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

Down here, Matthijs says:

If you/we want to make RPGs that appeal to non-gamers, and you/we are willing to make them into something people won't call an RPG...

...what exactly are you/we doing? Just making games, right?

What's the point of thinking about them as RPGs anymore?

Maybe no point! Maybe it's only that I have some practice designing RPGs, so that thinking of them as RPGs reminds me of the design lessons I've learned.

But there are a couple of things I can say that may help clarify my position.

One: I'm not talking about just making games, no, I'm still talking about making RPGs. To me, the crucial feature that makes a game an RPG is that it works by the (so-called) lumpley primple: in order to play, we have to create fictional stuff and agree that, for gameplay purposes, it's true. This is a pretty technical and inclusive definition. It includes Once Upon a Time and that game where you sit in a circle and pretend that some of you are werewolves, for instance.

Now, while those two examples both count as RPGs to me, neither of them brings out my favorite features of roleplaying. I think I can design games that DO bring out my favorite features of roleplaying, but that are no more like Shadowrun than that werewolf game is. Murderous Ghosts is a pretty good example of the kind of game I'm thinking about, a solid stride in the direction I'm going.

Two: The hard core of the "but that's not an RPG!" crowd are really pretty wrong. The "an RPG is a game in which the GM can arbitrarily kill the PCs" crowd, for instance. There are people right now who say that Apocalypse World isn't an RPG, for Pete sake. Design pretty much anything interesting, and you've designed a non-RPG to someone.

1. On 2012-03-19, entropyblues said:

I always find the strange need for divisive taxonomy bizarre. A title is only good as its descriptive power, and good for little else once you've used it define the common ground. The folk that find the need to draw the line at one hard place will be forever forced to redraw and defend that line with every game, forever sorting beans into arbitrary or subjective categories. I'd rather just agree that I like some beans and not others. I will eat the beans I like, but I won't argue that those other beans are not true beans.

In videogames, we get the endlessly frustrating debate on whether something is "art" or even "a game". It's about as fruitful as arguing about angels on the heads of pins. I'd rather just declare that it's all art, but that perhaps some of it is very shitty art.


2. On 2012-03-19, Simon C said:

I don't think that Werewolf game requires any kind of fiction that we accept as "true" for the purpose of the game. It just has roles that give you different goals, and different sources of information, and then it has colour for those roles.

When I play (and I play a bunch) there's no reference to a "fiction", and the game would be worse if there was. If you get hanged by the villagers, it's because they, as players, think you are a werewolf, because of things which happened in the real world. People making up fiction to justify their decisions would be disruptive to play.

I also don't get Murderous Ghosts, apparently, as we've previously discussed.


3. On 2012-03-19, J. Walton said:

Vx: I don't mean the downplay the significance of moving in this direction, but hasn't a significant portion of indie games folks been at this "attempting to reach non-RPG audiences" thing for years now?  I mean, it's super great that you've become interested in this too and are putting some portion of your substantial talents towards tackling the issues involved, but it's not like these are new, previously unknown challenges for design, right? There are many examples of games that already seek to do this with varying degrees of success, yeah? Maybe I missed the thread where that was discussed.


4. On 2012-03-19, Rafu said:

J. Walton, it would be interesting to collect some success stories. I personally don't know any - though I could name some "half success" stories, I think.


5. On 2012-03-19, Jay Loomis said:

The underlying question seems to me to be the normal design parameter of audience. It seems like the typical audience for indie-RPGs has been, since I became aware of the Forge a decade ago, to make games that fulfill the play preferences of people who were dissatisfied with what "traditional RPGs" were providing them. As a by-product, some new people enter the hobby while bypassing traditional games (these folks trickle in to the Seattle Story Games meetup now and again, for example). The core of the indie-RPG-playing population still seems to be people who either used to play traditional RPGs or who still play them but also play indie games.

Does addressing the resistant traditional gamer audience really advance the cause? These are people who are either genuinely getting everything they need from whatever game they claim to be a "real RPG", or fooling themselves about the dysfunction of their games but are bull-headed in the way that gamers seem to generally be. Your intention, Vincent, seems to be to make games that, regardless of what you call them, are likely to appeal to a broader audience than curent gamers (e.g. horror fans for M.G). So shouldn't the question really be about how to make those games and market to that audience?

Also, is the "yes, but it isn't an RPG" line ever anything but bullshit? You've put forth a pretty good and broadly applicable definition for what roleplaying games are. But the hard core of the resistence is willing to use any bogus measure to disprove something's RPGness. I have had people tell me that they "like a game's fictional premise", but that they won't play it because it isn't really an RPG because it uses a dice pool mechanic. So it seems like "that's not an RPG" really just translates to "I don't like that game (even though, more than likely, I haven't really given it a fair try)".


6. On 2012-03-19, Ben Lehman said:

Rafu: "half-success" is what we've got. ^_^

I have so many half-success and failure and mitigated success stories on this topic I can't count them all. I think that a lot of the ideas we (self def included here) have about how to reach "non-gamers" are wrong-headed, but it really depends on the audience you're going for...

For instance, the people I'm trying to reach*, the cultural baggage associated with "RPG" is a huge plus, if you can get past the "but how do I put the book into my playstation?" problem. The corner of culture that I'm looking at is hugely nerd-positive, and plays a lot of video games, not to mention online chat, forum, and journal RPGs. For the nerd-allergic, like with Vincent at the horror con, it's not.


* Exception: Drifter's Escape, which sadly has never really found its audience. I have no idea how to sell literary fiction at all. I take solace that, in this, I am in the company of every major publisher in the world.


7. On 2012-03-19, Frank T said:

I'll bite. Do say, Vincent. What are those favorite features of role-playing?


8. On 2012-03-20, Rafu said:

Ben, I was in fact thinking about *you*! Also about Cel*Style and Maid, etc.
To clarify, I actually think you're fielding a lot of great ideas (Hot Guys, Marmot Detective...). Great ideas. I think some of those may be successful, and sure I hope so. It's just that we don't have those data points yet. See? Just the first half of (hopefully) a "success story" in the making.


9. On 2012-03-20, Chris Chinn said:

"That's not an RPG!"/"No True Scotsman" is pretty much the end result of the broken culture in which folks have taken up truisms over functional play culture and procedures.

It's about as reasonable as arguing all sports aren't real sports EXCEPT F-1 car racing.


10. On 2012-03-20, Vincent said:

Jay: So there's the big question. Behind door #1: design games for horror movie fans. Put in the time and work - and risk - to create games they'll enjoy and somehow or other get them to give them a try. Behind door #2: stop screwing around and design games for gamers, like nature and the gods intended.

(I have a nutso thing to say about door #2, which is: the conventional rpg industry survives only insofar as it can create a constantly renewing, pretty high number of dissatisfied gamers. Designing a game for dissatisfied gamers is as close to an evergreen sure thing as you get. You've got the conventional rpg industry on your side.)

But anyway, door #1 and door #2 aren't mutually exclusive, except as my time is finite. It's a decision to make case by case, not once and for all.


11. On 2012-03-20, Jay Loomis said:

I'm totally with you on the two doors. And I agree that they aren't mutually exclusive—but to date they seem to be, shall we say, difficult to align.

I'm also fascinated by your nutso thing about door #2. I have a gut feeling that you're right, but I'd love to hear more about how you see it.


12. On 2012-03-20, Vincent said:

Nah, on retrospect I've decided that I'm being dumb. It's like saying that the movie industry survives only insofar as it can create a constant supply of dissatisfied moviegoers. I mean, that's kind of the purpose of movie ads and trailers, but only if you cast it in the dumbest, most nutso way possible.

Really what I can more correctly say is that in my experience roleplayers are, overwhelmingly, interested in trying fun new rpgs. It's a small minority who are fully satisfied by exclusively the games they're already playing.


13. On 2012-03-20, Bret said:

Didn't the Buddha teach that all life is ultimately dissatisfying?


14. On 2012-03-20, Ben Lehman said:


Yeah, I feel like I have way too much to talk about for a comment thread, and my thoughts are not yet organized enough for an essay. Did you have a particular thing to ask about?


15. On 2012-03-20, Simon C said:

I'd love to talk more about how you play Werewolf. At the moment, saying it has "fiction" is like saying black is white to me. I feel like that might be at the root of why I don't get Murderous Ghosts.


16. On 2012-03-20, Bret said:

So, when I played Werewolf we had to pick each day who we were going to hang. We had absolutely nothing to guide us except for a fiction that we were creating about who was suspicious or most likely to have done it. Is that different than how it's typically played?


17. On 2012-03-20, Jay Loomis said:


I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Of course the conventional RPG industry wants you to be satisfied enough to buy their stuff. But just like HP wants you to be *just* happy enough with your printer that you'll buy another HP when it craps out, Wizards wants you to be just happy enough with D&D that you'll be willing to explore the next edition, or next series of splatbooks when they come out.


18. On 2012-03-20, Ben Lehman said:

Jay, Vincent:
I'm not sure I buy this line of argument. If I could wave a magic wand and produce the one RPG which would make everyone satisfied, I would make a lot of money. The whole "make inferior products so people have to buy your new product" thing doesn't work well for media, of which RPGs are one.

The fact is, that RPG doesn't exist, and never will because it can't. Supplement treadmill is a reaction to this fact, not the cause of it.


19. On 2012-03-20, Jay Loomis said:


I don't want to hijack this thread on a tangent, so this'll be my last thought about it.

I don't mean to say that I think there are people at D&D headquarters plotting to make inferior products. But I do think that the "industry" such as it is has used a certain amounbt of dissatisfaction to their best advantage, and even worked their business models around it. Nor do I think that anybody in the industry thinks that there is a single RPG that will be the perfect fit for every person, let alone existing gamer.

I just find the notion of gamer dissatisfaction (often not even articulated) and its effects on the business models of the "big companies" intriguing.


20. On 2012-03-20, Evan said:

"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...


21. On 2012-03-20, Simon C said:


I don't know about "most people", but that's not AT ALL how I play it. There's plenty of information to make decisions: How people are acting, how they react to questions, who they vote for, who they accuse.

If someone started just inventing things people had done in some fictional town, it would be at best irrelevant to play, and at worst disruptive.


22. On 2012-03-21, Vincent said:

Simon, I play the werewolf game the same way you do. The fictional stuff in the game - You're "a werewolf," I'm "dead" - is a mnemonic; we could play the game without it. I find it suggestive that we choose to use it anyway, but whatever. I super don't care whether it's a roleplaying game or not.


23. On 2012-03-21, Simon C said:


Sweet, I think we're playing the same game then. Is that fiction the same sort of thing as some resources in Catan being called "Wool" and others being called "Clay" and so on?

Do you draw a distinction between that level of fiction and the kind of fiction Bret is talking about (where you might lose because someone makes up a story about your character)? The kind of fiction that has mechanical weight?

I'm on the same page in being profoundly uninterested in whether one kind of game or another is an RPG, but I think it's interesting to look at what this "fiction" is, what different games use it for, what it can and can't achieve.

For example, I suspect that the kind of fiction Bret is talking about is deeply problematic for competitive games - that games either don't involve much fiction, or they're not really competitive. I'm guessing you feel different though?


24. On 2012-03-21, Ben Lehman said:

Simon: There's actually a very long history of games with meaningful interpretative fiction and intense competitive play. Famously, Prussia used such wargames as officer training. They usually involve judges, and RPGs are a direct descendant.

They're actually quite fun games, although a pain in the butt to set up in a traditional method (which involves three closed rooms and detailed miniatures tables.) Engle Matrix wargames are a modern version.



25. On 2012-03-21, Simon C said:


Ok, yeah, that makes sense to me. I have some quibbles, but essentially I accept your point. Let me revise:

The way I think about it is like a line on a tennis court. The line is there to tell you that the ball is in or out. We can argue about which side of the line the ball fell on, but we can't argue about where the line is. Give perfect knowledge of where the ball went, we never doubt whether a shot was in or out.

If we replace the line with an imaginary line, suddenly we're in trouble. Every shot we argue about whether the ball was in or out. We both accept more or less where the line should be, but without some real-world thing to point to, there's no way to resolve the argument. Worse, the temptation is to imagine the line in your favour. There's nothing keeping the line impartial except your own integrity, and it sucks to be playing against your own integrity.

We could ask a referee to keep track of the imaginary line for us, which works as long as we accept the complete authority of the referee, but it becomes unsatisfying if the referee is inconsistent or arbitrary. It sucks to play to the whim of a referee.

I think there's no reason you'd accept playing with an imaginary line in a game of tennis unless: a) you weren't really competing, or b) the imaginary line serves some other goal, unrelated to competition.


26. On 2012-03-21, Vincent said:

Of course you can compete on a fictional field. You don't play against your integrity at all; your integrity is the baseline that makes the competition worth undertaking in the first place.

I get that you don't get this. I'm not that interested in just going rounds about it again. Do you have anything new to bring to it, or can you bring it back around to the topic of non-RPG RPGs?


27. On 2012-03-21, Bret said:

I'm kind of hung up on the idea that Werewolf is at all a competitive game. Are there tournaments?


28. On 2012-03-21, Frank T said:

I'm thinking about the accessibility vs. sustainability issue. A certain complexity in game designs is not counterproductive procedures of play, but rather adds a depth that is necessary to make the game fun on a sustained basis and offer something to more skilled/ambitious players. For example, Skat, the most popular traditional German card game, which is played throughout Germany, by men and women, old and young, rich and poor, in pubs, at kitchen tables and on national tournaments alike: When you are learning it, you will suffer.

There are games that have a good sweet spot of easy access and emergent complexity. "Easy to learn, hard to master", as they say. I guess that's an important property your would want in your non-RPG RPG.


29. On 2012-03-21, Simon R said:

I suppose one issue to address with non-RPGs versus RPGs is - what aspects of current RPGs are historical legacy which is considered fundamental rather being so? What are our hidden assumptions? Also, what assumptions do non-roleplayers make about games which we can use? Should they come in a box, contain cards or tokens, have a board? My Life With Master for example could be played as a board game without too much difficulty.

Anyway, back to generating disappointed customers.


30. On 2012-03-21, Vincent said:

Hey, everybody saw that I retracted my dumb "dissatisfied customers" thing immediately thereafter, right? It was dumb.


31. On 2012-03-21, Simon R said:

@Vincent - Yes, sorry, I did see that - I was just joking around.


32. On 2012-03-21, Julia said:

Werewolf (also called Mafia) is one of my favorite games. A few years ago I made a Werewolf scenario to play at dinner at JiffyCon. It's set in a ninth century mead hall in an unnamed Nordic country. If you're curious, it's here. I'd call it—the thing I just linked, a roleplaying game. I wrote it to function as one. I'd probably call the thing it's based on (Mafia) roleplaying playable, but that would be splitting hairs..

Vincent, did you ever complete the thread of discussion where you defined the elements of a RPG, then said you think you can design games that encompass your favorite things about rpgs, but never never defined those things? What exactly is that direction you're going?

Discussions of taxonomy are almost always ridiculous and useless unless all those in the discussion are able to agree that taxonomy, even in science, is subjective. Linnaeus classifying humans as primates pissed a lot of people off, especially theologians, who saw putting humans in the same category as apes as a threat to humanity's place above animals in the Great Chain of Being. Sounds a little familiar.

Roleplaying games had no significant place in my life until six years ago. Roleplaying as an activity did at certain points (nursing school, diversity trainings at work, team building exercises at school and work, my SCA phase, etc.), and sometimes those roleplaying experiences had a game feel. But roleplaying games as a hobby like knitting is a hobby? Six years. I bring this up to illustrate that my lack of gamer baggage (and lack of rpg experience early in life) influences what I classify as a roleplaying game. I don't really understand RPG's traditional place in the Great Chain of Games and Pastimes.

Say I add an element to a RPG makes it look less like the living fossils RPG's and more like, say, mystery theater. As the creator and user, I claim the right to declare my game is still an rpg. Hybridization and cross pollination encourage diversity. They are necessary parts of evolution and survival of any species. It should be expected that RPGs created in 2012 will share core attributes with the first commercial RPGs, and it should be expected that they'll take on attributes of other related activities. Survival of the species.

Then you get the hybrizidation that's propelled by the environment, which includes the place, time, and inhabitants/audience (non-gamers, fans of other activities, to name a few). As a newbie to RPGs, naturally I bring my lack of experience with RPGs, and my wealth of experience and knowledge of other things to play and design. Kitsune and Zashiki Warashi are more interesting to me than elves and orcs. I know more card games than I do dice games. Growing up, people in my social and cultural circles didn't play RPG's. We acted in plays, played other games, read comics, told stories. Guess what I'm going to bring the the table when I play and design role-playing games?

Adding elements to RPGs that make them more accessible, interesting, more like other forms of art, literature, theater, board/card/dice games is not new. I think this is the piece I really don't understand in gamer vs. non-gamer and RPG vs. non-RPG discussions. Is hybridization really all that controversial and heretical? Do people really think innovation is just starting to happen in game design? Is it that in some corners of the internet, personal taste gets mistaken for canon?


33. On 2012-03-21, Leftahead said:

Vx-Thanks for retracting that unsatisfied customers thing, it made ME feel fighty! : )

Julia: "Is it that in some corners of the internet, personal taste gets mistaken for canon?" I think you may have found a pretty good one-sentence review of every single Internet discussion anywhere ever, about anything.

I do know that at the store, we try pretty assiduously to avoid getting in the weeds on this stuff with customers. Werewolves is a 'party game' as far as we're concerned and we've never even thought to discuss whether it has RP elements or not. Certainly there's story-based board games like Arabian Nights that we have more fun with here when we introduce RP elements, but we don't lay that out for people asking us about it except in an abstract way.

Are you skeptical of the idea that the Holy Grail is a game that can simultaneously fully engage the people approaching gaming like a play and the people approaching it like sports?  Or is it not worth the aggravation to explicitly worry one way or the other and presume that a really well-designed RPG ought to do that as a default?

-Jim C


34. On 2012-03-22, Simon C said:


Fair enough. I'm not dying in a ditch over it.

I think it's relevant to non-rpg rpgs, or at least to the idea of designing rpgs for a non-familiar audience, because competition is a tempting thing to introduce to your design to make a game familiar and straightfoward. Giving people a straightfoward thing to do "if you do this, you win!" makes the game easier to explain, maybe.

I think it's not a productive thing to include in a design if you also want the game to produce compelling fiction, for the reasons stated above, but we don't have to argue about that again.


35. On 2012-03-22, Simon C said:


Not, like, tournament competative (scoring would be a pain in the ass) but competitive like, you play as hard as you can to meet your role's win condition.

"As hard as you can" meaning using everything available within the rules to advance your position, and not engaging in anything that doesn't.

The role of the fiction in Werewolf (as I play it) is really interesting. It is a mnemonic, but I also think that feeling you get when you're a werewolf and you open your eyes at night for the first time and make eye contact with the other werewolves, I think that'd be different if you were like, "Tax Inspectors" or "Team 2" or whatever.


36. On 2012-03-22, misuba said:

(This may be silly of me to post here, but I have just finished up a three-part series of essays on defining roleplaying. It's written more for an audience of geeky generalists without insider knowledge, but some here who consider these questions valuable might get some value out of it. Here it comes, one, two, three.)


37. On 2012-03-19, Josh W said:

@Julia, massively agree with that! I think if you follow a strategy of getting into a wide variety of different games and activities, and being inspired by them, you'll probably end up making games for a shifted audience automatically, so long as you also focus on coherence and accessibility:

You'll bring in some new stuff to fill a hole, or because it's interesting, then cut out or adjust loads of other stuff just by default, leaving you with these weird new games.

RPG + new inspiring stuff - stuff that gets in the way = not RPG?

That doesn't seem very complementary to rpgs!

The way I go is the usual "system matters" stuff, where opening up new possibilities can mean making other kinds of play harder, and so leaving behind some old points of commonality.

Then I suppose you can expand out from that new centre point in different directions. I wonder what the murderous ghosts equivalent of a custom moves section would be..


38. On 2012-03-25, David Berg said:

It sounds to me like the answer to Matthijs's question, "What's the point of thinking about them as RPGs?" is specific to (a) the designer, (b) what they like about RPGs, and (c) what subset of (b) they wish to include in their games.

Vincent's focus on the necessity of treating fictional stuff as true, and his claim that Werewolf/Mafia counts, are both just his orientation, and everyone else should be expected to have different orientations.

Personally, I think that "needing to treat fictional stuff as true" (rather than optionally doing it) is an enormous barrier to entry.  (I'd elaborate, but I'm not sure, is this thread is the place for that?)  Alas, like Vincent, I'm rather partial to it.

Funny anecdote: I recently playtested my supervillain RPG Within My Clutches with a handful of inexperienced D&D players.  There are a bunch of ways the GM role changes hands, and one of them is that you can pass it off when you're stumped.  After the game, one player compared WMC to Whose Line is it Anyway?  She's got a point!  Calling it "an improv game" might be more useful than calling it "an RPG"!


39. On 2012-03-29, Josh W said:

@Julia, massively agree with that! I think if you follow a strategy of getting into a wide variety of different games and activities, and being inspired by them, you'll probably end up making games for a shifted audience automatically, so long as you also focus on coherence and accessibility:

You'll bring in some new stuff to fill a hole, or because it's interesting, then cut out or adjust loads of other stuff just by default, leaving you with these weird new games.

RPG + new inspiring stuff - stuff that gets in the way = not RPG?

That doesn't seem very complementary to rpgs!

The way I go is the usual "system matters" stuff, where opening up new possibilities can mean making other kinds of play harder, and so leaving behind some old points of commonality.

Then I suppose you can expand out from that new centre point in different directions, as in, what would the murderous ghosts equivalent of a custom moves section would be?


40. On 2012-04-01, Rickard said:

I kinda agree with Matthijs for different reasons.

First, thinking "RPG" directly brings you some thoughts on how to design a RPG. To think "game" or "storytelling game" or whatever changes your view on how to design your game.

Second of all, RPG means a lot of things to people nowasdays. When I lived in Australia people thought I was playing WoW and here in Sweden people thinks RPG means LARP.

The third one is most important. If I have a certain pattern of thinking if I think "RPG" while designing a game, what will my readers think when they read my game? By labelling your game with something different, you may not have to fight all the (different) RPG conventions that the gamers out there have. I'm not talking about what a RPG is, I'm talking about how to play the game. The conventions. Change the label and people may be more open on how to play your game.


41. On 2012-04-19, nat said:

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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