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Started by TonyLB, June 19, 2006, 05:59:14 PM

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Substance and Rhetoric

The Muse of Fire forum exists in order to help people discuss the act of roleplaying generally and Capes (and any other games I make later) specifically.  I am very proud of how well people discuss such matters here.  We have serious disagreements (it's serious business!) but people are very good at recognizing that those disagreements can be productive, and at fostering mutual understanding.  I tend to label such discussions (in my head, for shorthand) as "Substance discussions."  I see a lot of them, which is a good thing.  Go forum!

The Muse of Fire forum does not exist in order to help people discuss the act of discussing things generally, and the rhetorical and moral failings of those who disagree with them specifically.  That's dangerous territory, because it is very unlikely to foster mutual understanding, and far more likely to spin out of control as people become defensive about being attacked (and attack in turn).  I tend to label such discussions (in my head, for shorthand) as "Rhetorical discussions."  I see very few of them, which is a good thing.  Go forum!

Substance discussions can very easily lead to rhetoric discussions.  The substantive discussion does not concern matters of rhetoric, but it is written, and so the very writing itself exists to be responded to.  Rhetoric discussions never lead back to substance discussions.  The rhetorical discussion is self-complete:  it discusses itself.  Since we are not, in the act of posting to this forum, engaged in the act of roleplaying a rhetorical discussion provides nothing substantive that can be responded to.

Any rhetorical discussion is a tangent from your substantive discussion.  You go out, establish something about the discussion itself and its members, and then backtrack to your substantive discussion.  Used in that way rhetorical discussion can be useful in small quantities.  Example (substance in blue, rhetoric in red):

QuoteJeb:  Roleplaying requires, by definition, that you make decisions from within the thought patterns of your character.
Eddie:  When you say 'by definition,' I think that you're stretching your argument too far.  There isn't any globally accepted definition of roleplaying, so saying that anything is true 'by definition' is simply begging the question of what personal definition you're using, and how you intend to justify it.  In playing games like Capes, PTA and the like I often make decisions from well outside the thought patterns of my character.  That has served, in my case, to increase my enjoyment of RPGs rather than decrease them.  Where do you stand relative to my experience in that regard?
Jeb:  Oh ... I think I see where the basis of our initial disagreement arises.  I define roleplaying in a way that would exclude games like Capes and PTA from being roleplaying games.  The word, after all, has historical and cultural connotations, and those conspire to provide a commonly accepted definition.  I don't have any opinion on your experience, since it seems to me unrelated to the question of roleplaying games.

Note how very nicely the conversation still works when you remove every single piece of red text?  It's all unnecessary to the central argument ... it's only purpose is to lubricate the human communication while the central argument is being hashed out.

Does it sound like I'm totally opposed to rhetorical discussion?  I'm not.  Helping people to understand what they're saying to each other is good stuff, so long as it is in service to a substantive discussion.  But there is no place in this forum for a rhetorical discussion to take the spotlight and to shove substantive discussion to one side.  There is, very specifically, no place in this forum for posting a rhetorical argument without every offering a substantive argument.

People seem to think that I can't tell when this is happening ... or perhaps they don't realize that it's happening themselves.  But damn, it's really, really obvious when it's happening, and it just totally pisses me off.  Example (substance in blue, rhetoric in red):

QuoteCarol:  The mechanics of a game have a powerful effect on the emotions and choices of the players.  This power can go astray, but it can also be used to help people achieve their creative goals.  When rules are helping to cultivate the feelings and choices that the players want help with, this makes for a more satisfying and enjoyable game than the same game without any rules (i.e. freeform).
Zeke:  When you say that, you're unavoidably passing judgment on everyone who enjoys freeform play.  You're saying that they're playing wrong.  That's heartless and insensitive, and it only makes sense if you ignore the many people who have a good time playing freeform.
Carol:  Of course, freeform can totally be fun.  The same situation, mediated by the proper rules, can be more fun.  Do you feel that there are circumstances in which freeform is superior not merely to ham-handed rules but also to rules that exactly support what the players want?
Zeke:  You say that freeform can be fun, but at the same time you're saying that it's inferior.  That sort of transparent illogic just goes to prove that you're motivated by your own insecurity.  It's sad that you feel the need to insult and demean others in order to make yourself feel better ... but just because you feel it strongly doesn't mean that it's true!
Carol:  The mechanics of the game have a measurable impact, and if that impact is aligned with the direction you want for the game then that's an improvement over no such support.  Agree or disagree?
Zeke:  You must think I'm really stupid, if you think that I'm going to fall into a rhetorical trick like that.  You're just going to pin me to your own vision of either of those responses, in your attempts to win the internet.  That's sad.  Well, it's clear that this is a matter of strong opinion, and that we're not going to come to any resolution.  Because it's a matter of pure opinion, there's really no truth to be had ... just our own opinions.  I certainly don't want to tromp on anyone's preferred way of playing, and now that I've so thoroughly refuted your argument I'll thank you to not tromp all over my style (though I expect that you'll keep doing it anyway, because your ego is so strongly tied up in doing so).

Note how, once you remove all of the red text, Zeke says nothing; absolutely nothing.  He says nothing that is directed at the substance of Carol's argument, or at creating a counter-argument of his own.  He's just blowing hot air, trying to defame her proposition without ever addressing it or exposing his own ideas or reasoning. 

Such behavior does not help any discussion.  From here on out, I will consider everyone to have been warned about this.  I will be policing this issue more tightly for the next little while, and I will not hesitate to link people directly to this message, if they start falling into any of these patterns.

This will be locked and stickied as soon as it's posted.  If you want to discuss, I've set up a discussion thread where people can voice their thoughts on this particular guideline.
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