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Author Topic: The Problem With This Forum: Too much damn theory  (Read 23059 times)
Valamir
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« on: February 14, 2005, 08:05:04 AM »

This is a semi rant about a trend in this forum that I find rather disturbing.  The theory in here has gotten REALLY thick.

There was a time...or maybe its just this old codger's nostalgic memory...when the theory being discussed on the Forge was rooted in actual play.  Actual play is the empirical evidence upon which any theory (if it is to be useful, practical, and understandable) must be rooted.

Recently there has been too much...FAR FAR too much...esoteric musings and ruminations going on.  Theory for Theory's sake is not what this site's about.  This is not a site for doctoral dissertations on the roleplaying equivelent of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  The ONLY answer to questions like that (that this site should be concerned with) is "unless you're basing your notions in the experience of actual play...who cares!"

Its good that there are theories of linguistics and anthropology and psychology that map reasonably well to the key ideas of the Big Model.  That shows us that those ideas are rooted in concepts that are foundational across many disciplines.  Fantastic...couldn't be happier about it.

But that DOESN'T and SHOULDN'T mean that the forum is now wide open to sweeping meanderings about such topics.  That's not to say that those other disciplines don't contain useful knowledge that we could benefit from...but it ABSOLUTELY means that if the theories of other disciplines aren't FIRST filtered through actual play the ONLY result of such discussions is a morass of high brow navel gazing.

I LOVE that there are people on this list with deep reservoirs of knowledge on esoteric subjects that I know little of.  I LOVE that those people are also gamers.  And I LOVE that those people can find common ground between their vocation and their hobby and that their experiences in the one can inform the other.  Heck, I do the same thing with economics and investing.  Good stuff.  

But I DON'T want to spend my time reading through dense post after dense post that only makes sense to people familiar with the jargon of those other disciplines.  We've got enough of our own jargon here, thank you very much.  I'm not interested in being a linguist, or an anthropologist, or a psychologist.  I'm interested in talking about RPGs.  RPG play, and RPG design.

Esoteric theories on roleplaying minutia that do not have a practical application to RPG play or RPG design (or RPG publishing) is a waste of forum space, a waste of my time, and TOTALLY NOT what the Forge is about.

When a veteran of this site looks through the top threads in this forum (and I'm not the only one) and says...I have no idea what most of this stuff is even talking about...nor how any of it gets anyone closer to better play or better design...THAT'S a problem.  Its a problem because if veterans can't make heads or tails of it, neither can newbies.

In the past we've had discussions about people who read splat books as a substitute for actually playing.  I think for some of us, discussion on theory have become a substitute for actually playing.  Its a way to get an RPG fix without having to sit around a table and play.  IMO this this a bad thing.


I don't intend to name names.  I don't want to slap wrists or call anyone out.  I certainly don't want to offend anyone (hey the fact that you're willing to spend valuable time posting to this site IS appreciated).

But here's an exercise.

Go through the list of threads on the first page of this forum (and GNS too for that matter).  Count how many of those threads are broad discussions involving many members and active participants vs. how many are primarily private discussions between 2 or 3 or 4 interested parties...in many cases...the SAME 2 or 3 or 4 interested parties.

If you happen to be one of those parties take a second to count your number of recent posts in the two theory forums and compare that to the count of your recent posts in the Actual Play forum, or posts about play in any of the publisher's forums.

If that ratio is horrendously lop sided...then IMO you need to slow down the volume of your theory posts and start actually playing more...and then post about that actual play...and THEN seek to tie that actual play into your theories.  

That's the formula that's worked best for The Forge...and we need to return to it.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2005, 08:23:46 AM »

Ralph,

I'm moving this to Site Discussion, not because it's not worthy, but because it belongs there.

(removes moderator hat)

I agree whole-heartedly. I've avoided saying this on the Forge so not to step on toes, but: this endless circling, making up terms just to speak differently, drives me away. Ron created this joint, but I came in and did the remodel. So, if I don't want to live here, something is wrong.

I see interesting theory happening still. It's happening because of actual play, though, and it's mainly not happening here. Places like the 20 x 20 Room and Vincent's weblog are where the discussions seem firmly based in play.

That's not to say the original Big Model isn't good - it is. It is rooted so firmly in play, though.

It took me four or more years of solid play to finally articulate my own thoughts on why we role-play. What bothers me is I didn't post them here. It didn't seem like the sort of place that wanted real discussion about play any more.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Matt Snyder
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« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2005, 08:31:39 AM »

Clinton, you moved it, but from where? I presume the RPG Theory forum, right?
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Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2005, 08:40:48 AM »

yes.  

All references to "this forum" in the above, is referring to the RPG Theory forum.
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Keith Senkowski
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On A Downward Spiral...


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« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2005, 08:49:22 AM »

Ralph,

Oh man I totally agree.  I avoid the theory crap like a plague cause it, like Clinton says, goes round and round never coming to a conclusion.  Fuck that noise.  I would rather see that energy placed in actually playing the games and discussing shit in context.  Without the context it is just white noise, which we all know from the pre-cable days is annoying as hell...

Keith
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
TonyLB
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« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2005, 08:49:35 AM »

Ralph:  I'm right there with you on the feeling.  And I wasn't even here for the glory days.  I'm not sure that means the feeling equates to a real thing, though.  It might just be a feeling that we both share, born of some perceptual glitch in common.

Assume that there are people in the world who do not play very often, and/or who do not care to share their Actual Play experience.  Do we, in fact, wish to tell such people that their opinions are less worthy of discussion?

Either a "Yes" or "No" answer has broad-ranging consequences.  We are currently operating on the default, very polite, answer of "No, of course everyone's opinions are equally valid."  I suspect that "Yes, we do differentiate between people who have actual experience and people who don't" may be a substantially more useful position.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2005, 08:58:02 AM »

Hiya,

See, I agree. But there's a problem ...

... I can't dictate what people want to post about. I can only moderate them to stay on-topic per forum, to stay on-topic per thread, and to abide by the rules of courtesy.

If a small crew of people really, really want to discuss stuff which at base is not that interesting to most others, and in the long run it proves not helpful to the overall purposes of the site ... then there's nothing I can do about that.

I'm frankly disgusted with the GNS forum. It's become so aggravating that I couldn't even go through with the retooling that I tried to begin back in September. I consider the purposes of the forum to have been met insofar as usage has permitted, and that they would have been met fully if the discussion had turned to a very practical and play-based review of the Glossary.

But no, we have a bunch of other stuff happening there, of minimal interest to me or to most other people. And as I say, it is not my place to say "It's not going like I want, so poo on you guys, do it my way." That's the price I pay for not conforming to the accusations of running a Cult of Ron.

As for the Theory forum, I think it suffers from a lack of purpose, as in, people don't have a Sticky to review to see whether their topic is working for that purpose. We talked about this a lot at GenCon 2004, and unfortunately, I found myself saying, "You know, we can't specify breadth and depth in the Theory forum." The diversity of topics there is one of its strengths; like Indie Design, it's very much a Pick-Where-You-Participate forum.

What can I do? Don't answer that. Here are the answers.

1. I can keep pounding away at the desired progression of Actual Play, GNS/Theory, Indie Design, and Publishing/Connections, with the possible final step of a Specialty forum. A lot of people have made this progression, most recently Capes.

[Note: it is perfectly OK to arrive at the Forge at any step in this progression; i.e. Luke arrived already having published, whereas Keith Senkowski arrived more-or-less at the boundary of GNS/Theory with Indie Design, and Vincent arrived having published a game, but opted to "start over" at the very beginning.]

But I can't make people utilize the forums and resources of the Forge in this progression.

2. I can keep posting and encouraging, through discourse, the threads which I think are the most productive for the overall constructive purposes of the site. This is difficult in the GNS forum especially, because I'm also in the position of explaining stuff I wrote - requiring tons of backtracking in many cases. But I do it a lot in the other forums, as much as I can.

If you think this is easy or quick, then you try it.

3. I can keep calling for others to contribute constructively. The curse of the GNS forum and to a small extent the Theory forum is not the users who are "deviating," but rather the users who fuckin' cave and decide not to post their own valid and constructive topics there.

You want the Theory forum to be better? Then post better stuff in it, stick with the discussion, help someone understand something better, learn stuff yourself, and back it all up (before, during, after) with actual play.

Best,
Ron
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Bankuei
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« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2005, 10:07:40 AM »

Hi Ralph,

Quote
When a veteran of this site looks through the top threads in this forum (and I'm not the only one) and says...I have no idea what most of this stuff is even talking about...nor how any of it gets anyone closer to better play or better design...THAT'S a problem. Its a problem because if veterans can't make heads or tails of it, neither can newbies.


I've echoed similar sentiments to others privately, and am right there with you.

What I think we are witnessing is the result of the Forge's growth, and with it a "splintering" of subgroups of people who might be interested in different topics.  This is combined with the fact that most of us old hands already did a lot of our "WTF is gaming anyway?" threads, and we dug as deep as we want to go for the most part, and now are simply bringing up occassional details, or perhaps focusing on observing actual play before bringing more discussion back to the board.

I've had new folks I have recommended to the Forge come back to me, "I have no idea what's going on/all that (bad) stuff about the Forge is right!!!" and then I go, "Oh, well, read these threads, they're nothing like that thread..."

But- yeah, if folks want to see more threads based on their interests- then its a matter of producing those threads.

Chris
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Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2005, 10:08:33 AM »

I have to agree with Ron's last point, wholeheartedly.  If you want to ground the Theory forum in more actual play, then do so with your own work.

I would be interested to see what percentage of the theory now found in the Glossary and articles was originally floated as raw theoretical speculation, ungrounded in specific play to that point.  (All of it is of course grounded in general play experience.)  I don't think Ralph's assertion - that specific-play-first is the overwhelming pattern - would hold up to a crosscheck.

And lastly, it is not incumbent upon the posters to ensure that their work is easy to access.  So long as someone like Chris Lehrich can find people willing to try to learn the appropriate terms from textual analysis, then they speak to ears that are listening.  Nothing wrong with that (other than a decrease in audience size).  It took me until quite recently to get ten words into his Ritual Discourse article, but I found it edifying once I did set aside the time for it.  Heck, some newcomers probably find his text more accessible than a more "normal" post full of Forge jargon.  If Ralph finds a theory post hard to absorb, he's in the same position as that newbie; is it worth the time it would cost?

So some people may find RPG theory more fun than playing the games.  That's neither wrong nor (think about how many intellectuals there are in the world, vs. gamers) particularly surprising.  Straight Aristotelian aesthetics.  And whether it's intentional or not, Ron and Clinton have provided them with literally the world's best place for that to happen.  Go with it, guys, they're happy; if that subcommunity happens to spill some cool insights over into the rest of the discussion, that's a bonus.

- Eric
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TonyLB
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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2005, 10:40:08 AM »

It's neither wrong nor surprising, but it may not be the community focus here.  The Forge is specifically for encouraging the creation of independent roleplaying games.  Saying "They find your forum the best place to discuss X" doesn't really apply.

Folks who value that focus have not (yet) come down hard on blue-sky threads.  That doesn't mean it's not possible.  It's not possible to Ron, because he has a specific role which does not encompass that sort of community engineering.

I am moved by your question about how much now-useful theory started as blue-sky speculation.  It points out how hard it is to judge the worth of an idea at a glance.  But I think that the rest of your statement hares off away from the accepted standards of how to judge the worth of a post:  does it now, or will it eventually, encourage the creation of indie games.

Does that make sense?
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2005, 10:53:38 AM »

I'm not sure exactly where I fall in all this.  I mean, I really like the idea of focusing on Actual Play in principle, but my experience with trying to do so has been rather negative to date.

I just went back and looked back over my Actual Play threads.  About 20%-25% get more than 5 replies, and a significant number of those are from other participants in the game basically doing a debrief.

Now, it is entirely possible, maybe even likely, that this is due to my Actual Play posts sucking or something.  But... if you think Actual Play is so important then discussing Actual Play would be a good place to start.

For example, and at the risk of sounding whiny: I recently kicked up an Actual Play thread on a topic that I thought was really striking.  I thought that it begged for an old hand with Narrativist techniques to step in and add to the discussion.  But that didn't happen...

Looking at the front page of the Actual Play forum, less than half the threads have more than five replies.  Again, it may just be that they are presented wrong for discussion or something, but if you guys really feel that Actual Play is so important where's the discussion of it?

Not trying to be inflammatory,

Thomas
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clehrich
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« Reply #11 on: February 14, 2005, 11:19:05 AM »

Well, I'm sure there's not going to be a whole lot of surprise that I don't entirely agree with Ralph.  Admittedly, this all seems like something of a moot point, since apparently the Forge is closing, but here's where I stand.

------------
First of all, let's be practical when it comes to the Forge itself, i.e. readership and accessibility.

You're quite right, Ralph, that there are some threads, articles, and whatnot that are not readily accessible to all potential readers.  Some might even be difficult for you to parse.  But that is not a criticism except insofar as it assumes that everything posted here should be so accessible, which is your claim.

I don't agree.  What I think is needed, and I've said this for some time now, is a re-division of forums.  Based on discussions like this, I'm in favor of a more radical restructuring than I had been previously.  Here's what would seem to me the obvious and straightforward way to do it:
    [*]Big Model Discussion
    [*]Big Model Q&A
    [*]Theory in Practice
    [*]Theory in Abstraction[/list:u]Rough titles, of course, but there you go.  Don't bother dividing up the old fora; just rename "GNS" as "Big Model Discussion" and rename "RPG Theory" as "Theory in Practice" and add the two others.  All four would get big highlighted stickies called "Read this before posting!"

    Big Model Discussion would presume solid familiarity with the Big Model.  Confusions of course are presumed to occur, but the main point of the forum is to move forward the Model, to critique, to apply it in new directions, and so on.

    Big Model Q&A is for all the "I don't get Nar" and "Can you explain Exploration?" and all that.  It has an absolute rule: questions properly posed to the forum must be treated with respect and must be answered in as non-jargon, non-technical a fashion as possible.  Disagreements in explanations (i.e. where A poses a question, and B and C have contradictory answers) should, if they cannot be resolved in about 6 posts total, take it to Big Model Discussion.

    Theory in Practice is for all the "let's apply theory to design" or "this idea arose for me from an actual play situation in particular" sorts of posts.  You know, the ones you like, Ralph.  In this forum, a demand to keep it practical and focused on actual play is a reminder of the contract of the forum, though it should not be used as an attack of course.

    Theory in Abstraction (which is badly named) is for pure theory and for theory that does not derive from and may not be directly applicable to RPGs.  In this forum, a demand to keep it practical is flamebait and should not be tolerated.  I'd be happy to write the sticky for this, and even moderate it if the very concept makes Ron retch.  ;-)

    With that structure in hand, I would then recommend a FAQ or front-page sort of statement, made rather more obvious than the current equivalent, which explains the expected trajectory: Actual Play and Indie Design (depending) move one toward Theory in Practice, then Big Model Q&A as you read through Ron's essays, then on to whatever you care about from there.  This would also make explicit that nothing, absolutely nothing, says that Big Model Discussion or Theory in Abstraction are required, normative, preferred, or superior.  In fact, it would make explicit that many of the most prominent posters on the Forge feel exactly the opposite, which was the reason for the division.  (Reference then to this thread, right?)

    So then if people say, "I tried to read stuff on the Forge but it was all meaningless jargon," you can properly reply, "Why were you reading Big Model Discussion if you weren't familiar with the model, dummy?"

    And if you yourself don't want to read abstract theory, you just don't read that forum.

    --------------
    Second, theory and practice necessarily connect at some point, but it takes a lot of time in most cases.  When considering the implications of (for example) linguistic theory for understanding how credibility is distributed in RPGs, it takes time, care, research, and a lot of thought.  The way the Forge mostly works, of course, people don't take that time.  Further, posts are expected to be short, something I flagrantly ignore because I think it's silly.

    If you want to see abstruse theory from linguistics or whatever have a practical impact, you need to wait a bit, or you need to be willing to work through it with the people doing the musings.  If you're not willing to do either, then yes, such theory has no practical impact for you.  But that is a result of your approach, not of the theory itself.

    As somebody said, it's also a question of time and effort.  Can you understand such theory?  I don't know, but I'm going to assume so.  It's just a question of how much time and effort you're willing to invest in it.  If you don't want to invest that time and effort, because you do not see the kind of results from it that you particularly want, that's just fine --- but it is not a criticism of theory.

    <unfair rant>
    Personally, I also think that there is value in theory itself, because it entails a conversation between people who think about RPGs and people who think about other things, but I realize that most people here really don't care about this and are happy to live in a mental cave.
    </rant>

    -------------------
    Third, I think there just has to be a recognition that not everyone gets the same mileage out of the same things.  That should be obvious, surely?  Here's a nice new piece of jargon to annoy everyone (don't worry, I'll never use it again): everyone has an Analytical Agenda (AA).

    Now Ralph's AA is Practical (Prac, we'll call it for short), while my AA is Thr (Theoretical, obviously).  When I do thinking and writing about RPGs, and in fact playing, my AA of Thr entails my tendency to address the data a particular way, while Ralph as a committed Prac'ist does so in a very different, in fact nearly antithetical way.  Of course, this means that when I do what I do, he thinks I'm wasting time; when he does what he does, I take it as data for more Thr-oriented analysis.

    <rant>
    Of course, what's going to happen is that we will shut down the Forge because not everyone has quite the same perspective and goals, all of a sudden, something that of course wasn't in any way true a couple years back.  Then the Big Model hard-core will turn it into a dogma, and everyone else will forget about it.  The theorists won't get a broad overview of what practical designers and players are doing, making impossible the generation of new theories such as the Big Model except by the extremely committed, focused, and even slightly maniacal efforts of a lone individual.  Meanwhile the designers and players will slip solidly back into their narrow perceptions, choosing blogs and small forums that suit their preconceived notions and never, ever challenge them.

    Which, let's bear in mind, was the situation that prompted Ron to develop the Big Model in the first place.  So we will have achieved essentially nothing, except that some great games will have been developed along the way.

    And all because of the assumption that if one likes a forum's general inclinations and much of its writings, one must like all of them, which is sort of a re-tooling of one of the Geek Fallacies.
    </rant>

    -----------------
    Practically speaking, I think the right answer is simply to divide the forums, and post big warning labels all over the abstract theory so nobody has to feel sullied by exposure.
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    Chris Lehrich
    LordSmerf
    Member

    Posts: 864


    « Reply #12 on: February 14, 2005, 11:25:54 AM »

    Correction to my previous post.  I said that only about 20%-25% of my posts got more than 5 replies.  What I had intended to type was 20%-25% of my posts got to the double digits.  I really did go back and count, but then I forgot what criteria I was counting up.

    It is closer to 50% of my posts which got 5+ replies.

    Sorry about any confusion this may have caused.

    Thomas
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    Clinton R. Nixon
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    « Reply #13 on: February 14, 2005, 11:27:41 AM »

    Chris,

    I really like most of what you write, and I very much like Shadows in the Fog. It's on the short list of games I'd like to play. I preface with this, because next I'm going to be harsh.

    This "the Forge is closing" Chicken Little bit is bullshit, and really, you know better. Don't be petulant. It will have an end, like everything else. Thinking about it two to three years out is good.

    Ok.

    Otherwise, I disagree with you on just about every other point in your post, but that's the only offensive one. Discussing the rest would end up at the same point we are now: I think most of what gets posted is pointless, and you find it fulfilling. (I am not saying who is right. I'm saying who gets something out of it. That is all.)
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    Clinton R. Nixon
    CRN Games
    Keith Senkowski
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    Posts: 725

    On A Downward Spiral...


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    « Reply #14 on: February 14, 2005, 11:43:46 AM »

    Quote
    Which, let's bear in mind, was the situation that prompted Ron to develop the Big Model in the first place. So we will have achieved essentially nothing, except that some great games will have been developed along the way.


    This is just silly.  The whole point is to design good games that people play.  It is the reason this whole place exists, the promotion of the development of DIY games.  That is the achievement.  Not cyclical conversations about what X means.

    Keith
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    Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
    Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
    ~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
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