2005-04-06 : The Whole Point

The Whole Point

I'll out with it. The whole point is:

The game designer has to answer to that list too, not just the group.

1. On 2005-04-06, Chris said:

I think that kinda points strongly to that dysfunction thread I started too :)  The designer who ignores all the real people stuff, and encourages the people at the table to do the same= problems down the road.


2. On 2005-04-06, Vincent said:



3. On 2005-04-06, Hell Yes said:

Hell yes.



4. On 2005-04-07, Kaare said:

What this list tells me is that roleplaying with someone can expose you to life in general. This list mearly breaks down the general experience called life.

So you say a designer has to answer to this list. I see why, just not how?


5. On 2005-04-07, Vincent said:

Kaare: "I see why, just not how?"

I see how. I'm not the only one - in fact I learned it from others. And here's me trying to pass it on, but it's a lot of telling.

A lot a lot of telling.

But at last, I've laid enough groundwork that I can finally tell you (and all of you) the point! We're getting there.


6. On 2005-04-07, Chris said:

Well, we already know that no set of rules can cover every situation or tell you how your friends are, or every kind of possible social situation (and yes, laws, morals, philosophies, and religions are sets of rules in their own way)...

The best thing is to give people enough guidelines and tools so that they can work it out themselves.  Unfortunately many games out there neglect to tell people about the fact that all play sits on the foundation of social interaction, and without being aware of that, it's like having a car and not realizing that it moves by way of having 4 wheels.  You can change the engine, the paint, the transmission- but if there's no wheels, there's no rolling.

You lay out what play is supposed to be like, the core mechanics and techniques, support that with Setting, Color, Artwork, "soft" advice, etc.  But all of it stands on social interaction.  You point out that social interaction requres social solutions, that is, lengthening the ears of elves in your game won't fix Jim being a jerk("The Elven Ear Fallacy").

Since the rules are just negotation techniques for credibility, it makes sense, right?


7. On 2005-04-07, Ben Lehman said:

Since the rules are just negotation techniques for credibility, it makes sense, right?

Not *just*

Rules also shape your social contract.  They shape your play experience, which in turn shapes you.

I posted in the "Roleplaying with someone can be..." thread as "Roleplaing with someone can be a way to learn to be human."

Your play will shape you.  Your rules will shape your play.

Good rules are about making better people.  Good rules are about making better friends.  Good rules are about making better community.



8. On 2005-04-09, Victor Gijsbers said:

"...the rules are just negotation techniques for credibility..."

And the rules shape your expectations, the way you transform the spoken sentences into a mental image, the direction your imagination takes, and so forth. (To name just one thing: the traditional credibility structure where each player controls one character will almost inevitably make that character the player's focus in the fictional world.) And yes, they also influence the social situation, often in major ways, and not just through the distribution of credibility.


9. On 2005-04-09, Vincent said:

...And it goes far, far beyond the rules' construction of participation. That's only half of it, the bare half, how the people play the game together.

The contents of the game's fiction matter to the group's social dynamics at least as much as the game's procedures do. The game designer has to answer not only to how do we participate?, but to what does it mean? too.


10. On 2005-04-09, Victor Gijsbers said:

"The contents of the game's fiction matter to the group's social dynamics at least as much as the game's procedures do."

With the game's fiction, do you mean the fiction contained within the game text (the 'rulebook'), or the contents of the Shared Imaged Space (or 'fictional world', or whatever)?


11. On 2005-04-10, Tony Pace said:

Here's an example of how system and setting and actual play can interact to produce an unfortunate moment.

We were playing WFRP, which is one of the purest examples of random character generation. At any rate one of our players rolled a Bawd, which is a career which more or less amounts to assistant pimp. The player is a woman and she chose to play a female character.

Then the GM gets some clever ideas reading lists like this one and decides to try some of the Narravtive stuff people are talking about, like bangs. So, to avoid the details, there was a situation where the character was threatened with rape at the end of a series of escalations, and some of the other players didn't want to save her. Squick.

Now looking back, maybe I should have stayed far away from that series of escalations, but two aspects of WFRP weren't helping me.

The dark, realistic setting introduces a lot of discomfort inducing elements into play, like being a torturer or an assistant pimp.

Second, the use of truly random character generation means that you don't get to define your own character premise at the beginning of play - you may get handed a set of character issues that frankly just kick the sleeping dogs where they lie. A player choice to explore dark issues like this is cool. As an imposition, it's ugly.

So now our game is in deep trouble! The last session was vry intense, and lot of good stuff got done, but the inter-player tensions pulled out by that incident willl undoubtably have some long-lasting effects on the game.


12. On 2005-04-10, Ninja Hunter J said:

If it only has effects on the game, it's awesome. If it has advese effects on your friendships, it sucks.

(As a total aside: WFRP led to one of the most frustrating RP experiences I ever had. I wanted to play a courtier/assassin with very specific motives. It turns I had to play a shopkeep, which made me say, "OK, it's a merchant-ruled city, I'll work my way up through the guild". I wound up being the hostage negotiator, which I said was OK because I was using my social skills (and night vision) to work my way into the hearts of those whose family members were worth holding for ransom. But you know what? I died from a backhanded slap because it turns out, in WH, you can't kill someone with a stilletto, and everyone who's anyone is immune to poison! Who knew? My character type was completely unsupported by the system: you could not simultaneously have a secret, effective skill and a plausible cover.)


13. On 2005-04-11, Chris said:

A lot of games would do much better by the audience/play groups if they stated boldly what they're about.

WFRP may be "gritty" but it sure isn't realistic.  It isn't a power kick like the Warhammer Battle game, and it isn't about "realism", it's more like a high powered fantasy Call of Chthulu.  You roll the dice, you play craps for your wacky character, and then you send them into hell, for better or worse.  Like very hardcore OD&D, or Nethack, toss reality or story concerns out the door.

I think games that state in a paragraph or less what they're about up front eliminates a lot of problems (for the literate, reading crowd, the rest shouldn't really be playing rpgs...)


14. On 2005-04-11, Tony Pace said:

In some ways I quite like Warhammer (and actually I think in decent hands it can work quite well with story concerns - most of the game went surprisingly well), but I was a little disturbed to read on the excellent Roleplayers of Color list that a defining 'gamer racism' moment for him came in WFRP with a series of jokes from some players about how they wanted their characters to strive for the slaver career. Squick.

I mean, on one hand, the reason I like Warhammer is that it doesn't leave all the grime and disease and unpleasantry out of the setting like D&D. The standard D&D town is so antiseptic Hollywood that I feel repulsed by it. On the other hand.... the everything straight to hell aspect of it can get very unpleasant and cynical. And of course that ends up stepping on real people's feelings.

I'm going to pitch InSpectres again and see what people say.


15. On 2005-04-11, Matthijs said:

To be blunt, I'd rather hear Vincent extrapolate on the subject than read about WFRP. Vincent, are you saying that game designers have a social responsibility? That they should take responsibility for how players act & feel during the game? That they should consciously try to change social structures through their game design?


16. On 2005-04-11, Vincent said:

WFRP is part of the problem, thus on-topic. I attribute its perpetuation of broken, bad socialization to ignorance, not malice, for what little that's worth.

Anyhow, Matthijs: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Consciously try to change social structures, amen!

Anybody disagree?


17. On 2005-04-11, Chris said:

My larger point with that is that games that do state what they're about, help make it clear to the group how to handle the game in regards to the social interaction, etc. of the group.  No one picks up a videogame expecting to work out serious personal issues, and no one goes to a therapist hoping for light, mindless fun.  I'd say rpgs can cover the range and failing to clarify where the game stands or trying to claim it can do everything equally well is a bad idea.


18. On 2005-04-11, Ninja Hunter J said:

To clarify what I said about WFRP, the game basically just makes you watch your character get the shit beat out of them. Everything - everything - cool that happened in that game happened because the GM thought someone's idea was cool, not because the rules facilitated it. If the GM didn't get what someone was doing, or the rules were really explicit on it, the rules said "the character probably fails."

My goal when designing a game (or modifying an existing one) is to make an ifrastructure whereby the players a story out of everyone's cool ideas - and there are lots of them. My job as GM is to make sure there's lots of stuff for those ideas to collide with, usually in the form of antagonists and their resources.

Chris, you bring up a very good point there, that RPGs are on the continuum between video games and psychoanalysis. That's a cool way to think about it.


19. On 2005-04-12, Matthijs said:

I'm currently in a campaign where at the end of each session, each player gets a real-life challenge from one of the other players. It's experimental and fairly free-form, and we're not really sure what we're doing. (We're also not allowed to talk about it much, so I can't go into details, but will do so if/when the group okays it.)

We've been joking about how this sounds like the start of a bad movie - "it started as a harmless game, but soon became deadly serious as the young men crossed the border between fiction and reality".

I agree with Chris that it's important that games have state what they're about - and in the case of games specifically made for the purpose of changing the players' real-life behaviour, it's an ethical duty. The problem, of course, is that games have been - more or less unintentionally - doing this for years, with very little critical thought or planning by designers.

(Within the Scandinavian LARP community, there's been a lot of thought on social experimentation and change through games such as the LARP "Panopticorp".)


20. On 2005-04-14, Victor Gijsbers said:

Vincent wrote:

"Consciously try to change social structures, amen!
Anybody disagree?"

Total agreement here. This is very interesting.


21. On 2005-04-14, xenopulse said:

Consciously try to change social structures, amen! Anybody disagree?

Seems to me this is where this "hobby" of ours is moving from entertainment to art. We stop writing formula novels for easy consumption and instead aim for something like 1984.

- Christian


22. On 2005-04-14, Emily Care said:

Christian and Matthijs: Yes. RPG would be an amazing venue for Theater of the Oppressed.

...[Hegel and
Aristotle] desire a quiet somnolence at the end of the
spectacle; Brecht wants the theatrical spectacle to be the
beginning of action: the equilibrium should be sought by
transforming society, and not by purging the individual of
his just demands and needs....
—Augusto Boal, The Theater of the Oppressed


23. On 2005-04-14, xenopulse said:


Very cool, thanks for the link. As a German Leftie, that's right up my alley :)

Now, if I could design games appropriately, I'd be happy. But I guess that's where I'm trying to get here.

- Christian


24. On 2005-04-15, Matthijs said:

Well, I wouldn't underestimate the potential verfremdungs-effect of games like The Price of Freedom... :)


25. On 2005-04-14, Tony Pace said:

I am sort of waiting for the next IGC Competition to get started, but I have a couple of ideas on the boil. I don't know that I have the experience to really try to actively change social structures, but in my mind I'm trying to illuminate them.

I mean, I'm interested in the way that explicit declarations of trust and appreciation are said to improve the social relationships of the group. And as a curious person, I wonder what sort of effect opposite structures would have on real relationships, such as suspicion or chastisement.

Come to think of it, The Valedictorian Game has a suspicion mechanic, although it's not really public. Has anyone actually tried to play that? How did it work in practise?

It's strange because I'm curious what the effects of a mechanic would be, and I have the outlines of a Stanford Experiment-like game that could profitably use them. But I'm far from sure that it would be a good idea to ever actually play such a game.


26. On 2005-04-15, Ben Lehman said:


I would like to note that D&D, Rifts, any game that you can think of and don't like, changes social structures.  The idea that only a conscious "art-RPG" can do it defeats the point.  All games change social structures.



27. On 2005-04-15, xenopulse said:

Sure they do, Ben, but do they do it consciously? :)


28. On 2005-04-15, Ben Lehman said:

Does the intent of the author of a game text matter for the people playing it?



29. On 2005-04-15, xenopulse said:

It seems to me that it matters for whether those changes are going to be reliable and guided, or random.

The designer's intent creates all sorts of different effects in the way the game is structured. If the designer sets out to make a game in a focused way, and does it well (i.e., coherently), the resulting game will more reliably produce the desired effect/gameplay/social interaction. That works for all kinds of aspects of game design, not just this one we're talking about now.

As a comparison, does the Legislature's intent in creating a body of law matter for the people who have to obey it? Sure. They can end up with a random bunch of incoherent laws that create all sorts of outcomes, or they can have a coherent design that facilitates interaction and guides social interaction in a certain way.

- Christian


30. On 2005-04-15, Ben Lehman said:



I think we're talking past each other.

The main point of this thread was about the responsibility of a designer.  Which I totally agree with.

I sidelined it into this thing about the strangeness of textuality with respect to RPG players.  Which was a mistake.  I'm sorry.

Let me rephrase:

There are many good games (by which I mean have a positive effect on your community of players) which I doubt were totally designed with this in mind.  Marvel Superheroes.  Teenagers from Outer Space.  Cyberpunk



31. On 2005-04-15, xenopulse said:

Okay, yeah.

I don't deny that it can and does happen without that goal in mind.

All I'm saying is that if you design consciously, you might get the result more reliably than with those games that happen to have that effect without being designed for it.

- Christian


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