness might show up in role-playing, doesn't have anything to do with what I'm saying.

Well, let me get to the heart of it.  So the "story-oriented" subset of role-players have a problem playing Sorcerer.  So what?  Is there anything here which isn't just faulting them for not loving and buying your game?  To call them "damaged", you have to show me something more serious than that they don't like GNS categories or for that matter any sort of in-game behavior.  What they do in their game is irrelevant. 

Frankly, the "damaged" conceit is hardly new.  For years I've seen occaisional stereotypes of role-players as dysfunctional and/or insane, usually because they don't fit some small-minded bigot's definition of "normal".  However, every time there is a real psychological study, they usually find something much more prosaic -- like "role-players watch less TV than average" or "online role-players are shy".  Is there an objective, real-life measure according to which you think they are suffering?  You can describe their patterns of play all day, but frankly none of that matters.  People get their kicks in an enormous variety of ways -- many of which are a lot more objectively harmful and dangerous than what you describe.  

In short, if you still want to hold up the argument that they are damaged, you have to drop all the irrelevant shit about how they play their games, and show something real. 


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Bankuei on February 13, 2006, 02:47:47 PM
Hi John,

Are you saying that the various social dysfunctions listed under Details are merely a matter of preference and not real concerns?

Chris


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Kim on February 13, 2006, 03:19:22 PM
Are you saying that the various social dysfunctions listed under Details are merely a matter of preference and not real concerns?

Well, yes, in case it isn't obvious.  I guess to be clear about it, I can list them out:

Consumerism and subcultural identification

Why shouldn't they buy regularly from one company?  How is this any different from other patterns of consumerism in our culture: like buying shoes or music?  This is simply brand loyalty. 

Cronyism and isolation

This topic has the potential for genuine dysfunction in patterns, but the claimed dysfunction based on the common and false ideal that more socializing is always better.  Ron suggests "Social huddling as opposed to social endeavor or friendship" -- which is not dysfunction.  Social patterns vary.  Some people are genuinely hermit-like, with few friends and an isolated social circle.  There is nothing objectively wrong with this. 

"Story-oriented" without story

This is all description of play techniques, which again I assert that there is no such thing as an objectively wrong play technique.  For example, in his list, Ron cites: "No situation or conflict yielding Premise, therefore no developing of Premise through fictional events"  Again, so what?  This isn't dysfunction -- this is simply failing to fall in line with his definition of Narrativist play. 

Co-dependency and reinforcement of emotional dynamics which aren't rewarding

Again, this is describing in-game behavior, which I don't accept as a judgement of "damaged".  I might not like the behaviors described, but then again, I don't like the social atmosphere of the bar scene either.  There are an awful lot of social contexts where in my opinion people act like jerks -- including a great many sports events, bars, nightclubs, etc. 

Disconnection between what is done and what is produced

Again, more description of play, like what the mechanical experience system is, or how they talk about the games.  For example: "Inability to reflect meaningfully on the experience, including resisting discussing actual play in any accurate or critical fashion"  Is there some medical imperative that talking meaningfully about the games you play is needed for proper health?  If not, then this is irrelevant.  Once again, I assert here that it doesn't matter what they do for fun.  If it doesn't negatively impact their lives outside of the games they play, then I assert that it isn't damage. 


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Valamir on February 13, 2006, 03:33:32 PM
"Story-oriented" without story

This is all description of play techniques, which again I assert that there is no such thing as an objectively wrong play technique.  For example, in his list, Ron cites: "No situation or conflict yielding Premise, therefore no developing of Premise through fictional events"  Again, so what?  This isn't dysfunction -- this is simply failing to fall in line with his definition of Narrativist play. 


John, did you perhaps neglect to read this part: 

Quote from:  "Ron Edwards"
... keeping in mind that I'm talking about the specific Creative Agenda of Narrativism, in its most abstract form (i.e. not talking for the moment at all about Techniques).

So ummm...yeah...he IS talking about those who fail to fall in line with Narrativist play...beeeeecause thats what this thread is all about.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Supplanter on February 13, 2006, 04:03:38 PM

So ummm...yeah...he IS talking about those who fail to fall in line with Narrativist play...beeeeecause thats what this thread is all about.


Hi Ralph: He's actually saying much more than "there are people who fail to fall in line with Narrativist play," though. He's saying that "broken nar play" (aka WW-school 'story-oriented' gaming) impairs not only people's ability to engage in functional narrativist roleplaying but to apperceive, internalize and do useful work with the concept of Story in the world beyond roleplaying. Since Ron finds Story to be biologically "functional" for humans ("Man is a featherless, storytelling biped" is how the old formulation has it), he's essentially claiming that broken-nar roleplay fucks up your life, in whatever small degree, as well as your leisure time. (Ron this seems a fair gloss on parts of our conversation - let me know if I've gone wrong here.)

That's a big claim.

Best,


Jim


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Kim on February 13, 2006, 04:13:26 PM
John, did you perhaps neglect to read this part: 

Quote from: Ron Edwards
... keeping in mind that I'm talking about the specific Creative Agenda of Narrativism, in its most abstract form (i.e. not talking for the moment at all about Techniques).

So ummm...yeah...he IS talking about those who fail to fall in line with Narrativist play...beeeeecause thats what this thread is all about.

Actually, I'm not sure we have a substantial disagreement here.  Valamir, you seem to be agreeing that the only "damage" here is not liking a small subset of published RPGs.  I'm saying it is a dumb analogy to say that people who don't like X type of play are "brain damaged".  I don't care whether that's medieval fantasy RPGs, sci-fi RPGs, Gamist RPGs, Illusionist RPGs, or whatever.  

Note that Bankuei, at least, claims that traditional story-oriented role-players really do have damaged abilities outside of a role-playing context.  Specifically, that such role-players would tell the story of a movie they just saw in a worse manner than someone who hadn't been exposed to role-playing.  I'm willing to consider that, but I haven't noticed it myself.  I'm skeptical -- but this might come down to different experience.  For example, I have limited experience with the White Wolf crowd (mostly through MET larp which might be different than the tabletop scene), and almost none with Torg or Deadlands.  Maybe there is an effect here.  I certainly despise linear story-telling games, and wouldn't be hugely surprised at adverse effects.  However, even given an effect, I'd have to weigh that against the alternate explanation that the people who play those games without major drift have poor understanding of story on average.  (i.e. Rather than creating people with poor storytelling, they select people with poor storytelling.)  


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Walt Freitag on February 13, 2006, 04:29:39 PM
Actually, Ralph and Marco, I've been focusing more on this, from the Big Picture post:

A brief list of the specific features, or telltales, of the damaged story-capacity.

- The person cannot distinguish between "hopping over a fence" and conflict, between "this guy meets that guy" and a decisive plot event, or between "dramatic close-up" and character decision-making

- The person cannot summarize any story in simple four-point structure (conflict, rising action, climax, conclusion) - they typically hare off into philosophical or technical interpretations, or remain stuck in narrating the first ten minutes of the story in detail

- The person will devote many hours (and can talk for many hours) to commenting on the details of the story's presentation, either feverishly supportive or feverishly dismissive, but entirely uncritically

Most people I have worked with about these issues, which includes hundreds and perhaps a couple thousand in different capacities (classrooms, etc, never mind role-playing), pick up these skills within minutes of basic instruction and a little discussion. Absolutely consistently, class after class, year after year, the subgroup which offers the consistent exception is the gamers. They flounder terribly for weeks, and some just never get it.

(Emphasis added) Now, maybe I've been reading too much into this myself, because it's not absolutely clear when Ron is referring to role playing activities and when to other (especially classroom) activities. I thought what I was reading is this:

1. Some individuals exhibit diminished story capacity that, in addition to affecting those individuals ability to grasp certain role playing systems, also affects their performance of tasks not directly related to role playing, such as, perhaps, summarizing the plot of a movie in a coherent paragraph. (The implication, though not clearly stated as I read it, is that school tasks such as, perhaps, essay writing are thereby affected as well.)

2. Those individuals for which #1 is observed are predominantly gamers.

3, The hypothesis, based on these observations, is that certain habits associated with certain types of role playing gaming has caused, via some more or less permanent changes in the person's thought processes that Ron chooses to describe as "brain damage," the diminished story capacity.

Ron, am I wrong about #1? Have I misread? Or am I correct, and Marco has missed this point?

- Walt


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on February 13, 2006, 04:32:40 PM
(i.e. Rather than creating people with poor storytelling, they select people with poor storytelling.)

I believe that both can occur, though I maintain my argument that these are habits as opposed to damage of any sort.

There are people that are, in my opinion, naturally talented at collaborative story-making that entered gaming through White Wolf, playing tabletop, because they wanted specifically the experience of making collaborative stories.  These people played.  And many of them were (and some are) dissatisfied with the 'story quality' of the games.  But because they were 'creating stories together', they persisted.

Looking back - prompted by this whole debate - I can recall sitting down to play Once Upon A Time with a few of them (a game I love and love to show around, and have even tried my hand at imitating in a different way), and some of them had narratives that came out completely flat.  Others didn't.  Those creating 'flat' narrative often had the lights go on after a few games, and played on, engaging fully and making up stories with the rest of us that flowed just dandy.

There was something happening there, something I *don't* interpret as damage but *do* interpret as needing to set aside a significant number of habits that were supposed to apply, but didn't.  

My interpretation may be off.  But there it is.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 13, 2006, 05:11:17 PM
So Clinton was lambasting me via private message, and he wrote, in sort of an exasperated final-point part:

Quote
How about: "White Wolf games, and their spiritual children, produce behaviors in the people who play them that are not only socially dysfunctional, but downright harmful to people's ability to just tell a simple story."

He then added that on reflection he considered this statement more inflammatory.

I wrote back:

Quote
Huh. I thought that's what I did say.

... and got permission to post it publicly.

I can quibble/clarify just a little, to point out that I think White Wolf games of the early-mid 1990s were the high-water mark of the damaging trend, not the originator. And that I'd say "enjoy and/or tell," not just "tell." And to repeat (again) that I'm talking about playing these games with dedicated Narrativist goals, however unarticulated, not just "playing" them in any-old way. After all, in 1992, if your goal was to get into that goth chick's pants, playing Vampire was probably a pretty good way to do it.

So now I guess Clinton and I are on the same page after all. Boink!

Best,
Ron

P.S. Walt, you nailed it, with the exception of the "permanent" part. Never said that, actually strongly implied and support the opposite.
P.P.S. Levi, gotcha. Good to know you have an internal boundary about extending yourself. Brave man ... I follow those RPG.net threads with interest. Also, it appears we have hit a meaningful zone of overlapping interpretation of what's going on out there.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Marco on February 13, 2006, 05:33:21 PM

1. Some individuals exhibit diminished story capacity that, in addition to affecting those individuals ability to grasp certain role playing systems, also affects their performance of tasks not directly related to role playing, such as, perhaps, summarizing the plot of a movie in a coherent paragraph. (The implication, though not clearly stated as I read it, is that school tasks such as, perhaps, essay writing are thereby affected as well.)

- Walt

I understand that the suggestion being made here is that association with RPGs has damaged the person's ability to understand (or perhaps convey) or create a narrative in a certain structure. Sure: my friend thinks cell phones cause ADD. It's all there too: the hypothesis, the test sample, the control sample (her friends), the conclusion. Heck, it's a scientific study!

Except it's not.

I've read a bunch of narrative papers done by first-year college English sudents. I've read fictional narrativies in Creative Writing 101. I see all the tell-tales Ron listed across a vast spectrum of people most of whom I am sure have never gamed. Even if the phenomena is occurring (White Wolf players as a group are 'narrative-damaged')** then I submit it is a *classic* case of mistaking correllation for cause. I would hope Ron of all people would think to employ the scientific method before handing out psuedo-medical diagnoses.

And more directly to Ron: I'm not protecting other people. I'd prefer less role-play vs. roll-play in the dialog and "White Wolf causes brain damage" isn't getting me there. This is just more poorly-guided ammunition for people to use to be jerks with.

-Marco
* I could explain my champions comment--but there's no good forum here for it. However, while I'm in the Adept forum, I should probably work up a post explaining how the GM and I did telekinesis for my Sorcerer character. Man, that came out expensive--if there's another way, I want to see it!
** I played GURPS V:tM--am I at risk?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Kim on February 13, 2006, 06:11:48 PM
OK, so putting these qualifiers together, I understand Ron's statement to be:

"A number of RPGs, starting in the eighties and peaking with White Wolf games in the nineties, if played with the specific intent of addressing Narrativist premise, produce behaviors in the people who play them that are not only socially dysfunctional, but downright harmful to people's ability to just enjoy and/or tell a simple story."

Is that correct?  

At this point, the claimed trend is narrow enough that I easily could have missed it myself.  When I played White Wolf games, it was mainly to get into goth chicks' pants.  (And it succeeded -- I played with my now-wife Liz. :-)  Seriously, there was a lot of competitiveness, power fantasy, and flirting.  Pretty low on the Narrativist intent, I think.  That seemed pretty common for White Wolf games.  My most common mainstream games during the period were the Hero System and GURPS, along with lots of smaller systems like Ars Magica, Theatrix, CORPS, and others.  So this allows the possibility of difference in experience, though like Marco I'm still skeptical about the claim.  

Actually, wouldn't a good test case be comparison to freeform fiction online communities?  There are many groups which have virtually no knowledge of tabletop systems and wouldn't use them in any case, but instead "role-play" by posting alternating fiction snippets with loose guidelines.  If the published system were really a negative influence, then these communities would be markedly more socially functional and better at storytelling than groups playing White Wolf games.  I have limited experience, but my impression is that this isn't true.  If so, that would imply that the published system is not at fault, but at most failed to improve the natural behavior of people as collaborative storytellers. 


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on February 13, 2006, 07:24:00 PM
Also, it appears we have hit a meaningful zone of overlapping interpretation of what's going on out there.

Yep.  And if you can think of a way to proceed, and continue this discussion, I'm interested.  However, I'm not willing to step into or give credence to the "brain damage" terminology here, and that makes it a bit of a pain in the ass to try and go further on exploring that; I don't expect you to change terms here to suit me.

If I can find a venue and a means of discussion where I think we *can* look further at that overlap without this problem, I'll let you know, assuming you'd be interested in continuing this discussion with me elsewhere.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 14, 2006, 01:04:36 AM
Are you saying that the various social dysfunctions listed under Details are merely a matter of preference and not real concerns?

Well, yes, in case it isn't obvious.  I guess to be clear about it, I can list them out:

Consumerism and subcultural identification

Why shouldn't they buy regularly from one company?  How is this any different from other patterns of consumerism in our culture: like buying shoes or music?  This is simply brand loyalty. 

Cronyism and isolation

This topic has the potential for genuine dysfunction in patterns, but the claimed dysfunction based on the common and false ideal that more socializing is always better.  Ron suggests "Social huddling as opposed to social endeavor or friendship" -- which is not dysfunction.  Social patterns vary.  Some people are genuinely hermit-like, with few friends and an isolated social circle.  There is nothing objectively wrong with this. 

"Story-oriented" without story

This is all description of play techniques, which again I assert that there is no such thing as an objectively wrong play technique.  For example, in his list, Ron cites: "No situation or conflict yielding Premise, therefore no developing of Premise through fictional events"  Again, so what?  This isn't dysfunction -- this is simply failing to fall in line with his definition of Narrativist play. 

Co-dependency and reinforcement of emotional dynamics which aren't rewarding

Again, this is describing in-game behavior, which I don't accept as a judgement of "damaged".  I might not like the behaviors described, but then again, I don't like the social atmosphere of the bar scene either.  There are an awful lot of social contexts where in my opinion people act like jerks -- including a great many sports events, bars, nightclubs, etc. 

Disconnection between what is done and what is produced

Again, more description of play, like what the mechanical experience system is, or how they talk about the games.  For example: "Inability to reflect meaningfully on the experience, including resisting discussing actual play in any accurate or critical fashion"  Is there some medical imperative that talking meaningfully about the games you play is needed for proper health?  If not, then this is irrelevant.  Once again, I assert here that it doesn't matter what they do for fun.  If it doesn't negatively impact their lives outside of the games they play, then I assert that it isn't damage. 

Well said.

As I see it there is now three different claims in this tread:

- "Those who fail to fall in line with Narrativist play" are brain damaged because of this failure. That is stupid.

- The same people are not only damaged in respect to narrativist play, but in their general ability to relate to stories. This is only wild speculation with as many observations for as against.

- The people playing WW style games got damaged only if they had a narrativist intent. In my experience this would make the number of damaged people insignificant, as I haven't met a single WW roleplayer playing with narrativist intent, as put by GNS. Talking about "story" and "storytelling" is not the same as narrativism. I have played lots of games, some of them from WW, many of them with focus on story, but none with narrativist intent (until some forge games in more recent years).


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 14, 2006, 02:55:21 AM
By "narrativist intent" I mean intending to have stuff like "conflict yielding Premise" and "development of Premise through fictional events". These are *not* required for something to be a story, and therefore not required for storytelling.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Walt Freitag on February 14, 2006, 06:59:01 AM
Walt, you nailed it, with the exception of the "permanent" part. Never said that, actually strongly implied and support the opposite.

Actually the phrase I used was "more or less permanent" and I chose it with some care. Yes, you've asserted that repair and/or recovery are possible, with serious qualifications ("some cases," "remarkable" =/= complete):

Quote from: Ron Edwards
And recovery or reparability of functions/behaviors is, in some cases, remarkable compared to the extent of the initial impairment.

The same points also apply to psychological (i.e. associations, responses, habits) phenomena as well as morphological (i.e. injury with sharp or blunt objects).
All of which is a fancy way to say this: nowhere above did I say irreparable brain damage. In fact, rather the opposite.

However:

Quote from: Ron Edwards
[In reference to the analogy of child sexual abuse - WF] The person's mind has been damaged while it was forming, and it takes a hell of a lot of re-orientation even for functional repairs (which is not the same as undoing the damage).

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Note that I consider all of this [Indie Narrativist games] explosion to be equivalent to the martial arts stuff performed by the man with only two limbs.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I call it "damage," and I mean it. People are story-creatures. The characteristic loss of the capacity I see across almost all story-ish role-players, especially those of a certain age range, is like seeing a bunch of people with physical objects sticking out of their punctured skulls. Some of them, presented with alternative (or more accurately, functionally-prosthetic) procedures, say "oh!", extract the damaging material, and move on...

In light of "functional repairs are not the same as undoing the damage" and missing limbs + prosthetics being clearly not the same as, say, regrowing the limbs, you don’t appear to be stating that adopting "functionally-prosthetic" procedures represents truly repairing the damage. Quite the contrary.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
[In reference to story-impaired individuals whom you've ‘worked with’] They flounder terribly for weeks, and some just never get it.

The ones who never get it after weeks of what is very likely the most expert 'treatment' available today... how not permanent?

Quote from: Ron Edwards
As some of you know, I am now embarked on an ambitious project based on the idea that we "have limbs" after all, and wondering what the principles underlying the bevy of fantastic new RPGs (and RPG-ish things) would be like, expressed by and for people without the damage. I consider this utter terra incognita, culturally, creatively, and commercially. It cannot and will not have any kind of relevance for gamer culture or commerce. As a survivor of the damage, I may fail miserably. But this topic is not relevant to the present point.

If the damage threatens to cause your endeavor to fail, how is it not permanent, at least so far?

(The possibility of eventual future repair by as yet unknown means is not, to my mind, sufficient to contradict "permanent" -- otherwise the word would never apply to anything.)

Because of the importance of this topic, I'm trying extra hard to make sure you're presenting yourself as intellectually honest as possible here. So far you seem to be claiming "I said repairable" while still at least strongly implying "not fully repairable" in all your examples and analogies. If you're not willing to accept my suggested compromise "more or less permanent," then how about "persistent unless repaired, with more or less permanent post-repair residual effects?" (Though I don't think that quite lives up to the "we've all got missing limbs" imagery.) Or "sometimes repairable, with probable scarring."

Still unaddressed, and perhaps worth discussing, are the prospects of other possible avenues of repair, including gradual healing over time, especially after giving up participation in the consumer-gamer culture.

- Walt


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Bankuei on February 14, 2006, 08:50:07 AM
Hi,

It's interesting that apparently everyone sees the loss of story cognition as the primary type of damage, and not the instillment of socially dysfunctional behavior.  While I believe that story comprehension is a key feature of humans, I suspect it's the social behavior that is at root, and the loss is a side effect.

How so?  Well, in normal dysfunctional situations, people focus on the "rare good times" and words of the other people to rationalize the situation.  "But he loves me!"  In roleplaying, it seems that aside from the rare good times of protagonization and/or fun, that the main thing being used to keep people from recognizing the elephant in the room- is the imaginary content.  If you're training yourself to use imaginary content as a shield against the real emotional situation in front of you, for hours at a time, on a regular basis, I suspect the comprehension of imaginary content (yours or others) would get distorted.

These folks are able to talk for hours on end about nothing really because they have become expert in maintaining an internal dialogue of rationalization- they need to keep up the ability to rationalize to themselves, and they need to be able to repeat it for long periods of time.

Regardless of whether you consider this issue life-affecting, the other social dysfunctions are maladaptations which are guaranteed to teach you nothing good except by how not to do things.  Non-communication, passive aggressive antics, using power/fear with people you consider friends or family, shutting yourself off from your own emotions, developing the ability to rationalize to oneself on a regular basis, these are things I can't possibly imagine being things we can dismiss in a haze of personal relativism.

This particular style of gaming is akin to taking the social methods of gangs, of pimps, of cults, and importing it directly into your play.  I speak from experience here, and ask others to consider dysfunctional behaviors they've seen in their lives and mirroring of social behaviors.

If this were just a "few folks" or "at random", we could chalk it up to the fact that everywhere in the world there's problems.  It's the fact that the social behaviors are encouraged in print, and as the default play- that is specifically why I listed the extreme, but accurate examples above- it is a system of dysfunction- it consistantly produces these results, with lots of different people.

I don't care what kind of damage you choose to call that, but that's clearly fucked up.

Chris


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ian Charvill on February 14, 2006, 08:56:18 AM
Ron,

There's part of me that would like to rail against the brain-damaged thing, to beat my chest and champion the underdog.

But I think a lot of people have a damaged relationship to art.  Because money's more important to them, like with a lot of Hollywood-level stuff.  Or because propaganda's more important to them.  I guess Hollywood again, a lot of left-wing theatre writers.  The later Pinter stuff, the I-Hate-America period stuff.  I couldn't take myself seriously if I pretended roleplayers were exempt, and it's plausible they'd have their own kinds of damage.

So I'd just be reacting to the word choice.

What I'm interested in is what techniques you see as the prostheses.  You've mentioned protagonism but what else?  How deeply are the prostheses embedded in things: are there whole games that were necessary to getting over things, but are just going to be looked back on of historical interest?  Or are you thinking more on the level of parts of games?  Baggage, I guess.

And also, do you think the damage has influenced the formation of the 'big model'.  Are the elements of the 'big model' that wouldn't need to be there if you were formulating it for non-roleplayers?  I'm thinking, for example, of the centrality of Egri, to the definition of narrativism.  Is Egri a prosthesis that was helpful to you, or is Egri healthy tissue?

Sincerely,
Ian


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Supplanter on February 14, 2006, 09:24:41 AM
I'm not sure what isn't topic drift or threadjacking for this conversation. Ron?

Best,


Jim


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 14, 2006, 10:00:47 AM
I'm letting it all burble for a while. At least while I talk myself out of splitting some posts out into their own thread, with the new title "Blithering idiots." Kind of like the village stocks, as pointed out to me by one person I mentioned it to.

Um, direct questions so far ... oh! And if anyone has asked a direct question and I didn't answer yet, as of the end of this post, remind me. That's pretty much how I decided to participate.

Levi, working on the implied direct question of "can we find common ground regarding terminology," here's my question for you that might help solidify it further. Taking my example of the (say) pre-teen person who experiences sexual contact with an adult, and with any luck having you agree that this person's sexual/romantic development has been functionally interfered with ... do you call this damage? If so, does that mean that you think the person cannot recover from it, perhaps with help?

See, I do call that person's experience "damage," and I don't think the term disrespects them - in fact, I think it speaks to the seriousness of their situation. And I really don't think the term is belied or contradicted by then proceeding to talk about recovery, healing, and similar, which I do think is possible. I'm not asking you to adopt the terminology, but I'd like to know your answers to the questions. Perhaps you can find terminology that at least we can agree is talking about the same thing.

And all of that is an awesome setup for Walt's questions. I hope I can clarify what I'm saying so the intellectual honesty of my point can be perceived. It's easy for me to see the missing piece, because I've already presented it to others. Andy did a really good job of paraphrasing a phone conversation I had with him about it; you can read it in the Story-Games thread (http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=146&page=1#Item_0) which spun out of this thread.

The way I see it is this - with any luck, a fair number of us are amputees who have really refined and even, perhaps beautifully compensated, to the extent where our (working with the analogy) martial arts are fuckin' great. Quite likely surpassing the abilities of many people with limbs (stick with the analogy), quite likely in the high ranks of people with limbs who do martial arts. Like I said, not "oh look, 'special' martial arts."

I say that with some pride. See that whole point about Situation that Andy is making (extending from our talk)? That's what a Kicker is; I brought that into explicit game design; you're welcome. This thread began with that pride, and it is reinforced by admiration as well. I'll point to, say, My Life with Master, and openly call it a thing of beauty.

Now, and here's what I was talking about with Andy as well as others over the last few weeks, it's as if a number of us are looking down at our bodies and saying ... hey! There's my lower leg! It was strapped to the back of my thigh the whole time! I never even thought about it!

So Walt, you're right - half the time, above, I'm talking about functional recovery in terms of compensation, and half the time I'm talking about "regrowing" type recovery. That might be a big deal for some of my points. Because at this time, my position is that theoretically regrowth is possible, but the only thing we know (and it's a recent insight) is that compensation is possible. It's also an important point in terms of game design itself, especially in dealing with the usual conundrums of commerce outside of the subculture/finances labeled "gaming."

On the other hand, it might not be such a big deal after all in terms of "who we are," as I consider that guy in the martial arts demonstration to be my colleague, and if he (this was a decade ago, I didn't know his name) were to be a guest at the school I attend, he would be welcome and valuable, as classmate or guest instructor. Or the guy walking down the street with that modern prosthetic, do the old terms like "crippled" or even "handicapped" apply? No - he's walking down the street, case closed. With that in mind, it seems to me as if either solution to damage ("regrowth" or compensation of some kind) makes a whole human being, and seems laudable, fun, desirable, whatever, either way.

Best,
Ron



Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: jburneko on February 14, 2006, 10:41:27 AM
Hello Ron,

I was having a little trouble seeing how Sorcerer and Dogs in the Vineyard and My Life with Master were prosthetics and not games for whole people until I read Andy's summary in that link you provided above.  If I understand: you're saying those games make doing the backwards thing of creating Characters *first* managable because they all have mechanisms for immediate hook-up to an appropriate Situation.   The Kicker in Sorcerer or the fact that Dogs and My Life with Master are basically front-loaded Situation to begin with.

Jesse


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on February 14, 2006, 10:48:30 AM
Levi, working on the implied direct question of "can we find common ground regarding terminology," here's my question for you that might help solidify it further. Taking my example of the (say) pre-teen person who experiences sexual contact with an adult, and with any luck having you agree that this person's sexual/romantic development has been functionally interfered with ... do you call this damage? If so, does that mean that you think the person cannot recover from it, perhaps with help?

See, I do call that person's experience "damage," and I don't think the term disrespects them - in fact, I think it speaks to the seriousness of their situation. And I really don't think the term is belied or contradicted by then proceeding to talk about recovery, healing, and similar, which I do think is possible. I'm not asking you to adopt the terminology, but I'd like to know your answers to the questions. Perhaps you can find terminology that at least we can agree is talking about the same thing.

Certainly, I would say that the person whose functional sexual development has been interefered with in such a manner has, in fact, taken damage.  I agree that recover is possible, for them, though I suspect they will likely carry some degree of 'scarring', if you will.  And even further, I agree this isn't directly insulting - I'd personally aim to phrase it with greater sympathy, but that's neither here nor there in this discussion.

But I don't agree that the example applies here.

Damage, to me, means that something is gone. That something has been lost. And I don't think that's the case here at all.  I think something has been built up, accreted.

I'll use my own metaphor (this is taken from the story-games discussion as well).

This is largely about me. I suspect it's also about other gamers that want story from their games, too.

I think that gamers that are in the habit of aiming for and attempting to get "story" from their games, especially including me, have this big chunk of habit we carry around in our heads related to that. Big chunks of habit aren't bad of themselves, by any stretch - I mean, potty-training is a block of habits, too, and it's served me very well. This particular chunk of stuff is composed of things that do work, and often things that don't work, and workarounds for the things that don't.

Now, let me mention that bit again, because I think it's important. I think there are often things that don't work in that block of habit, and workarounds for them. I think the things that don't work are there because we've been sold on them, and sold ourselves on them, and then had to work around them - again, we have a spot of overlap there, where people are being sold on things that don't actually serve them.

Now, we can put away those habits, open up, and just naturally tell stories. Some of us don't, of course, just as some fan-ficcers choose to see the real stories they fic about through the lens of that fiction. This doesn't mean that we can't.

We can try to filter down through that block of habit, and rebuild it. That's hard; it's not impossible at all, but it takes a lot of slogging.

We can ignore the block entirely, and play something else - deliberately leaving the whole mass off to one side. If what we play actually turns out to generate stories in roleplaying, without involving that block of habit, the habits rapidly start to break apart; finishing the job may still be hard, but starting is easy.  Again, yes, I've brought that chunk of stuff into story-making attempts that have nothing to do with it, tried to apply it, and come out with something lame.  But just because I've done that in no way means I must - I can, and do, put those habits away when enjoying and creating fiction outside roleplaying, and they are breaking apart as I play games that actually do naturally produce story through play.

Habits aren't damage.  You can argue that some of these habits are canalized, referencing back to potty-training, and might thus qualify in actuality, but I haven't seen that at all in my experience.  Putting the habits down is easy.  Realizing that in order to produce fulfilling story from roleplaying, you may need to put them down, that's harder.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Roger on February 14, 2006, 11:01:11 AM
There hasn't been a lot of attention directed to the basic premise of this line of thought.

I'm going to start with a claim that a human being can routinely understand, enjoy, and (with some practice) create stories.

That seems plausible enough.  However, from their, Ron takes further steps in the direction of:

Quote from: Ron Edwards
People are story-creatures.

And right there is about when I start to have objections.

To get back to the missing-limb analogies, I'm going to use the metaphor of dancing.

* A human being can routinely understand and enjoy dancing.

Sure, I'll agree with that.

* People are dancing-creatures.

Not so sure I agree with that.

* People who don't enjoy dancing are fundamentally damaged, like paraplegics.

I don't agree with that at all, though it's a perfectly valid conclusion from the premise "People are dancing-creatures."  If one accepts that people are dancing-creatures, then something which is not a dancing-creature is therefore not a person.  Airtight logic.

And there are people, generally dancers, who genuinely believe this.  They are unable to imagine there are people who are perfectly whole and healthy and yet who don't like to dance.  It's literally beyond their comprehension.

I could have drawn this metaphor from any of the classic arts.  I know people who don't like music.  I don't mean they don't like particular genres of music -- I mean they don't like any sort of music at all.  Pick an artform and you'll find people who don't care for it.

I would suggest to Ron that there are people out there who just are not terribly interested in stories.  They are not story-creatures.  They can understand them, but they don't happen to find it particularly rewarding on a personal level.  I'm not surprised that Ron and many others here find that an unbelievable, almost heretical, idea, but there it is.

It's inaccurate to think of these people who might not like dancing or music or stories as flawed, damaged, mistrained, or otherwise less-than-human.  That's not to say such damaged people don't exist.  There are people who don't like dancing because their legs were blown off, or who don't like music because they're deaf.  But it's a mistake to lump them all into the same category.

I suspect statements like "people are story-creatures" are largely articles of faith, and as such, people will either believe them or not, all evidence notwithstanding.  If you happen to believe it, carry on.  If you happen not to, arguing against the conclusions of that premise will not be fruitful.


Cheers,
Roger


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Kim on February 14, 2006, 11:14:31 AM
Regardless of whether you consider this issue life-affecting, the other social dysfunctions are maladaptations which are guaranteed to teach you nothing good except by how not to do things.  Non-communication, passive aggressive antics, using power/fear with people you consider friends or family, shutting yourself off from your own emotions, developing the ability to rationalize to oneself on a regular basis, these are things I can't possibly imagine being things we can dismiss in a haze of personal relativism.

This particular style of gaming is akin to taking the social methods of gangs, of pimps, of cults, and importing it directly into your play.  I speak from experience here, and ask others to consider dysfunctional behaviors they've seen in their lives and mirroring of social behaviors.

The problem with cults isn't what happens during prayer meetings.  The problem with cults is that they take over and fuck up your whole life.  If someone goes to a lodge meeting every weekend doing weird shit with his Elk brothers, but functions fine in his normal life, then it's an eccentricity -- not a dangerous cult.  The lodge-brothers may have all sorts of similarities to a real cult, but that doesn't mean that what they do can be characterized as objective "damage".  

Now, again, I'm willing to believe that real damage is done by these folks, and I'd like to hear about it.  But if we are talking about "damage" and not "games which aren't as fun as they sound during play" -- then I'd like to hear about the real stuff.  That people act in normally-frowned-on ways during the games isn't proof of damage.  For example, passive-aggressive antics are definitional to S&M.  It's a part of the activity.  Shutting off emotions is also common to many activities, where open shows of emotion are frowned on -- like chess, perhaps.  

Again, I'm not denying that there is bad stuff which goes on, but the approach is doing little to show it -- and is throwing around a lot of irrelevant junk.  In particular, a lot of this sounds exactly the same as the arguments which I've heard made against RPGs in general over the years. 

As for Ron's suggested "cure" of Sorcerer and My Life With Master.  Well, hmmmm.  I'm speaking as someone who has played fun, functional games for most of his life...  So, I guess I can buy that these games function as "cures" to the specific ill caused by a dysfunctional story-oriented games -- with my noted skepticism about the damage.  Do you suppose that after being "cured" by these, they can move on to other functional games not intended as cures like Ars Magica, James Bond 007, and Champions?  Or is the talk of cure a veiled way of claiming that these games are objectively better?  


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Supplanter on February 14, 2006, 11:45:10 AM
One thing to note is that successful group story-creation is problematic across media. It's a common rule in Hollywood that the more names on a screenplay, the worse it will suck. There are exceptions (Spider-Man 2, frex), but they are exceptions. The rule is so well understood that there are studios that hide the number of people working on a script - a friend of mine got only cryptic credit for her contribution to a Star Trek: NG episode she cowrote because Paramount forbade three names on the teleplay.

Television is notorious for everyone involved in the production wanting to flavor the soup with the savor of their pee, leading, until recently, to an almost universally debased quality of Story. Even this year has been, for me, spent in mourning at the swift decline in quality of Battlestar Galactica, which a mere half-season ago was gripping and fresh and has rapidly sunk back to "mere television."

In the other (non-rpg) arts, group story creation is more the exception than the rule. The best stories tend to be the products of a single creative vision. Good movies get made, and movies are inherently collaborative, but many more bad ones come through the same process. It's not surprising that when a generation of RPG designers decided they wanted to ensure "good stories" that their first thought was they needed to concentrate esthetic power in a single participant.

Best,


Jim


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: talysman on February 14, 2006, 12:40:37 PM
I agree that there's a problem out there, but I don't agree with this analysis of it.

I think a lot of it is just Ron and his "crazy talk", as he confesses may be the case. He's really gung-ho about a specific kind of narrativism and is really peeved that there are people who would like his brand of narrativism but are too afraid/lazy to try another system or gaming group to experience that kind of play, preferring instead to stick with a style of play that only frustrates them. As a result of his righteousness, he really believes that there is literal brain damage (a concerned belief, rather than an insulting one) behind this laziness/fear. To prove this is real damage and not just a bad decision on some people's parts, he runs through a list of various bad behaviors without really showing a link between, say, bad social behaviors and problems creating or analyzing stories. Of course, all those social defects can be found outside of roleplaying contexts; if they are really and truly caused by AD&D2e or Vampire: The Masquerade, I'm wondering why mental health care professionals haven't mentioned this and caused a media shitstorm.

So, cutting out all the righteous stuff, let's focus on the real problem: people who say they are looking for stories chose to play in GM-controlled storylines and are obviously frustrated by this choice, but don't take steps to find more enjoyable play. Ron's theory, then, is that playing the wrong kind of RPG changes people so that they become (temporarily?) unable to play a game that would really be fun for them (whether this is "damage" or "habit" is another issue; you have to accept that it changes them at all, first, before you can move on to whether it is habit or damage.)

As proof that these people are changed, Ron points to some of these people being unable to creat an abstratcion of a given storyline; when asked what a given story is, they either recount all the story events or list mere color elements without any concept of how the story moves from one plot point to the next.

But I'm inclined to agree with John Kim that malformed "storytelling" games don't cause this kind of behavior, they select for it. In fact, I will go one better: I think these kinds of story-damaged people already existed in the "dungeon-crawl" style rpg scene, and when some people got bitten by the same bug Walt describes and tried to make a storytelling game, the only way they could achieve a story was by having the GM create the story and railroad the players, because most playgroups had these story-damaged people in them already. AD&D2e isn't the cause, it's the symptom; frustrated people who wanted to tell stories couldn't do so collaboratively or with "Story Now" methods, because some of their players just couldn't grasp that kind of play. And, since the people designing these storytelling games knew that those problem players weren't a problem when playing a dungeon crawl, they didn't feel like kicking those players out of the group. In fact, they figured it must not be a problem with those players at all, but with collaborative approaches to story. The only thing that worked was treating each scene of a story as a room in a dungeon and plotting the whole story out the same way you would map a dungeon, because that made the story's structure concrete rather than abstract.

So, from that point of view, some people may have developed a bad habit of playing the only kind of game their abstraction-inhibited colleagues could play. They continue to play these kinds of games, even though it frustrates them because the story is fixed; they rationalize their frustration as "I guess I really like GMing more than playing a character" and continue to play because "obviously, there can only be one GM, and I'll get my turn eventually". Ron, even though you may be very attached to your idea of games causing brain damage, I'm sure you may agree that there may be cases where the broken storytelling game is a crude fix for a problem, rather than the cause.

I have my own differing ideas on how to fix this problem, but that's another matter entirely.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: lumpley on February 14, 2006, 01:12:41 PM
Man, a lot of people are all going on about this without ever just asking.

Hey Ron, how come you think that the games in question are causing the problem in question, not selecting for the problem in question or correlating with it in some other way? What is it that indicates causation?

-Vincent


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 14, 2006, 01:30:02 PM
My personal and subjective experience:

I myself have never taken "storytelling" as more than a sales pitch, and never heard these players even wishing for the stuff you do on the Forge (the result, not the systems). The praises have been more about "cooler setting", "emphasis on different kinds of situations" and "there are even girls playing it". Otherwise an ordinary rpg. This do not mean that some or even a lot of them would not like the narrativist experience better, but I doubt this experience was ever the intent when opening for example Vampire.

My question to Ron: How did you come to the conclussion that most players of "storytelling games" strive/strived for narrativism?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Rustin on February 14, 2006, 01:42:38 PM
It would help me if someone (not necessarily Ron) would review this (short) summary of the  reasoning and analysis  (http://www.lawnerds.com/guide/irac.html) going on in this thread.

Issue:
Does White Wolf style role-playing stunt one's ability to use other gaming systems designed to produce true narrative stories?

Rule
A person will be stunted if they participate in experiences they do not realize are inappropriate or harmful. 

Analysis
White wolf rules are inappropriate and harmful because they mis-represent what true storytelling is.

White wolf players are stunted because they constantly mis-interpret other gaming systems and then rationalize to compensate for the lack of White Wolf elements.

Conclusion
Therefore, yes, White wolf style role-playing stunts one's ability to grasp true narrativist style rpgs.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on February 14, 2006, 01:42:42 PM
My personal and subjective experience:

My own personal and subjective experience varies.  I know a *lot* of people that specifically got, bought, and played Vampire and other games specifically in order to create stories together.  I was one of them.  My experiences in those games and with those people are the basis of my own take on all this.

(Okay, I did spend a lot of time trying to get into the pants of hot goth chicks, as well.)


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Supplanter on February 14, 2006, 01:47:29 PM
Man, a lot of people are all going on about this without ever just asking.

So? Ron's as free to respond to counterclaims and implicit questions as explicit ones.

Best,


Jim


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Kim on February 14, 2006, 01:49:25 PM
But I'm inclined to agree with John Kim that malformed "storytelling" games don't cause this kind of behavior, they select for it. In fact, I will go one better: I think these kinds of story-damaged people already existed in the "dungeon-crawl" style rpg scene, and when some people got bitten by the same bug Walt describes and tried to make a storytelling game, the only way they could achieve a story was by having the GM create the story and railroad the players, because most playgroups had these story-damaged people in them already. AD&D2e isn't the cause, it's the symptom; frustrated people who wanted to tell stories couldn't do so collaboratively or with "Story Now" methods, because some of their players just couldn't grasp that kind of play.

Minor correction: I offered that as an alternate possibility -- not as something which I necessarily believe is true.  To distinguish between these two, one needs some sort of data.  I don't think I've got enough base of experience or observation on this particular sort of dysfunctional gamer to distinguish.  

Offhand, I don't think that dungeon-crawls select for the story-damaged.  Dungeon-crawling was fairly mainstream particularly at the height of the D&D craze in the late seventies, and there were lots of studies of the profile.  I was a dungeon-crawler in my early-to-mid teens ('83-'87).  I had a pretty fair grasp of story for someone that age, I think.  I think the average person and the average dungeon-crawler are both fairly capable of grasping play with a system like Dogs in the Vineyard.  It's not that tough.  I allow that there may be some specific type of dysfunctional story-oriented gamer who can't grasp it, but I retain my skepticism.  

Thinking back, I think of the Dramatist-leaning folk on rgfa, for example.  That was mid-nineties, close to the heyday that Ron talks about.  People like Kevin Hardwick, Bruce Baugh, Robert Barrett, and David Berkman were the most outspoken for drama.  I thought they all had a pretty good grasp of story structure.  (Well, er, I had a lot of issues with David Berkman's view of story -- but he was at least in line with typical Hollywood screenwriters.  I supposed you could make a case that the typical Hollywood screenwriter is "story-damaged", but I don't think that's what people are talking about.)  


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Wormwood on February 14, 2006, 02:00:43 PM
I'll put this as succinctly as I can:

How do we know whether or not games like Sorcerer produce a like form of damage, especially on people who were unexposed to "storytelling" games?


   - Mendel S.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Rustin on February 14, 2006, 02:19:34 PM
Quote
How do we know whether or not games like Sorcerer produce a like form of damage,

What evidence of subsequent misapplication of rules by Sorcerer players do we have?
The test for damage or stunting seems to be the inability to correctly read and apply other gaming systems.
Have we witnessed a Sorcerer player just totally not getting PTA, Polaris etc... and then rationalizing, saying that these games are missing something because it is not doing what Sorcerer has taught them?



Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 14, 2006, 02:20:08 PM
I'll put this as succinctly as I can:

How do we know whether or not games like Sorcerer produce a like form of damage, especially on people who were unexposed to "storytelling" games?


   - Mendel S.

Or a completely different form of damage, that makes them unable to appreciate concept X?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: talysman on February 14, 2006, 02:20:34 PM
Offhand, I don't think that dungeon-crawls select for the story-damaged.

Nor do I. I stated that story-damaged people were always a part of roleplaying, including the golden years of dungeon-crawling, and that when the urge to create storytelling games arose, only broken (Illusionist) designs were possible, because story-damaged people couldn't grasp collaborative approaches. These Illusionist designs may select for the story-damaged among new players, however.

To be absolutely clear about dungeon-crawling: I think it's a story-neutral style of play. In my experience, stories could arise naturally out of dungeon crawling by reacting to color details of items, monsters and events in the dungeon. A certain portion of any description of an element in a classic dungeon was essentially a "plot hook without a plot"; if a player chose to react to that plot hook, it created a story. If no players chose to react to any plot hooks, it was just a gamist tactical exercise.

I think what may have happened is that a number of people who are attracted to imagination and fantasy but have stunted powers of abstraction were drawn to dungeon-crawling as a way to partake of fantasy without the frustration of being unable to comprehend the story. I don't know how common these people may have been, but they may have been common enough to create the difficulties I described when their non-story-damaged comrades tried to introduce storytelling. So far as I can tell, no one, not even Ron, is saying there was anything wrong with dungeon crawling, except maybe that the techniques then in use weren't as sophisticated as they could be.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 14, 2006, 02:29:51 PM
Boy, are you guys babblin'.

I'm taking the evening off for Valentine's. Tomorrow I'll comb over some threads and seek out questions that interest me.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 14, 2006, 02:33:41 PM
The test for damage or stunting seems to be the inability to correctly read and apply other gaming systems.
...
and then rationalizing, saying that these games are missing something because it is not doing what Sorcerer has taught them?


How do we separete the inabilty of a person to "correctly read and apply" a game system from a game system inherently incompatibility to that person?

How do we distinguish between a rationalising person and a game system that are really missing something when applied to that person?

Is the inability to like and/or understand narrative rpg:s any weirder than the inability to like beer, football or computer games?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Walt Freitag on February 14, 2006, 02:45:06 PM
Ron, thanks for addressing the repairability issue. Clearly it's too complex to sum up in a simple phrase as I tried to do. But I'm glad you had a chance to explain it in depth. After all, these issues -- efforts at repair, continued improving of 'prostheses,' rediscovering' the missing limb, and so forth -- is where these ideas, right or wrong, must go to seek practical applications.

Let me second Vincent (and others subsequent) and ask again, as I tried to bring up before, the question of evidence for causation as opposed to selection.

I also have a comment applicable to the comments made in several posts a few pages ago, to the effect that only those who played the games in question (WW games, in particular) with overt Narrativist intent would be affected and that that group would be a narrow slice of the whole. Overt Narrativist intent is not required for dysfunctional Narrativism, any more than an overt intent to fly is required for you to fall if you go and jump off a cliff.

If you have the expectation of story-like outcome (overtly promised in the game books), the expectation of focus on thematically weighty concepts (overtly spelled out in the game rules, e.g. the Humanity stat and the feeding rules in Vampire), and the inevitable deprotagonization resulting from the prescribed play techniques, then you're going to get dysfunctional Narrativism no matter what your intent was going in. You might not have such expectations if, for example, other group members tell you "ignore all that stuff, the important thing is to raise your Generation to get more powers," or you don't read the game book at all. But I find it hard to believe that only a narrow slice approached these games expecting what the books promised on their covers.

- Walt


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 14, 2006, 03:28:54 PM
...then you're going to get dysfunctional Narrativism no matter what your intent was going in.

If you analyse the game by forge theory you might come to that conclussion, but I belive that theory to be flawed or at least biased. I certainly do not buy the "not having fun for real" part. I hate dungeon crawling, but I'm sure people who like it are really having fun while playing them. I find My Life With Master to be one of the most pointless games I have ever encountered, but I do not belive those who like it to be brain damaged. You can certainly get into a habit of less than optimally fun roleplaying, but I maintan that it is mostly a difference in taste.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: jeffd on February 14, 2006, 03:38:40 PM
I'll engage in my annual delurk to throw some comments out there:

Jonas I don't think that the distinction between "a person can't correctly read and apply the rules to Sorcerer" and "Sorcerer is simply not compatible with this person" really exists.  A person might not like Sorcerer, sure, but that doesn't mean that they can't understand how it works.  Yet it seems that there's this subset of roleplayers who take a game like Sorcerer and simply can't help but try to mush and mold it around until it's more like their favorite bloodsucker simulator.  

Look, at the end of the day there isn't structurally that much difference between a game like Sorcerer and games like Monopoly or Candyland.  I mean obviously they're different but they're all game systems: they provide a set of rules which you follow.  You don't see people engaged in big misunderstandings over how Monopoly works, do ya?  I've never seen anyone try to collect 2 benjamins for crossing Go in Scrabble, have you?  

Now we can argue that maybe the reason people don't grok a game like Sorcerer - the reason they misapply and seek to fit it into the structure previous storytelling RPGs have given them - is that Sorcerer is just poorly written.  But again, the distinction you're talking about hasn't come into play; it's just that Sorcerer is a crappily written game (and to be clear I don't think that's the case at all; Sorcerer and it's supplements are some of my all-time favorite roleplaying texts </suckup>).  

JD


How do we separete the inabilty of a person to "correctly read and apply" a game system from a game system inherently incompatibility to that person?

How do we distinguish between a rationalising person and a game system that are really missing something when applied to that person?

Is the inability to like and/or understand narrative rpg:s any weirder than the inability to like beer, football or computer games?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Rustin on February 14, 2006, 03:44:09 PM
Jonas-

Sounds like you are interested in looking into Causality.
Is Causality really critical to the issue/hypothesis Ron has offered? Would it matter if the remedy is the same? (writing instructions that account for the audience).

The issue isn't whether one likes or understands, but whether one can execute the rules of a nar-strong game.  I may not like Football, but after reading the instructions on how to play I don't suddenly stop in the middle of a rushing play and try to dribble the ball (because I grew up playing Basket ball) and then say, "Football is stupid because when I try to dribble the ball it just goes any old direction."


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 14, 2006, 04:02:13 PM
Jeffd:

Are they really *unable* to play the game as written or are they *unwilling* to do so because they are *unable* to get the fun otherwise? I have met many persons who are very unwilling to play any type of game without introducing their own changes to it because they think it gets better that way. Is this evidence of brain damage?

A real life example: The board game "Twilight Imperium 3e" introduced a drastic and unconventional scoring mechanism. About half the fan base found it to be a complete disaster and removed it after only a few games. They were then happy with the game. The fans of the game as written to this day insist that it is an important part of the game you should not play without. Everyone was able to understand and play the game as written, but some were unable to have fun playing it that way. They changed it to suit them better. This may be because their expectations about how a game should work, but in no case would I call that brain damage. How does the failure to appreciate (not the same as understand) Sorcerer count as brain damage? Trying to "mush and mold" a game is not the same as not understanding it.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Gregor Hutton on February 14, 2006, 04:43:34 PM
OK, some folks want an example, so I'll make an exhibition of myself.

Here is a page (http://www.gregorhutton.com/roleplaying/neworleans.html) that dates from 1999 about a Vampire game run by my good friend Barry, though the game strained our relationship somewhat -- indeed that improved measurably when we stopped gaming together as much. I found these e-mails again years later and put them online as a reminder of where we had gone. A reminder not to go back.

Barry was a fantastic roleplayer, really one of the best when I first met him in the early 90s, and such an imaginative guy. But, y'know, we had been playing Vampire for most of the 1990s and look what our games had become... what a fucking train wreck.

Warning: it's ugly, stunted, dysfunctional play and incoherent.

And we were selective: we had the smartest, most imaginative guys in our peer group. And look what the fuck we did to ourselves. Week after week we went back for more! Madness! And you can see we thought of ourselves as telling stories.

It's worth noting that Andy in the mails was pretty smart too. He pretty much gave up roleplaying after that. We chewed ourselves up and spat ourselves out when we could have been having, y'know, fun! In some ways moving to Edinburgh and gaming less got me away from this stuff. Gave me a chance to think.

Choice quotes:
-----
i can't say the party helps that much either, we're all pulling in different directions, but the story (what there is of it is completely unengaging)

Tony's managed to bug out as he has exams ... looks like i'll have to go back to school...

Actually, he's threatening to kill my character off, if only :-) I might have to speed up my move to Edinburgh to get out of this one :)

-----
As to story, well ... we didn't have a clue either. We kept running into NPCs who all had their own agendas, and who weren't for letting us in on anything. At no time did I get an overall sense of what was going on
-----
Hmmm, i'm sure his Warharnmer FRP years ago had more character-centred action, maybe he should get back to his roots? Where things happened involving us rather than around us.
-----

Heh, I'm not proud of it. But it happened and I was there. To me that is an observed, documented case of exactly what Ron is talking about.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: xenopulse on February 14, 2006, 05:00:26 PM
Thanks for sharing, Gregor. That's really a useful example.

Now, Ron has commented on Chris' blog that Chris was talking about the same stuff, in his own words. And here, thanks to an example, we can see the connection. The following is Chris' Fun Now Manifesto:

1. Not everyone likes the same thing
2. Play with people you like
3. Play with rules you like
4. Everyone is a player
5. Talking is good
6. Trust, not fear or power
7. It's a game, not a marriage
8. Fun stuff at least every 10 minutes
9. Fix problems, don't endure them

Now look at Gregor's example and count the number of things that went wrong. It seems to me that numbers 4 and 6 were particularly violated, but several of the others seem to have been issues as well.

How much of that is due to the Storyteller system of Vampire? I'd say quite a bit. A system that encourages the GM to railroad players in the name of "story" already promotes violation of points 4 and 6.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 14, 2006, 11:31:43 PM
A system that encourages the GM to railroad players in the name of "story"... 

Does it? Please give me some quotes as I do not own any of the Masquerade books. Even better some quotes from the new Requiem books as I get the impression that WW games is till seen as being damaging.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Kim on February 15, 2006, 12:36:59 AM
Here is a page (http://www.gregorhutton.com/roleplaying/neworleans.html) that dates from 1999 about a Vampire game run by my good friend Barry, though the game strained our relationship somewhat -- indeed that improved measurably when we stopped gaming together as much. I found these e-mails again years later and put them online as a reminder of where we had gone. A reminder not to go back.

Interesting reading.  The part that struck me most was that there was "not one humble NPC in the entire game".  And in general, NPCs being often all-powerful and all-knowing, as well as united.  That seems to me to be an very common trait with dysfunctional games that I've seen. 

How do you match the specific markers that were described, though?  Did you find yourselves unable to appreciate or analyze story?  From the emails, it seems that that you were willing to discuss actual play.  Or were these the rare exception?  Did you make consistent impulsive and submissive purchasing habits at specific stores? 

General traits like "Vampire sucks" aren't very useful -- I'd like to know the details. 


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: joshua neff on February 15, 2006, 04:33:06 AM
A system that encourages the GM to railroad players in the name of "story"... 

Does it? Please give me some quotes as I do not own any of the Masquerade books. Even better some quotes from the new Requiem books as I get the impression that WW games is till seen as being damaging.

Well, I sold all of my White Wolf books, so I can't provide you with some direct quotes. Nor, really, do I think anyone needs to. I read the books, played the games, and you can either trust us that the games do, in fact, textually direct the GM to "create a story" (including coming up with theme, mood, a title) for the players to be directed through or you can not believe us. Since this isn't "The JonasB Show," no one is under any obligation to prove squat to you, though, so demanding quotes from the text is absurd. Go find some copies of the game yourself and read them.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 15, 2006, 05:27:37 AM
Calm down, I didn't demand anything, just asking in what I percieved to be a polite way. English is not my native language so it may very well have sounded different than I intended. But I still find it weird that you expect me myself to find textual support for someone elses claim. Thats not how it uses to be...

I guess this is just not the forum for me then...


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 15, 2006, 06:29:53 AM
I don't accept your claim to the intellectual high ground, Jonas. You entered the discussion with a wave of condemnation - of the "worst crap you've ever read," in fact.

You also seem to be under the impression that convincing you otherwise is a priority of mine, or anyone else's. It's not.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: JonasB on February 15, 2006, 07:16:58 AM
I do admit that I was entering with condemnation, and not polite in any way at all.  That may even be considerad very bad of me but it was a reaction to the condemnation of certain types of play in your initial post.

That fact do not mean that I "demanded" anything.

But let it stop here. That is fine for me.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Supplanter on February 15, 2006, 07:19:14 AM
After my initial disappointment, I eventually realized that Ron was right to close the theory threads and insist that all discussion be grounded in Actual Play. This thread is, IMHO, only confirming the wisdom of that decision. Aside from the nascent exchange between John Kim and Gregor Hutton about Gregor's old game, this whole thread is taking place in a realm of airy, unproductive generalities.

Best,


Jim


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Peter Nordstrand on February 15, 2006, 08:13:00 AM
Jim is right.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 15, 2006, 09:05:05 AM
Referring to a large amount of this thread, yes, I agree with you, Jim and Peter. It's very clear that a number of people think that I value "take on all comers" undergraduate debate, and posted initially essentially for attention and to dance in a mosh-pit of conflicting arguments and posturing. Their posts have certainly provoked my contempt, but that's all.

However, a variety of good questions have been raised, or requests for clarifications. I got to most of them, but not all. I'll keep posting to this thread to complete that process.

Patience, though, people. I move slowly.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Supplanter on February 15, 2006, 11:49:39 AM
Well, I wasn't just talking about your critics . . . :)

Regardless, you said at the beginning to take any debate/criticisms to another forum, so I've tried to restrict my participation in the thread largely to making sure I understood what you were saying. I'll probably post my demurrals on 20x20 at some point. This is your space and you were just meeting a specific request in an earlier thread to explain yourself, and you did.

Best,


Jim


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Gregor Hutton on February 15, 2006, 01:29:20 PM
I'd like to know the details.

Sure, John. I think this is on topic. So... (and this could be long)

...in general, NPCs being often all-powerful and all-knowing, as well as united...
This became more and more common in the games we played in. I think it was a way of the ST keeping a control of their story, really. And the NPCs literally were the ST -- they were his characters, in his world, the extension of the person behind them, him. His chronicle.

A whole power/ego struggle was going on in the group. Grasping players, iron-fisted GMs, playing favourites, politicking behind the scenes, butting egos, conflicting desires, the works. It started off innocently enough, you're charitable in the beginning after all, because it's new territory -- a new way of doing things. But after years and years of un-enjoyment and wasting ~30% of your evenings in a week playing this stuff, you just throw your hands up in the air. Well, I did. It helped that I left town. It forced my hand.

How do you match the specific markers that were described, though?  Did you find yourselves unable to appreciate or analyze story?  From the emails, it seems that that you were willing to discuss actual play.  Or were these the rare exception?  Did you make consistent impulsive and submissive purchasing habits at specific stores?

I found myself increasingly challenged at seeing a story, never mind fruitfully participate in one with the Vampire groups. I had one out though. I gamed with a different group and we moseyed along playing Cthulhu, Conspiracy X and a few other things. Those games weren't great, but at least they weren't riddled with excessive dysfunction. That game me some perspective on the Vampire games (only after many years though). But more than anything, I would have still played Vampire in a heartbeat because it should have been better. It had potential, after all we were the best roleplayers, right? Great stuff should be easy...

And as for analysis. Sure, we bitched. Classic break-up/make-up, but not doing anything about the root causes. Those e-mails were an exception. Something in print, to two guys who no longer gamed with the group, but knew everyone involved. Andy had started to realise he wanted what these games couldn't give him (after like 8 or 9 years), and was moving into writing. (Something he's had to work at very hard since.) Martin had always kept enough distance from the very core of the group, physically and (I think I'm being honest here) emotionally, too. He never got to deep into all the stuff going on. Knew when to get out.

The "Ron" game we refer to was actually a World of Darkness Dark Ages game, but in name only. Ron, who ran the game, hooked us by saying we could all play Vampires or Mages or whatever. But he never read the rulebooks or even cared for them. He was doing his PhD in Literature and had a good handle on stories. Ron let us tell him what our powers/spells/whatever could do if there was some debate over it, and he ran with it. So we did the system, and he made us take part in a story. It was like fresh air.

OK, here are the markers Ron put up and then I'll push the buttons on Chris' list, too.

Consumerism and subcultural identification... all of those markers (in spades) ... e.g. owning walls and walls of books... "fun eventually" at the expense of fun now
We all had an unhealthy number of books. I bought pretty much every 1st and 2nd edn WOD book up until I moved to Edinburgh (1999).  A pal just used to pile them up on the counter for me, since he was increasingly aware of what new was out. We once bought two copies each of the slipcase version of a WOD book, in case the other couldn't get one from the shops before they ran out. Stoopid. I have a copy of "Three Pillars" still perfectly shrink-wrapped. I stopped buying habitually when I moved to Edinburgh..

Cronyism and isolation ...
We were all friends going in and some of us are still friends now, but at a distance. It definitely forced wedges and stresses at points though. We even played through one guy's tragic disintegrating relationship with a girl who didn't support his participation in the group (at their house) -- a real train wreck. We became used to seeing new posters going up on the walls every few weeks  to cover the marks she used to make. Throwing cups at him after we left. Fucked up for sure. An increase of dishonesty among former friends? Sure. In spades.

"Story-oriented" without story ...
The protagonists were NPCs who acted "off screen". We saw the ripples in the pond or discovered their trail like dusting a relic as Andy said.

Co-dependency and reinforcement of emotional dynamics which aren't rewarding
We ripped up character sheets, argued, politicked, had power-struggles, socially poisonous dynamics, the works.

Disconnection between what is done and what is produced...
We used to tape actual play but I don't think anyone reflected on it. It was maybe listened back to for taking notes on what NPCs had said, or for reminding the GM for what things he'd told us. Certainly no critical analysis for improvement. I totally see the "play is its own reward" thing. I doubted that play was awesome (God! I had played and run better games 10 years before at school) but we all sat on our hands when it came to being open, honest and critical about changing it. Here the phrase "...focusing on rare and fleeting instances of shared imagination as evidence" rings true. Fuck. What a waste. Sure, there were highs, but we could have been that most of the time, y'know?

General traits like "Vampire sucks" aren't very useful --
The sad and true part is we all liked the game so very, very much and the colour. The fucking colour.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Gregor Hutton on February 15, 2006, 01:39:54 PM
And Chris' list..

1. Not everyone likes the same thing
2. Play with people you like
3. Play with rules you like
4. Everyone is a player
5. Talking is good
6. Trust, not fear or power
7. It's a game, not a marriage
8. Fun stuff at least every 10 minutes
9. Fix problems, don't endure them

I think 1 and 2 weren't a problem for us. We matched pretty well there.

3 was a strange one. The rules worked and most of us didn't mind them too much. Back in the eraly days they were contentious because new game lines kept shifting the goalposts. Once that setlled down they were OK for resolving tasks, but not conflicts or stories.

4 was a problem. 5 wasn't a problem but became one, how do you approach a dialogue when every starts throwing up barriers and arguing. I've sent learnt to give directed feedback at source, with examples, (through training for work) and it really has opened up doors to better dialogue, for me anyway. 6 was one of the first to go and stayed gone.

7 is one we could have used. Y'know, let's stop this and play something else. This just isn't working. (I'd say that is true of marriage too, though. If it's not working then, well, y'know. Let's call the whole thing off.)

9 and 10 were problems. Not enough fun stuff, unless you were currying favour with the ST. And we never did anything about fixing it. Ever. We never fixed it. I walked away, and pretty much so did everyone else.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Bill Cook on February 15, 2006, 03:27:07 PM
Quote from: Gregor Hutton
.. We even played through one guy's tragic disintegrating relationship with a girl who didn't support his participation in the group (at their house) -- a real train wreck. We became used to seeing new posters going up on the walls every few weeks  to cover the marks she used to make. Throwing cups at him after we left. Fucked up for sure. An increase of dishonesty among former friends? Sure. In spades

That reminds me of a (former?) member of my active group. He went through a number of girlfriends over the course of his involvement with us. The first one, who was a doll, got snatched up in an affair with another member. Another made every effort to be included but quickly became the dysfunctional center before disappearing without explanation. I used to watch him negotiate with them to stay a few more hours. I watched their face draw with wear as they calculated and recalculated the cost of loving him. And I wanted to scream, "Jesus! She's just being nice! She doesn't want to be here and is in love with a fantasy version of you that has outgrown this kind of childish interest."

Hell waits for the misrepresented lover.



Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: jagardner on February 15, 2006, 04:44:46 PM
The most debilitating feature of the "old" World of Darkness was the famed metaplot. The world was controlled by super-powerful entities with strongly-enforced authoritarian social structures.  Any GM who stuck to the established background would end up restricting the players to almost no freedom of action.

Every supplement (or at least every one I looked at) centered around the super-powerful NPCs and their machinations.  Cool world-changing events were taking place in the support materials but those events were way out of the players' league.  GMs, aspiring to partake of that world-changing coolness, would force their players to jump through prescribed hoops, railroading them into re-enacting the cool events discussed in the supplements.  The supplement books of course had the usual disclaimers about giving players complete freedom...but then they went back to the metaplot of vastly powerful NPCs with large retinues of nasty underlings driving toward an "Oh wow!" conclusion that many GMs wanted to make happen by any means possible.

I wondered if the recent reboot would make things any better.  I actually had good experiences with a Mage campaign (in which we ignored the metaplot and all the authoritarian power structure stuff) so as the date approached for the new Mage's release, I regularly checked the White Wolf web site for information.  Shortly before the book was due to arrive in stores, the web site published a starter adventure to get players interested in buying the book...and the very first event in that very first adventure was that PCs had to roll to avoid being possessed by evil spirits.  If you failed the roll, your very first experience of the game was, "Sorry, you have to just sit there while the GM takes over your character."

Sheesh!  (To be fair, you got unpossessed within a few combat rounds, basically by deus ex machina; but still...)

And while I'm posting here, a few more comments.  I believe humans are story-telling creatures in a way that is different from other arts.  If I understand modern brain research, our memories aren't stored like videotape, with long continuous sequences of data.  Our brains work more like photo albums, storing only a few key images and perceptions.  When we remember something, a story-constructing facility in our minds constructs a narrative that links those memory fragments together into something we find coherent.  This is one reason why we misremember events and why it's possible to create false memories: every time we remember, we have to reconstruct the story and reconstructions drift over time, accidentally or deliberately.  (False memories are created by getting the person to relive the events and reinterpret things along the way.)

Another thing about how brains work: patterns of thought and behavior are physically supported by strengthening and optimizing the neural paths we use most.  It is very easy to think the same-old same-old.  When new input arrives, the path of least resistance is to channel it through the existing paths and patterns: to stick to our ruts.  This is an inevitable (and often useful) feature of the way our brains are constructed.

The good news is that we can have many sets of ruts.  Most people do.  When we're at work, we follow one set of stock behaviors.  When we're with our parents, we follow a different one.  When we're with our children, we follow yet another set.  We're actually pretty good at switching from pattern to pattern, and creating new ones as needed...but only once we accept that a new pattern is necessary.

There are two tricky parts to acquiring new patterns.  First is recognizing that you need a new pattern: that old ones don't work and it's time to start building new pathways.  If you've got a lot invested in the old patterns, backing off is difficult.  (I once heard a neuro guy hypothesize that short-term depression is an adaptive brain state, designed to weaken old patterns in preparation for new ones.  That's certainly not conventional wisdom, but I thought it was an interesting theory.)

But the hardest trick is creating a new pattern if you have no examples to follow.  It's one thing to learn from someone else, but thinking something new on your own requires a type of leap that's exceedingly rare.

Forgive me for being pedantic.  I assume a lot of readers already know this stuff, but no one had mentioned it so I thought I'd toss it in.  Whether or not "brain damage" is too loaded a term for this discussion, brains are shaped and patterned by experience, and those patterns have lasting effects.  (But there's also a chance of establishing new patterns if you recognize the need.)
   ---Jim Gardner


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Eric J-D on February 15, 2006, 08:28:29 PM
Hi folks,

I know it is late in the game for this thread, so I feel a bit guilty about showing up late to the party and posting something that might strike some as irrelevant.  I hope that I can make clear what I see as the connection between what I am about to post and what Ron is talking about.

Over in the Burning Wheel Forum I posted a bit of a rant about the inability of some people new to BW (but who have lots of experience with other rpgs) to get their head around BW's approach to modeling combat. 

The substance of that rant was this: for some of these people, the traditional rpg approach to modeling combat (i.e. the "exchange of blows"--Ron has elsewhere described this as combat between frozen statues) has ceased to be a model at all and has instead become reified as "The Natural, God-given, and Obvious Way that Combat in RPGs Works!" For such folks, combat has to allow each participant his attempt to get in a blow, or they'll trumpet their displeasure to the heavens.  Combat as an "exchange of blows" in which each person gets his chance is, for these folks, something like a cosmic birthright.  My argument is that since BW does not satisfy the assumptions and expectations of these players as to what combat "should" be like, they are the ones who are likely to complain loudest that the "system is BROKEN!"


So here's my point:  I think that this is a corollary to Ron's comment about the "brain damage" that many people sustain with respect to "story" from games like White Wolf's Storyteller system.  As with "story" so to with things like modeling combat.

Now, this is conjecture on my part, but I think that it has some basis of support.  The ubiquity of the "exchange of blows" model is so great that for many people it has simply become part of the fabric of "gaming reality."  It's influence is so pervasive that the fact that it is simply one among a number of possible models has become invisible to them.  They literally can't see it as a model.  Ask them to talk about it in terms of modeling priorities and you are likely to get glazed-over expressions and cries of "What do you mean?  This is how combat works!"

So there's my feeble contribution to the debate.  From where I stand (and from direct experience) it seems pretty clear that roleplaying games often habituate people to a number of less than desirable assumptions and expectations (about what "story" is, about things like apportionment of GM-Player power and responsibility, etc.) and that it can take real work to try to undo the damage done.

Cheers,

Eric


P.S. Amusingly, I was somehow misread as harboring these complaints about BW in my post!


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Marco on February 16, 2006, 04:02:02 AM
Hi Ron,
I don't see if this has been answered (asked by Walt and Vincent)--but I too would like to know where the evidence for story-damage outside an RPG context is being seen here. I admit I don't find it likely that there's any credible data--but reasoning why this would be anything other than observer bais would help me take it more seriously. There's sure to be lots of anecdotes but The Forge has always been a self-selecting sample that way for a number of reasons.

-Marco


Title: Symptoms of Brain Damage
Post by: Alan on February 16, 2006, 08:38:46 AM
I begin to understand the mechanism that produces "brain damage." 

Until a few years ago I had along time internal conflict between what I wanted from my roleplaying sessions and what I knew was possible with stories from the fiction I wrote.  As GM I was frustrated when players didn't drive the game into what I would call "story-like" actions.  On the other hand, as a player, I was always frustrated that some aspect of whatever rules were in play was always quashing my own attempts at dramatic turning points.  In one DnD game, in desperation to stand out somehow, I worked on "chewing the scenery" -- an exhausting activity, as it's not natural to me.  But I got used to not pushing premise.

Here are paraphrases of things I've heard or read that I think are prime signals of brain damage:

"Vampire was cool -- even though I hated the system."

"Oh yeah, PTA is a great game!  We all got so into it, we never drew cards once."




Title: Re: Symptoms of Brain Damage
Post by: Julian on February 16, 2006, 10:32:13 AM
Here are paraphrases of things I've heard or read that I think are prime signals of brain damage:

"Vampire was cool -- even though I hated the system."

"Oh yeah, PTA is a great game!  We all got so into it, we never drew cards once."

Um, what?

The second one especially strikes me as perfectly functional in the context of this thread - a group who got into the collaborative storytelling so much that the mechanics that are supposed to make it happen became irrelevant.

The first simply says that there's a lot in the game that the person enjoys, but the actual game mechanics aren't one of them. Could be the setting, the stories being constructed, the hot goth chicks, or anything.

I'd find the argument  that needing game mechanics to support your collaborative storytelling is a symptom of brain damage far more persuasive.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Wick on February 16, 2006, 10:47:09 AM

Now for the discussion of brain damage. I'll begin with a closer analogy. Consider that there's a reason I and most other people call an adult having sex with a, say, twelve-year-old, to be abusive. Never mind if it's, technically speaking, consensual. It's still abuse. Why? Because the younger person's mind is currently developing - these experiences are going to be formative in ways that experiences ten years later will not be. I'm not sure if you are familiar with the characteristic behaviors of someone with this history, but I am very familiar with them - and they are not constructive or happiness-oriented behaviors at all. The person's mind has been damaged while it was forming, and it takes a hell of a lot of re-orientation even for functional repairs (which is not the same as undoing the damage).


Hi Ron,

Do you qualify L5R and 7th Sea in this category of "brain damaging" and "abusive" roleplaying games?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Alan on February 16, 2006, 11:33:26 AM
Julian,

Consider similar comments in context of other kinds of games:

"I love football -- I just hate all the rules."

"We had a great bridge game.  I never even opened the card box."


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Julian on February 16, 2006, 12:08:24 PM
You're comparing apples and oranges here. RPGs are not conventional games. The mechanics are not so much the point of the game as they are a framework. Without the rules of football, you've got a bunch of guys standing around in heavy padding with nothing to do. (Or you've got a bunch of Europeans messing around with a black and white ball and a couple of goals.)

Remove the rules from Vampire, and you've still got a lot of interesting material.

(And really, when somebody says "I don't like the rules", more likely it's just the resolution mechanic, which is easily replaceable in most games without significantly altering how the game feels.)

The most one can say about those hypothetical PTA players is that they're not, technically, playing PTA any more. So what?

I see no brain damage here...


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on February 16, 2006, 12:56:21 PM
Having watched this thread unfold with a certain fascinated horror (and with my sincere thanks to people -- e.g. Gregor Hutton -- who offered specific information based on first-hand experience), I wanted to wrench it back to one critical but overlooked point from, actually, the parent thread:

...I consider Sorcerer to be like that kind of [advanced] prosthetic ...I am now embarked on an ambitious project based on the idea that we "have limbs" after all, and wondering what the principles underlying the bevy of fantastic new RPGs (and RPG-ish things) would be like, expressed by and for people without the damage.... As a survivor of the damage, I may fail miserably....

Ron, let me see if I've got this straight:

You are not merely calling other people "brain damaged." You consider yourself to have been brain-damaged, in the literal sense that at least some of your neurons connected to each other in patterns that express themselves as particular disfunctional behaviors, as a result of your own formative roleplaying experiences. You believe you've undone some significant part of the damage, creating new neural pathways that express themselves as more functional behaviors -- and that a lot of the people who disagree with you haven't. But you at least suspect that your brain function may still be, to some degree, lastingly and irreparably impaired, and that you may persist permanently in at least some of your disfunctional behaviors (such as, I would gently suggest, a self-defeating delight in making shocking statements and getting people mad at you, at the expense of your ability to convey your genuinely useful insights).  What's worse, you fear that this impairment may prevent you from doing new kinds of creative work ("RPGs and RPG-ish things") that you ardently wish you could.

Or am I misinterpreting you in some critical way? As always, I await correction.

If I am more or less right, then I don't see the "nyah! nyah! My way is better, you retards!" that other people have (not without cause!) been offended by. I see Moses raging from the mountaintop at the tribes moving, oh so slowly, across the desert, in the knowledge that he himself has been condemned never to enter the Promised Land.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: iago on February 16, 2006, 01:50:54 PM
You know, I was wondering why my initial reaction to Ron's essay -- wait, it doesn't deserve the respect of that label -- his rant, rather -- was "Wow.  Ron's a bigot."

That is, until Darren pretty much nailed the analogy on the nose.

So, let’s say I have this gay friend. I tell him that this lifestyle he’s chosen is causing him damage – he’s facing discrimination at work because his colleagues find him uncomfortable company, and he and his partner are facing higher taxes than his married friends, and occasionally bricks get thrown through their window, and so on. Life would be so much easier if he gave that up and became heterosexual.
He looks at me like I’m a loon, and tells me it’s the way he is wired.

Thanks, Darren. 

Also, Ron, you're flat-out wrong that just because this is your forum on the Forge that you should have the freedom to ignore the Forge rules.  I try not to ignore the rules too much in mine, when I do post.  Your forum lives in the Forge's house, and as such, the attitudes you exercise in it reflects upon that house.  Live in the basement and out of sight all you like, but when your pet termites are eating out the support beams, the folks above you can and should get in your face about why the house is falling down, even if that basement was "your space".

You're not wrong that you can ignore me all you like.  You can, and you should; I'm excitable, and I'm prone to saying things out of emotion rather than cold rationality.

Yet, in that vein, I still find myself saying this: your gamers-not-like-me bigotry and general attitude is why I can't read anything you write.  The attitude overshadows the message -- you're more noise than signal, is what I'm saying here -- and thus, if you did have anything valuable to say here, it's utterly concealed by the packaging.

I sincerely hope someone who isn't you can eke out what glimmers of good ideas are here and package them in something far more acceptable, somewhere else.

As for me, I'm leaving the forge, permanently.  If folks like Ron live here -- then I won't.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: MatrixGamer on February 16, 2006, 02:05:54 PM
Quote
5. Early role-playing history includes a vast diversity of play-approaches and game design. Commercially, it was canalized toward specific forms of Gamist play in the late 1970s, and that effect had a big impact on role-players of approximately my age (41), and a little younger. However, especially if we (this age group) didn't participate in role-playing much between the late 1980s and late 1990s, it's hard for us to understand what happened to the new wave-fronts. The commercial canalization was absolutely overwhelming, dropping the diversity of published game design to practically none. Gamist play and its troublesome relationship with other agendas is simply not the issue that drove the values-issues in role-playing culture during that time. Yes, it's hard to buy that, because to us, "good role-playing" was predicated on nothing but how one dealt with Gamist play (yes, no, how much, in what way, etc).

Instead, starting with the college crowd in the late 1980s, hitting the next wave of high-schoolers in the early 1990s, and peaking in the middle-late 1990s, the primary issue was as I've described above, this whole "story" thing, and again, dividing and re-coalescing and agonizing over (as I say above) "just say it, the dice don't matter," vs. gutting it out with the dice and saying it anyway. Both of which ultimately rely on Force for anything resembling story to emerge.

In many ways, the older bunch, especially a specific subset of RuneQuest and Champions players, understand how stories can emerge through actual decisions and actions during play better than the younger bunch. Not that it was common back then, but at least it was a matter of groping in the dark rather than gouging out one's eyes as a starting point. (Hey, John Kim, I think this is where you and I, for all our disagreements, do connect and recognize one another.)

Thanks to all who posted thinking responses.

Best,
Ron

Interesting. Makes sense to me being one of those older gamers (42) who really didn't do much role playing in the late 80's early 90's. The World of Darkness books seemed all gloomy and about style rather than substance. What I was annoyed by in the games I did see was how more numbers was equated with greater "realism" which was seen as "better". As I recall the early 80's Arms Law ICE books were so packed with numbers they made my head swim. When I did play Vampire or various LARPs I basically had to ignore much of the game and pursue my own agenda. These were one shot games so the play wasn't too dysfunctional.

I know Ron doesn't care what my oppinion is but I do agree with his points about brain damage. I work with traumaitic brain injured clients from time to time as well as sexually abused children and his analogies are sound.

Chris Engle (LCSW see I got creds!)
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Arturo G. on February 16, 2006, 02:06:51 PM
I share the same fascination about this thread as Sydney. And as far as I recall my thoughts reading this thread, Ron has stated what Sydney said (that he is one of the pack brain-damaged people, fighting to get rid of it) quite clearly. Did we misread you, Ron?

I thought I was part of the people that was brain-damaged before this thread, although I was not using these words to express it. Just reading the articles in The Forge and thinking about my previous experiences was enough to understand it. I have similar bad experiences as Gregor. I tried to make a summary of my story in one of my first threads in The Forge just to relief some of my grief. I don't say that I reject all I did in the past, and I don't say I never enjoyed playing those other games. They were enjoyable. But my frustrated intention to use them to create stories in a way the system was not supporting, and the verbally spoken assumption in my group that system does not matter (you should try again, it is possible, we remember when YOU were doing it), was the beginning of a terrible self-damaging spiral.

What is new for me is the idea about the prosthetic part of a game. Ron, in one of the first posts in this thread you say that people not previously exposed too damaging experiences react quite well to story-oriented  games, and old-gamers are the ones who have troubles to get the new mood. Then, these games are not using such prosthetics. Or are they? I think I'm getting confused about what games are we talking about. Perhaps I've missed something reading some of the posts too quickly?

Arturo


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Marco on February 16, 2006, 03:26:20 PM
I know Ron doesn't care what my oppinion is but I do agree with his points about brain damage. I work with traumaitic brain injured clients from time to time as well as sexually abused children and his analogies are sound.

Chris Engle (LCSW see I got creds!)
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games

I'm not an LCSW but I have worked with a lot of people in recovery (including sexual abuse) and I emphatically do not agree. The idea that a difference of opinion (realism = more numbers) or the reader's head swimming is somehow equivalent to brain damage is absurd. The idea that people "not getting combat" or saying "I like Vampire but didn't like the rules" (I didn't--I played GURPS V:tM ... this is brain damage?) is commedy.

In any event, none of this relates to people being story-damaged outside of an RPG context which, as Walt says, is really the point. If there is RPG-damage in the clinical sense proposed here (instead of just the snarky sense) someone should do a paper. It'd be ground breaking.

-Marco


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: droog on February 16, 2006, 03:50:34 PM
The funny thing for me is that I never got into the White Wolf thing. We looked at Vampire when it came out and decided it was for dorks and try-hards. Oh, the cruelty of youth! Later on I read a Vampire scenario in a WW mag (I picked it up for the RQ sorcery article) and pegged it as a scenic railroad.

And yet, I can detect some damage, because I think that approach to making story was quite general. I'll cite various RuneQuest adventures such as 'To Giantland!', 'The Cradle' and 'Temple at Corflu' (the last being explicit) as taking the story-as-script route. I also remember much GM advice to follow the structures of fiction: rising climax etc. Why I remember this is that it never quite worked for me as I continued to search for story, using an eclectic and ad hoc mix of techniques; now and then stumbling into narrativism and then right out again. While I was quite good at illusion, I always felt some distaste for it. I don't like it when everybody else has fun and I come away feeling unsatisfied. So the game tended to drift between ouija board sim and combat-centred gamism while I racked my brains trying to figure out how to make it something else.

I'll note that I also have a large cardboard box full of RQ material, perhaps 20% of which has ever been directly used.

In fact I more or less gave up on story and turned to fairly pure sim for several years (cf. Ron's nar essay). Pendragon--especially with all the supplements--also shows symptoms of brain damage, but there's enough straight-up sim in the package that the issue could be avoided.

This has all been about my GMing. I played very little in all those years, because nobody was doing what I wanted (and didn't know how consistently to achieve myself). I was skilled enough to recognise the GM story when I met it and, generally, I politely declined.

So like Walt, I see my case as an exception that proves the rule.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 16, 2006, 03:56:37 PM
Guys, no one's being ignored. But there's really no way to reply to this mass of posts, not even the direct questions, on a one-by-one, point-and-shoot basis.

I'm signed off for a day or two due to massive other business. Then it'll take a bit to parse it all. Plus the weekend is a travel-weekend and shot.

Remember, slow pace? Sloowwwww pace. I mean, post all you want, I guess, but replies just aren't going to be flying back at the same speed.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Wick on February 16, 2006, 04:28:43 PM
Frankly, use of the terms "brain damage" and "sexual abuse" are hyperbolic.

This is why the Forge has the reputation of being a pack of inbred elitists who are only talking to themselves. I'm not saying that that's what the Forge is, I'm just trying to illustrate that's why people see it that way.

And after reading this thread, for the very first time, I understand why. I know you guys. I hang out with you at Gen Con. We eat together and drink together. (Thank Eris we don't sleep together.) Using these terms is wrong. Just plain wrong.

I do not give people brain damage nor do I make them sexual victims (as hinted at by this article). Neither do my friends who work at White Wolf, my friends who worked at Pinnacle, or any of my other friends in the game industry.

My buddy, Jess Heinig, is one of the kindest, most generous people I've ever met in my life. When I say "Buddhasatva," I mean Jess. When he told me about this thread today, there was pain in his eyes. He was genuinely hurt that someone thought he was the moral equivallent of a rapist.

Because that's what this article calls him. A rapist.

I am personally insulted by this entire thread of reasoning. I'm not expecting an apology or anything. I just hope people go back, look at the language they are using and re-consider it.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: greyorm on February 16, 2006, 04:37:05 PM
Wow. I keep thinking I should comment, and then I just shake my head and put it aside. After eight pages...there's so much tree-shaking-monkey-screaming on this thread it is incredibly difficult to wade through just for the few useful bits it contains.

I'm not even talking foolish nonsense like iago's that can be simply ignored for what it is, but just basic misreading or failure to comprehend the totality of points being made and then running with a half-assed idea of what's being said ("babbling" as Ron put it).

For example, John's argument that the damage isn't actual damage, but that the system selects for it from pre-existing carriers instead, or that "story impaired" means "enjoys creating story" and other such leaps of logic informing criticisms that have nothing to do with the premises of the argument (or ignore portions to focus on the remaining pieces) -- let alone "Ron's a bigot for claiming a person might be story-impaired due exposure to certain RPG methodologies when their brain is still forming story-concept connections". These sorts of leaps are exactly what both the homosexuality analogy and style-preference responses are based on.

Ironically, to a lesser extent, these postings are displaying something similar to the sort of damage that Ron is talking about regarding understanding story: where pre-conceptions about what a person (or game text, or method of play) MUST be saying or the dialogue progressing (how it MUST work), are seriously screwing up understanding of what is being said or of the subject itself, because folks are desperately trying to fit what's being said into a pre-existing "understanding" of what's being said, without even realizing it.

One might say instead of "being a bigot" (tangentially, an inanely insulting comparison for anyone that has ever actually been the victim of real bigotry), Ron is showing how homosexuals are just fine, and that the conception that homosexual sex or feelings are wrong, and the idea that anyone must be having heterosexual sex in the missionary position with the man on top, because that's just how sex works, is what is screwed up.

In fact, it has shit all to do with "I prefer the traditional method" or "I enjoy fetishism" (or even "I prefer men/women, do not prefer women/men"). It has to do with people approaching the Kama Sutra and being unable to grasp how to "do those things it describes in there" because they're still trying to "be on top" or "be on bottom" or "ejaculate" -- it has to do with homosexual men trying to either find the vagina on their sex partner or needing their partner to "be the woman" because, you know, that's how relationships are supposed to work.

What they themselves prefer to do or like to do or have no interest in doing, and even moreso whether or not that preference/desire is good or bad, isn't even remotely the point.

Whether or not the damage to story-concept Ron discusses occurs to gamers, I have only my own experiences to rely upon, which I have recounted elsewhere (such as on my LJ (http://greyorm.livejournal.com/10325.html), where I also talk about all the "your language makes me feel bad, boo-hoo" nonsense) but will repeat here: in teaching creative writing, and serving as a freelance editor, I have found his statement to be true. A good number of those who come in as gamers, or ex-gamers, need to be untrained from gaming habits regarding character in order to write fiction effectively.

I've seen it far too often to discount it, and I've heard similar comments from other writers who are or were also gamers about themselves and their own writing, and the differences between it and writing, and having to untrain themselves from "game think" (I recall one of the regulars here, who was also apparently a known writer in RPG circles, made the same comment some years back. I think it was the same person who is the author of "The Narrativist Mindset" essay, but I may be mistaken), and from others who have taught creative writing and noticed the same problem with their students.

Now, this isn't to say ALL gamers, or that gamers in general, are failures at this task, just that the hobby (in my experience) has had a particular effect upon the intellectual process that goes into understanding the construction and utilization of protagonists in a story.

I don't even know that it is specifically or more strongly the fault of the Storytelling games of the 90's and their brethren (or immediate ancestors), because I've never done a study of what games the folks with the problems play(ed), but I do know it isn't just a matter of selection, from what I have seen, because these specific writing traits don't show up in would-be writers who have never gamed. I don't even know that the traits I have noted are the same things Ron has seen, though I doubt the specifics are important in this case.

I only know that something happens in regards to the ability to produce fiction, identifiable by certain traits found in the way the material is written, that are easily traced back to game-think and that these traits only show up in fiction written by gamers. (And, for the love of the many gods, please note that the desire to produce fiction or not, nor preference or utilization of genre, writing style, etc. are NOT the argument or point.)


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Eric J-D on February 16, 2006, 07:48:32 PM
Hey Raven,

That was well put.  I was trying to say something of this sort in my own post while also trying to shift the language slightly to something that folks might find less loaded than "brain damage."  Personally, I know for a fact that *I* have been habituated to all kinds of ideas about what rpgs *should* be like from long exposure to (until recently) a limited number of games that essentially were constructed along very similar lines, were built on similar assumptions, and used similar models.

Happily, ideas about what "story" is didn't do the more lasting damage that other things did since I had experienced (albeit fitfully) some glimmers of player-authored story creation and had a good grasp of things like Theme and all that.  Of course coming to the Forge helped all that to develop, especially once I experienced systems that were designed to facilitate such a thing. But I digress.

Where I think the more lasting damage was done was around issues like "What is the role of the GM?"  "What are the roles of the players?"  and related issues.  Although I had fitful experiences of "player-authored" story creation, my more typical experience was with a group of very bright guys who all felt that they needed to compete with each other as GM over issues like, "who could produce the coolest plot."  So even though I knew on some level that some other kind of play was possible (and that the production of "story" through play had to do with engaging things like Premise and Theme--a rather difficult thing to do when you as a player have absolutely no "buy-in" to the events since the plot has been pre-planned and any cool Premises or Themes have been delivered to you by someone else rather than emerging from you and from other people in the group), it was very easy to get habituated to the notion that this was what rpgs were like.

The naturalization of these dispositions and behaviors is what someone like Althusser would call "ideology."  But ask anyone you know if they have an "ideology" and they will *likely* (NB--"likely" not "certainly") say "No."  And of course it has to do with the fact that thought they are permeated by ideology, it is largely invisible to them. 

I think the same goes (by and large) for people who play rpgs, at least for those with any measure of exposure to fairly traditional games.  Ask them about whether their group creates a story through play and they will answer, "yes, of course."  Press them to offer details and they are likely to tell you that their GM is a great storyteller and comes up with really intricate and cool plots that their characters then enter into and influence in some measure.  Ask them about what the role of the GM is, and they are likely to tell you that the GM is responsible for developing the adventures and finding ways to get the players' characters' "hooked".  That he or she has the job of playing "the world" and that the players' primary responsibility is to act as their characters would act and so forth.

This isn't some elitist stance that sees all these folks as the poor benighted "hoi poloi."  I was one of them.  It is very likely that you were too.  They don't deserve our condescension or exasperation or anything like that.  I don't think that Ron is engaged in anything like that, despite what I hear in some of the comments from other posters.  I think he is simply trying to describe the reality that he experiences and to convey something of the difficulty that accompanies the recognition that repeated exposure to a rather limited number of roleplaying models has, over the years, built up a thick pachydermatic outer layer of dense tissue around many of us--formed of undigested opinions, well-intended gaming advice, sheer assertion, and unexamined assumptions--that has effectively insulated us from the ability to feel anything "new" with any sensitivity at all.  Our receptors just register it as "oh yeah, there's that sensation again.  It has to be just like all those other sensations I've experienced in the past."

Shedding this skin...sorry, that's the wrong image.  It is more like having to take a knife (at least in my experience) and actually cut away at these built up callouses (sp?), paring yourself down layer by layer in order to actually feel something different.  That's hard work, and probably not something that everyone who plays games wants to do.  Of course you're never really rid of it all, are you?  But the effort is worthwhile, I think, since it gives you a chance of looking at things from a bit of a new vantage point. 

Anyway, thanks for the good thoughts Raven.

Cheers,

Eric


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: ethan_greer on February 16, 2006, 09:27:14 PM
Ron has super powers. He can make people's heads explode with the power of his words.

Seriously, man. The entire gaming internet is going fucking nuts over this.

So here's the question: Why is the entire gaming internet afraid of Ron Edwards?

I think it's because you're afraid he's right. That this hobby can fucking hurt people, and hurt them bad. And that the games themselves play a part in that hurting.

It happens.

Deal with it.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Wick on February 16, 2006, 09:46:39 PM
Ron has super powers. He can make people's heads explode with the power of his words.

Seriously, man. The entire gaming internet is going fucking nuts over this.

So here's the question: Why is the entire gaming internet afraid of Ron Edwards?

I think it's because you're afraid he's right. That this hobby can fucking hurt people, and hurt them bad. And that the games themselves play a part in that hurting.

It happens.

Deal with it.

Let's stop talking vagureries and get right down to specifics.

Specifically, what games cause people "brain damage," and what specific kind of damage does it cause?

I want to know which parts of the brain are damaged and in what way they are damaged. Synapses? Memory? Please be very specific. Please isolate the games with the kinds of tissue trauma they cause.

And don't tell me this is a metaphor, because I've got evidence to the contrary:

"The most damaged participants are too horrible even to look upon, much less to describe. This has nothing to do with geekery. When I say "brain damage," I mean it literally. Their minds have been *harmed.*" (Ron Edwards, http://www.lumpley.com/marginalia.php?entry=158&comment=3777)

Again: I'm asking two very specific questions.

1) What games have caused brain damage, and
2) What kind of brain damage have these games caused?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Marco on February 16, 2006, 09:59:19 PM
I think it's because you're afraid he's right. That this hobby can fucking hurt people, and hurt them bad. And that the games themselves play a part in that hurting.

I think the reason people are reacting to it is the following:
1. It's honest in a way a lot of other theory discourse hasn't been ("Saying Vampire is Incoherent isn't saying it's a bad game!"--no, it's saying it's like child abuse and radiation!)
2. It's wonderfully insulting! If you played V:tM you might be story impaired! If you don't get indie games the reason must be that your mind is defective! (Note: I am not sure Ron is saying this flat out but a lot of people sure as heck are. I want to see a list of games like the CD's with Sony's root-kit that should come with Nar-inclined damage lables. I'd make the stickers.).
3. It's embarassing (a lot of people who defend RPG Theory as a whole have had to eat their words about people's objections to it not being projection or it not being covertly denegrating games the theorists don't like).
4. It's unproven--and possibly unproveable. Right now the allegations exist in a cool gray-space where people can write their own experiences into the picture (mine? Seen all of Ron's tell-tales from people who never gamed. Think his 'details' are wonderfully absurd ... like "defending their own consumerism"--White Wolf must have infected most of western civilization).

I really do look forward to some explanation. I'm afraid my standard of proof would need to be high--we are discussing a new, never-before-seen psychological phenomena and that'll take more than some anecdotal evidence from a self-selecting group of biased observers. However, until that discussion happens, this is amazing tinfoil-hat theater.

That's why I think it has spread: it's this incredible drama.

-Marco


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: ethan_greer on February 16, 2006, 10:42:30 PM
John: Don't ask me. The brain damage thing is Ron's deal. When I talked about the hobby hurting people, I wasn't referring to Ron's brain damage thing specifically. Poor word choice on my part gives the impression that I was. Sorry about that. No, I just meant to point out that, while people may want to think that gaming is this wonderful, positive thing, it isn't always. That's all. I've seen real hurting, real pain, real emotional trauma inflicted by gaming. Frankly, I'd be surprised if anyone here hasn't.

Marco: Yeah, I guess you're right: it is about the drama. I forgot about it until you mentioned it, but there's this cyclical drama thing that happens with the Forge. Basically, every so often, Ron says or does something that makes someone's head explode, and it snowballs. Anyone remember the hubris crisis from a while back?


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: contracycle on February 17, 2006, 03:54:14 AM
YOU MIGHT BE A GAMER IF...
...you are unable to walk past the latest TSR supplement without leafing through it, even though you know it's going to be bad.
...you have more entertaining "No-****,-there-I-was-in-a-game" stories than you do anecdotes about your family.
...you alternate between referring to your characters in the first and the third person.
... and none of your friends gets confused.
...you've ever spent a significant fraction of your life modifying game rules that you didn't like... and, as soon as the system worked to your satisfaction, discarded it.
...you hang out with people you actively dislike because they give good role- play.
...you have a PhD in manipulating point systems to the best effect, even though you failed high school geometry.
...you have been known to drive to far away places where you paid enormous amounts of money for the privelege of sleeping on floors, eating crap, buying little pewter statues of Gandalf, and meeting dozens of psychopathic members of the alternate (or similar) sex who will follow you around for months, merely for the pleasure of playing with gamers you don't know.
...and then signed up en masse with all of you friends to play in games with game masters who you've known since high school.
...you own your own weight in gaming books.
...you have friends or acquaintances who regularly refer to you as "Og." (Or something similar.)
...someone is attempting to explain the floorplan of a building to you and you immediately start thinking in terms of 10X10 squares.

...you know a lot of gaming jokes that used to be funny once.


Some of these are pretty fucked up behaviours, and theres more than a grain of truth to all of them.  RPGing can be said to produce some pretty wierd shit.

And as for the validity of damage per se, I think thats going to depend heavily on personal worldviews.  I for one have no problem at all with the proposition that repeated exposure to a reward system adminstered with absolute authority can impinge on a persons mentality, but the whys and wherefores of this sort of indoctrination - for that is what it is - are probably off topic.

All that said I'm in the camp that sees story not as being relevant to this; I do think it is an overxtension of the preference for story.  I simply don't think we are "story creatures" at all; I see a role for causal ordering both in analysis and in repetition, but I think story as such is a very constructed, artificial device.  Long before I played RPG's, I found story per se quite boring, and I will never read the Harry Potter books because magic school stories are something for which I developed a hatred as a child.  You see, they would never discuss magic, so they were just dumb old school hijinks stories which didn't do anything new.  Thats a particular personal issue that way predates exposure to the likes of D&D, let alone the WoD.

My gaming history at the time was rather like droogs, to save on typing, but I leapt on the WoD it the hopes it would teach me something about story, which I was only beginning to appreciate a need for.  But precisely because the WoD was indeed the same old thing, it didn't teach me anything.  Rather, I think it was itself a response to the demand for more story in RPG, but that this in itself was always a dubious ambition and one based much more on claiming a literary legitimacy for RPG than on what RPG actually did.  To my mind, it is the hyping of story that has done much of the damage, because all that did was produce an Orwellian doublethink in which behaviours that were patently not a real story were necessarily described as such, because that was the "PC", if you will, thing to claim.

I think if story were a really natural property of humans, we would not laud good story tellers, and there would be no people who can't tell jokes.  We would not have to have developed means like the 3-act play to describe and discuss story.  I think story is a learned skill, and that if anything is to blame for story illiteracy today, it is the relentlessly Victorian pattern of story as moral homily or liberal democratic parable that we see endlessly repeated on TV.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Doug Ruff on February 17, 2006, 06:30:50 AM
Wow, what a trainwreck. I keep meaning to walk away, but I'm not strong enough.

There's two separate things going on in this thread, and I think they need to be separated, pronto.

The first is to do with the fact that Ron has said something in public that's hurt a lot of people, they want him to apologise, and he's not going to. I could say a lot about this, but I don't think it's going to help much. (Ron, if you care about what I think about this, you can PM me, but I'm not expecting you to. Frankly, I'd rather you spoke to John Wick, who deserves a response far more than I do.)

The second is to do with the actual content of what's being said. If (and that's a big if, with all the noise going on) I understand this correctly, repeated exposure to "traditional" gaming has the following impact:

- It impairs the capacity to enjoy the sort of "story" gaming that Ron (and a lot of other people) are interested in
- It impairs the capacity to create this type of story during a game
- It impairs the ability to interact socially in a "story" game, but also impairs interaction in "traditional" games
- Attached to this is the clear message that Ron thinks that "story" gaming is better

When detached from this whole "brain damage" nonsense and expressed in terms of learned behaviour and acquired preferences, I think it's clear that the first two statements are obvious (except I don't agree that this is a permanent impairment: preferences can be realigned, techniques can be picked up), the last statement is a value judgement and not worth discussing, and that the third statement is what we've been talking about all the time with the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, Setting Stakes and most of the interesting theory to come out of this site.

So, what the hell are we meant to be discussing here?

Regards,

Doug


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Marco on February 17, 2006, 06:38:48 AM
John: Don't ask me. The brain damage thing is Ron's deal. When I talked about the hobby hurting people, I wasn't referring to Ron's brain damage thing specifically.

You're not the only one having this problem! People are "agreeing with the Ron" about all kinds of things he isn't saying (here). Stuff like liking rules-heavy games, liking V:tM's setting but not the rules, and not getting the brilliance of Burning Wheel are getting upgrades to brain damage. It's a tramapolooza!

The theory, this time out, isn't saying you can have a bad day playing with a bad game--it's saying that people who play with bad games wind up with some form of literal brain damage that exists outside of the emotional hurt of a dysfunctional relationship or even an abusive marriage. It's not emotional trauma, it's some kind of multi-spectrum structural impairment relating to the ability of a person to understand or compose or analyze a narrative compared to a non-damaged individual.

It's ... it's a psychological disorder transmitted by books! I *love* this concept. It's cooler than Call of Cthulhu! It's sort of like Video Drome!

-Marco


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: John Wick on February 17, 2006, 07:09:21 AM
This is what I've learned from this thread:


1) If you don't "get" Burning Wheel (or Sorcerer, or some other "Forge" game), you are "broken" or "damaged."

This is a hurtful, hurtful idea. "If you don't like a game I like, it's because there's something wrong with you.

And, frankly, I put it right smack dab in the same category as "If you are gay, you are somehow 'damaged.'"

2) Games like L5R cause physical brain damage, preventing the people who play it from appreciating story.
This is the most ironic statement I've ever heard about a game I designed.

If this is true, that means the game I designed was not only a bad game, but I am a bad person for designing it. Not only that, but all those people at the Day of Thunder, the end of the Clan War storyline, who were crying on the Gen Con floor (including myself and Dave Williams) were doing so for a bad story. Because, frankly, they are crippled beyond the point of appreciating a good one.

3) The people at the Forge are so cultish that they can't recognize when they say something that might hurt someone else outside their own community.
Instead of defending the idea, step back and look at it. I mean, really. Step back.

We are throwing around words like "brain damage" and "sexual abuse" and associating them with roleplaying games.

Is that what we really mean? And are we willing to assign these terms to people we know?

This thread has gone a lot further than this website. Annie Rush saw it and she never goes here. And trust me, using words like "sexual abuse" around Annie is probably not very smart. In fact, I'd qualify it as "sub-moronic."

Once again, I consider many people here my friends. I still do. But this choice of language is bad. It's insensitive. And if such a discussion came up at Gen Con, I'd probably walk away. If you were lucky. If you weren't lucky, I'd make you defend it.

Let's think twice before we call people "damaged," again, okay?

And let's think three times before we accuse game designers of making games that are the equivallent of sexual abuse.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on February 17, 2006, 07:16:52 AM
As the self-appointed editorial ombudsman for the Forge, and someone who has come out strongly in disapproval of the metaphor, I feel qualified to clarify this thread.

Ron's initial argument was this: (1) trying to get the type of story gaming he is interested in from "traditional gaming" results in a rewiring of brain structures (deemed negative in his view) which makes it difficult to use tools which he feels can actually result in this story gaming.

(2) It may have been, but is unclear, that certain traditional gaming, especially that which calls itself "storytelling", results in this rewiring by its very play, no matter what the user was trying to get out of it.

(3) It was not, as far as I can tell, that traditional gaming just re-routes the brain.

Point (2) needs clarification from the original author, Ron, before we can move further in this thread. I see a lot of people agreeing with it, but I'm not certain it was the original premise.

The problems that John Wick and I and others are having with this thread have not been addressed, and I doubt they will. They do result from the transformation of point (1) into point (2). Point (1) is a valid argument that may be able to be examined. Point (2) is, as I see it, an opinion.

Being that this is an individual publisher forum, I have no moderating authority here, but I do ask everyone, based off of my position outside this forum, to be slow in response and to think about the above before continuing to post, at least until we have clarification.


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Marco on February 17, 2006, 07:31:12 AM
As the self-appointed editorial ombudsman for the Forge, and someone who has come out strongly in disapproval of the metaphor
A couple of things:
1. Ron's been very clear: it's not a metaphor. The sexual-abuse analogy was just that--but not the brain damage. The brain damage is literal in the literal sense.
2. The damage described applies to students in a classroom, not just to get story out of RPGs. It's, as I said, multi-spectrum.

I expect, eventually, there will be some reentrenchment around the idea that the brain damage was just a way of talking about an emotionally bad experience and that people will kind of give up on the story-damaged guys in the classroom and keep this related to bad experiences with RPGs and how people don't get 'em so they must be broken. We haven't quite gotten to that stage yet, though.

-Marco


Title: Re: Brain damage
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 17, 2006, 08:07:27 AM
Hiya,

I had a long talk with John Wick on the phone yesterday evening, and this post is the result.

I have no idea how many people are going to believe this ...

The intense reactive, outraged response to the three posts in my thread was a complete surprise to me. I mean, total.

"Ron knew he'd get this reaction, he did it for shock value." "He must have known." Guys? I spread my hands - I had no idea. Between bigotry, hatred, arrogance, and who-knows-what, the range of interpretations is way beyond anything I imagined possible.

Because of that, I'm reconsidering the whole thing, a lot. "You should listen to them," is one thing I'm hearing over and over, and John is the guy who gave me the best advice about it. Well, OK - I will. It won't happen if I keep hammering out responses on an individual basis, so I have to close up the thread and take a while to think it over. One thing I'll have to deal with is that many people have flatly stated, "You're right, I'm an example," as opposed to many people being flatly opposed to the content.

I do owe some people some answers to direct questions, although in some cases, I don't really see the point. But I'll try anyway. A "straight answers" thread will probably be good idea, just to kind of finish up some dialogue. But aside from that, more importantly, I'll decide whether there's any constructive purpose to continuing the topic at all, with a new version or start or whatever; I'm not sure about that and have to think it over.

One response I'm anticipating is, "Well, if you didn't ancticipate or plan these reactions, then you were naive, even stupid." I accept that as valid and won't try to refute it. But you can't have it both ways; either I was provocative out of malice or attention-seeking or whatever, or I was naive-to-stupid. For now, I'm going to take that time off for a while, and come to some reflective decisions about that myself.

Best, Ron