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Author Topic: Forge pedagogy  (Read 17944 times)
Adam Dray
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« on: May 12, 2004, 02:05:12 PM »

In Jargon and legacy, Mike Holmes said:
Quote
Ironically, I didn't have to learn most of this by "jumping in," I've been working on this suff since before there was a Forge. So, apparently my position must be that I've put in many, many years, and so too must others before they are worthy.

Which would be true if it weren't for the fact that I work constantly to try to help poeple get up to speed and accept them after, oh, about a day of work. But, then, we all have blind spots - maybe I'm missing something.


I suggest that what you are missing is that your chosen means of getting people up to speed isn't necessarily the best for all people. I personally am a "read everything and tread carefully" kind of student. Other people who jump straight in up to their necks probably love your help, and I certainly appreciate that kind of help once I'm ready to jump in, but I'm not yet. I've followed GNS theory since rgfa and I still don't get it all.

Yes, I recognize in my case a personal insecurity issue. I certainly don't want to end up getting slammed like Chad did the other day. And I know there are others like me.

But it's more than that. I want to follow the etiquette of the boards, and the message often repeated is "go do your homework before saying something we've said before." To succeed at that, you basically have to understand the model very well and you have to be handy with the search tool and read a lot of threads.

The Forge has always been a sort of science journal for the RPG theory community. Independent designers invent hypotheses, write articles, and post them on the boards for critique. By common agreement, the best hypotheses advance to theory and law and some are enshrined as "links you should read" or, better, permanent articles on the site. These become the core paradigms by which the Forge operates and all future hypotheses are tested against those. Sometimes we question the body of theory and law and adjust them, though the process is slower.

Does the Forge succeed at being an environment for this kind of activity? Yes, I think it does.

As the body of knowledge increases, however, it becomes increasingly difficult for outsiders to join the community. Members have talked about stagnation. Indeed, if we want to continue to bring in new ideas, we need to remain accessible to new participants. Certainly the Forge is still bringing in new people (probably at a rate higher than ever) but I would gander that the ratio of new ideas in proportion to the growth in the number of readers has decreased. As time marches on and the Forge's body of knowledge grows, so too will the rate of new idea generation relative to our readership.

In academic settings, they say "publish or perish." Academes publish two kinds of material: research and instruction. I say that we've neglected the latter.

We can continue focusing entirely on research and write papers aimed at an audience of like-minded people. We also have an opportunity here to take what we've learned and put it into a form easily understood by a game designer who would like to join our community though he has never been exposed to the material.

Educational materials will benefit the Forge in several ways.

Primarily, clear and concise instruction will allow new people to join more easily. The Forge benefits from this by the addition of new people and the ideas they bring.

Second, the people who already understand these materials will spend less time explaining the concepts to people.  This frees them to do more research if they choose.

Last, the process of breaking an idea down to simple terms that can be understood by a layperson often helps the writer to clarify the topic in his or her own mind.  In the pedagogical process, the teacher often learns by teaching.

Mike suggests a real classroom where people can sit and learn.  Perhaps some of the people who really understand the model can run seminars at GenCon or other well-attended conventions?  Of course, teaching is a skill like any other and not everyone is cut out for curriculum development and instruction, but I'd give any teacher a chance.

Since not everyone can attend game conventions, though, we ought to focus some energy on developing a good set of documentation that explains what we're talking about.  The stuff in the articles section is good but too many of the articles are out of date or no longer apply or (worse) contain material that mostly applies except for really key points.  Perhaps an article that served as a guide to the articles would help readers to understand the context in which to read any document.

Another relatively easy thing we can do is create a Reading Guide.  This is an ordered list of links that a reader should study.  Each link should be accompanied by a list of key concepts that the reader should try to understand from that article -- a sort of checklist the reader can use to ensure he got what he needed out of the article.  Also enumerate the ideas in each article that are not widely accepted so that the reader does not get too confused.  (By article, I mean a permanent article on the site or a thread or whatever.)

I hope that we can transition The Forge into a community that truly welcomes outsiders by helping them break through the tough jargon and tougher concepts that make up our body of knowledge.  When the entire body of knowledge was a couple GNS papers by Ron, it was easy to get involved.  Now that there are 19 permanent articles, dozens of "must-read" threads, and a 14-page glossary, it's a bit tougher.  The goal of The Forge is to produce more and better independent games.  If we involve more people and generate more new ideas, we can better achieve that goal.  If learning the body of knowledge keeps people from joining the community, then that body of knowledge has become self-limiting.  One way to break through that plateau and avoid stagnation is to knock down barriers to entry.  Making it easier to learn the body of knowledge is an obvious way to knock down those barriers.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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matthijs
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« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2004, 12:20:32 AM »

Quote from: AdamDray
If learning the body of knowledge keeps people from joining the community, then that body of knowledge has become self-limiting.  One way to break through that plateau and avoid stagnation is to knock down barriers to entry.  Making it easier to learn the body of knowledge is an obvious way to knock down those barriers.


Excellent points!

What I would really like to see would be a Forge book. By this I mean a selection of key articles and discussions, selected to explain the core concepts of current Forge theory.

A very important part of putting such a book together would be to get editors from outside the community (in addition to editors from the community). If the goal is to be accessible to outsiders, one would, of course, have to get outsiders to read and comment on the texts.

- Matthijs
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2004, 11:41:09 AM »

We've sorta got some choices to make here. I'd love to see the theory move forward to becoming an even more well defined discipline, but I'm also pretty sure that many people wouldn't like to see that. I mean, what you're suggesting is that going to cons for seminars, or reading whole books on the subjects here would be easier than trying to read the threads and get people here to help explain the material to you.

I guess I am blind here, beacuse that seems to be just overstating the case. Much like in the Jargon thread, I think we are doing the "instructional" documents. Not enough to satisfy? Well, as I said, there, we're a community - if you percieve a problem, pitch in and help out. Expecting the ten people or so who do the writing currently to do all the writing is just not practical. As much as I'd like this to be my full time job, it's just my hobby at the moment. Same as everybody else here.

Don't like how I inform? Tough. I think I help more people than most here, so I feel no guilt at all in the style that I use to do it. As I've mentioned, and as it happens, the post with Chad was an exception to my style and the general tenor of The Forge, so saying this is a barrier seems ridiculous to me. In any case, I'm just one person, and others teach here with all sorts of different styles. Overall, nobody is ridiculed, or even subjected to all that much pressure.

If you're feeling like it's a dangerous pool to play in, Adam, I can only say that I feel that this is an irrational fear. But, as I've said, feel free to let me know if I'm just not seeing it.

Mike
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2004, 12:32:03 PM »

I agree that people need to conquer their fears, especially if the boogey monster isn't really that dangerous. Nonetheless, I base my feelings about the Forge on three years of data. The general tone of the forums has been barrier enough to keep me and others from jumping in quickly to the discussion. At some point, you have to listen to what I and others are saying: y'all may not be coming across to people the way you think you are, and it's putting people off.

How many students does a teacher need to ridicule before all the students are wary of raising their hands? Generally, just one.

Much of my reason for not raising my hand more often is NOT because of fear of ridicule (though that's part of it). A lot of it is just not wanting to be rude to the group. There's a strong sense of written and unwritten etiquette here about what is expected of people before they ask questions. Know what you're talking about. Know how to phrase your question. Know the history of what people have said before, especially if it's a perennial topic lest Mike belittle you. I'm the kind of person who, as netiquette demands, reads a forum for a few weeks before posting on it.

The Forge makes some pretty high demands of its members, even the new ones. Is there anything wrong with that? No, it's what keeps the quality of the posts so high, but there's a price to pay for that. The price is alienating new people.

All I'm suggesting are ways to help indoctrinate new people better. I am not suggesting changing the Forge rules of etiquette or adding review boards or anything like that.

I believe that we're doing a great job as a research institution and a lousy job as a teaching institution. If all The Forge wants to do is provide a place for people-who-get-it to talk to each other, it's doing that fine. If The Forge wants to continue to grow, it must reach out to new people and teach them. I've already enumerated reasons why I think beginner tutorials are better than trial-by-fire in my first part of this thread.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #4 on: May 13, 2004, 12:45:12 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I mean, what you're suggesting is that going to cons for seminars, or reading whole books on the subjects here would be easier than trying to read the threads and get people here to help explain the material to you.


I don't know that there's a whole book to be written about this yet, but let's say there is.

Yes, I think it's easier to read a well-written book that explains the theory of role-playing design as we know it today than it is to try to figure that out from 118,000 posts and 19 articles, many of which are now out of date.

Yes, I understand that the tutorial articles represent a snapshot in time of Forge theory. These tutorials must be living documents. We don't need to update them every day, but we should update them periodically -- every couple months, probably.

No, I don't think it's easier to attend a con for a theory seminar, but it's a great teaching tool nonetheless. If I were already at a con that offered a basic Big Model design seminar, I would attend it and benefit from it greatly.

Most of our articles showcase particular ideas without tying them together. They presume that the reader is already an expert on some of the theory. The primer documents (like GNS) to which we regularly refer our new members are not really the core of our theories anymore. It's a tangled web of confusion.

I guess the questions I beg are: Exactly how difficult do you want this stuff to be for a new member? If you could make it easier to learn, would you? If a nontrivial percentage of new members are intimidated by the body of knowledge (never mind their treatment in the forums), does that bother us?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #5 on: May 13, 2004, 02:12:50 PM »

Quote
Yes, I understand that the tutorial articles represent a snapshot in time of Forge theory. These tutorials must be living documents. We don't need to update them every day, but we should update them periodically -- every couple months, probably.
I'm so glad you think so. And thanks for volunteering.

Oh, wait, were you suggesting that I do it? Or Ron? What you're saying is that if we don't do more work than we're doing then you think that The Forge is suffering? Well, sorry, but, frankly I'd need some more hours in the day to do more, and avoid divorce. So, I wonder who might do the desperately needed updating?

Less snarkily, right as I'm debating this here, I'm making a desperate effort to get a newbie up to speed in Indie Netgaming (take a look at the Red Raven thread). I'm doing precisely what you're asking. I do at least as much instructing as doing "reasearch". In fact, it's a personal creedo of mine (learned as a ski instuctor, actually) that one never learns so much as when one teaches. So, again, I don't think that I'm the problem.

Quote
I guess the questions I beg are: Exactly how difficult do you want this stuff to be for a new member? If you could make it easier to learn, would you? If a nontrivial percentage of new members are intimidated by the body of knowledge (never mind their treatment in the forums), does that bother us?
Well, you being one of "we" I guess some of us are bothered. But:

A) I'm not sure why you're bothered. Who is it who we so desperately need to be bringing into the fold?

B) What's "non-trivial"? Completely subjective. I see, and post to, new people every day. Perhaps the number of people not getting through the barrier is trivial. In any case, how fast does our rate of growth need to be? I agree the new blood is critical, but are you actually saying that we don't get enough? If so, then I think you're not looking hard enough.

C) I don't want any of it to be "hard" at all. And I do nothing to make it hard. It is hard. I help make it less hard. Just not apparently at a rate that you find acceptable.

Mike
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2004, 09:05:40 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I'm so glad you think so. And thanks for volunteering.


See, I'd be glad to write these tutorials if I understood the material. But I don't, so I can't. And thanks for nothing.

Perhaps your efforts to get your newbie friend up to speed in the Red Raven thread would be less desperate if there were a current primer to point him at.

Essentially, you're saying that Forge knowledge is passed from master to apprentice and that's the way it's going to be. This is the attitude that has kept me and others from engaging the Forge more than we have. This is why the Forge seems elitist.

Perhaps I'll take a stab at trying to write a primer. It might be a very good learning opportunity for me. If I have to face your sarcasm every time you disagree with me, however, I'm not sure it'll be a pleasant experience for either of us.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2004, 10:27:31 AM »

Well, from about 300 masters to about 50 students at a time, sure. I'm not the only one doing it.

In point of fact, the poster came here without understanding that we'd need him to understand anything before good discussion could begin. So having an even more extensive document than already exists would have done nothing.

You know, when we tell people to "do your reading" we get criticized. When we try to inform people individually to give it that personal touch, we get criticized again for trying to maintain an elitist posture.

We can't win. So I don't have much incentive as an individual to try then, do I.

Adam, your claims that there's some barrier here to your understanding are preposterous. If you'd put as much effort into trying to understand the subject matter as you have in writing this thread, you'd understand the subject matter. You're no less intelligent than, and I'd wager smarter than, a lot of people who already do understand the material because they just waded in.

You don't like my sarcastic tone? Then ignore me. Still leaves 299 willing teachers.

Mike
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greyorm
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« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2004, 10:39:30 AM »

Quote from: AdamDray
See, I'd be glad to write these tutorials if I understood the material. But I don't, so I can't. And thanks for nothing.

That end bit's a little snarky, there, Adam. Whether or not you think Mike (or anyone else) is being snarky towards you, you don't respond in kind. You ask them politely to knock it off, and if they don't, or respond poorly to the request, report the behavior to a moderator -- and there is also the choice to simply stop responding to them.

Now, back to the point: what Mike is pointing out is that while you may think a certain thing needs to/must be done, you're essentially demanding someone else do it, out of their free time, for your benefit. We've been waiting for a Forge glossary for...a couple years, as I recall. We just now got one. No one's paying anyone at this site.

Quote
you're saying that Forge knowledge is passed from master to apprentice

All knowledge is passed from "master" (someone who knows that information) to "apprentice" (someone who doesn't). What's your point, really?

Quote
This is the attitude that has kept me and others from engaging the Forge more than we have. This is why the Forge seems elitist.

It seems elitist because people are taught theory? I'm sorry...I really don't understand that. Are schools elitist, then, with teachers instructing students? Are colleges, with learned professors passing on their knowledge to students? What about internships at companies?

The statement also concerns me because it doesn't present a solution, or a very good one: if the criticism is about learning from those who already know being elitist, the solution is to not teach or help those who do not know in order to not be elitist. But that seems backwards, at best -- "Sorry, figure it out on your own" is the opposite of what you're suggesting is elitism.

If that's where the conception comes from, then something's wrong. And I don't say that to be snarky, just to showcase my confusion at the point.

From the outsider's perspective, it looks to me as though it isn't "this is why the Forge is elistist" as much as it is "the Forge is elitist, now let me tell you why," if you see what I'm getting at.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2004, 10:52:27 AM »

I say Bah.

What I see is people who don't want to take the time to learn the material, but then feel like they're missing out on something because of all of the positive buzz about the Forge.  So we wind up with a bunch of sour grapes wind pissing from them so they don't feel left out.

The material isn't that hard to learn.  Hundreds of people have done so.  Hundreds more have learned it to whatever degree they desired to help them with whatever issue they wanted help with.

It is neither required nor desired to have every single gamer who's ever heard about the Forge become 100% completely fluent in the language of it.  That's never been a part of our mission statement and therefor is not a measure of success / failure of the site.

I personally rather resent the idea that if we don't offer "something for everyone" and we don't present issues so that every joe-gamer who pops in can be up to speed in a manner of minutes that we've somehow failed.  

Further I absolutely resent the implication that someone should be able to, in five minutes of casual reading, know everything that we've spent years hammering out and thrashing through.  

If you want to understand the material, make the effort.  If you don't want to understand the material, don't make the effort.  

But I will have ZERO sympathy for people who don't make the effort and then complain that they don't understand the material.  

Adam, I'll say this directly to you.  You have had AMPLE opportunity to ask whatever questions and seek whatever guidance you'd like to have to help you understand the material.  You haven't.  That indicates to me that you don't really have all that strong of a desire to understand the material.  That's perfectly fine.  But I find it completely disingenuous of you to then claim that the material is too opaque or difficult to grasp.  You get out what you put in.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2004, 11:49:30 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
Further I absolutely resent the implication that someone should be able to, in five minutes of casual reading, know everything that we've spent years hammering out and thrashing through.


And here we find the crux of it. It was hard to write so it should be hard to read. I call bullshit on this, but I don't know what more I can say than I already said in my first message that started this thread. A lot of this response is a repeat of my earlier points.

No one has really addressed the points I made there:

1. Not everyone learns the same way.
2. The "ask questions" method of learning is sometimes discouraged by the behavior of some very active "teachers."
3. As the Forge body of knowledge grows, it becomes more difficult for outsiders to learn it.

I suggested some projects that would help. I haven't suggested that any specific person do the work, nor did I in my original post exclude myself from that work, yet the responses I got were very defensive and sarcastic.

I did suggest that someone who really gets the theory take a crack at writing a guide to it. Most of Ron's articles seem very much focused at explaining a new idea to the people who already understand the body of knowledge. They're not useful teaching tools for the outsider wishing to get in. I plan to try to write something. It will be an extremely painful process -- the equivalent of learning a new field by writing a textbook for it -- but I'm not a complete newbie either.

I also suggested that someone put together a Reading Guide to walk a student through the most useful threads out of the almost 11,000 topics on the board. I cannot do this because I do not have the background, or I would.

I was hoping that the community as a whole would get behind the idea of creating a guide. I wasn't asking Ron or Mike or Ralph to do it. I'll certainly contribute time to the project. But what I'm hearing is that there isn't a problem at all (from Mike) or that the material cannot be made simple (from Ralph).

Yes, the process of discovering the Big Model and all the surrounding body of knowledge took many years to get to this point. Ralph, I never said we had to make it all understood in five minutes of casual reading. Cut out the hyperbole. Can we give a student a good overview of it all in a half hour of reading? If not, why?

Is the only way to learn the material by slogging through 8MB of posts and asking questions? Is it the best way? I don't think so.

Can we please get beyond "it was hard to write so it should be hard to read"?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2004, 12:25:49 PM »

Quote
And here we find the crux of it. It was hard to write so it should be hard to read. I call bullshit on this,


Well, we could go around and around on this.  Its not that it should be hard...it is hard.  We're basically challenging fundamental traditional notions of what roleplaying is and what it can be on several different levels from social contract to play techniques and you expect that to be summarized into easily digestible nuggets of wisdom?  

Not only do I not think the Cliff's Notes version of the theory is doable, I think its completely counter productive.  What does it gain to give a large volume of people a superficial understanding of the theory?  This seems to me to be a recipie for disastor.  


Quote
No one has really addressed the points I made there:

1. Not everyone learns the same way.


So what.

Quote
2. The "ask questions" method of learning is sometimes discouraged by the behavior of some very active "teachers."


So what.

Quote
3. As the Forge body of knowledge grows, it becomes more difficult for outsiders to learn it.


So what.

Quote
I suggested some projects that would help.


Help what?

You list these as problems.  Why are they problems?  Problems to whom?  Why are any of these things we should be concerned with?

Maybe we should be concerned, but so far I haven't seen the rationale.  

What agenda is being served by "solving" these problems?  Is it even an agenda that we're interested in serving?  How does it help promote the mission of the Forge?

Lets say we find a way to perfectly address each one of your three issues...what then?  What has been accomplished?  What have we gained?

Making the theory more accessible to the general gamer?  Ok, why is that a goal?

Making it easier for new people to join?  We have hundreds of new people join every quarter and dozens of new contributors.  How many more can we really handle before we lose the ability to keep our arms around the volume of discussion?

What are all of these legions of people who allegedly would join the Forge if only it wasn't so hard to understand going to contribute to the Forge that our current members already don't contribute?

What exactly is this easier pedagogy going to accomplish, and why do we want to accomplish it?

That's my personal take anyway.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2004, 12:41:40 PM »

Hello,

I'm kind of stuck in the middle.

On the one hand, I think anything can be taught well, if not necessarily quickly or easily. I do like the idea of a role-playing essay or small book that introduces a lot of ideas here in the most digestible way possible. As far as Sorcerer and its particular brand of Narrativist play is concerned, I've tried to do that in the supplements. They're pretty damn light on jargon and apparently do a decent job.

On the other hand, not only is authoring such a thing for all the Forge-ish ideas an incredible bitch to contemplate, but it's had to wait for years as the ideas themselves have been hacked and hammered into some kind of recognizable and meaningful shape. I think they're just about there, but it's been a long and tiring road. "Snap! here's the perfect primer" is ... unrealistic.

Similarly, and to continue with the other hand, many attempts at primers end up becoming harmful caricatures of the ideas they try to represent, and furthermore are treated by readers as stopping points rather than starting ones.

Even if this kind of project gets under way, what are we to do in the meantime? Given that the Forge offers no recompense whatever for the efforts of the people who do teach and mentor here, then I think it's quite reasonable to expect anyone who wants better mentoring simply to pitch in.

Perhaps the single most important topic that comes to my mind when I read over this thread is this: No one learns what they don't care about. I'm completely uninterested in reaching out to people who don't already have their hands outstretched first. Yet gamer culture, and internet culture in general, is full of people in "poke" mode instead: go and poke at a site, and see what it does. "Pokers" usually get their fingers bitten here, pretty hard.

It's to be expected that some folks with outstretched hands feel like they get "anti-poked," and that some "pokers" discover that they really needed the helping hands after all. At present, the success rate seems at least tolerable.

Best,
Ron
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #13 on: May 18, 2004, 12:51:02 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
Not only do I not think the Cliff's Notes version of the theory is doable, I think its completely counter productive.  What does it gain to give a large volume of people a superficial understanding of the theory?  This seems to me to be a recipie for disastor.


Hmm... I see it like this, Ralph. A large group of people will get nothing but a superficial understanding of the theory. That's all they want. That's all they get. What bothers me is where they get it. Some might scan the theory and come away with a partial view. It might be essentially correct, but often this is not true. Some will get it from other people, but who? People who have stomped off the Forge in a huff because they're pissed off and have nothing but wrong, wrong, wrong notions about what the theory says.

Some people will not want to pursue anything more than a superficial understanding of the theory and that's just how it it. I think we could either give this to them or they will "learn it on the streets" so to speak.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #14 on: May 18, 2004, 01:44:12 PM »

A superficial understanding of the theory is a first step to gaining a deeper understanding. I don't think we can capture every Forge idea in a primer but we can capture the more stable ideas that have survived the test of time and are now part of the firmament.

What will we get out of it?  First of all, I challenge the notion that the Forge's ideas aren't for the average gamer.  Maybe in their present form they are not, but if polished up I think they would appeal to a wider audience than they do now.

By reaching a wider audience with correct information (even if not the whole picture that the Big Model represents), rather than the often-incorrect notions people repeat on rpg.net and other places outside the Forge, we widen our base of input. Concerns of being swamped by an influx of interested gamers aside, I think more people leads to more ideas leads to better ideas leads to better games.

Ralph, your questions seem to say, "We have enough members. We don't need more. We don't want more. If people are stubborn enough to stick around anyway, fine, but let's not do anything to make it easy on them. It's hard material and we shouldn't do anything to make it easier." Is that how you feel?

Ron, thank you for joining in. I've been waiting to see what your take on all this is. I agree that a poorly conceived primer could do more harm than good, but I think a well conceived primer would be indispensible to the community. A well conceived primer would be careful to impart on the reader its own limitations.

I think the glossary is halfway to a primer. The glossary gives little context for its definitions. Add the context, and you have a primer.

The "pokers" of whom you speak might be people with good ideas who want a clue what the site is about before dedicating the days of reading necessary to join a thread without being rudely ignorant. If they don't find something to give them a very basic understanding what it's all about, they'll probably leave. Yeah, plenty of people stick around anyway and ask questions; I'm not arguing contrary. But plenty of people probably leave, too. And some stick around, ask some questions, and get their heads chewed off by Mike, too.

In the meantime, the mentoring model works. People are usually civil and helpful. I'm not saying that we should stop doing that. I'm just saying that there are some other things that we can do to make it easier to join the Forge community. I think the Forge's theories are useful outside the boundaries of this small community. Unless we figure out how to package them up for the average outsider, the Forge's ideas are just for its members.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
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