2011-01-20 : RPG Design, Craft and Discipline
or, Social Context Begins at Home
It comes to me that I won't be able to explain this well.
From my early childhood my experience is of projects. My dad was an architect and I used to play under his drafting table while he worked. The rhythm of projects undertaken, developed, seen through and delivered is as much a part of my life as the seasons are.
Everybody I know loves to make things. I go over to a friend's house at random and I find them busy:
Daphne - kanzashi style silk fascinator with vintage brass leaves
A Walk in the Woods
Endless Rivers of Kombucha
I'm hard-pressed to think of a friend who doesn't have a garage, a darkroom, a controlled growing environment, skilled labor, a junkyard of raw materials, a truck or van, weird-ass electronica, machining tools, transmitters & receivers, a proving range, a relic of the golden age past, and booby traps, or at least their non-apocalyptic equivalents.
My kids are growing up thinking that publishing a book is appropriate and reasonable behavior.
Here's more from Ben:
Your ability to design a good game is totally reliant on your ability to understand, overcome, and express your personal failures.
This is also true for other kinds of art, I imagine.
Now, I don't remember now whether Ben was talking about your personal failures as an artist, or your, you know, personal failures. It doesn't matter; as far as I can tell, it's true both ways.
I also don't get excited about the differences between art and craft. When you make a thing, you reveal yourself. You put your personal failures before your audience's eyes along with all the rest. Becoming better at making things, whatever they are, means forming a productive relationship with your own personal failures.
I don't remember where I read this, or what it was about - writing a novel? software user interfaces? - but it's stuck with me as good advice:
If someone tells you that there's something wrong with your game, they're almost certainly right. If they tell you what it is and how to fix it, they're almost certainly wrong.
Internal playtesting is for testing and refining your game's design. External playtesting is for testing and refining your game's text, its presentation. Don't jump too soon from one to the other. You need to see your players' faces and read their body language and stuff in order to know whether your game design is sound. When external playtesters tell you that something didn't work, you need to be able to read between the lines and see what really didn't work, and that means a rock-solid foundation in first-hand play and observation.
Cultivate in yourself the ability to recognize, by feel, when you're wrong about something. Practice being wrong, being correctable, withholding your ego from your ideas. Notice how it feels to have a sound idea, versus an unsound idea; notice how the latter demands a sense of conviction to make up for itself, and the former instead invites exploration. Conviction is laziness; curiosity, exploration, discovery - the fundamental components of creating anything - can't coexist with the feeling that you're right.
Notice how your friends express it when they think you're wrong about something but don't want to just out and say so. (Arguing about movies is good practice for this.) Wanting real working critique - which we are all, sadly, wanting - you have to depend on reading how your friends really feel, not what they say.
You have to be able to see clearly in order to create. If being wrong hurts you, you'll blind yourself to it.
Here's something I wrote a long, long time ago:
On the day that I make peace with religion, I take my muse by the hair and drown her in the mill pond.
Just a thought.
Which I did, and I did, and that was fine. It's not like making peace with religion left me without personal failures. There was a new muse waiting.
Pursue your craft. Better yourself in it with all discipline and humility. When you create, you serve your creation, it doesn't serve you.
1. On 2011-01-20, Vincent said:
2. On 2011-01-20, Elizabeth said:
3. On 2011-01-20, Paul T. said:
4. On 2011-01-21, Simon C said:
5. On 2011-01-21, Matt Machell said:
6. On 2011-01-21, eruditus said:
7. On 2011-01-22, Bret said:
8. On 2011-01-22, Josh W said:
9. On 2011-01-23, Josh W said:
10. On 2011-01-25, Vincent said: