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General Forge Forums => Site Discussion => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on December 02, 2002, 12:29:27 PM



Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 02, 2002, 12:29:27 PM
Hello,

This is thread #5 of the Infamous Five, a related set of threads that I've been instigating over the last few weeks. Each one has spawned a bevy of secondary threads as well, as intended. Here are the links to date:

#1: PUBLISHING
Mainstream: a revision (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4223)
Production value (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4230)
Promotion (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4260)
Active vs. passive entertainment (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4259)
The Store (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4254)
What would make a non-role-player buy your game? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4261)
The game that would sell to non-role-players (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4267)
The importance of play (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4313)
Accessible? To whom? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4339)

#2: ACTUAL PLAY
Actual play in the stores (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4253)
Mainstream media (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4316)

#3: RPG THEORY
Social Context (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4258)
Gay culture / Gamer culture (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4300)
Self-image (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4336)
Christian gamers and self-esteem (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4419)
What does role-playing gaming accomplish? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4414)
Sexism and gaming (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4433)

#4: GNS MODEL DISCUSSION
Vanilla and Pervy (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4299)
Pervy in my head (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4301)
Combat systems (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4343)
Cannot stand cutsiepoo terms (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4352)
Pervy Sim, points of contact, accessibility (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4416)

This one is about the Forge itself, in terms of what it bloody is: (1) to any particular role-player, (2) to a person who's designing and possibly publishing a game, and (3) to the hobby of role-playing overall.

Let me allay certain fears immediately. I am profoundly uninterested in (a) expanding the "industry" in terms of there being more games, more stores, and more money involved; (b) improving (or changing in any way) attitudes of society or non-role-players toward the hobby; or (c) making role-playing games be designed in a particular way for any particular purpose. Many responses in the threads listed above have been either premature enthusiasm for such goals, or defensive reactions against them - all those responses are fundamentally irrelevant. To me, such things may (or may not) be outcomes; they are not goals.

I am not making a call for specific action or activism. Instead, these five threads are a call for each of us to learn where he or she stands in regard to real, actual issues, and most importantly, to understand one another in these terms. Here are the issues I'm talking about.

1) Much of role-playing content mirrors the content of books, movies, theater, and any other mode of imaginative expression, basically throughout human history. This content is apparently well-regarded by most people who enjoy imaginative expression. A sub-point, which only to a fervent role-player seems like a big deal, is that D&D fantasy is a fringe concern in comparison to the content I'm talking about.

2) The current economic structure of "the industry" is, in the main, incapable of providing the social play-experience and promotion that matches people who like role-playing, or might like it, to games that they might enjoy.

3) Role-playing is most consistently enjoyable when it is carried out by people who like one another, who socialize together, and who can construct varying Social Contracts without breaking down. The common notion of defining a social group by the shared interest in role-playing, and putting "liking one another," for instance, as secondary, is dysfunctional.

4) Most role-playing rules content has acquired so many Points of Contact, distributed in incoherent ways, through imitation and habit, that "rules" have come to be a barrier to enjoyment in many cases.

These concepts are all related. D&D fantasy + tons of irrelevant Points of Contact + store-driven commerce and non-play + inside-out social boxes = way no fun. The cumulative effect encourages a "loser culture," which is to say, people who perform Activity X without enjoying it much, who huddle together rather than socialize together, and who feel bad about the whole thing.

Now, I think nearly any leisure activity includes some people who fit this profile (cue chorus from fellow martial artists: "[/i]Tell[/i] me about it") - but I also think that this hobby, role-playing, isn't necessarily doomed to including only those people, and that it does not include only those people.

Here are the relevant personal questions about these issues, I think. Please, they're intended to be internal - don't post your answers enthusiastically here.

Where do I play? Whom do I play with? How does my hobby interact with the rest of my life? What habits of play or game design merely habits, rather than preferences? Am I happy or unhappy about any of these things? What do I do to reinforce this profile? Should I change any of these behaviors?

Clearly, if anyone's internal answers come up, "Hey, all is well in Me-ville. I'm very happy with the whole schmeer," then that is nifty. That person may pass Go and collect one fruity Starburst.

For the rest of us, to a very great extent, I think that thrashing about is a normal part of the process of dealing with these questions. When I first posted "System Does Matter" at the Gaming Outpost, I thought it would be a burp, a moment of "Okay," for a given reader, which permitted us to move on and discuss all manner of things (like Currency in particular). Instead, it turned out that a specific process of thrashing around and coping with the concepts was necessary - not in order to be "converted," but simply to understand what was up and to be able to refute or to support in a coherent way. I think this current set of material is far, far more loaded and emotionally-difficult than a piddly couple of points about rules-construction, and I anticipate a much higher degree of misunderstanding and protest than I've ever received for GNS /etc.

But what about this thread? What's it doing in Site Discussion? What does any of this have to do with the Forge?

Simple. The Forge just cracked the 1000-member mark, and even allowing for a substantial number of signers-on who are no longer (or were never) active here, that's a lot of people. It's also a very diverse site, as far as on-line role-playing discussions are concerned. We aren't united by the interest in a given game or system; we aren't united by any external definition (e.g. look at the range of religious orientation here! Yow!); and even the creator-ownership agenda of the site is secondary, enforced only in the Indie Design forum. A year ago, Clinton and I had no idea that the site would be what it's become, and we have even less of an idea of what it'll be a year from now.

Is the Forge membership defined only in those "loser" terms? Are we here only because we all like role-playing, such that we huddle here rather than any other internet-spot? I suggest that the answers are "No." The Forge does share a distinctive social identity. It is, itself, a level of social interaction somewhere between Social Context and Society - it's a community.

A healthy community is easy to understand: it exists when individual members can speak up and be confident that they will be heard, not only in terms of the immediate points and comments, but in terms of themselves as individuals. As individuals, we have particular preferences in play, particular stances regarding publishing, particular stances regarding consumerism, particular services to offer, and particular temperaments and histories as contributors here and elsewhere. Being recognized and appreciated as such, even in the course of disagreement, is what keeps a person committed to the community as well as to his or her personal point-at-issue in discussion.

I'm not really sure whether a diverse group of role-players has ever had such a community at its disposal, unlinked to a particular group or company. There are bigger forums/boards on the internet, but they are more like a sea of individuals rather than a community such as I'm describing, and discussions tend to be isolated and abandoned rather than treated as an archive.

What are the standards that define this community, then? So far, the key element has been a willingness to abide by rules of discourse in discussing (a) creator-owned role-playing design and publishing, and (b) principles underlying the activity. It's been a pretty powerful key element, not without a few failures here and there (some of our old threads embarass the hell of out of me, referring to my own postings), but largely successful.

I think it's time to think a tad larger than just (a) and (b) above, though. Let's assume, just for a minute, that every person who posts here or regularly visits has a nice sit-down and examines those questions that I listed above. Some end up saying, "Hey! I'm miserable!" and some end up saying, "I'm Mr./Ms. Happy Person already." Fine. But now, we're all situated relative to the same array of variables and issues. We can explain to one another, in terms that both understand, just where a given source of dissatisfaction is coming from. We can explain to one another how a given game design/proposal is intended to be targeted, and not get all wound up in knots about whether it's "right" to target "them" or not.

So, in conclusion, here's my proposal for what the Forge is for: it is a social means by which we improve our enjoyment of role-playing. I've said this before, but now, in the context of the Infamous Four So Far, the topic of "role-playing" has moved a bit outwards from, say, Fortune-in-the-Middle and its relation to Narrativist play. It's moved into issues of people, relationships, self-image, and groups - or rather, I've pointed out that these issues must be addressed in order to discuss such things as the funky rules and theory stuff. If the Forge is to achieve the goal of aiding people's enjoyment of their hobby, then identifying the source of one's own unhappiness becomes a serious issue.

My final point: the reason I posted these five concepts across five threads, instead of writing an essay, is that I have no immediate answers, and in many cases I don't even think I perceive the possible range of the questions. Already, tons of material and concepts have been introduced that I never would have anticipated or seen for myself. So I hope people can do the same with this one: what is the Forge, as a community? Is there value in getting a better idea of how each of us, personally, relates to the hobby? Is there value in generating some terms to deal with these issues in discussion? Are there standards for how to discuss this stuff without the newcomer being shocked at such things? I'm interested in what everyone thinks.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 02, 2002, 01:31:05 PM
Ahh, here it is. Infamous Number 5. What was all the hub-bub about? Heck, this is almost much right in line with what I was thinking already -- in terms of the Forge as community, and I know I'm not alone in that. It's all got that Seinfeld quality "About nothing." And yet something ... ;)

Quote from: Ron Edwards

3) Role-playing is most consistently enjoyable when it is carried out by people who like one another, who socialize together, and who can construct varying Social Contracts without breaking down. The common notion of defining a social group by the shared interest in role-playing, and putting "liking one another," for instance, as secondary, is dysfunctional.


Eureka! Ok, Ron, I may be reading this wrong as I so often do, but one thing that always hung me up about the GNS essay was that it effectively said "If your group is dysfunctional (i.e. has divergent GNS tastes), then find another group." But I really couldn't jive with that suggestion because my social contract was such that we're friends (heck, even family) first, gamers second. In other words, finding another group is out of the question because we get together precisely because we like the members of the group. And yet, we had GNS issues, so we had to have a Come to Jesus moment and get everyone on the same page (and that took more than one or two such moments).

So, am I misreading (or even just misremembering) that advice on finding another gaming group? Or, if I'm remembering that advice rightly, how does it jive with the above?

Quote from: Ron Edwards

My final point: the reason I posted these five concepts across five threads, instead of writing an essay, is that I have no immediate answers, and in many cases I don't even think I perceive the possible range of the questions. Already, tons of material and concepts have been introduced that I never would have anticipated or seen for myself. So I hope people can do the same with this one: what is the Forge, as a community? Is there value in getting a better idea of how each of us, personally, relates to the hobby? Is there value in generating some terms to deal with these issues in discussion? Are there standards for how to discuss this stuff without the newcomer being shocked at such things? I'm interested in what everyone thinks.


Here's a suggestion for a first step, Ron. I recommend we do a kind of "Profiling" thead that really lets everyone air where they stand (aka, the Airing of Greivances ;) ). It'd be kind of fun, and certainly community-building. For example, we could have everyone list how often they game, with whom, etc. I'd gladly start, but I think it's worth some preliminary discussion to see what we should be posting in this "Social Profiling" thread, cool? In other words, what are the specifics to reply to? Also, we should also do it regularly, like profiling -- quarterly perhaps?

EDIT

Shooting from the hip, social profiling could include questions like:

How often are you playing RPGs?

How many groups are you playing RPGs with?

How large is/are your group(s)?

What is your relationship to your fellow players?

What games are you playing right now?

How often do you change the games you play?

How many different games do you play?

Who acts as GM? Does this change?

How much time in a given week do you devote to your RPG hobby?

Do you regularly implement "house rules"? Can you share some highlights?

These could stand some editing, but it's a start. Do you think the community would share this info? Would they care? Am I going about this all wrong -- other questions more suitable useful?


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Matt Wilson on December 02, 2002, 01:46:23 PM
Another I'd like to add to Matt's list is the demographics of the group. Who are you gaming with? How diverse is the group? Are they your age/sex/race/nationality?


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Ziriel on December 02, 2002, 02:42:04 PM
I'm all for community here at the Forge. (Which may seem quite odd seeing as I am a new member.)  I think it would really enrich all the discussions here.

I really like Matt Snyders idea about profiling (and itsmrwilson's demographics addition).  What a cool resource this could become!  Not only would we learn more about each other but it would provide some insight into the roleplaying community as a whole.

Just one more note:    I've noticed some social tension as of late here since we have been addressing some sensitive subjects.  (Sexual orientation, religion, sexism... Heck, add politics and we've hit all the big no-no's for polite conversation.  Not that I disapprove in any way.  I think these things are important to talk about.)  In the aftermath I'd like to appeal to everyone to take a deep breath, exhale, see that some of us are coming from different places and hence have different opinions, and then try to be glad of those differences.  If we were all the same what good would it be to get other perspectives?  I in no way want this to sound preachy; it's just some food for thought.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 02, 2002, 02:54:03 PM
I thought that the point was that we already have a community here. We need to do something more to be more community oriented? What's the profiling thing going to do? Didn't we do that in the other thread?

I think that I'd personally prefer to focus on the ideal of making RPGs more fun for people. That's the part that caught my eye.

That said, I'm not sure how that's any different than what we do now.

Mike


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Jason Lee on December 02, 2002, 03:33:06 PM
I like the profiling idea...simply fascinating.

If the can of worms Ron opened with the Social Context thread is any indication it might be worth it to split 'Gaming Sociology' into its own forum (instead of being in Actual Play/GNS Model/RPG Theory), especially if you want to do this profiling thing.  It might be too much clutter, or simply a fad, but I think it's worth considering.

I think part of what keeps your Forge-Brand-Social-Contract (TM) enforced is the barrier to entry (high overhead) on discussion.  Many terms, abstract concepts, and references to indie games systems most people haven't heard of (I don't think the proposed glossary would hurt this, it's a good idea no matter what).


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 02, 2002, 09:07:39 PM
Hello my fellow spunky monkeys,

Boy, lots to talk about already. What a surprise - and ample justification for the thread, I think.

Matt, it's interesting that you'd say a thread is "about nothing" because you were already thinking along the same lines. I think it might be a bit unrealistic to expect me to wow you with each and every post, dont'cha think?

But more substantively, yes, you are misremembering my advice. I have always placed the Social Contract at the top of the Functional Gaming concept hierarchy, or, as I usually model it visually, as the "biggest box." Check out the early part of the Exploration section of my essay, as well as the final section in its entirety. You'll see it right there.

Therefore I'd never advise someone to "get a new group" if being with that group is his or her top priority. That'd be silly. What I do say is twofold: (a) if GNS differences are strong, then the actual role-playing (which exists inside the social contract) will suffer; and (b) if the quality of the actual role-playing takes top priority, then find a new group. The corollary of course is that if (a) is acceptable and if (b) therefore doesn't apply, then don't find a new group. Pretty easy.

Now for the ogre-ish part of this post. Folks, at this point, the social-profiling thread is a horrible idea. The main problem is that the fundamental issues are internal, and the possibility of having a big ol' love-the-pain bitch session is very, very high. There are a lot of those at other forums, and I don't think they're productive in Forge terms.

Here's my suggestion, though. I think that most people here have not actually tried to work through the questions of my Social Context thread, for instance, which is far and away the most trenchant issue we face as individual role-players. If someone wants to start a new thread in the Theory forum based on those questions, then go for it. We can work out some sort of profiling version, perhaps based on Matt's questions, after some discourse gets going about the basics.

Best,
Ron


Title: Forge as a...Well, as a Forge for Tempering Game /Designers/
Post by: Le Joueur on December 02, 2002, 10:56:40 PM
I'm intrigued Ron,

So let's take this 'line by line¹.'

Quote from: Ron Edwards
What is the Forge, as a community?

Is it a group of (mostly) self-policing peers, sharing experience?  Nah; reads more like a support group for people with design fever.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Is there value in getting a better idea of how each of us, personally, relates to the hobby?

Not if you do it demographically or with some kind of '3 most, 3 least, and 3 best' thread.  C'mon, we're category/model developers; how about a model of 'relationships with the hobby/industry.'

I'll go first.  I'm a 'design for the fictional audience' master with definite, but not terribly defensible, opinions on who they are; I loathe the idea of business ownership, but think carefully in terms of product design.  I offer advice in fields I've considered but that usually turns into a plug for 'the great American game' (like 'the great American novel' some people are forever writing) that is generally considered an unreachable goal.²

Let's make a model guys!

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Is there value in generating some terms to deal with these issues in discussion?

Let's amp up the 'what does it do' calls (most commonly written, and thus bad for newcomers, "What's the Premise?") to include 'who it's for,' 'how does that relate to the rest of the hobby and to the (newly refurbished term:) mainstream,' 'how does it attach/relate to/interact with/amplify or subjugate the normal social contract,' and 'how does it get to its audience beyond the three-tier system.'

Maybe even create a thread of 'what to ask of a new design' taking in all this new perspective.  Such could be referenced when asking, and would put forth a 'new era' persona on this community.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Are there standards for how to discuss this stuff without the newcomer being shocked at such things?

Nope.  Just another 'read the essay' kinda thing (when we get this into a new essay); can't be helped.  Sometimes a little shock is necessary to 'get outside of the box' when it comes to habitual game design (vis a vis the 'incoherent points of contact').

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I'm interested in what everyone thinks.

I'm not.  Thinking that is; it's too late in the evening/year/my life for something like that.

All good and fun, these Infamous Five Threads, does this illustrate how the forum needs to evolve in terms of 'hardware?'  I think it does.

G'night.

Fang Langford

¹ Since I'm not actually attacking anything, while I break this paragraph down into individual statements, it doesn't qualify as a 'line by line' reactionary response...right?

² She's a formally-trained, fine artist with an incredible, intuitive grasp of game theory components of a game, a phenomenal ability to read players and run Illusionist games, and an abiding interest in all things pokémon.

They fight crime!

Edited in: p. s. Where's my "fruity Starburst?"


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Rich Forest on December 02, 2002, 11:22:05 PM
Hi Ron,

Wow, this is, for me, a challenging thread to respond to because it just is so big that I don’t know where to start.  In fact, as more of a lurker than a poster, I've mostly been following the preceding threads with interest but without posting.  For now, I’m going to really focus on one of your questions.  I may address some of the others in the process, but I’ll put off dealing with them seriously until later.  This is the one I’m most interested in because I've spent a lot of time thinking about it:

 
Quote
What is the Forge, as a community?


My own answer to this question is that the Forge is a “discourse community.”  Now before I get into what I mean by that, I’d like to note that I am not trying to classify the Forge in an exclusionary way.  That is, I do not mean that the Forge "a discourse community rather than some other kind of community."  Instead, I am saying that it is "a discourse community, among other things."  One aspect of the Forge’s identity as a community is its existence as a discourse community, and it is this aspect that shapes how I view the Forge and interact with it.    

So what is a discourse community, and how is the Forge one?  I’ll use established definitions because the concept is not mine.  Particularly, I'm drawing from John Swales' (1990) work in Genre Analysis.  He identifies a discourse community by six criteria.  I'll describe them by applying them to the Forge.

For me, it's something like this:

1) The Forge is a community with identifiable public goals, some of which are formal and others more implicit, which include support of independent roleplaying game development and improving our enjoyment of our hobby.  I think this thread, and this series of threads, is contributing to the further definition of these public goals and our individual relationships to these goals.  By extension, this thread is contributing to the definition of our relationship to the Forge community.

2) The Forge is a community that, by its very nature as an internet forum, has a clear medium for communication between community members, and...

3) that uses this medium primarily to share information and feedback.  It is only in doing so that it supports its public goals as a community.  Following this reasoning, the actual, functional, primary goal of the Forge is to create a discourse.  It's identifiable public goals can only exist secondarily in relationship to its main goal of creating a community based on communication.  I think this is a tenable position, but in practice when we talk about the purpose of the Forge, we are really talking about its public goals rather than its discourse function.

4) The Forge is a community with a set of expectations about how language is used to get things done within the community, which includes the assumption that members of the community will talk about ideas in a reasonable, respectful manner.  And, closely related to this, the Forge is...

 5) a community with its own vocabulary.  This fact is the source of a lot of discussion on the Forge itself as well as other boards.  Concerns about it show up regularly, as new and experienced Forge members communicate their comfort or discomfort with the language of the community.  It is often the language of the community that is most starkly criticized, but at the same time it is this common vocabulary that keeps the Forge a close community.  Furthermore, the Forge is not the only discourse community with a specialized lexis.  In fact, other boards also have a specialized lexis when compared to the broader society.  The Forge shares this lexis but also has another level of specialized vocabulary that remains primarily useful within the community.  

Finally, and for me this one is very important:

6) The Forge is a community that has enough expert members to help integrate new members into the community.  See, the Forge, like any other community, has borders.  In the case of the Forge, these borders are primarily established through language, but these borders can be crossed because there are insiders who will help novices enter.  The willingness of the expert members to help others enter and become part of the community is what keeps the discourse community alive and vital.

Now, I don’t know how much I’ve addressed your questions Ron, or how much I’ve worked at tangential but hopefully useful purposes.  I haven’t said half as much as I’d like, but I need more time to digest things before I can address some of your other questions.  

Rich Forest


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Bankuei on December 03, 2002, 12:01:50 AM
And so, big 5 isn't as shocking as people think...until they realize that the small wave covers the entire seaboard and is just the forerunner to the tsunami...

So to start it off, I think its absolutely fitting that we're addressing community and social contract, especially with the thread hijacking and bits of personal tension discourse going on, and similar issues popping up over at RPG.net.

What the Forge has done that I have not seen elsewhere, is twofold:  
First, and most importantly, the Forge has managed to maintain the basic social contract of intelligent conversation, based on reason rather than emotional issues and personal attacks.  This has allowed folks to really look at and examine roleplaying in all of its aspects without getting caught up in "D20 rulez/sux!" type stuff or the personal arguments that derail threads so quickly.  This has allowed folks to really go into some deep and innovative ideas without getting lost or being afraid of getting attacked for something new or different.

Second, folks are willing to stop, examine, and dissect roleplaying, whether design, publishing, distribution, or actual play into its component parts and then look at what is possible within the range of parts.  This analysis has given us a wide range of terminology, which, perhaps arcane at first, is quite clear and exact once you got the grasp of it.  Instead of spending months failing to communicate ideas based on "game balance", "story", or "good roleplaying" which are all undefined, and probably are used in so many ways as to be speaking different dialects anyway, we can actually examine examples and ideas and make reasoned statements about them.

I'd say that these two features are part of what defines the Forge as a community.  Unfortunately, we've got enough terminology that I think many ideas will go over folks heads, especially when they aren't used to dealing with specific defined terms, or even the idea that a board is used for discussion as opposed to opinion battles.  The only thing that I think can aid the Forge in helping newcomers is the ever-so-demanded lexicon or glossary.  

Finally, I think its about time we started dissecting the bigger social issues boxes the same way we do GNS.  Folks confuse social contract issues with design issues, design issues with in play drift, etc.   After all, gaming is a social activity and it seems way more issues pop up over social contract or personal interaction issues than design problems anyway.

Just my two cents,

Chris


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 03, 2002, 07:13:55 AM
Seems like Chris is reinforcing Rich's point. Which seems interesting at first. But, Rich, I'm not familiar with the "discourse community" idea (and I'll bet others are in the dark as well). Could you enlighten us further?

Most importantly, which you left out, is this a "good thing"? We seem to fit the bill, but what does that mean?

Mike


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 03, 2002, 07:18:51 AM
Dear Orge-ish one,

What is this thread about -- infact, what is the Infamous Five about? It's now clear as mud to me.  Just when I thought I had it ...

Firstly, my "about nothing" remark was mostly facetious (mostly, see below), as I thought was obvious. It was a pop culture reference for good-natured humor. I sure as hell don't expect you to wow me with every post, Ron. I'm teasing you a bit there, and elsewhere for that matter. No offense meant in any case. The remarks are teasing you, but in fact address wrong-headed assumptions (about the Cult of Ron, the nature of the Forge, etc.). My humor seems to go largely unnoticed, and yet still I jibe. I'm goofy that way.

I suggested the profiling thread only as a first step. I can understand why you'd prefer not to go that route (though I don't necessarily agree that it will devolve into Yet Another Bitch Fest). I have at least replied to and thought about the questions presented in Social Context, and I think that thread does answer a lot of what I suggested for Profiling.

I guess my problem is that, like I'm sure several others, I'm thinking, "Yeah, so?!?" I'm quite comfortable with my hobby, as you've suggested is quite probable for many other Forge folks. So, I guess I'm saying this thread is unclear to me for this reason . THIS is why I said it was "about nothing" -- because I see nothing remarkable here at all FOR ME.  There is nothing apparently actionable here.

I, and others -- including Valamir and Holmes, that dastardly duo -- have already said as much. We shrug, say so what, and move on to another thread. Or not. (The "or not" is the part that scares me, and perhaps should scare you, too.)

And yet, clearly someone (Ron) who is also comfortable with his hobby is spending a whole lot of energy and attention on it. Is this just for the "other" folks? This is also an individual who has made me and others think twice about things we've taken for granted for years, so I don't hastily dismiss his remarks as "been there, done that."

I'm just not sure what it is folks like me should contribute to this discussion. I see issues, that have been raised before in other threads (again, by Valamir, for example) -- I have no motivation to "do" anything, except perhaps bolster the community (which might be enough, no?). Why devote time to this discussion, if my own "local" social contract is comfortably strengthened by years of experience and friendship? Is it because of altruism and the interest in sharing "my experience and insight"? I see that as highly dubious because I have come to believe my own social experieneces as they relate to gaming are highly individual and largely unuseful (and uninteresting -- which is partly why I understand your reluctance to do a Social Profiling thread) to others. I'm missing any "common thread" where my experience might be diluted into something useful for others.

And, yes, Ron, I know you're not saying "Go do this." You've said as much quite clearly, repeatedly throughout the Infamous Five. So, to restate my confusion, I'm hearing "Don't do anything. Whaddya think?" Well, nothing. I don't know what to think at all, and therefore FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME (or maybe just ignorant ol' me), the point is lost.

Thrashing about,
Matt


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 03, 2002, 08:22:48 AM
Hello everybody.

Thanks for all the responses so far. Hmm, where to start ...

1) Rich, that's a neat set of points about a "discourse community," and I guess I echo Mike's question - given all that, what is a discourse community good for? So far, in terms of design and publishing, and at least a few instances of actual play, it's been real good, in my view.

2) Matt, man, I'm teasing you back. Humor goes both ways, right? Yet another limitation of the internet medium, I suppose.

Actually, more substantively, I had a personal news flash last night when thinking about your post. Do you think that some role-players might be laboring under a perceived dichotomy that Having Fun with Friends and Enjoying the Role-playing are two incompatible ideals? That you can have one but not both? That energy spent on the one will automatically diminish the other?

That would describe at least a few people's outlooks, I think. It might be an analogue to the broken dichotomy of "roll vs. role" playing, which a person clings to with great fervor yet must be abandoned for GNS/etc to make any sense at all.

3) Fang, I agree. It's model time. The part I see so far is my little "boxes" thing, in which Liking Others is the biggest, Socializing with Them is the next one in, and Role-playing with Them is the inmost box.

I'm staying away from the Whole Market and Society model territory, partly because a lot of information and perspectives aren't available to everyone here, and partly because it's kind of a big question.

Best,
Ron


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Matt Snyder on December 03, 2002, 09:09:18 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hello everybody.

2) Matt, man, I'm teasing you back. Humor goes both ways, right? Yet another limitation of the internet medium, I suppose.

Actually, more substantively, I had a personal news flash last night when thinking about your post. Do you think that some role-players might be laboring under a perceived dichotomy that Having Fun with Friends and Enjoying the Role-playing are two incompatible ideals? That you can have one but not both? That energy spent on the one will automatically diminish the other?

That would describe at least a few people's outlooks, I think. It might be an analogue to the broken dichotomy of "roll vs. role" playing, which a person clings to with great fervor yet must be abandoned for GNS/etc to make any sense at all.



Heh, fair enough, Ron. Maybe we should be less subtle. How 'bout this: Two guys from the Midwest walk into a bar ... oh, nevermind ...

On to the substance!

Yes, I think you might be on to something here, wherein people divorce in their thinking their hobby and their social interaction. The hobby by definition IS social interaction. This is, for me, it's primary draw. The ability to share in the creative, imaginative process with other people. Obviously, from that viewpoint, enjoying RPGs and enjoying social contacts are not in an inverse relationship, they're in a DIRECT relationship. I'm not even sure they're in relationship. They're pretty much the same thing! Divorcing them in one's mind is, in my view, highly dysfunctional.

I'm going to chew on your thoughts that it might be analagous to the whole "role vs. roll" thing, but I think this is something that helps clarify some of the issues you / we are wrestling with. It's more specific an issue, and therefore more "actionable" to me, even if the action is simply thought and discussion.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Maurice Forrester on December 03, 2002, 09:25:03 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

Do you think that some role-players might be laboring under a perceived dichotomy that Having Fun with Friends and Enjoying the Role-playing are two incompatible ideals? That you can have one but not both? That energy spent on the one will automatically diminish the other?


I'm not sure about that last question, but I don't see any reason why someone couldn't see Having Fun with Friends and Enjoying the Role-playing as two different goals.  Those goals become incompatible if the members of one group do not share the same values or social contract as the members of the other group.

Ron has used the analogy of a gaming group as a band, but there's no reason why members of a band have to all be friends.  A particular musician may get together with the rest of the band to enjoy making music together without thinking of that as having fun with friends.  Of course, there still has to be some sort of social contract that governs the interaction within the band but that does not necessarily equal friendship.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 03, 2002, 09:33:37 AM
Hi Maurice,

I suggest that the band situation permits more room for non-friends in the band because of the shared desire/contract to succeed commercially. The non-friends are at least allies in that shared interest. Few if any role-playing situations can be said to offer commercial payback for the act of play.

Still, though, I see your point - and I agree with you, basically, that Matt's claim is perhaps too 1:1, and that the Social Contract of play is not necessarily the same thing as friendship. In my piddly-model so far, Liking Others holds Socializing with Them holds Role-playing - and "friendship" is not mentioned. It seems to me that it's an independent variable.

Best,
Ron


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Steve Dustin on December 03, 2002, 09:43:26 AM
For awhile I was with Mike & Matt, but I've finally got something to grasp onto --


What's the Point of a Discourse Community?


Well, I think the point is where its going? Where is the Forge going? What direction is it pushing roleplaying? There's a lot of energy going into this place, for what purpose?

I'm not saying this is what is happening, just where I think the natural evolution of roleplaying should lead us.

First, I think, Ron, you're missing a crucial thread -- "Is roleplaying art?" It's an entertainment yes, but is it like movies, novels, and comics or is just a parlor game? Without that thread, for now, I'd say yes, it's art.

A class I recently took on Children's Literature informed me that kids learn to read in stages, the key is that each stage builds on the other:

1) They learn to decode writing
2) They learn to plot, usually through exploring genre
3) They grasp characterization
4) They explore the story through setting -- which is really a way of saying the prose or the camera shot or the composition of the panel is reinforcing a theme or emotion

Where's roleplaying? I'd say plot through genre. I'd love to see roleplaying move to characterization, at the least. Now, I haven't had a chance to play Dust Devils or Sorceror, so maybe its there. Am I just talking Narrativism here? Am I just talking GNS'isms here? Or can literary elements be seperated from that? Can roleplaying become literature in all its forms?

Is the Forge moving roleplaying into a literature? In ten years, will the work done on the Forge be seen as a stepping stone toward making roleplaying a legitimate artform, or are we pissing in a vacuum here?

And if roleplaying is an art, whose the artist -- the player or the designer?

I have no real answers just questions.


Enjoying the Roleplaying


Do people think enjoying roleplaying and being friends are mutually exclusive? I don't know -- I can't imagine roleplaying with someone I didn't like, but everyone here thinks it happens all the time.

What does this have to do with roleplaying design? Are we talking about the creation of incoherent rules made to keep the big boogeyman "balance?" Are you saying some rules are designed to enforce people to play nice? That roleplaying has spent too much time with the GM vs Player dictomy (sp?)?

Personally, I think the culprit you're really looking for is sportsmanship. People can be friends with others during a game, and tempers still flare up. I chalk it up to being a bad sport. Or, more importantly, I attribute to people unable to seperate their self-worth from play -- avatarism.

To bring this back to the main issue I see arising -- what direction is the Forge moving roleplaying -- is the Forge to move roleplaying into a literature by ignoring or tackling the issue of sportmanship?


The Three Boxes


I think the 3 boxes are a bad idea. For one, I really do think the 2nd box is pointless -- why is socialization outside of roleplaying important to roleplaying? What hobby requires I have friends outside of it to make it work? For take two examples tangentially related to roleplaying -- sports and drama. Do I need beers with someone to play football with them? What about acting -- does it require me to be chummy with my fellow actors?

I think the 3 boxes model is flawed.

Also, I'm not seeing what psychological or sociological theory of roleplayers has to do with game design. Well, maybe I do, in a few of ways:

1) It's about identifying dysfunction. I don't think its an accurate model to do this, because I think its assumptions are wrong,

2) The Forge is not just about game design, but about roleplaying in all its aspects,

or

3) It's a way of identifying the audience of roleplayers. That of course, begs question, what do we do with that audience?

And it returns to: what direction is the Forge pushing roleplaying? Art? Hobby?

If we're identifying the audience for commercial purposes, then we're tailoring our games to our audience, so they'll buy them. And if that's it, isn't this just marketing? Demographics? Why do we need a psychological theory?

But if we're creating art -- then we're trying to push our audience in new directions. Money's not an issue. And then again, why the psychology? If I'm pushing them ahead, why the psychology?

Maybe I'm way off tangent with all of this, but frankly this thread seems to be a hodge-podge of discussing issues already come about so far, and not the big unifying thread I was expecting. Which is only fair, I think I got a little to worked up about it, anticipating it.

Take care, Steve Dustin


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 03, 2002, 09:47:30 AM
Hello everybody,

Here's why this thread is more than a hodgepodge.

It's a major point for me that has emerged from the four threads so far, and it has everything to do with the primary activity at the Forge, independent game design. The logic goes ...

1) When a person creates something (film, novel, RPG) that shares interest with another, it's because the content "speaks" to the second person. What jazzes you, jazzes me. Or, in some cases, what jazzed you in way X, jazzes me too in way Y.

2) The personal commitment and personal spin brought to the creative work - the extent to which it jazzes and satisfies its own creator - is precisely what the audience member (or user, in the case of a musical instrument or an RPG) is responding to.

Which is to say, the more a work expresses a personal vision, the more likely it is to appeal to its audience.

3) People do indeed like fantasy, horror, humor, sex, biography, historical, adventure, and surreal fiction. Some like one, some like them all, but in the main, people like these things a lot. Enough of them like any particular spin on one or more of them that a product with potential fo r#2 above has a pretty good chance of getting a customer base, if it can get the attention of those people.

Now for all the qualifiers.

a) I am not speaking of the whole audience, out there, meaning everybody. I am referring to content, not to numbers. I am speaking of some number, however many, of people who say "Spoo! That's all about what I like!"

b) I am not talking about "attracting new people to the hobby." That is a possible outcome, yes, but I'm really talking about attracting anyone who's interested in this topic, completely regardless of whether they do or do not already role-play.

c) I am not claiming that personal vison automatically means "good." I am saying, however, that when it is good, it's what people want.

I am attempting to break the apparently very-deeply-embedded misconception that in order to appeal to a viable target market, the product must not express a personal vision and must instead be based on some other thing - usually a cobbled-together imitation of some thing that's been successful in the past. I am attempting to say instead that personal-vision role-playing games have a real audience awaiting them, in which they stand or fall based on their merits.

Broken dreams:

"We have to make it more accessible so it can't express what you, the author, want to say. It has to express, oh, something, I dunno, that 'they' must want out there. I dunno. Make it like D&D or Vampire, but different." This is wrong because it diminishes the interest of anyone who'd connect with the author upon reading it, with no particular reason to attract the attention of committed D&D or Vampire customers.

"We have to give it a great cover, hard-bind it, put up an ad in GCQ, get ads into Dragon and anywhere else, flood RPG.net with brightly-smiling canned reviews and perky responses to posts, send free copies to distributors, go on demo tours across the country, send out free dice or posters or some such thing, provide a new supplement every two months (making the first coincide with the GM-screen!), and ..." This is wrong because it mistakes the three-tier distribution and retail chain for the actual customers, and focuses on initial deep-order rather than long-term use-base. The distributors and retailers do not connect with the product.

Instead: say what you want to say with your game. Have it play the way you want to play it. Make sure that it speaks to you, not to some group you want to please. If you publish it through the stores, yes, meet certain needs of the three-tier chain - but only those needs which benefit you as well, not any and every need they plead for.

Now that's the Forge, all over. Has been from the beginning. Can anyone see that our distressed and self-imposed confusions about "mainstream," "stores," "us [gamers] vs. them," and "accessible design" are counter-productive?

Best,
Ron

P.S. Steve, more points about the boxes-thing are coming soon. For now, I'll say that you're significantly mis-reading the middle box. As long as role-playing is recognized as a sub-set of socializing, then we're good - picture the socializing box, in this case, as being just a weeny infinitesmal bit bigger than the role-playing one.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: GreatWolf on December 03, 2002, 10:06:22 AM
Quote
Instead: say what you want to say with your game. Have it play the way you want to play it. Make sure that it speaks to you, not to some group you want to please. If you publish it through the stores, yes, meet certain needs of the three-tier chain - but only those needs which benefit you as well, not any and every need they plead for.


If I'm reading this right, then this seems quite similar to the Tynes quote, which I can't remember verbatim but goes something like, "I design games for people who are me."

It seems like the right place to start, especially as folks are bringing art into the equation.  The first priority in art is expression, not commercial viability.  So a focus on expression seems right.  If you can make it commercially viable as well, then more power to you!

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Steve Dustin on December 03, 2002, 10:26:24 AM
Ok, so what I'm hearing is:

1) The Forge is a community of designers foremost

2) Roleplaying design is being hindered by the economics of the RPG scene

3) That a designer needs to divorce the two -- in other words -- spend time making "art" and not product

Ok, Yes.

4) The Forge is about making this happen

Ok, Maybe.

A couple of points -- I think the majority of people create to be "validated." I think that's a bad impulse -- one I'm only now starting to "get." With that said, I think that's why so many games die on the Indie Design page (or use to anyway). No validation for their idea.

This really is the fundamental issue to making any kind of art, whose it for? When you say "yourself," its very noble, but I don't think people realize what it takes to do art for "yourself." Hell, I'm not even sure I do, yet, but I'm working on it. Motivation is in there. And stick-to-it-ness.

But there's more to it then that. Do people create without validation, and remain satisfied?

So, how does the Forge reinforce this? I'm not gonna make any sweeping proclamation but just a question: Can someone make a game at the Forge without receiving any validation? What would that look like?

As for the boxes, sure, Ron. I'll take your word for it. I can wait.

Take care,
Steve Dustin


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 03, 2002, 10:44:17 AM
Hello,

Something's going very wrong all of a sudden.

What's all this about art VS. commercial viability? I am saying exactly the opposite: that a role-playing game is more commercially viable insofar as it is art.

By "art," I mean the "jazz you + jazz me" connection, nothing else.

By "viable," I mean "attractive enough to some people that they will pay for it," and "sustainable," not overwhelmingly hugely movie-signing viability.

Unless I'm mistaking something, both Steve and Seth seem to have read the previous posts rather differently.

Anyway, here's another Larger Picture goal of this thread (back to the "what's the point" thing). Do the stores and the three-tier in general serve the valid creator + audience connection? In the main, no, they don't. Their only claim to fame at the moment is that they permit the commerce to occur at all, which is to say, in the absence of an alternative. Such an alternative is in development right now, from many different angles. I'd like to get some discussion about that in terms of the Forge's identity as well.

Best,
Ron


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: GreatWolf on December 03, 2002, 11:03:28 AM
Whoops.  That's what I get for posting in a rush.

Let me clarify myself then.

I tend to think that a game that is an honest expression of the beliefs and desires of the designer will tend to be a better product than one that is primarily attempting to target a market audience.  I also agree that an obvious passion for a game that shows in the game itself will make a game more attractive.  When I was talking about "commercial viability", I was referring to the tendency to try to find a market segment and aim a product at them.

Case in point.  I have zero illusions that Legends of Alyria will be the source of the next RPG craze that sweeps the nation.  However, I don't plan on aiming it at some supposed target market.  I plan on designing it in a way that satisfies my goals for it.  I do happen to think that there are folks out there who will enjoy it, but I think that I will win an audience with them by having a game that oozes with passion.  Passion that is infectious.  The sort of passion that says "I designed this game and I love it and you'll want to love it by the time that you're finished reading this."

And, as I think about it, the RPGs that are currently residing at the top of my "favorites" list (e.g. Nobilis, Unknown Armies) demonstrate this passion.  And it's infectious.

If that's what you're saying, Ron, then we're not in disagreement here at all.  Hope we're back on the same wavelength.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Valamir on December 03, 2002, 11:22:07 AM
Quote from: Steve Dustin
A couple of points -- I think the majority of people create to be "validated." I think that's a bad impulse -- one I'm only now starting to "get." With that said, I think that's why so many games die on the Indie Design page (or use to anyway). No validation for their idea.


I'm not sure what you're getting at Steve.  "Die on the Indie Design Page".  What games die on the Indie Design Page?  Do you mean ideas that get discussed and batted around but don't result in a for sale product?  I'd hardly call that death...take the artist/illustrator of your choice.  For every full complete finished and sold (or at least displayed) work they have I bet you'll find a sketch book full of stuff in various stages of completion that will never reach a finished product...are all of those "pictures that died in the sketch book"?  I think not.


Quote from: Ron Edwards
Anyway, here's another Larger Picture goal of this thread (back to the "what's the point" thing). Do the stores and the three-tier in general serve the valid creator + audience connection? In the main, no, they don't. Their only claim to fame at the moment is that they permit the commerce to occur at all, which is to say, in the absence of an alternative. Such an alternative is in development right now, from many different angles. I'd like to get some discussion about that in terms of the Forge's identity as well.


Actually I was a little disappointed that that WASN'T what #5 was about.  I'd love to have that discussion, but to get it started I think we need a summation of exactly what a distributor is and what they do.  I know that they physically take ownership of the game and then push it down to the retailers...in my business we call that Underwriting.  And I know that they take a huge cut of the proceeds (in my business its the same...the people who really get rich on an IPO are the Investment Bankers...the distributors of the shares).   But what do they do really?

It needs to be broken down:
Warehouseing
Advertising
Retail order fulfillment
etc.

Only by fully understanding what exactly it is that a distributor does can we begin to talk about alternatives at anything more than the gross conceptual level.

For instance, how much inventory does a distributor actually carry?  If you whacked the stuff that hasn't sold in 3 years and expected publishers to warehouse the bulk of their own unsold stock so that the distributor only carries what they reasonably expect to move over 3-6 months how much warehouse space would that require...is that how they do it now?

How many individual retail game stores ARE there in the country.  How many seperate shipments are being made.  What is the typical size of a shipment to a retailer.  I've been present at game stores when the UPS guy rolls in 2 or 3 big boxes...but what's the norm.  Do they order 15-20 books at a time...100-200 books at a time?

What kind of differences are their between orders to large retailers and to small.

Is there any way currently for a publisher to know whether a game has actually sold vs how many copies are sitting in the bargain bin at retail stores?  I've been in retail stores where sales were written on little scraps of paper with names and Xs and then reconciled a couple times a year with a hand count.  I've been in stores where every single item is barcoded and scanned and the owner can tell exactly to the minute when an item sold, which salesman sold it, and (for customers with VIP discount cards) which customer bought it.

Do distributors ever make an effort to determine what of what they've sold to the retailer the retailer has actually sold.  REAL wholesalers do...by that I mean the companies who provide provide product to supermarkets and department stores.  They know in great detail what products are selling and what seasonal cycles there are to the sales.  If RPG distributors aren't performing even this basic function I'd really start to wonder what the hell they do to earn their cut.

But all that has to be the starting point.  We need some massive essay on how the 3 tier system works...not an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses, but literally who are the players and what services do they actually provide.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: jrients on December 03, 2002, 02:55:30 PM
Quote from: Steve Dustin
Ok, so what I'm hearing is:

1) The Forge is a community of designers foremost


I believe this sentiment has been expressed twice now in this thread.  Am I the only non-designer in this forum?  I feel like a member of the community, but perhaps I'm just kidding myself.

To me, the Forge as a community seems to be all about enabling better play.  Design is forefront because better design enables better play.  Dysfunctional play is dissected because it enables better play by giving clues as to what not to do.  The resource library and reviews exist to enable better play by offering new and innovative options.  The kind of frivolous chitchat I participate in at other sites is discouraged because it does not serve the goal of enabling better play.

That's my take on the Forge identity: a community dedicated to better play.  That's why as a player I come to the Forge.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 03, 2002, 03:05:22 PM
Hi jrients,

I agree with you. I don't agree with Steve that we're a community of "designers foremost," and I don't understand how he read that from any of the posts so far.

I can see how individual needs vary, certainly. Pound for pound, a lot of design goes on at the Forge or by people who regularly stop by. If someone's personal gain from the Forge is design help or discourse, where's the harm in that - just as, if your personal gain concerns play, where's the harm in that either.

Steve, I really don't see where or how you get the idea that design is placed as the central feature of the Forge. Take a look at my longer post above: all of its issues apply equally to creator and to customer/user. This is especially relevant to role-playing because the "designer" is merely a subset of "user population" in the first place.

Best,
Ron


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Blake Hutchins on December 03, 2002, 03:20:27 PM
Hi all,

Another quick side note:  As someone who recently posted the glimmerings of a game design on the Indie Game Design forum and let the thread drop into oblivion, let me emphasize that I don't consider the effort dead or anything but well-served by putting it up on the forum in the first place.  In my case, and perhaps this speaks to the experience of other proto-designers, I found I needed a great deal more serious thinking and tinkering before I was ready to continue the discussion.  The feedback I did get was by no means terminal; it was constructive and gave me plenty of grist for the mill.  When the mill has ground through it all, I'll be back to solicit another - hopefully more extensive - round of comments.

Best,

Blake


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Steve Dustin on December 03, 2002, 05:43:08 PM
Aww, crap. I guess I'm having a hard time pulling this thread together, getting to the core of what it's about.

The "died at Indie Design" is a red herring. My point wasn't about ideas "dying," it was that one of the reasons someone creates is to be validated by others. This whole tangent is probably best left to another thread.

Apparently I'm not on the same wave length as everyone here. I'll just ask: Am I wrong in saying this thread is about the Forge's function? It's purpose?

And have the following things been brought up as part of its purpose: pushing the boundaries of roleplaying design, fixing dysfunctional play, and connecting games (created with personal vision) with the "users" who will enjoy them?

Sorry about that.

Steve Dustin


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Clay on December 03, 2002, 06:49:04 PM
First, I'll say that The Forge does seem to have a bias towards designer support, at least in the general forums.  But there is definitely support for improving the role playing, especially in the Actual Play forum, and certainly in the individual company forums.

Something that I think would support both the designer and the player is more discussion on improving play. Although I tinker with my own designs, my real concern is running good games in any system.  I think that management and preparation skills as a GM are very important to this.  I'd love to see articles on (and am willing to contribute) how to create and run a scenario driven by situation, such as Call of Cthulhu or Traveller.  I'd really like to see articles on how to prepare and run scenarios that are character driven. I am weak in these things, which are essentially interpersonal and management skills (there's a reason I chose a position as a low level grunt-and-click programmer).


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Jonathan Walton on December 03, 2002, 08:42:02 PM
Quote from: Ron
Can anyone see that our distressed and self-imposed confusions about "mainstream," "stores," "us [gamers] vs. them," and "accessible design" are counter-productive?


Thanks, Ron.  I needed that.

Too often, I think, I get caught up in thinking that goes like: Hmm, there's not enough games like X.  In fact, there's not even a single game like X currently being published.  Wouldn't it be cool if there was a game like X?  Hey, why don't I create a game like X?

This type of thinking completely ignores the fact that I might not want to create a game like X.  Heck, I might not even be able to.  What I want is for someone else to do it, but, since it doesn't look like it's going to happen, I decide to take on the task myself.

Prime Examples
-- the Great American Roleplaying Game
-- a game accessible enough for anyone to play
-- El Dorado
-- a Fortune-less, GM-less system that supports various GNS styles of play and can tapdance

It's long past the time where I should have stopped writing the games I think I should be creating and started writing the games I actually want to create right now.  Thanks for smacking me upside the head.  Hopefully, that will clear the confusion for a bit.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 03, 2002, 10:13:27 PM
Hi Steve,

Spoink! I think your last post nails it nicely. What do you think about the community-issues I've raised? What sort of individual choices and self-examinations characterize the social goals that you've listed?

Best,
Ron


Title: A Hodge Podge Reply
Post by: wraeththu on December 03, 2002, 10:27:46 PM
I've been reading the Forge Forums for several months now without trying to really reply or interact with many of the threads.  I can say from a sidelines viewer's point of view that this site very much has a "Community" feel.  You can't wander in without noticing that it's very much a discussion community that has obviously been sitting at the bar and gabbing together for a long time now.   As in all social settings, the established foundations appear slightly daunting to the outsider, but I have gotten the feel that newcomers are welcome here.  So, as an odd overview - congrats on the creation of this community.  No matter what Ron and Clint aimed to do a year ago - they created something wonderful.

As a game designer, I've found a ton of useful information on this site.  I stumbled onto it by accident one night and fairly devoured all the various posts and threads.  I've been watching it avidly ever since.  Ron seemed confused that someone would view this place as "primarily of/for designers."  To me, that just seemed plainly obvious.  It's all about Design and Launch and Support of RPG's.  Much of what I've read here is mainly of interest to me as a designer first and as a player second.   <chuckle> when I bring this stuff up in conversation to players around me, most get that glassy eyed look as if I'd started going on about quantum mechanics.

Anyway, this thread really does have a very Sienfield-esque quality.  Since we were discussing Community though, I wanted to bring up the facts that
1. the community does exist.
2. it's an amazingly fun set of viewpoints being shared
3. it's a unique place with a unique offering.
and most importantly -
4. The Forge is highly appreciated

-wade jones
dialectic llc
atlanta, ga


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Rich Forest on December 03, 2002, 10:45:33 PM
Ok, a lot of interesting stuff has been brought up since I posted.  I’m back to plug away at my angle on one thing that the Forge is to me-- a “discourse community.”  As Mike and Ron have pointed out, sure, I can say “the Forge is a discourse community,” and I can even provide evidence for my statement...  

But so what?  

What is a discourse community, and what does conceptualizing the Forge as a discourse community do for us?

First, I’ll provide a quick definition of discourse community in the sense I’m using it.  Then I’ll get right into the issue of what it does for us.  

Definitions: I’m approaching the concept from the perspective of applied linguistics, specifically genre analysis (one analytical tool commonly used in the field).  John Swales, a University of Michigan linguist, is my main influence here.  He uses the concept of discourse community as a part of how he analyzes genres of text.  His focus is on the academic research article, and thus on the discourse community that uses it.  So genres and discourse communities are related in that different communities use different language structures to get things done.  When I identify the Forge as a discourse community, I’m saying we are a community that shares a bunch of (primarily written) genres.  Once that is established, we can safely start to analyze what those genres are, which then allows us to help others get involved in the community by becoming competent in using those genres.  Swales, as I mentioned, uses it to analyze academic and research writing.  His discourse communities are primarily the discourse communities of academia, particularly the sciences.  He has done a lot of work analyzing scientific discourse, which he has then applied pedagogically to teaching non-native English speaking graduate students how to use language more effectively in their academic communities.  As for a straight up definition of “discourse community, Swales uses this as a basis: the notion is “that language use in a group is a form of social behavior, that discourse is a means of maintaining and extending the group’s knowledge and of initiating new members into the group, and that discourse is epistemic or constitutive of the group’s knowledge.”  This definition, by the way, is from a 1986 paper presented by Bruce Herzberg.  

That’s a short definition, and it’s longer than I’d hoped it would be.  Now I’ll get to what understanding our status as a discourse community does for us.

My answer is that it is one way to analyze how the Forge helps community members use language to achieve community and individual goals.  And once we start to really understand how we are doing this, community members are more prepared to provide new members with tools to do the same.  

From this perspective, Ron’s “set of five,” particularly this thread, is all about gathering input from the community about what the standards of the community are.  The first criterion of a discourse community is the presence of a “broadly agreed set of public goals.”  The community is continually evolving in its relationships to these goals, and as a number of people have pointed out in this thread alone, although individual members may have different ideas about how these goals are prioritized, we do broadly agree on what these goals are.  An example of this is the “improving play” vs. “supporting design” issue, which to a large extent isn’t really an “either/or” issue.  Instead it’s an issue of identifying our individual priorities and how they influence what we each interpret the community’s priority to be.  It may not be necessary to really define which priority is our primary one.  Both are accepted as goals shared by the community.  I haven’t seen anyone argue that either of these goals is not important.  Rather, the discussion is centered on which is most important.  

Next, where I see the “discourse community” concept becoming particularly useful is in raising our collective awareness of what we are doing when we’re talking about language.  As a discourse community, we share a set of genres and vocabulary items.  Again, individual members have varying degrees of expertise, but by and large the generic structures and vocabulary are shared.  The Forge is somewhat famous (or infamous) for its “lingo,” which is just our shared vocabulary.  Every discourse community has one—ours is just more, well, rigorously defined.  But I would argue that our word use isn’t even the most important part of how we use language.  Although many new members and non-members claim difficulties due to “Forge lingo,” I think they are more often really having troubles at the post and thread levels.  In language terms, they are having problems at the genre level, and all the more so because they are having difficulties identifying this.  The “Etiquette at the Forge” thread formalizes some of the post and thread level expectations about language use.  It provides a really useful introduction to the way we use language at the Forge.  That said, I suspect a lot of folks don’t read it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t read it at first because I’ve trained myself not to read those things.  Instead of reading it, many folks learn through more direct initiation by the experts—the Forge members who have been around and figured this stuff out.  Many new members learn through engaging in discourse directly with the rest of the community.

On this note, I think one of the most vital aspects of keeping a discourse community alive and vital is ensuring that we have a high enough ratio of active experts to novices to keep the community’s identity clear.  Again, the “set of five,” while perhaps doing a number of other things, has done a lot to bring the ideas of expert members and novice members together.  The Forge has grown a lot over the last year, and it’s not surprising that this has been pointed out most often by the expert members, who are feeling the pressures of keeping the discourse community going while introducing new members to its goals and concepts.  The new members, for their part, are bringing a lot of new ideas of their own and expanding the meaning of “what the Forge community is.”  Furthermore, everyone who is reading the Forge regularly is also becoming a part of the discourse community and becoming familiar with how language is used here.  I suspect that this “set of five” has done more to show new members what the Forge is about and how language is used here than the “Etiquette” thread, not only because it is compelling, but also because it is current.

Now, the term “discourse community” is really focused on discourse carried out through text.  Because the Forge community interacts through text, I thought it might bring some tools to our toolbox of talking about what we are.  I think the usefulness of identifying ourselves as a discourse community is partly in just coming to an understanding of how we communicate in and support the Forge community.  As we do this, we also have the option of exploring successful language use within the community.  For example, we might begin identifying “successful” and “unsuccessful” language use at the Forge and describing the structures that have made it successful or unsuccessful (I’m purposely not getting into defining “successful” or “unsuccessful” just yet).  By doing so, we could more quickly help new members join the community effectively.  

That’s what I see “discourse community” adding to our understanding of the Forge.  

As I said at the beginning, this is only one aspect of even my own answer to what the Forge is, as a community.  There are a number of other issues in this thread, a number of other aspects of the question that others are currently exploring.  I’ll let others explore those for now simply because I’m exhausted :)

Rich


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: MK Snyder on December 04, 2002, 12:17:20 AM
Hmmm, Ron, your first post in this thread seems to me to be a bit overly pessimistic in tone. Maybe it is because the Forge has been generating materials of late that are useful in diagnosing disfunction in the Social Contract, and we are low on success stories.

When I came to this forum, I thought it focussed on the design, production, and marketing of Independent RPG's. I now see that in addition to that, this forum has also been generating other resources useful to the RPG community as a whole, such as analyses of the industry, examination of the player base demographically, examination of player motivation personally-- and my personal favorite-- play diagnostics.

It has been of great help to my gaming group as I have started using concepts from here to interview my fellow players and encourage discussion of our table contract. My gaming group is made up of my entire nuclear family and intimate friends, as well as gaming acquaintences.

I have not found the "split" Ron specifies, that intimates make better co-gamers than those who have come together solely on account of gaming. Rather, gaming style preferences are strongly linked to personality and cognitive style. That may account for some of the emotional resonance and passion that gaming preferences evoke from gamers; clashes in style do not remain emotionally neutral events for long.

All is not hopeless, however. While preferences are deeply rooted and dearly held, it is possible to negotiate compromises that lead to an overall more satisfying gaming experience for the group as a whole.  It has also given us some direction in choosing new games to try, and expanding our expectations of one another.


Title: Re: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: A.Neill on December 04, 2002, 03:11:06 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards


So, in conclusion, here's my proposal for what the Forge is for: it is a social means by which we improve our enjoyment of role-playing. I've said this before, but now, in the context of the Infamous Four So Far, the topic of "role-playing" has moved a bit outwards from, say, Fortune-in-the-Middle and its relation to Narrativist play. It's moved into issues of people, relationships, self-image, and groups - or rather, I've pointed out that these issues must be addressed in order to discuss such things as the funky rules and theory stuff. If the Forge is to achieve the goal of aiding people's enjoyment of their hobby, then identifying the source of one's own unhappiness becomes a serious issue.



Yes! I’m a leech at the Forge. I take, take and take. Sucking it all up, cognitively munching what’s produced and regurgitating for my own gaming enjoyment (and the enjoyment of ‘my group’). Like a good parasite I want more. GNS has changed my perception of games and increased the fun I have playing. I’ve played more goddamn indie games over the last 18 months than I have in the twenty gaming years that went before. Now I like the increasing number of threads on sociological issues. We could go on to explore the ergonomics of a good gaming environment etc. Of course there’ll be the risk that shinning a light into these dark areas will result in the usual accusations of gaming elitism. But the forge “heavy-hitters” already have to put up with that guff.

Is there a danger though, that if “social means by which we improve our enjoyment of role-playing” becomes the mission statement, the special place for indie design will be diluted?

Alan.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Valamir on December 04, 2002, 06:36:35 AM
That Discourse Community stuff is fascinating Rich.  Perhaps for archival purposes it would be a good idea to copy it over to a thread of its own for future reference...or even better write up an article on it.

Perhaps in the process you could define how "genre" is being used in your write-up.  I followed it from context, but its a somewhat different context than I'm used to seeing it used in.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on December 04, 2002, 08:02:18 AM
Just to second what Ralph said - Rich, if you write an article on 'discourse community' and what it means to the Forge, I'll post it in the Articles section.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Irmo on December 04, 2002, 10:42:05 AM
Quote from: Rich
As for a straight up definition of “discourse community, Swales uses this as a basis: the notion is “that language use in a group is a form of social behavior, that discourse is a means of maintaining and extending the group’s knowledge and of initiating new members into the group, and that discourse is epistemic or constitutive of the group’s knowledge.”  This definition, by the way, is from a 1986 paper presented by Bruce Herzberg.  


Rich, I found your post very enlightening, but I have some questions and challenges on the applicability I'd like to hear your opinion on. As far as the above paragraph is concerned, I'd like to ask:

To what degree is this happening, and what is the pool you see the Forge initiating new members from? Looking at the member list, and the activity of the individual members suggests that the initiation to the Forge is extremely selective as to the cultural background of the members. As such, to what degree the group's knowledge is significantly extended can be seen as questionable depending on what the group's knowledge is supposed to be applicable to.

Quote

On this note, I think one of the most vital aspects of keeping a discourse community alive and vital is ensuring that we have a high enough ratio of active experts to novices to keep the community’s identity clear.  Again, the “set of five,” while perhaps doing a number of other things, has done a lot to bring the ideas of expert members and novice members together.  The Forge has grown a lot over the last year, and it’s not surprising that this has been pointed out most often by the expert members, who are feeling the pressures of keeping the discourse community going while introducing new members to its goals and concepts.  The new members, for their part, are bringing a lot of new ideas of their own and expanding the meaning of “what the Forge community is.”  Furthermore, everyone who is reading the Forge regularly is also becoming a part of the discourse community and becoming familiar with how language is used here.  I suspect that this “set of five” has done more to show new members what the Forge is about and how language is used here than the “Etiquette” thread, not only because it is compelling, but also because it is current.


But as you pointed out above, the use of language is "a means of maintaining and extending the group’s knowledge and of initiating new members into the group". For that latter goal, a high number of what you call expert members, can be hindrance more than help, since it can favor inertia over innovation, and hinder challenges of preconceptions, especially where the expert members share a common background and thus represent a largely singular perspective (although, of course, there may be differences in the details).

Use of language is not the least influenced by cultural criteria but also individual priorities, and insisting on one specific way of communicating information, while maybe making it easier to understand for some hinders the speed at which information flows. This is perhaps best illustrated by the frequent example of reviewers looking at the names of authors of scientific manuscripts (or not even that, but just the address of the submitting institution) and dismissing phrases with "We suggest having the manuscript reviewed by a native speaker", oblivious to the fact that it had in fact been written by one, or reviewed and revised by a technical editor who is a native speaker. While one expert considered the language effective, another did not. That other being in the position of making the decision on whether the specific use is acceptable or not hindered the flow of information and the extension of the knowledge of the community.

It is, I think, important to keep in mind what the goal is and what the means is to get there. At times, it can be that other means are more efficient.

Language can be a tool to benefit the flow of information, but it can also be a tool to limit it. Inasfar as that prevents valid perspectives to be represented, it threatens to invalidate the general applicability of the knowledge of the discourse community as representing merely special circumstances, namely those represented by the expert members.


Title: Re: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Emily Care on December 04, 2002, 01:35:18 PM
Quote from: Rich
When I identify the Forge as a discourse community, I’m saying we are a community that shares a bunch of (primarily written) genres. Once that is established, we can safely start to analyze what those genres are, which then allows us to help others get involved in the community by becoming competent in using those genres.
 

So, it seems that one aspect of a discourse community is that it establishes a certain body of knowledge that can be agreed on and applied, and then it welcomes in others and communicates this knowledge to them, allowing them to make use of it.  The benefits of working in community like this are great--cross-fertilization is possible, encouragement is available, and resources are shared giving everyone access to exponentially more than they would have otherwise.  Part of the magic of the web, and the current era.  The shared terminology can be a barrier, but it is also part of the boundaries of the group.  The focus of the discussion allows a much higher level of understanding to develop, since energy can be devoted to new discoveries, instead of having to be diverted to constantly re-hashing basic issues. (Well, that's the goal. It has seemed at times that that is not how it has felt to everyone.)      

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I'm not really sure whether a diverse group of role-players has ever had such a community at its disposal, unlinked to a particular group or company. There are bigger forums/boards on the internet, but they are more like a sea of individuals rather than a community such as I'm describing, and discussions tend to be isolated and abandoned rather than treated as an archive.


The forge reminds me quite a bit of the online community that formulated the original Threefold Model (GDS). Although I was more of a secondary observer in that group, it seems to me that there is more of an emphasis in the Forge on helping newcomers to understand the common terminology.  There is even a certain amount of mentoring of newcomers by experienced members that happens.  The members of this group demonstrate commitment to our common goals and to eachother.

--Emily Care


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 04, 2002, 01:56:08 PM
Irmo,

Sounds like standard deconstructionist talk. Next you'll be telling us that the Forge shouldn't use English, as that biases it's production in a way that makes it less useful for people who don't have English as their first language.

When, in fact, it can be seen that the site has very little use for anyone who does not speak English (Fang's posts aside).

As such, yes, I'm willing to admit that the site has an English speaking, even American bias and further is biased towards those willing to "subjugate" themselves to the "tyrany" of our specific jargon. Hell, it's probably even "male-oriented", and "white".

Guess it's good to be a white American Male, then, who speaks GNS fluently.

The only problem with this sort of analysis is that discourse requires participants, and there is no way to cease bringing your bias. So, if we are to have a Forge at all, with real participants, we have to start with what we have no matter how imperfect, and go from there. If you don't like the jargon, or any other biases that we bring, then, well, sorry. Nothing we can do about it, without ceasing to be The Forge.

To suggest that we chuck the specific language of the site is as non-sensical as trying to make all Americans stop speaking English (perhaps we shoud be speaking Navaho). In the end we're still using language, and no matter what we'll be just as bad-off as we were when we started.

Apollogies. Deconstructionists get my goat. If you want to discuss the usefulness of particular terms. Be my guest. But I for one see the value of the terminology and will continue to use it with gay abandon.

Mike


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on December 04, 2002, 03:15:05 PM
It's a good thing I have "Teach Yourself Esperanto" on my bookshelf. Starting Jan. 1, all Forge posts must be in Esperanto.

(First, of course I'm kidding. Second, I already know about the Western European bias of Esperanto. Strangely, that doesn't stop the Chinese government from using it for much of their official communication, a little known fact I delight in.)


Title: Re: A Hodge Podge Reply
Post by: Kester Pelagius on December 04, 2002, 10:46:39 PM
Greetings wraeththu,

In this, my first post to you, let me just said:  Well said!

Quote from: wraeththu
...

No matter what Ron and Clint aimed to do a year ago - they created something wonderful.

...

As a game designer, I've found a ton of useful information on this site.  I stumbled onto it by accident one night and fairly devoured all the various posts and threads.  I've been watching it avidly ever since.  Ron seemed confused that someone would view this place as "primarily of/for designers."  To me, that just seemed plainly obvious.  It's all about Design and Launch and Support of RPG's.  Much of what I've read here is mainly of interest to me as a designer first and as a player second.   <chuckle> when I bring this stuff up in conversation to players around me, most get that glassy eyed look as if I'd started going on about quantum mechanics.


That's kind-of how I originally stumbled on this forum also.

Course there a bit more depth to the forums, something few of us probably realize that just lurk.  But, once you log in, start to participate in discussions, you find a lot more going on.

Course, at times, you might feel like you've alienated people with comments about this or that without meaning to alienate anyone.  But such is life, sadly.

Great place to get design feedback, if what you post intrigues the denizens.  Oh, how hard it is to grab the attention of the denizens!

I should know, I am one of them.   Then you already knew that, being a denizen yourself, didn't you?  *smirk*


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Rich Forest on December 04, 2002, 11:57:08 PM
Wow.

A lot has been said.  

I’m going to try to address some of the things that have arisen in this thread, and I hope that I’m not missing anything important.  I'll also add a disclaimer--just now, as I'm posting this, I've noticed about four new posts that I hadn't read when I wrote this thing.  I haven't read these posts carefully enough yet to incorporate them into what I'm saying, mostly because it's pretty late and I'm tired :)

I’ll begin with Irmo’s initial questions about my last post, and go forward from there.  I’m going to mostly stay very far away from most of what Irmo and Mike, and particularly Irmo and Clinton have been working out amongst themselves.  I think it’s gone through the heaviest point and will be moving on to something more constructive pretty soon, given Clinton and Irmo’s most recent posts.  

So I’ll start with your main questions for me, Irmo.  This is how I read them, and clarify me if I’m wrong: 1) What group(s) are we drawing new members from? 2) If we are drawing from only a limited set of cultural backgrounds, how does that limit the development of the knowledge of discourse community?  

As an aside, I think these are good questions, and they aren’t really in disagreement with anything I’m proposing.  In fact, my main job, I think, is to clarify “foggy” language use on my own part.  

Given that, my best answers are these:

1) What group(s) are we drawing new members from?  

We are drawing new members from a much larger group, which is not in itself a single discourse community, but which has a set of members with, I propose, at least one thing in common—they are all roleplayers who are active on the internet.  More than that, I can’t really say because even the member list is fairly limited in what real data it provides.  At this point, I’m also going to say that I’m using “active” to mean “active in using and reading the internet.”  I am not using the term to only refer to those who actively post on the internet.  Later, I’ll explain why I'm using it this way and how that relates to the concept of discourse communities.      

2) If we are drawing from only a limited set of cultural backgrounds, how does that limit the development of the knowledge of discourse community?

This question is interesting, but it is based on an interpretation of discourse community that it slightly different from what I was trying to present.  I think I failed to make it sufficiently clear what I meant when I used the terms “expert” and “novice,” and this is what lead to the confusion.  When I use the terms “expert” and “novice,” I am referring only to expertise in using the language (both lexical and generic) of the discourse community.  So when I say “expert” or “novice,” I am not talking about subject knowledge at all.  A novice member is one who has relatively little knowledge of how discourse works at the Forge.  Whether that member has subject knowledge or not isn’t part of what I meant by the terms.  Of course, the terms themselves are used most often in common parlance to refer to subject knowledge, which is what caused the confusion in the first place.      

 Now, this lets me get at your next main question, which I’m going to quote a portion of:

Quote
Language can be a tool to benefit the flow of information, but it can also be a tool to limit it. Inasfar as that prevents valid perspectives to be represented, it threatens to invalidate the general applicability of the knowledge of the discourse community as representing merely special circumstances, namely those represented by the expert members.


I think I can also answer this question partly by clarifying what was not clear in my previous posts.  I didn’t actually mean to imply “a high ratio of experts to novices,” although I can see how the wording could lead to that interpretation. What I really meant to express was something more like, “enough experts in the language structures and vocabulary of the community to help novices become sufficiently competent in those structures to effectively join the discourse.”  

So a high enough ratio doesn’t actually mean a lot.  It just means enough to help new people gain entry.  Whether too high a ratio of experts leads to greater barriers to entry depends on the degree to which those experts actively help others join the community.  I think this has less to do with the lexis and genres of the community (my focus), and more to do with other social and personality factors of the experts.  Perhaps I should revise my initial statement to say, “enough experts in the language structures and vocabulary of the community who are active in helping novices become competent enough in those structures to effectively join the discourse.”  In a related note, I don’t think it is necessarily true that the presence of too many experts will unavoidably create greater barriers to entry.  It may.  It may not.  I think it depends more on the social and personality factors involved.  But I’m out of my area here, as I’m really primarily trying to talk about community language use when I talk about discourse communities.  

On a related note, the danger of having too few experts is something like this: if there are not enough experts in the language structures of the community to initiate new members, the community will change to such an extent that it becomes a different discourse community.  This is only a danger in that it may lead to a certain degree of “starting over” in terms of establishing the generic and lexical structures of the new community.  This is not necessarily “good” or “bad.”  Such a change in the nature of the community may either degrade its usefulness or improve its efficiency.  I can’t say which.  All I’m trying to say is that if the structures of the community change, there will be a great deal of work involved, and this work will require energy that might otherwise be applied to developing the subject knowledge of the community.

One value of a discourse community is that it develops a set of ways to communicate, and once this set of ways is understood, anyone can contribute to the community.  Now, I don’t want to get into the issue the biases of the Forge because I don’t see gender, cultural, or even linguistic background as ultimately limiting factors in joining a discourse community.  Regardless of your background, and regardless of the backgrounds that created the discourse community, if the discourse rules are understood clearly, then anyone can learn to use them.  It is true that some will have more new rules to learn than others.  This means that it will take more effort on their parts and on the parts of the expert members to give them the tools to use the community most effectively.  Whether this work is being done is another question, and one that I’m not ready to get at yet.  My focus, at the moment, is not on evaluating the effectiveness of the community.  I’m still trying to describe how language is being used here—something I don’t think I’ve done successfully, yet.  

Also, I think Emily really hit something important when she emphasized that the structures are “both barriers and boundaries.”  In fact, regardless of the circumstances and cultural influences that helped form the structures of the discourse community, the community must have such structures to be a discourse community, and those structures will simultaneously limit and support the discourse.  Limitations in how language is structured are not necessarily limiting to what subject knowledge can be expressed within the structures of that language.  The forms of language used do not preclude the expression of new ideas or the evolution of existing ideas.  Language, by its very nature, is not static.  If terminology or generic structures are lacking, additional terminology and structures will be created to enable communication of new ideas.  And in fact, limitations (read: "rules") of how language is used within a community support communication and also support the development of new ideas by providing a useful framework for the presentation of those ideas.  Besides, ultimately it is only the consensus of the members of the community that makes these rules stick.  

Next, I’d like to address the issue of membership in regards to the concept of discourse community because it differs, I think, from the concepts of what “membership” means that I’ve heard in this thread so far.  With regards to the discourse community, the membership is not limited to those who speak, nor is it limited to those who have signed up formally as members of the forum.  These limits may very well apply to membership in other aspects of the community, but the more I think about it, the more I think that “community” as Ron initially used it means something slightly different here than the "community" in “discourse community,” and it is only now that I’m starting to really see this.  Membership in a discourse community is contingent only on understanding of and involvement with the discourse, where “involvement” includes reading and keeping up with the discourse.  Members who are signed up but never come and read what’s going on now are not members of the discourse community.  They were members, but they are not currently.  Conversely, folks who read the Forge regularly can be novice or expert members of the discourse community insofar as they actively follow the discourse.  Just reading this stuff is involvement.  Anyone who puts in the effort to come here, regularly, and keep up with the state of the discourse, is a member of the discourse community.  

As an example, Wade, who has been reading the Forge for several months now, is part of the discourse community, and he has been for awhile.  Kester's post recognizes this.  Notice some signs of Wade's expertise in the discourse: even though his screen name, wraethu, is not his real name, and even though it was only his third actual post, he signed his post with his real name because that is one of the “ways” language is used at the Forge.  In fact, he did this in his very first post.  We tend to use real names here, as often as no one objects.  He knows this, and I bet he has a solid understanding of how vocabulary is used here as well.  (I admit that it is possible that he "followed the discourse rules correctly" by accident because it is his own habit to sign with his own name.  I suspect his knowledge of the discourse community was the real reason, though.)

In fact, take a look at my own number of posts.  Compare it tothe date of when I signed up as a member.  Now, consider how long I may have been purely lurking before I did this.  Am I an expert or novice member of the discourse community?  Does my actual number of posts reflect this, particularly given how long I've been coming here?  I don’t think it does.  Now, does my actual number of posts reflect how much I am a member of the community in other ways?  I think it does.  Current active members might not really even be aware that I've been here for awhile because I don't post much.  So I'm not (socially?) a member of the community in some ways.  But taking it further, even my visibility as a poster doesn't reveal how I may be a member of the community in other ways.  By acting as an editor for Jared, I’m active in a fairly quiet manner through my contacts with him (and I should be editing right now, by the way, instead of writing these long, long posts—sorry Jared, I'll get back to work, right away, I promise :).  I’ve also met some other community members at Gen Con and roleplayed with them, so I have faces and voices and experiences to put to names.  But all of this is irrelevant to how expert or novice I am as a member of the discourse community.

And Wade, Welcome to the Forge!—just in case no one has said it yet.  

Of course, the way we use “Welcome to the Forge” is also a part of the rules of the Forge discourse community, even though it is not a welcome to the discourse community itself (Wade has been a member of the discourse community for a few months).  It is actually a welcome to the community of posters, which has a lot more aspects than I’m dealing with in my posts.  

Ralph—I promise I’ll get at how I’m using the term “genre" in the future, but I'm not going to go into it at the moment.  You are right that I’m using it in a very specific way, which differs from how it is used in more than one other field as well as in common parlance.  I should also point out that I’m using “generic” differently as well--as an adjectival form of the “genre” I’m talking about.  I’ll try to get to it soon, I promise.  Clinton, I’d love to turn this into an article.  It could take some time, of course.  I’ll contact you about it when I get something and see if you’re still interested.  

Finally, I think in a number of ways we have strayed from our own discourse rules in parts of this thread.  And we recognized it.  And look, now that we're following them again, we're getting back to the main point of the thread.  I think that's the best example of discourse community in action that I could possibly ask for.  

Whew.

Rich Forest


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Emily Care on December 05, 2002, 07:21:55 AM
Quote from: Rich Forest
I think, from the concepts of what “membership” means that I’ve heard in this thread so far. With regards to the discourse community, the membership is not limited to those who speak, nor is it limited to those who have signed up formally as members of the forum.


The pool of non-posters-who-read are actually part of what makes this, and any, community, viable.  Did I say this already? Sorry if so, but--any group gains and loses members. That's just a natural part of the way people engage in groups.  The core group holds the central indentity and message of the community, allowing it to have continuous existence, and much larger groups of people come in and leave, having taken part at a much wider variety of levels of involvement.  The silent participaters represent a pool of potential active participants. They are taking part in the ways that Rich describes, and waiting to be "activated" by something that catches their interest and prompts them into active participation.

The group will die/end if that pool becomes depleted.  The group will die/change if the core gets depleted or obliterated.  The group will live/evolve as the core remains strong--and this membership will change over time as well--and the potential pool is large and continually being added to.

Profiling threads often get people to speak out once, but not necessarily to become active.  I'd think that when an area of someone's interest and/or expertise arises they are likely to get involved. That's a question, what brought out all of those who are active? And for those who are silent what are you looking for?

And finally, I'm not saying anything needs to "be done" for or about anyone who reads and doesn't post.  I just acknowledge that they are a vital part of the Forge, in a different way than one might normally think of it. And they will take care of themselves--no special effort needs to be made. It's a process of self-selection that gets people active, as it should be.  However, if there are barriers people who don't normally post experience, then that information would be valuable to get.

--Emily Care


Title: Pissing in the Pool
Post by: Clay on December 05, 2002, 09:23:52 AM
Before we get all self-congratulatory about this "Discourse Community" concept, let's sit back and look at what it's actually saying:

1. People adapt their language and behavior to the accepted norms of a community.

2. Their language and behavior in the community is different than when out of the community.

3. People are rewarded for this behavior by advancing within the community.

I'm pretty sure that I've summed this up correctly, although if I've missed something, please enlighten me.  Sentences which match my attention span (very short) are preferred.

More to the point, what does this nice theory get us? So far the only thing we've identified is that there's a certain way we act here that doesn't apply elsewhere, and there are certain topics of conversation which are appropriate and others which aren't (genres).  With all of the words that have been expended, I hope there's a payoff.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Rich Forest on December 05, 2002, 10:47:15 PM
Hi Clay,

Ok, I’ll keep this one short, for a couple reasons.  The first, of course, is that it’s what you’ve asked for.  However, I also think I’ve already answered your main question (What’s the payoff?) in my second post, to a large extent.  And besides, I couldn’t write another long post about the topic for the fourth night in a row even if I wanted to.  

So short answers: First, I think you’ve got 1 and 2 right.  

But I’m not sure about 3… depending on what you mean by “…are rewarded for this behavior.”  If you mean something like, “are able to communicate more effectively in the group,” I’ll take those three as good enough.  Of course, I do think there are genuine, valuable pieces that your summary points overlook, which is why I wrote my own posts up at such length (I'm not using "all those words" just to hear myself talk, I promise).  But a summary is a summary, after all.

Next, I’d like to add a short note about genre: I’m using the term “genre” as it’s used in linguistics, which is, in very broad strokes, something like “format/organizational scheme.” It isn’t topic or topic area.  Again, you couldn’t have known that because I didn’t really explain it clearly.  Of course, if I wanted to really give a good definition, it’d take more space and words than I think you want or I have the energy for, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.  

The main point—what’s the payoff?  For one, I think that the more we understand how a discourse community works, the more we can do to keep our own community fit.  I think Emily is exploring some of this in her post, above.  Also, the more explicitly aware we are of the way our discourse works, the more efficiently we can use it to communicate within the community.  This is even useful for experts, and it’s very useful for novices to the community who want to get into the discourse quickly and efficiently.  Finally, for me anyway, just having a variety of ways to understand the community is valuable in and of itself.  

Hope I’ve addressed your questions,

Rich Forest


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Clay on December 06, 2002, 09:38:50 AM
Quote from: Rich
I’m using the term “genre” as it’s used in linguistics, which is, in very broad strokes, something like “format/organizational scheme.” It isn’t topic or topic area.  Again, you couldn’t have known that because I didn’t really explain it clearly.


Ah, so what you mean by genre is something I included in behavior modification. You're rewarded (i.e. communicate more effectively) if you do things "the way things are done around here."  

It's good to see what you're driving at.  It seems that you're ultimately looking for the techniques for maintaining the current high level of discourse here, possibly with the ability to replicate it.


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Emily Care on December 07, 2002, 06:31:53 PM
Quote from: I
The group will die/end if that pool becomes depleted. The group will die/change if the core gets depleted or obliterated. The group will live/evolve as the core remains strong--and this membership will change over time as well--and the potential pool is large and continually being added to.


Well, I check out the posting stats from the bottom up, out of curiousity to see what the "pools" are like here. Can't tell how recently folks have posted so it won't discern current trends, and is possibly completely useless!!!?! but nifty so I figured I'd share:

# posts-># people
0->276
1->149
2->80
3-9->204
10-20->92
21-50->84
51-100->52
100-500->69
501-1000->12
1000-4862->5

Looks like around 1/3 joined and never posted. 1/3 wrote the majority of the posts. I suspect most lurkers are in the middle 1/3, having posted 1-9 times.  I hate that term:lurker. Silent witness is too florid but just as apt. The potential pool of posters.  

Top 5 and 17, you busy guys. Thanks for all the hard work.

--Emily Care


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: MK Snyder on December 07, 2002, 08:51:14 PM
I use the term "studio audience".


Title: The Forge as a community (Thread #5 of 5)
Post by: Emily Care on December 08, 2002, 04:03:44 AM
Quote from: MK Snyder
I use the term "studio audience".


At open mic night.