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Newbie Riding the Learning Curve

Started by Forrest_McDonald, July 21, 2005, 04:42:13 PM

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Having found the 'recommended reading list' on the sticky in this forum, I have gone through the article "System Does Matter" by Ron and I want to ensure I am following the gist of the conversation (I browsed the 94 pages of threads in this forum and didn't see my thoughts so I am uncertain at this point).

The First Fallacy of RPGs ("It doesn't matter what system is used...") should be corrected to read:
"A game is only as good as its focus on, and fullfillment of, ONE of the Creative Agendas and most systmes work better when its CA aligns with that of the player group."

The Second Fallacy of RPGs ("No one can say for sure which RPG is better...") should be corrected to read:
No one can say for sure which Creative Agenda is better than another, that's just a matter of taste.  Games that focus on one CA are better than games that lack this focus."

I would enjoy feedback (or a pointer to an appropriate thread I may have missed) regarding the above statements.

Ron Edwards

Hi Forrest!

It's tricky to answer this, because that essay represents a starting point in my thinking, rather than the current construction.

But let's see.

Your re-statements, I think, are a bit too focused on the concept of "better than." At least from my current perspective on the matter. The first one seems fairly accurate, insofar as it's really saying "To get what you want, use tools that are well-suited to get what you want."

I do want to emphasize that I don't consider multiple-CA play obscene or wrong, but rather, simply more vulnerable to becoming dysfunctional ("not fun").

The second statement needs the same qualifier. Instead of saying "better than," I'd say that games that support a specific, identifiable CA are more reliable in terms of having consistent fun with them.



.... really good question, and very illuminating answer. Thanks.
Evangelos (Evan) Paliatseas

"Do not meddle in the affairs of Ninjas, for they are subtle and quick to radioactively decapitate."


First off, thanks for the insights Ron.  I see the over-emphasis on "better" after reviewing your comments; I think they stemmed from my intent to mirror the original phrasing as much as possible.

Your post today contained a statement that seems to contradict one of the themes of the original article.  I am curious if I have a slightly skewed notion of the original theme or if your thinking has changed between the Jan 2004 and now. 

Your post today indicated "...I do want to emphasize that I don't consider multiple-CA play obscene or wrong, but rather, simply more vulnerable to becoming dysfunctional ("not fun")."  When I read the "System Does Matter Article", your comment that "...Here I suggest that RPG system design cannot meet all three outlooks at once..." led me to the following train of though:

  • RPG Design cannot meet all three CAs at once
  • Therefore a particular RPG cannot fullfill all three CAs at once
  • Therefore a particular game session cannot fullfill all three CAs at once

An outgrowth of that thinking leads me to the following question:  If that progression holds, then isn't multiple-CA play destined to be dysfunctional simply because an RPG cannot fullfill multiple CAs simultaneously?

As I see it, this situation has a few possibilities:
1.  My original train of thought is incorrect, or
2.  My subsequent logic is incorrect, or
3.  Your own throught process has changed between the time of the article and now, or
4.  I am missing something.

M. J. Young

Multiple Agenda play is dysfunctional because you can't be focusing primarily on more than one objective at the same time. Primary by definition means the single most important thing.

Thus in narrativism the single most important thing is creating theme. Of course you're going to explore and discover, and you may even meet challenge, but these are not why you are playing. So, too, with simulationism, you may dabble in theme and show off a bit in your playing skills, but these are incidental to the focus of play, exploring/creating the shared imagined space itself. In gamism, you are there to show off, to meet challenges and show how well you can play. Themes may emerge, but they are not terribly important; exploration is necessary, but it is exploration to support tactical decisions.

If it is possible to have all three outcomes in the same game session (your term) it must be achieved by some form of isolation. Multiverser achieves it, for example, by giving each player full freedom to direct his own adventure in cooperation with the referee, so that if he chooses to create theme in what he is doing he is not hampered in his efforts by the gamist player at the table, nor does he hamper the gamist player, because the actions of their characters do not need to matter to each other. However, one player cannot play with multiple agenda as of first importance, and in a group in which each has a different agendum primary there will be conflicts because the choices of each player will impede the abilities of the others to get what they really want from the game.

I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young

Ron Edwards

Quick clarification #1: that essay was written in late 1998.

GNS and Other Matters was written, if I recall correctly, sometime in mid-2000.

My thinking on these points hasn't changed, and the passages you're looking at aren't contradictory. Play cannot meet multiple CAs at once - if by "play" we mean what we're doing together. If people are sitting together and managing to meet multiple CAs in the same room, they are not actually "playing together" in the same sense that a group of band members or poker players may be said to play together.

When I talk about multiple CAs being possible, I'm talking about whatever social glue is going on that permits people to be in one another's presence, doing different things, and still managing to have some fun.

Walt Freitag's "congruent play" was a theoretical attempt to see whether such a thing was possible more consistently, I have never, in all my years and experiences, actually seen any. Also, hybrid play theoretically manages to solve this problem, however briefly or incompletely, and I have come to the conclusion that such things are fleeting and rare.

I think it might be good to review my recent thinking about what an instance of play is, to make sure we're really talking about the same actual phenomena.