2013-09-23 : Game Texts on the Object of the Game

Hey, I don't have convenient access to my game shelf just now, but it occurs to me that I've written about this before. The following passages are from 2011-02-07 : Design scales: to the text!, lifted verbatim.

The Shadow of Yesterday
Clinton R. Nixon

What are we doing here?

The rules of this game are meant to enable a type of fantasy where things don't necessarily make common sense, but are always full of style, a bit creepy, a bit comedic, a bit dark and violent, and definitely romantic. You'll notice that there's quite a few rules in here that have to do with love and sex. The game's setting is intentionally a sketch. It is there for you to fill in with your players and, hopefully, this game gives you a good set of tools to do so. The fundamental tenets of Near can be summed up as:
* No gods.
* No monsters.
* Just people.

...Your player characters in the game will be heroes, most likely heroes with problems. Like the world of Near, your character will be full of possibility, both for good and bad. You'll explore the world, meet intersting people, and either solve their problems or give them new ones.


Maschine Zeit
David A Hill Jr, et al

What are we doing here?

The game at its very simplest is one of survival horror. The main characters are survivors trying to see the next dawn. For one reason or another, they are in the heart of danger, confronted at all sides by creatures they cannot hope to understand - creatures that can and will slaughter them if left unchecked.

The dramatic value of survival horror comes down to the characters and their interactions, though. It's been said that you never really know your friends until you see them when they're about to die. The characters in Maschine Zeit are at their most raw, their insides spilled out both literally and figuratively.


Ron Edwards

What are we doing here?

[Each] principal's story exemplifies the dramatic tensions within the Cold, eventually determining the fates of the current spy/intelligence situation, of the spy himself or herself, and most importantly of the Supporting Cast members.

...[The stories] consistently convey powerful personal and often political themes. The Story Now process permits us to discover and appreciate these themes through group interaction, and therefore no one person dictates the story's theme or meaning to everyone else. Rather, the point of the story is often best expressed as a question, composed of the differing outlooks and ambiguities that have arisen through the interactions among the real people.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer Roleplaying Game
CJ Carella, et al

What are we doing here?

You get together with several friends and create a tale. In the case of BtVS RPG, there's a bunch of large incisors, staking and good fashion sense involved, but that's not all. Unlike any other kind of game, your group's story can take you, the characters and the Buffyverse anywhere you want it to. The action takes place in your imaginations, and the story is told through your interactions. There are truly no limits. The great thing about roleplaying games is that the direction of the story and the creative choices are all about you. Seriously, you rule!

...You are one of the good guys, the white hats, the champions - or at least are helping the heroes as a loyal and trusted Scooby. Now, that's not to say that your character won't have a dark side ... or two. It wouldn't be the Buffyverse without making with a little darkness. Again, that's up to you.


The Burning Wheel
Luke Crane

What are we doing here?

In the game, players take on the roles of characters inspired by history and works of fantasy fiction. These characters are represented by a series of numbers, designating their abilities, and a list of player-determined priorities. The synergy of inspiration, imagination, numbers and priorities is the most fundamental element of Burning Wheel. Manipulating these numbers and priorities within situations presented by the game master (GM) is what the game is all about.


My Questions
Which of these passages explicitly articulate the object of the game, and which leave it implicit? Do you get the object of the game from the passage, or does it leave you uncertain?

If you have a minute, please choose a game you like from your own game shelf and quote its corresponding passage. Is it more or less explicit than these?

Which passages would be better if they were more explicit? Would any be better if they were less explicit?

1. On 2013-09-23, Eon Fontes said:

I think it's interesting that only Burning Wheel explicitly calls out the mechanics as the point of the game.


2. On 2013-09-23, Vincent said:

I should say: when I pulled these quotes two years ago, my emphasis was different from what it is now. There may be nearby text in any of these games that would better serve. If you happen to spot any, feel free to post it!


direct link

This makes...
ET go "We posted some definitions of RPGs on Story Games last year:"

3. On 2013-09-23, Vincent said:

Eon: Huh! That IS interesting.


4. On 2013-09-23, Dominic Claveau said:

For Burning Wheel, isn't the object of the game to "Fight for what you believe" ?

It seems to me that it's hinted at (players-determined priorities) but it's not explicit.

The question I have now, though, is how much or how long do you need to explain to consider you've stated the object of the game ?

Is it necessary to include what you'll actually do at the table or how you'll do it ? If so, the Buffy one isn't clear and I don't really know how to address the object.


5. On 2013-09-23, Moreno R. said:

Thinking about the games in my library, I noticed that the ones I prefere are the ones that don't try to explain what a role-playing game it, or "the point", but go right to the rules.

In Kagematsu, I found only this bit:
"Set aside assumptions you may have about role~playing games. Don't second guess yourself. Place your trust in the text and rules in this book and you'll have a good time creating a dramatic and memorable story of feudal Japan
with your friends over the course of a few hours."

That says to me:
1) don't worry and follow the rules.
2) the objective of the game is creating (together) a dramatic and memorable story of feudal Japan, in a few hours.

No space is wasted in explaining how one should role-play a character, that will be clear simply by reading the rules.

Graham Walmsley, "A Taste for Murder":
"This is a game about murder. You, and a group of friends, play the residents of a 1930s English country house.
One of you will die. All of you will uncover secrets. And, at the end, one of you will be exposed as the murderer."

There is more, for example there is a subchapter dedicated to explaining the kind of "soft competion" between the players in the game, but that is explained with the rules, it's no part of "the point of the game".


6. On 2013-09-23, Gordon said:

I took a look at a bunch of old games, and was reminded/astonished at how much of the text about this kind of thing reads as (bad, usually) marketing/advertising rather than, um, text actually explaining anything.  I'll see if I can find an example that is non-the-less somehow interesting to post here.

As a long-time roleplayer, I *think* I get the object from each passage, but it's SO hard to try and filter out all the "stuff I know" about RPGs in general and each game in particular that I'm not sure I can focus on just the text passages.

Explicit vs. implicit - I'm not sure how to apply that.  The particular passage from Spione leaves "we're creating stories" implicit.  But (from TSoY) is "enable a type of fantasy" explicit or implicit?  I mean, there are a bunch of details about that type, so it's pretty explicit - but left implicit is what we do with that "enabled" fantasy.

Similarly (from BtVS), "create a tale" is pretty explicit, unless you start asking "but how?  who/when? what kind?"  Explicit IF you can assume a bunch of answers there, but implicit otherwise.

Not sure if that's helpful - I'm floundering on focusing the questions.


7. On 2013-09-23, Nick said:

Maschine Zeit is explicit about the characters' goals - "The main characters are survivors trying to see the next dawn" - but not about the object for the players. Should the players drive the characters towards that goal? Or deliberately throw things in their way? Or what?

(If I had the game, I could read the rest of it and make an educated guess.)

The Burning Wheel extract leaves me totally lost. I think it's explicit, but I find it very abstract - what priorities? What numbers? What am I actually supposed to do in this game?

Here are a couple that I like...

Dog Eat Dog

Dog Eat Dog is a game of colonialism and its consequences. As a group, you work together to describe the conquest of one of the hundreds of small islands in the Pacific Ocean, defining the customs of the natives and the mores of the outsiders arriving to claim it. One player then assumes the role of the Occupation force, playing their capable military, their quisling government, and whatever jaded tourists and shrewd businessmen are interested in a not quite pacified territory. All the others play individual Natives, each trying in their own ways to come to terms with the new regime. The game begins when the war ends. Through a series of scenes, you play out the inevitably conflicted relationship between the two parties, deciding what the colonizers do to maintain control, which natives assimilate and which run amok, and who ends up owning the island in the end.

(Emphasis mine.)


This is a story game. To play, we invent characters and roleplay as them. We say things, and the rules of the game respond to some of those things - changing where the story is going. The rules are there to keep the story feral - no matter how gorgeous and perfect we imagine our characters to be, they are never given the luxury of domesticating their fate. They are always in the lurch, which means they are always interesting. The rules are there to make sure that it isn't my story, and it isn't your story. Instead, it?s something between us, raw and alive. Specifically, it's a story game about supernatural romance and teenage desperation. Vampires, werewolves, witches: they dream and suffer among us. It?s unclear whether they can live among normal people, and whether their wicked hearts can be redeemed. When you play Monsterhearts, you become one of these teenage monsters. You explore their secrets and fears. You bring them to life.


direct link

This makes...
NJG go ""Game's Object" vs "Players' Jobs"?"*

*click in for more

8. On 2013-09-23, Rickard said:

I'm asking myself "Why should I play this game?". Two games gives me an answer.

Maschine Zeit: "It?s been said that you never really know your friends until you see them when they?re about to die."

Burning Wheels: "Manipulating ... numbers and priorities within situations presented by the game master (GM) is what the game is all about."

The rest of the descriptions are mostly HOW to handle WHAT, and that's unimportant to know as a first approach. Those descriptions are at best telling it implicitly, forcing me to do my own interpretation of what the game is about.


9. On 2013-09-23, Eon Fontes said:

The "why" and "how" are not exactly the object of a game, though. Board game blurbs are much more specific about their goals: "accumulate more points than your opponents" or "conquer the capital cities to win." With roleplaying games, is the "why" as close as we can get? Is "why play?" the OBJECT of the game?


10. On 2013-09-23, Eon Fontes said:

That's not a rhetorical question, to be clear.


11. On 2013-09-24, John Mc said:

Over the Edge
But beneath the surface, what's going on here? What is the game really about? I developed the island of Al Amarja as a playground of the imagination...It is my hope that [the rules'] simplicity will encourage you to concentrate on your goal (enjoyable role-playing) without getting caught up in the vehicle (the rules)."

Shooting the Moon
In Shooting the Moon, you take on the role of three characters brought together, and put through the wringer, by love.

Two Suitors compete for the affection of a shared Beloved, who has overwhelming odds of their own to face. United and divided by their shared fated and interwined destines - in the game you see what these three characters are made of, and what they will do for love.


I like both of those games, and they were nearby.  :)

From above, I feel like the text from Shadow of Yesterday does a decent job of explicitly stating the object of the game.  The Burning Wheel text sounds like it's stating an object, but I find it confusing.  I highly doubt manipulating numbers is the real object of the game.  Here's the rest of the intro, so you can judge for yourself:

Burning Wheel (Cont.)
Though the game has no world full of ethics and laws, the rules do contain a philosophy and outlook that implies a certain type of place.  There are consequences to your choices in this game.  They range from the very black and white, "If I engage in this guel, my character might die." to the more complex, "If my character undertakes this task, he'll be changed and I don't know exactly how."  Recognizing that the system enforces these choices will help you navigate play.  I always encourage players to think before they test their characters.  Are you prepared to accept the consequences of your actions?


12. On 2013-09-24, Rickard said:

The ?why? and ?how? are not exactly the object of a game, though. Board game blurbs are much more specific about their goals: ?accumulate more points than your opponents? or ?conquer the capital cities to win.?

I realized that I was more talking about the purpose of the game. To accumulate more points than your opponent, do you do that because you want to spend some time with your friends with a leisure game or is it because you want to compare your mastery of tactical decisions with the others or the game itself?

"It's been said that you never really know your friends until you see them when they're about to die."

That's the purpose of the game. The object of the game is instead a WHAT - a(n effective) tool that tells the reader how to reach the purpose. A tool that gives direction to achieve the purpose.

But like I said, this is not what Vincent talked about. I was stuck in my own thoughts where I think the object of the game (a WHAT) is a tool for HOW to make the participants understand WHY to play a game.


13. On 2013-09-25, JDCorley said:

You might find this thread relevant - we catalog a huge number of "What Is A Roleplaying Game" texts and their equivalents.


14. On 2013-09-25, Gordon said:

I found it interesting to compare/contrast the two ways to play described below in the context of this "object of the game" conversation:

IN THE LABYRINTH may be played two ways. It is possible for a GM to design a small tunnel complex in a couple of hours; then, the players sit down, develop new characters, and begin play. At the end of the evening, the survivors with the most loot and experience are the winners.

More challenging is the "campaign game." In such a game, the GM is likely to spend much more time to create a detailed world. There may be dozens of players, not all of whom will be active at any given time. Play is not terminated after one session; rather, the game goes on indefinitely. Months and years pass in the fantasy world at a rate chosen by the players, while characters adventure, gain experience, age, make alliances, work at their jobs, intrigue against one another . . . whatever the players want. Labyrinth adventures are conducted at intervals by the GM, and the players spend the interim planning and negotiating. Several GMs (some of whom may also be players) can co-operate on a large campaign.


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