Sunday, July 30, 2006

Weekly Review Jul. 23rd to Jul. 29th

This week has continued several investigations into what are RPGs and how we learn to play them.

Acquiring Immersion

Thomas Robertson brings up one of the goals of his month long focus on immersion, namely asking whether or not immersion can be learned. He suggests that the barrier to immersion is based on comfort with the non-immersive parts of the game, especially mechanics. Perhaps, by learning and making these easier to learn, more and more of the game becomes unconscious, opening the way to immersion. However, the question remains whether unconscious actions can break immersion.

Competition and Roles

Guy Shalev presents an altogether different perspective on roles, immersion, and defining RPGs. In particular he suggests a focus on even minimal immersion limits the idea of role-playing, otherwise there would be no distinction between game roles and "played" roles. Because of the importance of roles, even in the competitive story games he champions, he argues that the concept of RPGs should be extended beyond this limitation.

John Kim offers a different take on this issue. In particular, he suggests that the opposition to competition is not immersive, but based on subjective evaluation, a difficulty which competition cannot ultimately defeat. He continues, by suggesting that competitive games are often designed to train, and that the subjectiveness of imaginative works prevents the objective measures needed to evaluate one's own skills.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Lesson: Exercise 2 - Genre and Setting

Do you consider genre and setting to be distinct?

If so, what is the difference between them?

If not, what might make something more comfortably described as genre or as setting?

In either case which is more like setting or more like genre, or is it distinct from both?

- All characters speak in poetry

- In any combat, someone must die

- A world where all love is unrequited

- A world in perpetual daylight

- A world in perpetual storm

- During a great war between two nations

- In a warzone

Now that you've thought about genre and setting, think about whether either or both are included under system? Why or why not?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Weekly Review Jul. 16th to Jul. 22nd

This week has seen several theory developments all based on what we put in and what we get out of playing RPGs.

Its Own Reward

Thomas Robertson suggests a reason why immersion is a topic of such contention among some standard theories. He argues that the concept of the reward cycle is at the root of the problem. In particular the idea that play is intended to achieve periodic goals, of one form or another, gets in the way of understanding play which is its own reward, such as immersion.

Belief in RPGs

Mark Woodhouse describes his approach to RPG theory, namely related to the sociology of religion. He relates the social and psychological forces of religion to those in RPGs, posing questions on the learning, beliefs, and ethics of RPG behavior.

In Context

Over at 20' by 20' room is a discussion about what context is made during play, and which is made prior to play. The discussion centers on how making context can provide or reduce enjoyment in play.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Editorial: Knowing the Limits

With something as complex as RPGs every theory will have its limits, places where the theory breaks down, or simply doesn't cope as well as a theory intended specifically for that topic. Accepting the limits of any one theory is extremely important, because to be fully effective in understanding and designing RPGs we must exploit multiple distinct theories, even if they contradict each other. To make this viable we must understand the limits of each of those theories.

This is a dual burden. On one hand, those of us who wish to craft new theories and codify different approaches to understanding RPGs must be careful to explain the field of application. This is much like a warranty. Ron Edward's Big Model is only vetted for the three basic creative agendas he presented. Beyond this, the theory may apply or it may be invalid. Thus we must make it clear where the boundaries of our theories lie, even as we attempt to extend them.

On the other hand, as we investigate and use theories we must always be wary of the boundaries and limits. Demanding a theory to apply beyond its regime is a dangerous path, and one where we must be responsible for the correctness of our discoveries. As we apply theory we must always search for the most applicable option available. While a pet theory is almost unavoidable, the more we are biased towards one perspective, the less we can see clearly. When you encounter a discrepancy always be willing to use another theory to resolve it. When we stop using theories as tools, they become ideologies, which leads to even more problems.

In short, you are well served by knowing both the limits and potentials of your theories, whether you developed them or not.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Weekly Review Jul. 9th to Jul. 15th

This week has seem some continuations of themes from the past, some more directly than others.

Electronic Media

Tony Dowler discusses designing narrative games for electronic media. In particular he discusses some of the unique capabilities of electronic games, such as collaborative ratings, and how those might produce the social elements needed to create a narrative.

More Immersion

In response to some of last week's discussion Moyra Turkington presents three literary ideas as they apply to immersion. Catharsis being a sense of purification from identifying with a tragic figure. Kairosis being a sense of integration with a character's moment of transition. Kenosis being an abandonment of ego in literature, especially poetic. She suggests that these describe three key types of immersion. Elsewhere, Thomas Robertson asks his readers what immersion means to them.


Brian Hollenbeck presents his revised AGE (Art, Game, Emulation) theory of RPGs. Of note, he has refined emulation as it pertains to his theory, as well as adding six forces which push play along the triangle of art - game - emulation.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Lesson: Exercise 1 - Character

Define character in your own terms.

Go ahead, write that down.

Now consider which of the following you would consider to be characters, and which you wouldn't. How well does your definition fit what you wanted?

- Your self.

- The other players.

- A person who never actually appears in the events of play.

- A storm described as having a personality.

- A person who turns out to be a fiction in play, even after appearing.

- The social role you adopt when you are around the people you play with.

Now think of one of the border cases, something that is only barely a character, or only barely not a character. Now write down a second definition of character, for which the border case behaves differently, try to make it a good one as well.

Now which one do you think is better? Why?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Weekly Review Jul. 2nd to Jul. 8th

This week has seen several discussions on RPG theory, from broaching immersion to the meaning and practice of plot.


As part of his month on Immersion, Thomas Robertson puts forward a definition for immersion in RPGs. He suggest that immersion is when you stop paying attention to how you play, and simply play. Meanwhile, over at Story Games Fred Wolke describes his own immersion as a visceral response to character emotions.

Knowing What Will Happen

Eliot Wilen asks who controls the plot in typical RPGs. He points out that this depends on whether you consider plot to be sequence of events or a situation to be resolved. This idea folds neatly into a discussion on Story Games where games with fixed outcomes and story structure are considered. In these cases, it seems the means and meaning by which the fixed plot is enacted provides the enjoyment of play.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Monthly Review June 2006

One of the major themes of RPG theory this month has been the context within which we play RPGs, and how this context affects play. Early on, Thomas Robertson suggested that one of the limitations of play is fact that not everything can be shared and remembered. This requires constant effort to realign the understanding of different players. From another direction, Joshua BishopRoby remarks on how players use game texts, whether as products of writing that influence a game or processes designed for playing the game. A third context is discussed on Story Games, namely the tactile nature of a RPG imparting concreteness or abstraction.

This topic continues over the month. Thomas Robertson expands on his earlier ideas with four properties of different media in RPGs: permanency, synchronicity, delineation, and richness. He suggests that each of these puts distinctive pressures on how RPG play is conducted. Lastly, Carl Cravens suggests that RPGs are distinct from other theatrical activities because they lack a way to practice before play.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Weekly Review Jun. 25th to Jul. 1st

This week has been an influx of disparate ideas of RPG theory.

Practicing Play

Carl Cravens suggests that RPGs are somewhat unique in that they are a performance form where you only practice during the performance. He remarks that some players may benefit from the availability of practice workshops for building their play skills.

Resolving Situations

Emily Care Boss reflects on dynamic and static situations. The former are unstable and often resolve into stable, static ones. She suggests that it may be worthwhile to focus resolution away from stabilizing and more to changing between one dynamic situation to another.

RPG Media

Thomas Robertson discusses the different media of RPG play. In particular he identifies four qualities which trade-off between different media.

Permanency is the capability of the medium to be recorded and accessed later. Synchronicity is the delay between player inputs. Delineation indicates how separable the modes of communication can be. Lastly, richness indicates how much and how quickly information can be communicated in that media.

Together these characterize different forms of media. For example, face-to-face presents an impermanent, synchronous, non-delineated, but very rich RPG media, while play-by-email presents a very permanent, very asynchronous, highly delineated, but not very rich RPG media.

Agreeing on Emulation

Brian Hollenbeck discusses the subject of emulation, under the structure of his AGE (Art Game Emulation) theory. In particular he notes that emulation is very much a social aspect of play, because it is ultimately based on a group judgment of what fits and what does not.