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

On 2012-04-19, nat wrote:

Coming to this particular thread a bit late, but I think I have maybe an answer to the posed question (why call them 'RPG'): In addition to setting your own mind in the right place for the designing, I think it's useful to advance a broad notion of 'RPG'. I've been saying for at least 15 years that I believe the audience for "RPGs" [by which I mean my definition below, which is slightly narrower than Vincent's, but still encompasses, I think, every RPG or "story game" published in the US] is much broader than the audience for the existing RPGs in print—and this is still true despite the significant broadening of options of the last decade.  I've seen myself people who are interested in "RPG" on a conceptual level who didn't find an RPG and playstyle that satisfied them, so they never became regular RPers. And that's because, right now, if you like shared fiction and role assumption, but there's some other aspect of an RPG that you don't like (assuming it's a broad aspect, not something narrow like "uses d12s"), odds are pretty good that every other RPG, or at least every other RPG you can easily find, shares that element. Don't like randomizers? They've all* got them. Don't want to deal with stats? They've all* got them. etc. So, I think it's a useful thing to take advantage of the broad conceptual space in "RPG", and emphasize the [tenuous] shared aspects when trying to push games to new markets. To point out to people that, just because they don't like those things, doesn't mean they don't like "RPGs", and that the thing that is self-evidently what they want (it has "roleplaying" right in the name) can in fact satisfy them. And, the more visible new modes of RPG become, the less weight narrow doctrinaire definitions have. I'd love it to get to the point where claiming that something is an RPG is only valid to the degree that it is similar to D&D makes as much sense as measuring the "sportness" of something as judged by how much it is like golf.

I'm not sure if this will elucidate anything for you, but this is the first serious, potentially-useful definition of RPG I've read that didn't include role assumption—you know, "roleplaying".

Now, I agree that on some level taxonomy is just taxonomy, and doesn't matter. But on another level, it is also language, which is used for communication, and therefore meanings matter. While your definition is certainly inclusive of every other definition I've ever read, it also includes things that I've not previously heard referred to as "RPG". Is this good? Bad? Not entirely sure.

I know why I cling to my definition of RPG, however: it defines what attracts me to RPGs. Give me requisite (as opposed to optional) shared fiction and role assumption, and I probably will like it, to some degree. Take either or both of those away, and I probably won't. (But I'm that apparently-rare breed of RPer who is utterly disinterested in video/computer games and wargames, and really only plays board/card/traditional or party games because others insist on them.)

*Yes, not literally all. I'm employing hyperbole. Though, also, if you aren't already part of the RPG world, you'll probably only be exposed to the portion that is sold in typical book or game stores, at which point the similarities become much more prominent.


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