thread: 2012-03-19 : If it isn't an RPG, is it still an RPG?

On 2012-03-20, Evan wrote:

"Designing a game for dissatisfied gamers" is indeed the only major design principle that has consistently propelled the industry forward.

Most major RPG innovations, from those of D&D to Tunnels & Trolls to Amber to Call of Cthulhu to White Wolf to Unknown Armies to Sorcerer and so forth all to some degree say: "Let's take that gaming experience that X game promises, but make it ACTUALLY work." And then gamers think so or don't, forming their requisite sub-sub-cultures around the newly favored "working" game products.

But I'm thinking maybe dissatisfaction merely produces a subtle shift in design ideology.

See, the designers discover that, in order to do make the game "ACTUALLY work," they have to ACTUALLY prioritize the goals lurking behind the game's various sub-systems. And that takes thought and experimentation.

Meanwhile, catering to the mainstream or to non-gamers or whatever means finding a meeting point between the incoherent ideological and fantasy streams of two parallel systems: gamers' complex play desires and the amorphous cultural category of "entertainment." The thought and experimentation of a good game designer may not be up to that task. We cannot all be Reiner Knizia, after all.

Now you could take Henry Jenkins' convergence culture argument and say "well, we should just cater aggressively to our fan demographic and the rest will follow." That actually worked for Fiasco, a game of utterly refined, stripped-down Story Game tricks that's now hit the mainstream. It went through its target indie game community, and then went viral.

On the other hand, you could otherwise take the proposed "let's not even pitch these as RPGs" path. But the laypeople DO know enough about RPGs to be dangerous, as they say. They know when the thing they appear to be playing is straying close to D&D, and D&D is for losers. So just removing the name "role-playing game" isn't enough ? it has to feel enough like other entertainment options they've enjoyed in the past. It has to feel familiar, if not hip. (Successes at this: Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Joss Whedon)

If there was some way nerds could make an ironic Super Bowl or American Idol RPG, there may be a future for the U.S. mainstream audience after all...


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