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Interview with Vincent and me

Started by Ron Edwards, November 24, 2007, 05:22:34 PM

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Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Clyde has now posted his GenCon interview with Vincent and me at Theory from the Closet; it's Show 025.

I really enjoyed the discussion here following my previous interview with Clyde, so again, if anyone has any questions or comments for me about it, please fire away.

Best, Ron


I have been away a long time

Bare with me, this could get long. I was definitely in the situation where I had stayed away from the Forge for a bit and the longer I stayed away, the harder it was to come back. Let me say that no one drove me off, turned me off, or soured the milk. I had come to a point where there was so much noise and people were talking trying to understand things and kind of missing the points, IMHO so I became less active, didn't feel the need to help their learning process because it didn't feel like that.  It had the feel of the floor of the stock market where ideas were being bought and sold.  I felt very much like a guy who wanted to buy a few shares of IBM surrounded by day traders. I wasn't that guy anymore.  I wasn't getting OR giving as much anymore as I used to and the latter maybe is more important than the former. Dovetailed with that was the fact that being an admin for a Living campaign took up a lot of time and emotional energy, so there was less time for personal pursuits like the Forge.

So I was speaking with my friend Dave last night at the noodle place and he mentioned something about the Forge. One thing lead to another and he mentioned some of the sub-forums had been closed down. People were moving on to topics other than GNS and the Forge was healthy. I believe I actually said to Dave (could be my memory, not sure):

"I have been away, a long time."

Got on this afternoon, took care of some minor profile maintenance and at the same time I started perusing. Its not a totally different place but it is different. I managed to catch the interview thread, figured it was a minor Q&A and it turns out, no its more than that.

So I listen. I rarely listen to any interview all the way through without skipping. One might say never. Even Stevie Nicks, who I adore, I will skip through sections of an interview cause so much of it is just noise. This was different. I sat there and listened, smiling and nodding my head. This is the kind of discourse I have been missing. It's the kind of thing that gets juices flowing.  It's not noise, there's a rhythm to it.  Realized that I can still maybe get something from this place and more importantly maybe give something as well.

Kudos to Clyde for not forcing the interview into a formulaic kind of thing but instead letting the listeners hear those thought processes.  I don't think it sucking up or sycophancy to say that it is a privilege to listen to artistic people share some of their thought processes. Kudos all around really.


Ron Edwards

Hi Sean,

I'll tell you this: 2004-2005 was a bad time for this site. 2002-2004 was a time of massive attraction to the Forge, and so much of that was fantastic and fruitful and exciting ... but it also brought new problems. We'd exerted a good enough social scene to avoid the typical internet bullshit, but had inadvertently managed to permit a particular mutant strain to emerge. Under cover of discourse, bullshit artistry became a way to interact and play status games without actually entering into the real honest work of thinking, playing, designing, and communicating.

This sort of thing happens in any discourse community to some extent. The trouble is, a real-world community of this kind has a definite achievement hierarchy: degrees and graduation (and leaving) for an academic school, increased responsibilities with increasing rank at a martial arts school (with the option of branching out), and similar. I came to realize that the Forge had no "OK, you're done, go and work with it" mechanism, and similar (and worse), it had no way to establish to people that they were not improving their understanding. There was no way not to pass your orals, or to fail to break the board, or generally to realize, without negotiation, that you had to back up and reflect differently and better.

In the absence of such a thing, evil flowers bloomed. One such flower was assuming a particular status attendant upon publishing a game. That is horrible and is grossly unwelcome at the Forge. Another such flower was staking out turf based specifically on a disagreement with me personally, or a presumed disagreement. Many of the latter were nonsense, but the person would never admit it, or give up on it, or take the chance of actually asking me directly - that would threaten their "not like Ron" or "tough enough to stand up to Ron" internet identity.

The biggest problem with all of this is that some folks were able to exploit the site. Contrary to any number of claims out there, I never exert moderator power over what anyone says. I try to foster an environment in which bullshit can be called out, and the person can be given an infinitely-repeating chance to improve their behavior or quality of thought. But that doesn't mean I can wield a personal little Ron-wand that taps people and says "you are right, you are wrong." I can tell people when their claims of being consistent or inconsistent with my ideas are correct or not, which is not the same thing; I can tell them when they are being unfair or inconsistent themselves. I cannot tell them to stop bringing up a particular topic or to arrive at a conclusion of my choosing. I do not practice thought-control here. So that means if a group of people engage in bullshit but do not call one another on it, and instead feed upon one another and thus create a sub-Forge of godawful stupidity, well, they just do.

I had to think a lot about this. The first step was effectively to dis-invite people who were complaining about one or another aspect of the site, or as I put it in a Site Discussion thread, "(said nicely) go away." Meaning, if someone wanted something different from the Forge, they should start their own site. I also put in the recently-discussed truth that the Forge was intended to be a finite project, and someday, the Big Bang would be over and all that would remain were the glowing stars. I encouraged those stars to start up. I figured this had two benefits: some of them would become wonderful stars, and others would get at least some of the problem individuals (or better, cliques) out of the Forge's collective hair.

Well, that worked pretty well, actually. I was especially glad to see an instant drop-off of certain members' activity on the basis of, "Well, if it's going to be over, then I don't want to be there." Anyone for whom that logic makes sense is not intellectually or emotionally ready for the Forge anyway.

After a bit, though, I realized that the most difficult participants - the ones who could transform a whole thread into mucky hell with a single post - the ones who were the least helpful, welcoming, and critical, while being the most verbose and controlling (through chaos-methods) - were still staying. They liked it here. They'd also managed to render the two great forums, RPG Theory and GNS, into everything the Forge's critics had always accused us of: over-precious, abstract in the negative sense, exclusive, snobbish, incapable of reaching conclusions.

I'd done my deed, basically. Hundreds and hundreds of people contributed to the creation of a real model for this activity that we do. The Big Model is intact, and to this day stands without meaningful challenge. (Incidentally, the typical angry anti-Forgie I run into these days begins with, "All that shit is crazy and wrong!" and then when I describe it, resorts to, "But that's so obvious!" as a criticism. It's simply emotion run rampant and does not actually raise meaningful objections.) I still wanted to keep it open for real critique ... but that's not what it was getting. The sophomoric agenda had taken over, mainly because the role of a moderator at this site has to permit that activity as a developmental stage. The problem is that for a core of about ten people, it wasn't a stage - it was what they wanted. They were high-flyers in Social RPG Thought 201 and they wanted to stay there for the rest of their lives. That makes the activity intolerable for new people entering it who are able to work through that stage and defeats the entire purpose.

So. RPG theory and Big Model talk are still active and welcome at the Forge. Critique the Big Model, have a cow about GNS, all you want! But it has to be rooted in actual play discussion. We have to know what you mean by phrases like "a good GM." We have to know what you think is "obvious" for "anyone." We have to know what experiences are involved. Actual Play talk is not about proof. One does not prove a point by providing evidence via discussing actual play. That's not what it's for. It's for grounding the discussion of whatever else is on the table, by looking at the experience itself.

Clinton and I really went over and over it. We arrived at the new configuration, with an eye toward the site's purpose - to be exciting and relevant because it brings attention to a reality. That reality is specifically that people are writing new, great games all the time. All kinds of things emerge from that; for instance, that even the effort devoted to one's derivative, halting first attempt is still laudable effort. Another: that communal attention and planned activities yield phenomenal results. So we built a new forum structure that laid out these features and purposes; we came up with First Thoughts because we knew a kiddie pool was going to happen anyway, and might as well be contained and have a definite "step out of it" boundary (playtesting). We made structure out of what had become a constant recommendation on our parts, to reflect upon oneself as a practitioner as the first and most powerful step of the intellectual activities here.

And wham, bam, the problem people vanished like spring frost.

I love the Forge. I'll tend it through its autumn, which is now, and lie down with it in the winter when the time comes. I'll walk away then. I'm hoping that a lot of you will stay with it through that final journey as well.

Best, Ron

Christoph Boeckle

Great interview and great post. Thanks!

Ron Edwards

Hi Christoph,

Thank you!

Again, I'm OK with following up on multiple points from the interview, if anyone's interested. I don't have the time or ability to do so in the form of essays or mission statements, but it will work very well if any particular point seems interesting or, for that matter, wrong or unclear, and if someone asks about it.

Best, Ron



Without in any way making this a political discussion I wanted to bring up my thoughts about the idea of the Forge being a finite thing. My impression of that now and of the board in general is much different than of the board previously.  I always felt that the Forge (well initially GNS but then I came to think of them as separate entities which they are) as revolutionary.  Thinking for one's self is not a revolutionary concept but it is one that needs to be brought up in any artistic endeavor so that people remember it and take it to heart. 

I see the site now more of Evolution and perhaps even counter-revolution or taking back the revolution* but some of my impressions of what you have said still tempt me to look upon it as structurally designed like Marxism was structurally designed in its revolutionary phase. Now I am not saying that the Forge is communism/socialism/Marxism in any way, shape, or form but there are structural similarities, at least superficially.  I should say there is one structural similarity that to me seems interesting: the concept of Vanguard of the Proletariat.

This Vanguard helps lead the revolution and then eventually gives up its power as society reaches the communist end game and everyone owns everything, etc..  Similarly the Forge seems to be designed to 'lead the masses' (that sounds more pretentious than it is meant to be) or show by example and then, when the society it fosters no longer needs it, the Forge/Vanguard will go away.  Mileage may vary and I may be totally off base but that is my impression of the situation.

So, extending the basic concept, the period of 2004-2005 might be seen as period of 'hijacking the revolution' where the goals of the original concept were lost, waylaid, or abandoned. 

I also think that the idea that "if you don't like it start your own board" does not have to be a negative one. In many ways its a logical step for some people who might wish a different kind of structure and who might want to tackle different kinds of topics.


*Depending on how someone sees Role Playing games themselves. Did they evolve from table top gaming or it was it a revolutionary leap? Did big corporations hijack the revolution or are they counter-revolutionary? Really its an intellectual exercise that most people likely find boring but one I find some fascination in.

Ron Edwards

Hi Sean,

I used that precise analogy in my discussion of the situation all the way back in the first Site Discussion thread about it; do a search on "Stalin" in that forum and you should find it. (Although that post did elicit an extensive and indignant lecture on Marxism by private message ....) For what it's worth, I do not consider it insulting or alarming to be analogized to communist stuff, so please, feel free.

Regarding the "go start your own site" concept, yes, it was stated positively and in many cases understood positively, and acted upon positively. That worked out pretty well.

Best, Ron

Lance D. Allen

Whenever Ron starts talking about the Forge diaspora, it makes me sad.

I mean, I understand it, and I'm coping, but it makes me sad nonetheless. I like the Forge's no-nonsense policy. I don't want to go to 3 different sites to get my indie-rpg talk.

The effort of keeping up with just the sites I do keep up with, and I'm sure my rpg site list is shorter than most, is enough.

I guess it's the loss of convenience that makes me want to cling to the Forge, but I also think it's more than that. The culture is different on the other sites. Not worse or better, but different. I now read regularly on Story Games, and I enjoy the discussions that go on there. Many of them could never take place on the Forge, except for a few days a year. I rather like the focus on the work of making and publishing games, even when that work is a lot of fun.

I dunno. I think maybe I'm contributing to the derailment of this thread. But the discussion made me want to speak up.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls

Ron Edwards

Hi Lance,

You're definitely not derailing the thread. This is one of those moments for talking about how we feel, I suppose.

There are a few functions and practices at the Forge which I would like to see preserved or carried on elsewhere, if possible. Clyde had deduced this on his own, and I think he chose his interview topic with an eye toward getting my views about it into the open. Certainly the moderator and functional-community issues are at the top of the list.

Best, Ron


In that case:

I hear you Lance.

It frankly upsets me that the Forge has ceded its position as the premier site to discuss RPG theory, and the Big Model is now largely discussed as something to move beyond that happened in the past tense back in the day on the Forge.  Whatever moving beyond there is to do, should be being done here.

I hate having to go to a ton of different places to hear the latest thinking around RPG theory...thinking that used to take place here...that should be taking place here.

I hate that few (none?) of those places has the breadth of participants and diversity of play backgrounds that the Forge had making most (all?) discussions fit into very narrow channels limited by a ton of group think.

I view the diaspora as pretty much an unmitigated failure and a colossal disappointment.

Ron Edwards

Hi Ralph,

Here's my take on that.

1. I can't hold hands and wipe noses forever. If the community at large can't learn the lessons of the Forge and apply them at new sites, then there's no point in carrying on here - doing so eventually would bring my efforts and attention to the site into direct conflict with other needs in my life, to the detriment of both. At least this way makes it explicit that the goal is in others' hands now, in addition to mine.

2. I think the first-stage diasporan efforts were about 10% successful, but I'm primarily interested in what the successful minority did and continues to do. I'm encouraged by some of the great, exciting, and unstoppable new posters at the Forge, because that's where I'm looking to see the torch passed successfully, in the long run.

i) Sub-point: I think it's important to recognize that one part of the Diaspora and the re-structuring was to remove specific components of the Forge at that time: the blowhards, the haters, the adolescent theoreticians concerned with status, the self-elected rebels, the ego-boys who defined themselves by carping, and so on. I don't consider a website dedicated to any of this activity, by intention or not, to be a failure - to me, it's a success because the aforementioned people are not here. So yes, they are aggravating if one bothers to attend the sites in question (and why, anyway?), but I don't think they count as failures.

ii) Another sub-point: it's easy to miss just how much has in fact been accomplished, and that plenty of truthful things which were originally utter heresy and insanity except here at the Forge, are now taken as plain and simple realities - even among those who would rather eat bugs than ever say anything good about the site or about you or me. The economic culture, the international dialogue, the general sense of "publish my game as I see fit," are all transformed. We did that.

3. One of the most important features of discourse here on the Forge was to arrive at conclusions. This is not tolerable to those who delight in endlessly flexing their verbosity at one another, but it does happen when people discuss something clearly and maintain an institutional memory. One sort of conclusion is to generate a larger picture, and by introducing a new key variable (GNS) we were able to arrive at that larger picture (the Big Model). It wasn't just a matter of hashing out my personal dogma and inflicting it on others; tons of the Model's features and details are the result of people providing better arguments than I did about them, in the forums. My role was mainly to keep at it, and to enforce, over and over, that field-tested points were stronger than "gee what if" points.

Does that mean the process is over? No - once a model exists, then it can be challenged, from the smaller levels of refinement to the largest possible levels of whether it needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt. The thread about The Mountain Witch resulted in my first-ever breakdown of a key feature of Social Contract, as well as a set of Techniques which probably couldn't have been explained until after the Model was up and running.

i) If there's one big failure of the last couple of years at the Forge, it's the widespread assertion about theory not happening here any more, or that one must skip about to multiple locations in order to keep up with theory discussions. Bluntly, I don't think any other site has generated any theory, in the technical and valuable sense of the term, worth mentioning. The best of them (anyway, Deep in the Game, Ben's blog) were able to summarize the existing stuff and raise a couple of in-context questions, but that was all. I think the place to be for that is still the Forge, and there's no reason to think that will change any time soon.

GNS stuff can be addressed here with no hassles at all. I think Levi's threads about his Frostfolk game were crucial regarding Narrativist play; I think Frank and Eero have done a fantastic job of outlining Simulationist features of play from different directions. Anything else about the Big Model is similarly up for grabs, refinement, and challenge. 

Lance, if you want to stay involved with those issues about role-playing, then I suggest not bothering to try to hoover up everything wherever it might be said, but instead, recognize where the action is and contribute here. The same goes for Mark J. Young, who I think was a little precipitous in saying "Oh gee, the party's over" and wandering off.

ii) Larry Lade and I are working on a user-friendly presentation of the Big Model, as well as an organized process to refine, to apply, and to challenge it. Our first try to get it going, earlier this year, didn't work so well, but we're re-thinking and trying again. So if anyone's interested in working with us in the early stages, please get in touch by email.

Best, Ron

Lance D. Allen

It's not just about theory for me. I've always had a little trouble wrapping my head around the theory and applying it in play. It's the ideas and techniques that come out of that theory that interest me. You know though, Ralph hit that "something else" I mentioned in my last post.

The problem is when a couple sites are talking about techniques that are similar or the same. There's two conversations going on, because it's two different sites. When it was just the Forge, there was one conversation going on about a given topic. So if I want to talk to two different people who have really good ideas about something, but they frequent different sites, then I've got to hop back and forth. This hasn't happened a whole, whole lot yet, but there's been a couple times where there's been one conversation split between two sites, with each occasionally linking back and forth between the two sites. It's hard to keep up with if you try, and frustrating when some participants in both threads don't try, so therefore can't absorb the ideas from the other site unless someone acts as the summarizer of key points in each.

I suppose that's life at this point, because it's begun regardless. It also doesn't help when people with good ideas are among the haters that you wanted to move on, because when those two-site discussions happen, they're among the ones who refuse to read related stuff here. When it was just here, either they didn't contribute to the discussions at all because they didn't read here, or they were already sucking it up because they're already here.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls

Darcy Burgess

Hi Ron,

I don't know if you've spelled this out somewhere else.  However, I'd appreciate it if you did it here.

You mention the Forge's "winter", which I equate to a shut-down as an active site.  I imagine that some archive may remain, but as far as a place to actively participate, it will cease to exist.

When does winter start?  Is it a concrete date on a calendar somewhere?  A specific set of goals that need tending to?  Your gut telling you that it's time?

Please understand that this question isn't rooted in panic, but rather in a need to know.

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Ron Edwards

Hi Darcy,

There is no determined calendar. Clinton and I started thinking in terms of the Forge's eventual closure quite a while ago, and autumn began when we restructured the forums. That's also when I started promoting and encouraging extra-Forge sites and business too. So far, it has lasted over two years, and I imagine will continue for some time. Function, not the calendar, will determine the transition, and I don't think the autumn functions have really hit their peak, or maybe the peak will be evident afterwards.

Also, "winter" doesn't mean shutdown. That comes at the end of winter. Winter will have its own structure and functions, and in some ways, I think it will be most exciting of all. How will it work, exactly? I don't know yet. Forge structure and function always develops through me and Clinton (and now Vincent) having conversations, based on how things work out.

So my answer to your need-to-know is, there is no reason to fear an unexpected or all-too-soon shutdown. Any publishing plans which include the Forge can count on its presence for the forseeable future.

Best, Ron

Nev the Deranged

Damn, Clyde does great interviews. Thanks, all three of you, for another good listen. I only wish there had been time to explore the things that didn't get discussed.

I look forward to the next one!