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Author Topic: The Importance of Play  (Read 6660 times)
Wormwood
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« on: November 13, 2002, 10:20:42 AM »

One of the matters I've seen fairly ignored in most RPG theory discussions is the presence or lack of value in the play aspects of RPGs. In particular I mean play in the anthropology sense, namely the practice of some skill in a simulated context.

In my experience there are definite skills which can be learned in RPGs, and some games are better at providing this aspect of play than others. I find this interesting to me, since often the positive comments I recieve about games I run are related to their educational role, and these games are far from didactic.

Some basic questions:

What value do you place on playing games which provide this form of play?

What value do you place on running or designing such games?

What relations have you seen between play styles and the effectiveness of the play in the game?

How important is the social context to the use of play in RPGs?

Does learning through play require a 'teacher' role to be present, even if only in the design aspect?

On a side note, the idea of a 'Playist' game type would imply a strong inclinations to games which provide this form of play. It seems to me that this is related to some interesting philosophical questions about how RPGs incline people to think about themselves. Namely, that you are a resource of yourself, and that self-imporvement is a form of investment. If this is the case, it suggests that RPGs both incline people to play as well as act as play themselves.

Well, hope that is food for thought,

    -Mendel S.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2002, 10:32:22 AM »

Hi there,

Actually, I think of all role-playing as "play" in the sense that you describe. It's a social leisure activity with no commercial application or parallel.

The only extra consideration beyond that, that I can think of, is the observation that, for adults or near-adults, such "play" often serves as an arena for courtship and seduction activities (at whatever degree of competence or success).

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2002, 10:43:45 AM »

Quote from: Wormwood

What value do you place on playing games which provide this form of play?
I am assuming you mean play to educate? Sounds good, but I rarely set out to do this. A such it seems to me to be a neat side benefit when it occurs.

Quote
What value do you place on running or designing such games?
Little to none. I don't have a cause that I want to educate about.

Quote
What relations have you seen between play styles and the effectiveness of the play in the game?
Hmmm. Well, Gamist play teaches tactical acumen, obviously. Sim play can teach a lot about modeling and the like. Narrativist play can teach one how to author I suppose. These are just the obvious choices.

Quote
How important is the social context to the use of play in RPGs?
Play as in the act of learning through interaction? Other than you need to have an effective social context to play at all, none that I can see. IOW, the game will be only as effective a teacher as the play is well attended to socially.

Quote
Does learning through play require a 'teacher' role to be present, even if only in the design aspect?
No, but it might be powerful. For example, in a freeform game with no system, we might learn how to tell a story well through the efforts of play. Just as a person can teach themselves to play a piano, or a child learns to run by practicing. But I suppose that a teaching element might be a very effective addition.

Quote
On a side note, the idea of a 'Playist' game type would imply a strong inclinations to games which provide this form of play. It seems to me that this is related to some interesting philosophical questions about how RPGs incline people to think about themselves. Namely, that you are a resource of yourself, and that self-imporvement is a form of investment. If this is the case, it suggests that RPGs both incline people to play as well as act as play themselves.
Could you restate this? I'm not parsing it at all.

Mike
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Wormwood
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« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2002, 11:09:31 AM »

Ron,

I'd say that play in this sense is more educational (really educational activity is a subset of play, but the word play is far more diluted than education).

The courtship, and more generally social manuvering you refer to is a very apt form of social play, often players will resort to social activity to further their play style interests. Narrativists will try to help unify the thematic interpretation, Simulationalists will try to unify the perspective of the setting. Gamists will try to use social gamesmanship to improve tactical position. Socialists will try to use it to improve enjoyment of the game for other players. Sexists will try to use it to further seductive agendas. But in all aspects it still remains social practice, something which gives insight and skill in social manuvering and politics on levels beyond just the game.

For a long time it was marginally accepted that RPGs have some social education value. It's unclear why this idea has been ignored more recently, as well as the possible aspects of RPGs as play in other contexts.

Well, I hope that is food for thought,
 
   -Mendel S.
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Wormwood
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« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2002, 11:22:45 AM »

Mike,

I agree, I rarely see people set out to make their RPGs useful play, but there still seems to be a far amount of success regardless. I'm interested to see what would happen if well thought out attempt as made.

Education doesn't require a cause, and more accurately it's a matter of play, which is more basic than education, in education there is a sense of what needs to be learned, in play there is an arena, some portions of which are learned, some not. There is not need for a plan of study, or even a statement of what is possible, it need not be so structured. Perhaps it is more accurate to refer to this as the idea of providing a practice arena for some skill.

Well, as easy as it is to believe that play styles are good at teaching the things those play styles value, I have my doubts. I have seen little reason to beleive that gamist skill is related to actual tactical skill, for example. I think that the real benefit of play is at a deeper level, though some aspects may also be present at this surface level as well, especially in the narrativist case.

Few people learn without a teacher on some level, there needs to be a context to verify what is correct and what is incorrect. Sometimes this is just experience though. I suppose I'm asking if there are elements of practice in RPGs which do not require any teacher other than experience.

An interesting philisophical ramification of RPGs is the idea that people can develop their character as a resource. This is true in nearly any game, simply because of things like advancement system and character creation rules. This perspective naturally yields to a simliar perspective about one's own self. By careful choices you can build yourself to better suit a given role. It seems this perspective is not uncommon among gamers. I'm suggesting that not only may there be a link between RPGs and this approach, but also that the use of RPGs as a form of practice allow it to serve double duty as a mode of directed personal growth as it were.

Well, I hope that is food for thought,

    -Mendel S.
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MK Snyder
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« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2002, 06:24:02 PM »

As a parent, I find RPG's to be useful as:

*A form of familial bonding. We have shared experiences in play that we can remember and recount later; it assists in creating the private language of family.

*A form of social role experimentation. By playing characters of higher status than one's parents (older, stronger, nobler, whatever) kids can experience role-reversal and learn empathy.

*A form of teaching moral values and decision-making skills; thinking through social situations; anticipating consequences.

*A stage for enjoying parental attention; demonstrating creativity; wit; learning; expertise.

*A venue for interacting with other adults and other kids.

*An opportunity to covertly "discuss" problems or concerns through play that may be too threatening to overtly discuss.
(Note: my teenager played a heavy drinker in our last session.)

*A venue in which younger children can compete with their older siblings more easily, as size and physical skill are not important; also a venue that offers parity between genders.

*Learning planning and negotiation skills through both metagame and in-game interactions.
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MK Snyder
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« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2002, 06:36:19 PM »

As for educational aspects, rpgs can teach quite painlessly:

*Vocabulary
*Weights and measures
*addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
*percentages, probability, combinatorics
*vectors, trig, geometry, graphing
*history
*biology, geology (not so much, but some),physics, astronomy
*political science and geography
*research skills
*Dramatic arts: rhetoric, poetry, acting
*Creative Writing: plotting, character development, genres
*psychology
*metaphysics
*theology
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Kester Pelagius
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« Reply #7 on: November 13, 2002, 06:52:55 PM »

Greetings MK Snyder,

Just a few friendly comments about your interesting list.

Quote from: MK Snyder
As a parent, I find RPG's to be useful as:

[list=1]
[*]A form of familial bonding. We have shared experiences in play that we can remember and recount later; it assists in creating the private language of family.

[*]A form of social role experimentation. By playing characters of higher status than one's parents (older, stronger, nobler, whatever) kids can experience role-reversal and learn empathy.

[*]A form of teaching moral values and decision-making skills; thinking through social situations; anticipating consequences.

[*]A stage for enjoying parental attention; demonstrating creativity; wit; learning; expertise.

[*]A venue for interacting with other adults and other kids.

[*]An opportunity to covertly "discuss" problems or concerns through play that may be too threatening to overtly discuss.
(Note: my teenager played a heavy drinker in our last session.)

[*]A venue in which younger children can compete with their older siblings more easily, as size and physical skill are not important; also a venue that offers parity between genders.

[*]Learning planning and negotiation skills through both metagame and in-game interactions.[/list:o]


1.  And years later you will still be able to talk about all the amazing stuff you did; unless the DM forgets about that game in which the players went god smiting and collapsed a demi-plane.  *wink*

2.  If the GM is good and the players are empathetic to begin with, otherwise they will just play CE Drow or want to know where the "kill" setting on the phaser is.

3.  Actually, yes, I agree.  Of course not every GM puts forth the effort to provide socially redeeming content into their games, which is a shame.

4.  If you say so.  (And if you've achieved this then kudos, great parenting technique!)

5.  Of course.

6.  Not knowing the context of the in-game situations I don't know that you can really read too much into that.  I've played characters that have gotten totally zonked on unknown herbal/potion substances in games, did it mean anything?  Not really.  (Least not anymore than playing evil characters or Wizards does.)

7.  Interesting.  Sounds like you've got a golden GM in the family.

8.  One would hope, otherwise the game degenerates into chaos, with the Thief turning into a Assasin and the Warriors becoming Berserkers...

Actually that was a very good list, MK!  Alas seldomly do you get all that in the same game.  But, with luck, if you have a solid group of players most of it will manifest at one time or another.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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Eric J.
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« Reply #8 on: November 13, 2002, 09:11:34 PM »

I think that it was a very complete list, and if you can use role-playing to that level than I humbly bow to you.  I think that RPGs have a variety of educaitional levels.

I would figure that they are near the same level as books.  Now think abou this.  If I said that smarter people tend to roleplay than do other hobbys, a lot of people would be pissed off.  If I said the same thing about books, people would simply think of it as an unsaid thing that got stated for some reason.  I find that the time that I've spent has not been well wasted.  There are many things that you can relate to RPGs.  It has deep roots in literature.  My Gov. teacher today, gave us a description of a Roman invasion.  One of my players, who sits behind me in class, whispered into my ear that is makes him want to play D&D.  It developes all sorts of skills.  There are several core elements that can be parrelleled by other things that you have to look at.

1.  The one that can be argued against the least:  The fact that you almost have to read source material to play the game.  This means that you have to read into fantasy and system.  The former allows for litterary development and the latter teaches you about mathematical skills and how they relate to reality.

2.  Slightly more contraversial is the social thing.  Social development can not be undermined in society.  8 friends getting together to have some fun in the basement means that 8 friends are not loitering at the mall.  It also can facilitate friendship.  Would one of my best friends (don't tell him that I called him that) be learning to play chainmail if I hadn't refered him to the D&D group that plays every monday?  I think not.

3.  This factor is the least obvious on the list- Imagination is more important than knoledge.-Quote from Albert.  I have a whole bunch of them in my "stuff" folder.  Anyway, the whole envision thing, from a psycologist's standpoint (btw- which I am really really not) couldn't be bad.  Each person is forced to imagine something based upon words alone helps the psyche.  RPGing was my final attempt to find the perfect interaction in a hypothetical environment.  In this regard it is nearly as good as books.  Can you further inquire in a book? No.  Can you further inquire to a GM.  You better.


So, once again I sumarize.  I cannot vouch for MK's effects but cannot consider it an activity that does not benefit all the parties in question.  I think that I've witnessed noticible improvements from ALL of my long-term players in some major departments.
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contracycle
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« Reply #9 on: November 14, 2002, 04:42:21 AM »

I consider ALL games, with no exceptions that come to mind at the moment, to be "educational".  I regard play as a tool for learning.

Ron said:
Quote

It's a social leisure activity with no commercial application or parallel.


I disagree; I regard all commercial labour as indistiguishable from any other form of labour, including that of play - which remains labour because the world external to the human is altered.

The distinction between play and work, then, is the social context in which it occurs, and the feelings we hold regarding that context.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: November 14, 2002, 10:01:28 AM »

Hi Gareth,

I'll buy that, allowing for some disagreement regarding our economic outlooks. Perhaps my sentence would do better if it were clarified to say, "... no direct financial recompense ..." rather than "commercial application."

Best,
Ron
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2002, 10:20:33 AM »

Awesome list, M.K.  My older kid's 6 and you've pretty much pegged why I'm excited to play games with him.  Your 2. is a big part of why I play, even now.  Most of my characters, PC and NPC, are about parenting -- how might I be a different parent, how might I be if I'd had different parents, that sort of thing.

Kester, Pyron, I'd be disappointed with a game if I didn't get at least 5 or 6 of M.K.'s points, and I think it's very reasonable to expect all 8.

-Vincent
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Eric J.
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« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2002, 02:57:30 PM »

When I said that I couldn't vouch for his effects, I meant ALL of his effects, as in the effects that he as a GM (or whatever) can produce.  Some things would be required to have good play, some are harder to make.
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MK Snyder
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« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2002, 04:13:11 PM »

Let me clarify some things:

*I am talking about parents and kids gaming together.

*Actually, there can be beneficial parenting opportunities gaming with a bad gm or a bad game.

RPG's are a medium that can be used for parenting purposes--just as books, music, tv shows, and movies can be. All of these media present stories that can be discussed and debated, used as object lessons, or anti-examples.

I'll argue that RPG's are superior to the above because the parents and kids can observe each other actively creating in the medium itself, and can admire and appreciate each other as artists in a way they can't with the more passive audience stance of the other media.

A situation of how a hacknslash dungeon crawl can be a good parenting experience that I'm especially proud of is me vs Doom. You're not going to find a live game that's going to be much more pure hacknslash than the game of Doom on the PC. I got a lot of respect from my sons for beating Doom without using cheats. They tell their friends about it.

Ah, you may say, big deal. Dads play video games all the time.

I'm not a dad. I'm a mom. My sons consider me an extra cool mom, who plays first person shooters with them on the game console or computer. I hate using cheats. And I don't play just any games; I don't like the ones that are antisocially groty mixing sex and violence; or kill noncombatants. I can talk with my sons about why I don't want to play those games.

So, what have we discussed, using these abysmally GM'd games?

*Violence, in general.
*Girls and boys and differences in how they get to play--girls don't get shootemup games for presents, the magazines don't have girls in them, the ads for games make fun of girls (I got a letter printed in PC Games about that, how cool is that?), boys don't tell girls cheat secrets.
*How shared hobbies are used in forming and keeping friendships (the research and sharing of cheat codes and solutions).
*What is satisfying in play? My younger son enjoys finding cheat codes and using them, but I don't.
*Violence against women, children, and noncombatants; ethics; family standards.
*Racial and cultural stereotypes (It's always ok to kill Nazis. Why is that? Why is it ok to kill "meat sims" in "Perfect Dark"?).
*Gender stereotypes. How it feels to be invisible as a form of discrimination--in fact, video games in particular are described as "You wouldn't show this to your mother." I hate that.
*History, story design, useability, modeling, design issues--the game as an art form.
*Marketing, economics, investment--we research the videogame companies, discuss business news, dicuss advertising, market segmentation, target market, cultural differences between Japanese and American players.
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Eric J.
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« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2002, 06:35:30 PM »

Cool post.  Couple of things, though.

I agree with you.  I am simply saying that I cannot vouch for your effects.  This does not mean that I don't see the potential in RPGs, but it does mean that I lack the personal experience.  I know that your post wasn't adressed to me specifically, and this isn't adressed to you specifically (I know that that doesn't make any sense, but I think that every one here can get my meaning).

I would like to defend CGW and the idiot who wrote that by saying that the comment is that "The thing that you forget, is that killing Nazis is always cool."
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