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Author Topic: Monopoly: The Most Popular Roleplaying Game?  (Read 6669 times)
quozl
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« on: April 13, 2003, 01:47:37 PM »

I hope this helps show others what I mean when i say that Monopoly is an RPG.  Please let me know what you think.

Monopoly: The Most Popular Roleplaying Game?

Before we begin, I ask that you put aside all notions you have of roleplaying games.  Set aside all those sections on "What is a roleplaying game?" that you've read.  Remember only the rules for Monopoly.

If you're having trouble remembering those rules, or just want to refer to them, point your browser here: http://www.hasbro.com/common/instruct/monins.pdf

"OBJECT…The object of the game is to become the wealthiest player through buying, renting and selling property."

Read that sentence again.  The object of the game is to become the wealthiest player, but how?  A player of Monopoly does not become wealthy by playing the game and surely not by "buying, renting, and selling property" the game.  If a line similar to this were in what we know of roleplaying games, we would not ridicule it: "The object of the game is to become the only player left alive." What?  Is the game actually suggesting killing off the other players?  No!  It is only assuming that the players have made the jump from being themselves to assuming the roles of the game.  Monopoly assumes that in order to play the game, you will assume a role of a property baron.

Now, you roleplayers may object to this since no name has been chosen for this "property baron role".  No attributes have been defined.  That's true but the role is defined.  It is defined as a player of the game accumulating wealth through buying, renting and selling property.

Ron Edwards has defined four levels of role categorization here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=2802

I am going to deal with the first two levels he defined:

"1) The player's explicitly social role among the gaming group. Who's the ... leader, organizer, attention-getter, funny guy, flirt, follower, strategist, hanger-out, or any combination thereof.

"2) The character's explicitly functional role among the other characters, relative to the metagame goals of play, whether explicit or implicit. If it's a combat-squad game, then we have the gunner, the techie, the brute, etc. If it's a social-intrigue game, we have the scheming skunk, the idealist-organizer, etc."

Everybody has a social role and I hope that's self-explanatory. It is at level 2 that Monopoly differs a bit from the games that call themselves roleplaying games.  Everybody in Monopoly starts with the same functional role.  In play, that role may change only slightly.  One player may become the "rail baron", accumulating all the railroads.  Another may only want Boardwalk and Park Place, specializing in luxury property.  Yet another player may think owning both utilities is great.

It is true that Monopoly limits what each role can do greatly.  You roll the dice and their outcome determines whether you buy property, pay rent, or something else determined by the board and the rules.  There is no story being created and there is a winner determined.  Almost none of the things that roleplayers associate with roleplaying games are present in Monopoly but the one thing that is, the assumption of a role, is the key, in my opinion.

If you invite someone to play a game of Monopoly and they have never even heard of the game before, it only takes a few moments of explanation and they can play the game just as well as anyone else.  The assumption of a role does not bother them in the slightest, not like a game of D&D, for example, where they must spend quite a bit of time determining the role's characteristics or spend time determining what the characteristics mean on a pre-made character.  Monopoly just says "The object of the game is to become the wealthiest player through buying, renting and selling property" and everybody just gets it with no explanation needed.  This is important because of the huge barriers of entry to roleplaying.  Read Bryan Bankhead's essay RPG Structure and Issues of Recruitment located here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6001 and see if you agree.

If roleplaying games are designed with simple roles, there is no barrier.  Anyone can jump in at any time because there is no time spent on learning the role and its characteristics.  The role is so simple in Monopoly that it isn't even explicitly mentioned, only assumed, and that simplicity is why Monopoly is the most popular roleplaying game.
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Eric J.
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« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2003, 03:02:55 PM »

Alright.  If Monopoly is a role-playing game, why not Chess?  You take the roll of the King, though it's so simple that it's assumed.  In my opinion something fundamental to role-playing games is that the players define the objective.  Doesn't that make most CRPGs not role-playing games?  Yes.  It does.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2003, 03:48:27 PM »

Yeah, Jonathan, I understand what you're saying, but Eric has a point: by your definition, there are no games that are not "role playing games". If I play Risk or Stratego, I take the role of the general. If I play football or baseball, I have a particular function and therefore role on the field. If I play poker or bridge or pinochle, I have game-based objectives that put me in the place of a role.

It is frequently observes that the rule that covers everything covers nothing. What you've given us is a definition of "role playing game" that is not functionally distinct from the definition of "game".

--M. J. Young
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2003, 03:49:13 PM »

I believe Eric, that that's exactly his point.

I am 100% in agreement that such games involve playing a role.  However I don't think that that is the sole (and argueable not even the most important) component of being a role playing game.

The existance of a role to be played, does not in my view automatically make the game a role playing game.

That should not be taken to mean, however, that I don't think that looking in such places for ideas about game design that can be adapted for RPGs is a good idea.  I think there is alot to be gained from examining other types of games for clues to improving RPG design.

Not the least of which is the quest to eliminate ambiguity.  RPGs are the only brand of game I can think of where ambiguity is not only present, but encouraged, and touted as a feature.  In just about any other game with written rules, ambiguity is presumed to be a matter of sloppy writing, poor editing, or broken design.  In any case something to be avoided and fixed with errata when discovered.
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CplFerro
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« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2003, 04:47:11 PM »

Telling phrase:  "assume a role"

Gary Gygax identified this in his book Roleplaying Mastery (1987).  Monopoly involves role /assumption/.  That is, you, as a player, are /presumed by the game/ to be acting in the role of a realty baron.  Nevertheless, regardless of what personality you attempt to apply to the game, the game's structure remains with a fixed number of possibilities governed by its unchanging rules.  It doesn't matter if you wear your Sunday hat and monocle, or try to express yourself by being a slumlord rather than a ritzy hotelier, the game's structure does not change, because the game is governed by a machine called the rulebook.

Someone once said that roleplaying in Monopoly begins after you lose.  And that's exactly it.  Role /playing/ implicates the participants' playful imaginations as being able to /change the rules/.  Wearing a costume or expressing a particular personality is capable of altering the actual way the game is played, /as a game/, by giving the other players and the GM ideas in terms of how to further develop the unique objects of description unveiled or created throughout play.  These newly created objects can affect not only other objects, but the way the game itself decides outcomes, principally because the GM himself, as a principle of action upon the /real universe/ is in charge, rather than a machine.

Monopoly can be used as base material for RPGs, as can anything else.  Doing so negates its status as a board game per se.  At best, a game of Monopoly can be run parallel to an RPG.  Thus you could incorporate it into an RPG the same way you would any other axiom-based descriptive object.  Doing so, however, requires significantly retarding the potential realism of the game world, because it is positing that all characters in the  world of realty, have absolutely no chance to sidestep any of the rules whatsoever -- which is of course absurd; all innovation involves flanking the problem, not "playing by the rules".  Once that potential is removed, an RPG isn't.
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Marco
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« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2003, 04:48:26 PM »

In order for the term to mean something, someone's gotta be left out. While I *do* see the point, I think it's pretty clear that Monopoly is *not* an RPG and AD&D is.

I don't think MicroClix is an RPG.
I don't think CarWars is an RPG.
Nor is Starfleet Battles.

If we must diverge into really alternate modes of play from what was originally established, I suggest either another term ... or a modifier (Strategy RPG, Computer RPG, etc.)

-Marco
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2003, 05:10:31 PM »

Thanks guys,

I really appreciate it a lot.  You've given me that 'click' I was looking for.  The epiphany.  The one true thing for my personal perspective.

The above discussion almost perfectly defines why I've championed the idea of throwing "role" out as the defining factor of role-playing games.  It just means anything.  Chess has roles, Monopoly has roles, Risk has roles, they all have roles.  That's why "roles" can't be the defining feature.  I know the word is in the title, but it isn't the "role" but what is done in Context that matters.

It took looking back at the other thread (mentally) for me to recognize the difference.  And now (to me, for my own purposes) it all falls into place.  Remember when Jonathan suggested that you couldn't buy an Xbox or pizza in Monopoly with 'left over money.'  That's it!

It's the rigid choices, in Monopoly, in CRPGs, in Chess; you can only do this or that, nothing else.  In a role-playing game, you can get creative; you could get another land baron into a compromising situation and blackmail him, you could catch a flying beast and bypass the mountain pass, you could bribe the bishop to betray his king, et cetera.  That's what makes it a role-playing game.  I've been thinking these same things since I started trying to differentiate between Gamist token play and things like Advanced Heroquest (or Warhammer).

That's what makes writing a role-playing game a fundamentally different task than writing a 'regular game.'  In a 'regular game' you provide the actual venues of choice (and all of them) by abstracting the basis; in a role-playing game you (well I) attempt to create a system that can 'interpret' any possible action thought of into game mechanical results.  (I spend a lot of time asking myself why, but that's a topic for another thread.)

That's why Monopoly isn't a role-playing game.  Nor Chess, nor Risk, nor Pente, nor Warhammer, and not even "Let's Pretend."

At least for me.

Fang Langford

p. s. And I sincerely mean the thanks, you've helped immeasurably.
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quozl
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« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2003, 05:33:44 AM »

Thank you all for your comments.  

Eric: Right.

M.J.: Well, trivia game have no roles that I can see, so not ALL games are covered under this definition.

Valamir: Yes! Yes! Yes!

CplFerro: I agree.

Marco: I'm glad you see the point and I agree that another term is necessary.

Fang: Yes, that's why "roleplaying game" is a horrible term for defining the games we play since you have to throw out "role" as the defining factor.

So, is this just a thinly veiled campaign to throw out the term "roleplaying game"?  No!  This is a plea to examine what makes a roleplaying game.  If Monopoly is not a roleplaying game, is the Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game?  It is more story-based but seems to me more restrictive than Monopoly.  Someone said Once Upon a Time is an RPG.  What makes it so?  Is it the story creation or something else?  

I've presented the case for Monopoly being an RPG because of the roles required to play but if you throw out "role" as the defining factor of roleplaying games, what is the defining factor?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: April 14, 2003, 07:39:39 AM »

Finally.

We are agreed, I hope, that an internal terms-deconstruction is a rotten method for defining an activity? Consider the etymology of the term "comics." Is Maus not a "comic" because it's not funny? The answer is No. Maus is a comic. The etymology means absolutely nothing.

Thus holding up and shaking the terms "role" or "play" or "game" will not help us, and will never help us, understand the thing or things which have come to be called "role-playing games."

Thanks, Jonathan. Perhaps some real discourse can begin.

Best,
Ron
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CplFerro
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« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2003, 03:20:30 PM »

Dear Mr. Langford:

I have moved my response to you to a separate thread, given its divergence.



Cpl Ferro
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simon_hibbs
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« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2003, 05:14:10 AM »

Quote from: CplFerro
Telling phrase:  "assume a role"

Gary Gygax identified this in his book Roleplaying Mastery (1987).  Monopoly involves role /assumption/.


So does D&D, but instead of only being able to assume one pre-defined role, you have serveral classes, all with very specificaly defined abilities.

Even freeforms pre-define the characters in advance, provide specific goals and resources, and let you free. You don't _have_ to pursue the goals set for you, but then you don't in Monopoly either (I might choose to sacrifice my chances of winning by taking out another player, for example).

Quote
Someone once said that roleplaying in Monopoly begins after you lose.  And that's exactly it.  Role /playing/ implicates the participants' playful imaginations as being able to /change the rules/.


And you just quoted Garry Gygax, who is well known for having advised that the rules of AD&D never be changed, and that house rules are a danger to the game? I've read the Dragon articles. Ok he's sold out since, but he was pretty clear about his oppinions on this for a decade.

Quote
Wearing a costume or expressing a particular personality is capable of altering the actual way the game is played, /as a game/, by giving the other players and the GM ideas in terms of how to further develop the unique objects of description unveiled or created throughout play.  These newly created objects can affect not only other objects, but the way the game itself decides outcomes, principally because the GM himself, as a principle of action upon the /real universe/ is in charge, rather than a machine.


The same could be done in a board game, several games come with blank cards for you to customise the game, for example.

Quote
Monopoly can be used as base material for RPGs, as can anything else.  Doing so negates its status as a board game per se.  At best, a game of Monopoly can be run parallel to an RPG.  


I could equaly say that many roleplaying games (RQ and D&D for example) could be played in just the same way as borad games. In fact it may even be that this is the dominant form of roleplaying. Most roleplayers only play D&D, and most of them probably play in this mode.

I've come across many players over the years that realy aren't interested in playing their character, but just in playing the rules. In one D&D group I joined briefly none of the players could ever remember the names of their characters, and they never talked in-character. The plot was driven entirely by the GM, the characters just following along and 'activating' when the fighting started. I exagerate only very slightly. That's what they enjoyed doing, and all power to them.

I would agree with the point that abstract games are not roleplaying games. Where's the roleplaying in othello for example? However any game that tells a story that involves characters, and I think Monopoly counts, has roleplaying elements. It's even got a cute little cartoon capitalist for us all to aspire to become.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
CplFerro
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« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2003, 10:34:29 AM »

Dear Mr. Hibbs:

The many people who play D&D as a board game, are to that extent, playing a board game called D&D (like the old Dungeon board game).  My theory efforts of late have been dedicated to finding out what an RPG actually is, structurally, so we can clearly use phrases like "board games" and "roleplaying games" as if they were more than random whimsy stuck with arbitrary labels.

How one plays Monopoly will still never change the rules of Monopoly, until the participants agree to turn the thing into a kind of Socratic dialog, in which a hypothesis is proposed regarding a secondary world which they wish to simulate, by expressing that hypothesis in terms of Narrativist and Gamist concerns.  Monopoly has no such hypothesis, though it can be used as material for it.  D&D does (or at least, is written as being intended so), though it can be played without it (as a board game).

Gygax and I will disagree regarding the desirability in that case (though I remember Role-Playing Mastery mentioning how constructing a home-brew system or 3/4 modification of one's favourite published system is a hallmark of a master).  Since he wrote that book in 1987 maybe he's gone funny in the head.

A customised board game is still a board-game, just a transforming one.  If this transformation is potentially legitimately done during the game itself, potentially pan-game, then it has become a roleplaying game, for at least some of the players.

That most players tend to try to play board-game style, is perhaps a good indicator of why the GM as sole sovereign of transformation, is the best arrangement for most groups.  The GM is usually the one who buys the game, is most excited about the game, and so has the clearest mental vision of what he wants the game to be.  He then is the best candidate for running a game that lures the players away from board-game style into  roleplaying style.



Cpl Ferro
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simon_hibbs
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« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2003, 03:12:23 AM »

Quote from: CplFerro

The many people who play D&D as a board game, are to that extent, playing a board game called D&D (like the old Dungeon board game).  My theory efforts of late have been dedicated to finding out what an RPG actually is, structurally, so we can clearly use phrases like "board games" and "roleplaying games" as if they were more than random whimsy stuck with arbitrary labels.


And my contention is that they are arbitrary labels. I believe your falacy is to try to apply objective criteria to what is essentialy a subjective experience. If I choose to approach monopoly in a roleplaying manner, then I am roleplaying. I am playing a game and I am roleplaying my part in the game, because that is how I choose to experience and present my participation in it.

No ammount of external objectification of the rules mechanics will change the fact that I personaly am playing a roleplaying game. I'm not plaing a value judgement on that, in fact for many of my fellow Monopoly players might find it intensely irritating.

From a terminological point of view we can say that Monopoly is more board game than roleplaying game, but it is also less of a pure board game than chess, for example. However as with many real-world taxonomical systems of classification, at some point any such system must necesserily be arbitrary.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
quozl
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« Reply #13 on: April 17, 2003, 04:35:16 AM »

The point of this exercise was to show that the term "roleplaying game" has no meaning.  If it is a "game in which you play a role", Monopoly is a roleplaying game, as demonstrated in the first post (which I noticed has some editing errors in it -- how embarrasing!)

If it is not, please define what a roleplaying game is and then we can intelligently discuss it.
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--- Jonathan N.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2003, 05:15:40 AM »

Hey Jonathan,

I thought we'd covered this higher up in the thread, but here's a recap:

Role-playing games aren't about playing roles any more than the Maus comic (a telling semi-autobiographical story about Jews in German concentration camps) is funny (y'know comic).

Second, I think it clear that only in role-playing games can you 'go off the board.'  No matter what you do in Monopoly, you can't take advantage of any situation involving the unlisted details of the 'imaginary space' inhabited by the land baron's of that century.  You can't buy a car, you can't take an opponent to a speakeasy, you can't have reporters find them in bed with a Hollywood starlet, you can't extort anyone, or sue them, all you can do is buy, rent, improve, borrow, loan, and auction properties and money.  (...To the best of my memory, and I acknowledge the number of 'setting-based' happenings drawn as cards, but you don't do those, they happen to you.)

A role-playing game, to my opinion, is the only place where you can do these kinds of things.  Things that go 'outside the given.'  This is why using only two of Ron's four levels of role categorization are inaccurate.
    The two you excluded are not available in Monopoly (to quote Ron):

    3) The in-game character profession and activities, or the in-game explanation of what these characters do with their time, how they are perceived by NPCs, how they make money, etc. For a game like Sorcerer or Ars Magica, you can also specify what sort of magic they do. "Race" in most RPGs is another example of this level in action. It's a totally in-game definition, not to be confused with the above.

    4) The specifics and customizing of a given character's abilities, which at the most obvious are the actual effectiveness and resource values. However, this level is more important than it looks, because it also includes metagame tags and categories and actual contracts-of-play, etc. If Lightning Man is "hunted by Dr. Gore-Spatter," then that tag initiates a form of "task" or "role" (just as Gareth says in his Magic & the Metagame thread (I swear to God I'll follow up on that thread, one of these days, really, Gareth!). If Alizara the Elvish Babe is Neutral Good, then that tag initiates a form of "task" or "role" as well.[/list:u][/list:u]There is no in-game "what these characters do with their time."  There are no "specifics...of a given character's abilities" either.  Both of these are relative to the intrinsic 'not mentioned in the rules, but fair game' essence of role-playing games.

    Since you've asked for a definition of "what a role-playing game is" (even though I consider this both subject to further restrictions in other people's opinions and want to be clear that I don't think mine is definitive) here's mine.
    It's when people interact based upon a shared, plausible (to them), imaginary context, which can be augmented but not controlled by systemic methods (the interaction, that is), as a form of recreation.[/list:u]Whew!  More easily?  People interacting in/with a shared context where the choices may be limited, but are not given.  I like a systemic approach whether or not explicit, but have always had trouble putting it into words.

    Now if we've dealt with Monopoly once and for all, perhaps you could start a new thread with some ideas not covered in
What Makes an RPG? and we'll discuss it.  Otherwise I think this thread has pretty much run it's course.

If Corporal Ferro and Simon wish to discuss whether 'playing by the rules' can be used as a measure of whether a role-playing game is or isn't, I'd suggest they take it to another thread.  (One of the primary issues they need to deal with is the difference being confused between the physical object 'game' and the play of it 'gaming.'  It'll take a long thread just to sort those out before they can get back to 'what is Monopoly.')

Fang Langford
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