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Author Topic: The Problem With This Forum: Too much damn theory  (Read 23058 times)
CPXB
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Posts: 139


« Reply #30 on: February 14, 2005, 08:11:17 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
Come on, step back a second.  I realize that a lot of folks here do not like pure theory.  I do not contend that you or anyone else ought to do so.  But is it really such a big problem to section it off as its own thing, blazon it around with stickies and neon lights saying "Warning!  Here be weirdos!" and leave us in peace?  I would genuinely like to know why this is something you all think is such a crime.

I think that a lot of the "pure theory" conversations are just, really, conversation stoppers.  By putting the bar for the discussion about pure theory you're essentially controlling the conversation because to pass the point that, well, frequently you set is to no longer be talking about gaming even tangentially, but to be discussing philosophy.  When a person relates something in gaming to, y'know, post-modernist deconstruction the discussion about gaming is over because now you're talking about post-modernism.  Or social epistemology.   Or whatever "pure theory" thing has been dragged (often kicking and screaming) into the discussion.

In short, many of the discussions of pure theory are not about gaming theory, but philosophy and other disciplines.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #31 on: February 14, 2005, 08:13:46 PM »

Hi Chris,

Quote
... I think that some of the cry to get rid of the Forge is because people are now noticing that there are indeed lots of perspectives.


I haven't seen anyone saying this at all.  What I have seen is the unfounded fear that this is the "hidden agenda" behind closing shop.

On topic, what everyone here is discussing is the line between applicable theory and spinning wheels.  If you, or anyone else feels personally under criticism based on this thread, it would be well to look at it as being one of many possible things("You" means anyone posting at this site, here):

A) Your theory is valid, and worth discussing, but the critics are unwilling to make the necessary basic efforts to understand it.  Oh well, ignor the criticism as it is uninformed.

B) Your theory is valid, but the criticism concerns your communication.  Seek an alternative way to communicate your ideas if you actually care if more people understand what you are talking about and will be able to contribute accordingly.

C) Your theory is not valid, and therefore, criticism demands taking a look at the premises from which it is built.

Whatever the case your individual case might be, that's for you to work out.  But anyone should take note of criticism as a good sign that one of the above is probably occurring.

Chris
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clehrich
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« Reply #32 on: February 14, 2005, 08:15:04 PM »

Quote from: CPXB
Quote from: clehrich
Come on, step back a second.  I realize that a lot of folks here do not like pure theory.  I do not contend that you or anyone else ought to do so.  But is it really such a big problem to section it off as its own thing, blazon it around with stickies and neon lights saying "Warning!  Here be weirdos!" and leave us in peace?  I would genuinely like to know why this is something you all think is such a crime.
I think that a lot of the "pure theory" conversations are just, really, conversation stoppers.  By putting the bar for the discussion about pure theory you're essentially controlling the conversation because to pass the point that, well, frequently you set is to no longer be talking about gaming even tangentially, but to be discussing philosophy.  When a person relates something in gaming to, y'know, post-modernist deconstruction the discussion about gaming is over because now you're talking about post-modernism.  Or social epistemology.   Or whatever "pure theory" thing has been dragged (often kicking and screaming) into the discussion.

In short, many of the discussions of pure theory are not about gaming theory, but philosophy and other disciplines.
Fine, I'm not going to debate with you, or anyone else, whether this is the case.  I disagree, obviously, but so what?  Why don't we just split off a forum for this sort of thing and leave it at that?
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Chris Lehrich
Keith Senkowski
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« Reply #33 on: February 14, 2005, 08:19:45 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
Well, Ron likes to call this synecdoche, of course.  "The whole point is" what I consider important.  No, actually, "the whole point is" to have intelligent conversations about RPGs and do anything else about RPGs that seems to fit the current discussion.  For some, that, whatever it is, is then applicable to design.  For others, it is applicable to play.  For others, it is applicable to broader questions of culture.  Why are #1 and #2 okay but #3 is bad and stupid?  Sure, Ron and Clinton started this as about design.  Okay, so go through and eliminate every single post that is not overtly and explicitly about design.  For example, eliminate almost every post in Actual Play.  Doesn't that seem like a bit of a problem?

The point being, Actual Play provides data that people analyze and use to produce theory that is then applied to design.  This apparently is OK with you and Ralph.  But god help us if we analyze that data and use it to produce theory that does something different!  Then we are violating the Forge.

Come on, step back a second.  I realize that a lot of folks here do not like pure theory.  I do not contend that you or anyone else ought to do so.  But is it really such a big problem to section it off as its own thing, blazon it around with stickies and neon lights saying "Warning!  Here be weirdos!" and leave us in peace?  I would genuinely like to know why this is something you all think is such a crime.


Now you are jumping all over the place man.  I got to call you on it.  I never said nor implied anything you asserted.  All I pointed out was that you said that we have acheived nothing because if say it all (the Forge) goes away (which isn't true chicken little) all that has come out of the Forge is that some great games were developed along the way.  How isn't that an achievement or even teh acheivment?  How isn't that the whole point?  The phrase on the fucking home page is, The Internet Home for Independent Role-Playing Games.  Hell the very first sentence in the damn about section is This site is dedicated to the promotion, creation, and review of independent role-playing games. The theory is there to facilitate play and design, nothing more.  

The problem I think people are having is the theory being performed in a vacuum.  It isn't useful to teh stated goal of the Forge.  It is like this:

Some monkeys are sitting in a fucking tree talking about the different tools they could possible make to get at the meat of those big ass nuts on the ground.  Sitting in the tree and theorizing doesn't get the meat into their mouths.  So it is useless.  But when they take those theories and jump to the ground and apply them to opening (or not cuase theories often don't work) these theories become useful.

The theory that just goes round and round without applied uses is just monkeys sitting in a fucking tree with no meat in their mouths.

Keith
Excuse my language it is how I talk (and type)
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LordSmerf
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Posts: 864


« Reply #34 on: February 14, 2005, 08:54:24 PM »

I think everyone needs to calm down.  This seems to have devlolved into name calling (and I'm just as guilty as anyone else).  Chris Lehrich says "Pure theory is valuable and I think there should be a place for it on the Forge even if it's an out of the way corner."  And then he says it over and over, the same thing.

Meanwhile the discussion has devolved from it's intended purpose (I think, Ralph can correct me if I'm wrong): where is the Actual Play discussion?  We've moved from there to a discussion of the merits of pure theory.  Lehrich says, "That's fine, if you don't like it you don't have to talk about it."  I think at this point we need someone with authority (Ron, Clinton?) to step in and say, "Yes, you can discuss pure theory" or "No, pure theory discussion should be taken to some other venue."

Further, I don't feel that my concerns have been addressed.  Possibly because I have been unable to state them clearly.  So, let me try again: If "pure theory", specifically the increase in discussion of it, is a problem then I contend that it is being caused by the dearth of Actual Play posts, not that it is causing them.

From my point of view: very few people are interested in discussing Actual Play, I know you weren't in my most recent thread (which doesn't say much, it is just one thread).  On the other hand, some of my Actual Play experience makes it into my theoretical thinking, so at least I can discuss it tangentially.

I'm looking back and wondering if this post isn't just as inflammatory as all the rest for the past page or so, but I feel this needs to be said.  The "is pure theory valuable?" question is argued in philosophy all the time, and I'm not sure that there's an easy answer.  It basically boils down to personal convictions, so we're going to have to have someone make a decision on this issue.  And even if the theory continues exactly as it has, how is this hurting Actual Play?  Get over there and post if it's so important to you...

Wow, now I know I'm being inflammatory.  Apologies all around.

Thomas
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #35 on: February 14, 2005, 09:01:44 PM »

Thomas is correct. This thread is devolving quickly. So, keep it above the belt and try to reach a resolution, people.

So, here's the official word as I understand it - and Ron can correct me if I'm wrong.

- We're not going to tell you what to talk about.
- That said, as people, not moderators, we sure appreciate theory grounded in play.
- Actual Play is thriving. I posted there today.
- We really invite those who are branching into areas the Forge wasn't intended for to make their own focus sites for those areas if it's warranted.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #36 on: February 14, 2005, 09:03:58 PM »

For some reason I'm seeing this as a weird challenge... "Hey you, I disagree with the way you discuss roleplaying! Prove yourself in design and actual play, or I won't stay in the same sandbox with you!"

Uh, ok...

I don't know, probably it'd be nice if Ralph and everyone else understood everybody else's theory. And it's definitely good to throw down the gauntlet from time to time, to see if there's anything but vapor in there. But all this talk about closing Forge or restructuring forums or prohibiting certain kind of theory seems a little besides the point to me. Understanding is 5/6 parts interest, and if Ralph hasn't been interested enough to familiarize himself with social sciences or art theory, it's no wonder if he doesn't understand such discussions. Frankly, it's like complaining about the Big Model discussions because you don't understand them.

But that's not indeed the point, as I see it. That kind of complaint can't be erased in any way but by proving it false in the root. And that happens by applying the theory. So we have a conundrum: who gets up from the armchair and designs a game to knock off these complaints? That's how the Forge and the Big Model have made their mark, you know: nobody'd take this place seriously if three of four significant games during the late years hadn't originated here. The reason Ralph can make these kinds of complaints is that there's not enough concrete proof for the value of clehrichian theory.

For the record, I don't participate in most theory discussion, Big Model or clehrichian. Mostly because my theorizing is so closely tied to game design that there's hardly any room for airing my opinions just for the sake of it.
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clehrich
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« Reply #37 on: February 14, 2005, 09:17:01 PM »

Okay, I'm clearly getting cranky and out of hand, so I'm going to cool it and be rational.

Bob/Keith,

Sorry, I genuinely misread your post.  If you think about it hard, you might see why I misread it in this way.  I can't imagine why you would bother, though.  Oops.

--------
Now back to the question of theory:

Quote from: Bankuei
A) Your theory is valid, and worth discussing, but the critics are unwilling to make the necessary basic efforts to understand it.  Oh well, ignor the criticism as it is uninformed.
Sure, that may well be the case.  But my claim is that if people are not willing to do that sort of work, assuming that's for decent reasons (we don't care about such debates, for example), they should not be subjected to it, nor told that such theoretical work is something they ought to read.  So section it off in a special forum and leave it be.  I do, of course, object to precisely what you formulate: given that they have not made an effort to understand, they then level criticism.  That is indeed uninformed criticism.  But I do not claim that most criticism of pure theory falls into that category.
Quote
B) Your theory is valid, but the criticism concerns your communication.  Seek an alternative way to communicate your ideas if you actually care if more people understand what you are talking about and will be able to contribute accordingly.
Sure, that's legit.  But of course it demands that I, and others like me who do communicate in this way and at this level (not higher or lower, but different) must make a special extra effort to communicate with those who have made clear they are not especially interested in the formulating and constitutive debates.  Why should we?  We communicate fine, and you don't want to hear it, so why don't we go do it in a special forum and you don't have to hear it.  When we have come up with something clever and concrete and applicable, we'll come tell you about it in terms reasonable to you, and you can tell us it doesn't work or whatever.  So what's the difficulty?
Quote
C) Your theory is not valid, and therefore, criticism demands taking a look at the premises from which it is built.
This may well be true, but it has nothing to do with Ralph's criticism.  Unless I really have grossly misunderstood, his claim is not that such theory is invalid, but that it is inapplicable or at least not applied, and thus impractical.

------------------
Okay, so let's slow down a second.

Here's five lab scientists, in different fields, doing different things at their lab benches.  They're doing concrete, practical work.  What they are doing produces results.  Here and there they come across problems they can't solve, but leave it for later because it's not apparently a huge barrier and besides it's not directly part of the particular experiments.

Here's the theorist.  She reads all of these people's results, and thinks about them.  She doesn't have a lab; she only has her mind.  As a result of her thinking, she says that the problem lab scientist A had is analogous to the result that lab scientist B got, which fits in with what lab scientist C is projecing, and so on.  Ultimately, she proposes a single solution that everyone can go and test.  Scientists A, B, C, and D say, "Hey, how clever.  Thanks!"  Scientist E says, "Um, doesn't work over here, sorry."  So now the theorist has something new to think about.

Now the trouble is that the theorist is a little stuck on problem E.  So she talks about it with other theorists, in a theory journal.  They debate the problem for a while, turning it over, tossing it across fields, and so on.  Eventually, they may come up with an answer.  This may well happen when her colleague from yet another completely different theoretical area says, "Hey, wait!  That's exactly analogous to the problem over here in F, and maybe that's because they're homologous, so that would mean that the solution to E would be like this."

What's happening here, I'm sorry to say, is that the lab scientists are picking up the theorists' journal and saying, "Huh, I don't get this, it's not practical."

Now you may well be about to say, "Well, if you want to do that, get your own journal."  Why?  This is the premier forum for theory as it is.  Where else would we debate these things?  Besides, we need data, and you guys are cranking that stuff out at a good clip.  Furthermore, we don't just need raw data, because frankly you lab guys are better at that; what we need is your analyses of the data, as well as the data, and a lot of such discussions.  Then what we do is pinpoint the higher-order problems and think about them, and propose solutions.  We hope this will be done conversationally, of course, to keep us grounded, but that's not ultimately necessary.  All of which make it a very good thing for theorists to hang around the Forge.

So getting back to my proposal quite a while back, which nobody seems to want to take seriously, I suggest that the "journal of pure theory" be set into its own carefully sectioned-off bit at the back of the bus where only the freaks and weirdos go.  Then we can get on with what we do well, and you can get on with what you do well, and when we come up with something really clever we'll tell you all about it, and when you come up with a major problem with what we thought was so clever I'm sure you'll tell us about it.

What the hell is so hard about this?
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Chris Lehrich
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #38 on: February 14, 2005, 09:19:16 PM »

Hit the showers, everyone. Come back to it tomorrow, or a bit later.

Best,
Ron
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clehrich
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« Reply #39 on: February 14, 2005, 09:26:25 PM »

Incidentally, my last post was x-posted with everyone since Keith, so I missed the very intelligent and right-thinking calls for us all to cool it.

Eero,

What you jokingly call "clehrichian theory" has a practical application.  It's called Shadows in the Fog.  There is actual play being posted by Lee Short.  As yet, not enough has arisen to test my particular and peculiar theories of bricolage and whatnot, but I'm hopeful.  I will relatively soon be running a hard playtest, and we'll see how that goes.  Fortunately, Lee says that "this game rocks," which is a hopeful sign.

Which is one reason why I decry claims that the sorts of theoretical weirdness I and those like me get up to are impractical.  You want to demonstrate that they are so, go play Shadows in the Fog and tell me how and why it doesn't work.  Clinton says he wants to run it; good, I want to hear about it.  This stuff does have practical implications, but they take quite a while to percolate.

Some here, including Mike Holmes for example, participated in a lengthy and tough critique of an early draft a year or so ago, and then another since; without them, and Mike in particular, that game would not look like it does now.  That's what I mean about the pure theorists needing feedback and criticism from the guys sitting at the bench, and also what I mean about it taking time.  But I do maintain that it goes both ways.
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Chris Lehrich
CPXB
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Posts: 139


« Reply #40 on: February 14, 2005, 09:35:06 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
Here's five lab scientists, in different fields, doing different things at their lab benches.  They're doing concrete, practical work.  What they are doing produces results.  Here and there they come across problems they can't solve, but leave it for later because it's not apparently a huge barrier and besides it's not directly part of the particular experiments.

Here's the theorist.  She reads all of these people's results, and thinks about them.  She doesn't have a lab; she only has her mind.  As a result of her thinking, she says that the problem lab scientist A had is analogous to the result that lab scientist B got, which fits in with what lab scientist C is projecing, and so on.  Ultimately, she proposes a single solution that everyone can go and test.  Scientists A, B, C, and D say, "Hey, how clever.  Thanks!"  Scientist E says, "Um, doesn't work over here, sorry."  So now the theorist has something new to think about.

Now the trouble is that the theorist is a little stuck on problem E.  So she talks about it with other theorists, in a theory journal.  They debate the problem for a while, turning it over, tossing it across fields, and so on.  Eventually, they may come up with an answer.  This may well happen when her colleague from yet another completely different theoretical area says, "Hey, wait!  That's exactly analogous to the problem over here in F, and maybe that's because they're homologous, so that would mean that the solution to E would be like this."

What's happening here, I'm sorry to say, is that the lab scientists are picking up the theorists' journal and saying, "Huh, I don't get this, it's not practical."

Now you may well be about to say, "Well, if you want to do that, get your own journal."  Why?  This is the premier forum for theory as it is.  Where else would we debate these things?  Besides, we need data, and you guys are cranking that stuff out at a good clip.  Furthermore, we don't just need raw data, because frankly you lab guys are better at that; what we need is your analyses of the data, as well as the data, and a lot of such discussions.  Then what we do is pinpoint the higher-order problems and think about them, and propose solutions.  We hope this will be done conversationally, of course, to keep us grounded, but that's not ultimately necessary.  All of which make it a very good thing for theorists to hang around the Forge.


This is a straw man.  You're leaving a few things out of your example.  Theoretical scientists exist because of the huge number of things that can only be observed indirectly, or not at all, but modern humans.  So one has a theoretical physicist opining, without reference to any direct observation, about cosmology because it is impossible for us to see the original shape of the universe, for instance, or to do tests on how many dimensions above four there are.  This isn't really true of gaming.  We can observe gamers actually doing games, on all levels.

All gaming theory can be tested for accuracy in the real world, and no doubt experimentally, too, tho' none of us have the resources to do that I'm guessing.  There is no need to do thought experiments about gaming.

Indeed, I will go so far as to say that people who do these sorts of "pure theory" exericses are not engaged in discussion of gaming at all, but the discussion of some other discipline through the tangential intermediary of gaming.  I have found myself, several times, not responding to a post made about "pure theory" because to do so would be talking about philosophy or linguistics, not gaming.  (Which is why I also said that theorizing acts as a conversation stopper; it has literally stopped my conversation, hehe.)
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #41 on: February 14, 2005, 10:52:28 PM »

This thread went three pages in a day, and I'm starting to respond before I've finished reading it because I can't keep three pages of posts in my head.

I have been a theory person probably since I was five years old. I think and talk about everything in theoretical terms. It drives my wife crazy. A lot of people have no idea what I'm saying half the time. That's me.

I play six days a week if nothing goes wrong, seven if things go particularly right. I have never written a single Actual Play post; I can't say with certainty, but I don't believe I've ever read one, either. Similarly, I spend no time in Publishing or Game Design. There are some different reasons for those choices, but one central reason: my time doesn't allow for it. I am often up until after four in the morning trying to finish on line, and up at six to get kids off to school. I'm sure it was months and might have been years between the time The Forge displaced Gaming Outpost as the place for theory discussions and the time I decided to get involved over here. I'm here for theory. It takes me a couple hours every night to get through what I do read here, and adding a lot of raw data from Actual Play would be too much. That's not to say that actual play doesn't influence my theory discussions; it very much does. It's just that I don't try to absorb everyone else's actual play. I try to get it in summary form as it is referenced in the Theory section. (Besides, if anyone particularly cares about my actual play experience, the majority of it is already posted live, raw data, complete, on the Multiverser forum at Gaming Outpost, where the bulk of my games are run. Posting here would either be duplication or summary, neither of which is terribly useful.)

I genuinely sympathize with Ralph. There are posters here who cause my eyes to glaze over, whose screen names induce a wave of despair, who encourage me to skim quickly lest I fall asleep trying to read. (My tolerance varies with how tired I am when I get here, as this is near the end of my day.) There are concepts bandied about that I have yet to really assimilate. However, I am a theory person, and the theory helps me immensely in my understanding of game design and play. I go from theory to practice much more easily than the other direction. I stick with these threads in part because I can never be certain which ones are actually going to open new ideas and directions in my thought, and in part because I often wonder how many people have the same reaction to my posts that I have to some of these others.

Ralph seems to be suggesting that people like me don't belong here. Let be be clear: I'm here because the Critical Hit, Game Design, and Sorcerer discussions at Gaming Outpost came here. I was part of those discussions there, and have been part of those discussions here. I am as invested here as I was there, and perhaps a bit moreso; but there is only so much time in a day, and only so much I can read in that time, and I'm not planning to commit to more at this time. I find theory discussion valuable; I'd like to think that I contribute something to it that's worth the time of others. That's where my strengths lie, and that's what I'll continue to do--at least as long as no one expects me to pay for the priviledge of helping develop and explicate the theory by taking on responsibilities in other areas.

Fortunately, that's not going to happen; and fortunately, if it does, those who are interested in theory can still find space in the Critical Hit and Game Design forums back at Gaming Outpost, if necessary.

--M. J. Young
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #42 on: February 14, 2005, 10:53:52 PM »

I hit the showers, fixed some LAN networks and don't take this discussion too seriously anyway, so I'm good to go...

Quote from: clehrich

What you jokingly call "clehrichian theory" has a practical application.  It's called Shadows in the Fog.  There is actual play being posted by Lee Short.  As yet, not enough has arisen to test my particular and peculiar theories of bricolage and whatnot, but I'm hopeful.  I will relatively soon be running a hard playtest, and we'll see how that goes.  Fortunately, Lee says that "this game rocks," which is a hopeful sign.


Quod Erat Demonstrandum. You didn't really have to spell it out, but man, all this is so baseless that I don't know what these people are thinking. Apparently it isn't enough for a solid fraction of people here to consider clehrichian (it has a nice sound, doesn't it? Sounds like a mystic discipline) theory seriously for it to be tolerated. I've said it before, and say it again: I find the ritual article inspiring and useful for my design and actual play both, and the same holds true for the glimpses of understanding I see in the various discussions. Roleplaying as bricolage is a great idea, regardless of how true it proves. What am I, chopped liver or something, that this opinion isn't taken seriously? I personally couldn't imagine the Forge without Chris and his strongly academic knowledge base.

I've discussed this with Chris before, and we disagree: he thinks that there is such a thing as pure rpg theory, and that it has value. I think that there is nothing such, that all art theory informs art if the artist has the capability of understanding it. (Although if there were such a self-conflicting thing as understanding without application, I'd think it swell, too.) All these arguments about this or that theory being so much navelgazing are exactly the same claims that are made against Forge on other forums. They are not based on the content of the theory, by the by: you've all not said anything about Chris' theories that isn't said constantly about the Big Model on other forums. "It's too abstract, with no application." Waah waah.

If the theory is true, it certainly has application, for it increases our understanding as gamers and designers. If it is false, there is certainly no profit in keeping the falsehood under wraps where it can fester and remain unchallenged. I'm personally seeing strong indications that clehrichian theory is proving itself, and that's enough for me. But even if I understood nothing of it, I wouldn't judge others who found it useful. I might as well start kicking the newbies next, because they want to discuss for the Nth time the narrativist properties of Feng Shui.

Bah, why am I even posting this? This thread is pure navelgazing. Ron called it correctly: go out there and start the kind of theory thread you find interesting.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #43 on: February 15, 2005, 04:46:28 AM »

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

Bah, why am I even posting this? This thread is pure navelgazing. Ron called it correctly: go out there and start the kind of theory thread you find interesting.


Best post on this thread yet. Thanks, Eero!

Is this really a thread saying there's too much of something on the Forge? Like too many people talking about role-playing?

Bah. I thank everyone and anyone - especially Chris, whose thoughts on role-playing and ritual match up well with my own thoughts on RPGs - who participates in any discussion here.

The big difference between the Forge's early days and now is that the Forge is too now big to read every discussion. (Unless you are superhuman, like Ron.) I totally understand this being a bit disconcerting to people used to reading everything here daily, but it only means more good discussion is taking place. Complaining that there's too much of that goes directly against the Forge's ethos, which is:

Go forth and play more games and write more games and talk about more games in an intelligent fashion.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #44 on: February 15, 2005, 06:15:10 AM »

There is one thing that I think can be gained very nicely from this thread.

Look for the new Sticky at the top of the Theory forum, very soon.

Best,
Ron
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