Game theory (or close enough)

February 4, 2006: 2:22 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

Brand has some interesting comments about the evolution of RPGs, and how it is now starting to get into territory where it challenges more than just how people play games.

So as we go farther with this it is inevitable that we will come to cross purposes. Where we will build fully-functional, solidly designed, socially negotiated systems that do exactly what they want to do in exactly the way we want them to do it that will at the same time be absolutely unacceptable and unplayable to a vast number of people.

And I don’t mean “unplayable because they won’t give it a chance.” And I don’t mean “unplayable because it goes against what they think about game.” And I don’t mean “unplayable because of what their past games have made them.”

I mean “unplayable because of who life has made them.” And I mean “unplayable because it goes against what they think about life.” And I mean “unplayable because when they give it a chance it causes them active revulsion.”

Read the whole post, as Brand has lots of interesting things to say. I think I can already see hints in some current game theory discussions that certain designers are heading somewhere I have no desire to go, no matter how good their game design ends up being, because their belief systems and goals are just too different from mine. Of course, there’s also every chance that some other designer will make choices that speak directly to what I believe, so I’m not feeling all that worried about it.

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January 21, 2006: 11:17 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

Apparently the start of 2006 is an especially fertile time for new RPG theory jargon to arise. Over on Fair Game, Meguey explains in comments on this post that:

Here’s another example of what I mean by IWNAY.

Jill has a hard line at kids-in-danger. Robin says “The victim is a child.”

Jill says “Please don’t make the victim a child. I really don’t want the victim to be a child.” Robin says “I know you don’t like it, but the victim is a child.”

Jill says “You *suck*, Robin. And I’m still not going to abandon you.” Robin says “I know you think I suck. I know this is sucky of me to do. And I’m still not going to bail on you and your reaction to me being a sucky person right now.”

This strikes me as sounding more like a therapy session than a game, and while I get that part of the idea here is that conflict that cuts close to the bone makes better stories, it’s not an idea with which I necessarily agree.

While there are writers and other artists who create great works of fiction by confronting dark and terrible issues, there are also those who do a brilliant job of finding conflict and meaning in things that seem more mundane. By the same token, a game doesn’t need to push past all of a player’s lines in order to create a great story. There are plenty of great stories to be told in that grey area between comfortable and horrible, even if some of them aren’t as obvious.

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January 15, 2006: 11:13 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

Brand makes an attempt to better explain the whole push/pull thing that’s been talked about on several RPG theory blogs lately:

First, let me say that a lot happened with push/pull in a very short time. Mo started talking about it in terms of social dynamics: the way that players approach the process of making decisions in game. It then quickly morphed to become partly about techniques, ephemera, and ideas around how this may be codified in game and the ways in which games may have already mechanically reinforced one or the other. Some people hooked onto the social angle, some to the ephemera, some to the mechanics and some to he theoretical possibilities. So when they all started talking to each other there was a lot of miscommunication because they weren’t all talking about the same thing anymore. Maybe I can take a small step towards fixing that.

After reading his explanation, and discussions of the topic on other blogs, I’m still not past just having a general idea of what it all means.  Apparently I’m among those who isn’t going to really understand until someone designs a great game that illustrates the principles involved, at which point the whole thing will just seem stupidly obvious.

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January 9, 2006: 10:50 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

Vincent Baker goes mad. Again.

You remember how big a deal it was when we smashed open the GM’s power over everything-but-the-characters? We were like, “this thing where the GM creates and controls everything-but-the-characters, solely and exclusively and all by his lonely, this thing is broken, plus stultifying, plus it’s not even true.” You know how good the games are that came – and keep coming – out of that?

My dangerous idea for 2006 is: we should do the same to the player’s power over the character. It’ll be just as good.

The comment thread that follows gets rather argumentative, in part because people are trying to figure out just what the heck Vincent is talking about, but it’s still worth reading through if you want to understand what he’s getting at. I don’t know that I agree with him, but it’s certainly an interesting idea.

December 19, 2005: 10:28 pm: Game theory (or close enough), Miscellaneous

The power of Squidoo has been used by both Rob “Muadib” Mosley and Chris “Bankuei” Chinn to build “lenses” focusing on the RPG community. Rob’s is about RPG theory and design in general, while Chris’ concentrates on the Forge diaspora.

I expect there’ll be one for Amber-related gaming any time now.

And no, I won’t be the one doing it.


December 6, 2005: 8:36 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

If you frequent The Forge (or read gaming weblogs), you know that on December 2nd the RPG Theory and GNS Model Discussion forums there were closed to posting. It was a move that had been planned for some time, but it’s still managed to cause a bit of an uproar.

Most of the opinions I’ve seen have, like Vincent Baker‘s, been positive to one degree or another, and that’s pretty much the camp I fall into too. Frankly, while they might have been the site of lots of useful talk once, I’ve never found much use for either theory forum during the few years I’ve been reading The Forge. Part of that is probably due to my lack of fascination with the give and take of theory discussion, and part of it is due to a change in the sorts of interaction that takes place there. Whatever the reason, the Forge-related theory I know I’ve learned from the Actual Play and Indie Game Design forums, plus several of Vincent’s posts on Anyway.

I guess the important question now is how The Forge will change without its theory forums, and what else the future might hold for worthwhile discussion of RPGs. However it goes, I bet it’ll be interesting.

November 25, 2005: 10:19 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

This recent conversation on The 20′ By 20′ Room strikes me as an example of how people using different jargon (or differing understandings of the same jargon) sometimes have a really hard time communicating. Among the commenters are people who don’t know what DIP or DAS means, people who are fuzzy on their Forge terminology, and people who (like me) have no idea what the heck aerobic gaming vs. anaerobic gaming is supposed to mean. Throw all of that together and I think the result ended up being people spending more time and energy defining (and redefining) terms than about the original topic of DIP and DAS in indie games.

August 28, 2005: 2:02 pm: Game theory (or close enough), GMing, Playing

Over on The Forge, there’s a great Actual Play thread about a Dogs in the Vineyard session that took place at GenCon. The actions of one of the characters apparently crossed a line for one of the players, and the discussion gradually develops into talking about how to deal with such situations.

July 27, 2005: 10:15 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

Chris “Bankuei” Chinn’s Deep in the Game

Check it out, and then add it to your game blog reading list.

June 12, 2005: 10:31 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

Tucked into one of Ben Lehman’s recent posts about bricolage is this bit that I totally agree with:

And why am I opposed to [freeform] consensus, personally?

Not all consensus has to be like this, btw. This is just talking about the consensus games that I have played in, personally. I would love to hear anecdotes to the contrary, particularly with explanations of the social situation and techniques.

You know how everyone has this image in their head about how the game is going to go? People get really attached to those images. In the absence of systematic elements to tear them away from their initial conception, they will stick to it and fight tooth and nail.

I think that a lot of consensus gaming is devoted to allowing all the players to keep the illusion that they can get their whole story into the game. This can be done as long as nothing is really ever used; nothing happens in the game. Thus, the games tend to be a whole lot of nothing. If someone suggests that something dramatic happen — something that will redefine and change the game and its direction — everyone generally clamps down on that person: they are a threat to maintaining your own little story in your head!

The thing is that, universally, everyone is happier when stories have things that happen, and have resolution. The story in your head is not nearly as cool as the story that would come out in play.

This is a dead-on description of how things went in a pbem game I was in for a short time, and how things have apparently gone for the long months since I left. There’s no real conflict, nothing really ever happens, and the characters just talk around and around in circles. I, personally, don’t see how a total lack of story is fun.

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