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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 92 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Disempowerment/Overempowerment  (Read 2951 times)

Posts: 1359

Conventions Forum Moderator, First Thoughts Pest

« on: July 11, 2005, 11:05:05 PM »

That Would Never Happen!

This is a tremendously interesting thread on rpg.net. On the surface, it appears to be yet another bitch session full of anecdotal evidence.

But there are patterns in there, patterns born from actual play: Misconceptions about conflict resolution, metagame mechanics (like Drama points or Artha), discussions of social contract, and blatant railroading (to fix blatant railroading. All wrapped like a fire blanket around what appears to be a muffled cry for help.

In the first three pages, it seems all of the respondents are talking about experiences based on traditional rpg power lines -- GM sets up story and controls all output, players marginally control extemporaneous input.

It's valuable enough to read it just for that, just to see how the other half lives, so to speak.

Ok my Vincents, my Matt Wilsons, how do you inject theory into that discussion without turning it into a flamewar? How do you present the fundamental changes required to reorient those POVs? And, most importantly, how do you design a game that appeals to gamers like this yet offers a more workable and satisfying play experience?

There are no right answers, and I have my own thoughts on the matter, but think it's worth thinking about.

Rob Carriere

Posts: 187

« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2005, 03:17:36 AM »

I'm not any of the above people, but I'll butt in anyways. :-)

I think you may be underestimating the resourcefulness of the folks on that thread. Several of the posters clearly had functional local solutions to the issue in the thread title. (And some of the others were clearly just having some fun venting anecdotes.)

The problem, at least as I see it, doesn't begin until they start trying to communicate their issues and solutions to each other. It's not until you hit page seven that somebody steps back far enough to start his post with a declaration of the type of play he's aiming for; once that has happened you suddenly see several discussions that had dragged on for pages resolve in a couple of posts.

What is needed here first isn't theory, it's something that comes even before theory: the skill to discuss a problem. And from looking at what happened on the last two pages, I'd say that  could be "injected" by setting a good example. If somebody had done a declaration-of-type post on page one or two the discussion would probably have converged a lot faster. Then, if you get that fast convergence, there may be enough momentum left to explore solutions that go beyond minimal consensus. That's where theory could come in.

That is, if you want theory to come in. You should be able to operate your PlayStation without  understanding the NTSC standard for television signals and you should be able to play an RPG without needing to understand GNS. The people who design PlayStations/RPGs, they need to understand the theory; for everybody else it should be strictly a choice based on interest.

As for the designing bit, there's no homogeneous group out there in that thread. Some of them clearly enjoy genre-emulation and some of them equally clearly hate it. So, step one would, I think, be a clear and concise way to show what type of play a game supports/encourages.

« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2005, 09:00:10 AM »

Hi Luke,

The reason why most other online theory discussion drops straight into a flamewar is that when you have a mostly unmoderated discussion, where anyone can jump in off-topic, thread jack, and say something completely inflammatory- all voices of reason are quickly drowned out.  Stuff like people's individual blogs usually only has a dozen or so participants and maybe a bunch more lurkers- but there are not so many voices as to lose the topic.

I'm sure most of the people on the thread you referenced could probably have a constructive discussion in small numbers, or in person, but online?  A nightmare of topics that, as the internet law goes- must eventually end in comparing someone/thing to Hitler :P

But, that aside, the key issue for most mainstream gamers to digest for meaningful discussion is the ability to identify and understand the linkage between the system elements, the people at the table, and the imaginary content.  Most gamers I find fall into the Fallacy of the Elf Ears, where they attempt to change/alter one aspect that has nothing to do with what they really want to achieve ("If you lengthen the elf ears to 3.5 inches, Johnnie will stop being an ass to the other players!").

In some cases, you will encounter people who will vehemently deny and get defensive about the different elements even existing- consider how controversial this statement would be:  "The character didn't make you DO anything- the character doesn't exist.  You make the character do things, not vice versa."  There's a few threads floating about here on the Forge where we can see how much this idea bugs people out.  Obviously when you can't really discuss what's going on, meaningful communication isn't going to happen.

As far as game design- Luke, you're already there.  Burning Wheel appears traditional in many ways (and that comforts the standard gamer) and handles the power issues by way of the rules, so players need only follow the rules without having to necessarily think about the theory.


Posts: 1741

« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2005, 12:32:35 PM »

Well, it is a pretty civil and reasonable discussion (up to the first 120-posts which is how far I read).

What those people are talking about (IMO) is a set of assumption clashes concerning developing action in traditional fiction vs. developing action in RPGs. Most of the people noted that, yes, there *are* differences (such as Players, and therfore PCs, have a concept of continuty whereas the Scooby Do gang doesn't realize *every* ghost--until the movies, anyway--is someone in a suit).

Clearly there are going to be some issues surrounding those differences (if the turn structure of combat makes it easy for a villain to escape "as necessary" that may be a very disempowering game mechanic in general. If it makes it possible for a villain to escape "when dramatic" then the game may have some falsifiability issues somewhere along the line--also known as "realisim" problems).

I did not see the posts as, especially, a "cry for help." The bit about players not knowing when to back down based on GM-Player trust is something that, for the most part, is outside the scope of traditional mechanics (if the GM is going to have villains massacre children and the Players won't stand for it, you need something like Universalis to sort that out, if you're looking for a mechanical solution to that problem).

If you want to interject game-theory into the discussion I suggest this: talk about yourself and how you relate to, and optimally overcame, those problems.


JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland

Posts: 1359

Conventions Forum Moderator, First Thoughts Pest

« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2005, 02:52:51 PM »

interesting. thanks for the posts, guys. I wasn't clear in my initial post: That thread on rpg.net is very typical of a gamer bitch session. I think there is a wealth of valuable information nestled in it. I'm looking to brainstorm ways to solicit that information and propose alternate priorities and techniques in the real world.

there seems to be two sides to it in OP discussion: How do you encourage dramatic action in play? Vs the beautiful simulationism of "my games are not books/movies/comics, they are an art in their own right and obey their own laws."

fact of the matter, these priorities are not at odds. Neither is creating drama at the table via the game mechanics a form of railroading. But popular opinion is against this. So, how do you address these concerns and change perceptions?


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