Monday, June 13, 2011

Insight from Cracked?

For a humor website, Cracked.com often has some surprisingly insightful articles (and a lot of puerile junk -- go figure). A good example is today's article on "The Six Most Ominous Trends in Video Games." The #1 trend listed is "We Still Don't Know What a 'Game' Is" and, reading it, I found one particular passage possibly relevant to fields outside video games, to wit:
The future is that what we're now calling video games will cease to be a thing, and will break up into several different art forms, each with their own medium. We'll have true "games" where we perform simple tasks to kill a few minutes or get a high score (Angry Birds, etc) that will cost a dollar or two. We'll have interactive stories that are less about "winning" and "losing" and more about relating to characters and following drama (LA Noire, Heavy Rain) and they will not be called games, because it never made sense to call them that.
Obviously, our hobby can't be compared directly to video games (or, at least, shouldn't be), but, when I read the passage above, I found myself wondering if the term "roleplaying game" is now so broad a term that it, too, has lost much of its meaning. I'm definitely convinced that what I mean when I say I like RPGs is not the same thing as what many others mean when they say the same thing.

And while my feeling is that little is gained by metaphorically kicking some gamers out of the clubhouse, I do sometimes think that even less is gained by pretending that someone who plays D&D and someone who plays My Life with Master are involved in the same hobby. That's why I've never seen it as contradictory that someone might -- gasp! -- enjoy both hobbies, much in the same way that someone might enjoy baseball and football. At the same time, I've never met any sports fan who pretended that baseball and football were the same activity or that baseball might be improved by importing into it rules from football.

30 comments:

  1. But we do find good things to import from baseball to football (or the reverse). Things like player drug testing, constraining umpires, using video feeds.

    Opponents of these measures might say they're trying to turn baseball into football, but that's not a defense of baseball's practices on their own merits. Likewise training - there is a lot of room for comparison between the training of a pitcher and the training of a QB, even though they are far from the same thing. Similar muscles are used, and knowledge of them improves both.

    In the same way, talking about what effect a rule will produce on play is common to discussions of My Life With Master and Dungeons and Dragons. Sometimes a technique that works in one, abstracted one level up ('making a villain that pushes the players buttons'), can be used in the other. I think that discussion is worth keeping on the table.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've never met any sports fan who pretended that baseball and football were the same activity or that baseball might be improved by importing into it rules from football.

    But it would be a hoot to see what that might look like as a table-top fantasy game ala Blood Bowl...

    ReplyDelete
  3. But we do find good things to import from baseball to football (or the reverse). Things like player drug testing, constraining umpires, using video feeds.

    None of those things are rules or indeed have anything to do with baseball or football as games.

    ReplyDelete
  4. A a closer analogy would the difference between theater and live-action roleplaying particularly boffer-style.

    There are many useful techniques in theater that work in managing LARP events. Makeup, props, etc. But LARPs are not theater and vice versa.

    Because LARPS are sports, have free actors (the players, and games all rolled into one techniques you us are combined in a very different way than putting on a stage production.

    The same for tabletop RPGs vs story games vs MMORPG vs LARPS. There are techniques that work equally well between all of them but because of the medium and their focus, each wind up developing in their own way.

    Note that but.... in the sport analogy made by previous poster all relate to the MANAGEMENT of sports. These issues cut across most sports regardless of the actual game being played.

    The same with RPGs in regards to preparation and management of a campaign. In these areas all forms of roleplaying share a great deal of common elements.

    But again when it comes to playing the actual game (or activity) each wind up doing their own thing in their own way.

    ReplyDelete
  5. But wouldn't baseball be better if the Designated Hitter was the guy whose job was to rush the mound every pitch?

    Definitely speed up the games.

    ReplyDelete
  6. But wouldn't baseball be better if the Designated Hitter was the guy whose job was to rush the mound every pitch?

    You know, I've attended more than a few baseball games where this would have made things much more tolerable.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I found myself wondering if the term "roleplaying game" is now so broad a term that it, too, has lost much of its meaning. I'm definitely convinced that what I mean when I say I like RPGs is not the same thing as what many others mean when they say the same thing.

    Yes. This is exactly what I was talking about when I posted about Adventure Roleplaying.

    ReplyDelete
  8. As a Wittgensteinian in the area of genre, I don't feel comfortable about separating out games like D&D from My Life With Master--the family resemblances are still too strong for me to declare them truly distinct entities.

    ReplyDelete
  9. You can cut the slices as thin as you like, but I think you'll find that the variance between D&D games can be just as large as the variance between the mythical iconic D&D game and MLWM.

    True story: back in, oh, 1989 or so we did a gameathon for charity at college. One of the keystones of the 24 hour run was a crossover game between the two most (in)famous AD&D campaigns on campus. One was Eric's Catholicworld campaign, and one was Lee's Leeworld campaign. We liked worlds; what can I say?

    The game didn't take place in either world; the DMs decided to bring us all together in modern day London. This was tremendously exciting for my character, who was a paladin with an ethos based on a battered copy of T. S. Eliot's Wasteland. I was pretentious, yes. So that's where the derailment started. But we didn't really realize how much we weren't playing the same game until we got to the end of the adventure and had the Big Bad from Leeworld at our mercy.

    The Catholicworld guys were ready to kill him; in fact, our lizard man just went ahead and swung his sword. The cleric PC from Leeworld threw herself across the Big Bad's body to prevent the execution. After some confused kerfuffle back and forth, we let the guy go, mostly for the sake of not completely screwing up Lee's campaign. The Leesworld PCs were grateful and tried to give us some +1 weapons, which in their paradigm were cheap as dirt. Us? We never got any magic at all, so that was huge, although Eric wisely stripped us of them when we went through the portal home.

    Point is, this wasn't just that we were playing with different levels of magic item rarity and different moral codes. We were really playing different games: Lee's game cared a lot about ongoing villains and megaplots. We were operating in more of a sandbox environment, in which plots arose from our actions. Items were deemphasized in our game because Eric wanted the focus to be on people, not objects. Etc.

    Odd how all this echoes with edition wars, huh? But it wasn't about editions, it was about personal preferences and how people wanted to play. Sweeping all this under the rug of "the edition made me do it" or "it's a different hobby for those people over there" whitewashes the very real differences that exist between people playing the same edition of D&D.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Bryant: Yes. I for one have done several D&D campaigns with the same players using totally different approaches. We've had character creation sessions where we have discussed the emphasis beforehand but sometimes it has just emerged during play.

    ReplyDelete
  11. To go with the theme of importing rules from other sports, hockey has vocally toyed with adopting rules from more popular US sports such as moving to four 15 minute quarters rather than three 20 minute periods, and if that had happened would have been somewhat disastrous to the existing fanbase without bringing in many new fans (i.e. football fans don't care about hockey, and if you change the rules of hockey to make it more like football, those fans still aren't going to be interested)

    I'm sure people can think of parallels of this in the RPG industry. Sometimes the melding of two existing ideas works, but many times it can - but you'll still get the subset of fans who cry out as their favourite game has been ruined.

    Aside: I'm amazed at how often MAD and Cracked come up with brilliant articles. They truly have the pulse of our culture.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm of the opinion that the practical definition of RPG is a game where you use ideas (including rules) from *anywhere*. Even if they make no goddamn sense and ruin everything. You can always start fresh next week.

    ReplyDelete
  13. From the sports analogy, I think role-playing games is reasonable. I might like baseball and not care for basketball, but they are both field sports. And I might like MLWM and not care for D&D, but in both games you are playing a role. In some ways we're all into sports, we've just invented a frightening number of different sports.

    There is a larger grouping, "storytelling games," with encompasses games in which no-one has a fixed role to play, but we're not talking D&D versus MLWM, we're talking Once Upon a Time and Sweet Agatha.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Football is to sport as DnD is RPG?

    After someone says they like role-playing games, the other half of the conversation should immediately ask what kind or which one.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Those Other Games™ are also struggling to define themselves as their own variety of game, and I believe that most are using the term "storytelling games" these days, rather than role-playing.

    Which is a fine distinction, since they emphasis that the idea is to tell a good story rather than to explicitly play a role. This doesn't say that the two are mutually exclusive.

    Just as fantasy and horror (and now paranormal) grew out of science fiction to become their own publishing genres, story games grew out of role-playing. They've evolved into a different beastie, but still have a common ancestor.

    [I think the distinction is less between football and baseball as games, but between football, football, football, football, and possibly football and football. By which I mean, those games an encyclopaedia might otherwise call soccer, rugby league, rugby union, australian rules, gridiron, and possibly gaelic football and rugby sevens. All of which are called football in various parts of this country, and involve, at least in part striking a ball-like object with one's pedal extremity. At least some of the time.]

    ReplyDelete
  16. You said "game" is the loaded term that could mean anything. So when you say it doesn't affect football or baseball "as games" what do you mean? How is the thing I said about training or villains irrelevant? I'm saying there's valuable cross-talk between the two sports/hobbies. Are you saying that cross-talk isn't valuable? Shouldn't be part of what we talk about when we talk about the sports? Hobbies?

    ReplyDelete
  17. That's a really nice article -- not only does it have the passage you mentioned, the whole essay rather carefully builds to that as a conclusion. Although I think I'm skeptical of his future-predictions, his analysis of the weirdness of "Mass Warfare having its business undercut by Angry Birds" (as part of a mobile-device technological revolution) is spot-on.

    ReplyDelete
  18. You said "game" is the loaded term that could mean anything.

    I said that "roleplaying game" is so broad a term that its meaning isn't really clear anymore, especially when applied to things as diverse as D&D and contemporary "story games."

    So when you say it doesn't affect football or baseball "as games" what do you mean?

    I meant that the similarities between how professional baseball and football are managed (to use Rob Conley's phrase) as businesses says little about what lessons, if any, are translatable between them as they are played by anyone outside that very narrow context. Drug testing and video feeds? What do either of those things have to teach some kids playing baseball at a local field?

    Are you saying that cross-talk isn't valuable?

    No, but neither am I sure that it such talk will necessarily yield anything worthwhile. In fact, I'm highly skeptical of that possibility.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I've definitely gotten a lot of value from the cross-talk.

    Let me belabor the point.

    For the little kids, here's some cross-talk that helps: the value of teamwork, cheering for each other, not giving up, sportsmanship, trajectories, avoiding injuries.

    For those new to RPGs, here's some cross-talk that helps: Who gets to talk when, which things we listen to the GM on, which things we get to say, why or why not our game world is medieval, sword & sorcery versus fantasy.

    Put another way: What do you think would be improved by story gamers (whatever that is, I'm one) and old-school gamers (whatever that is, I'm one) drawing more lines between us than we've already got?

    ReplyDelete
  20. What do you think would be improved by story gamers (whatever that is, I'm one) and old-school gamers (whatever that is, I'm one) drawing more lines between us than we've already got?

    Clarity. It's not that I think there are no points of common interest between story games and old school RPGs, but I think such points might be better discussed if we don't paper over the fact that each of us is coming at them from very different perspectives.

    ReplyDelete
  21. At the same time, I've never met any sports fan who pretended that baseball and football were the same activity or that baseball might be improved by importing into it rules from football.

    Baseball could definitely use more tackling.

    ReplyDelete

  22. Baseball could definitely use more tackling.


    And football would be improved by use of a bat. A cricket bat, though, because of the edges.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Eh, I disagree about the video game thing. Video games are already divided into sub-types. FPS, RPG, Puzzle, Fighter, Platformer, etc.

    Pen and Paper Rpgs probably could use them, but honestly I doubt enough of them are really played for a system to be needed. Plus within the confines of any given RPG systems mechanics you can still play different styles of game.

    You can only play Call of Duty one way. Its a First Person Shooter.

    You can play any edition of D&D in many different ways, and combinations of ways- exploration focused,combat heavy, roleplaying focused, etc.

    Thats hard to label.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Ry St nailed it in the first post.



    For example, I'm not a fan of the FATE rulesystem, but the bit during character creation where you describe a quick story that helps define your character (“Sir Generico at Blood Goblin Pass!”) and then you pass that story to one or two other players so their PC's guest star in your story, and add more color to it (“Against the charge of the Blood Goblin Worgs!”). Every PC makes a story and you pass the story about once or twice to other PCs (but not all of them), and you end up with an amazing tool for building adventuring groups that already have established and interesting character descriptions and history. It sure as heck beats, "You have all been tasked by the local lord to do X", and not to mention blowing "An old man tells you all a story in the local tavern..." out of the water by miles. ;)



    So, while I don't have many positive words for the FATE ruleset (or the “Say Yes” crowd or the “Systems Matters” crowd or the GNS crowd…), I certainly stole that idea and modified it for my current Ars Magica campaign with great results. If any of the grogs who were in the story bite it early on, then the PCs immediately have some backstory to lament about (“Remember when he hacked off that werewolf’s head with his axe? We should bury that axe with him and pay a bard to sing songs about him.”) and we can always riff off the previous stories (or roleplay new ones) if we want a new PC to have the same treatment.





    So, IMO, the idea of trying to say that "roleplaying games" is a meaningless term when you include D&D and "Story Games" is just as much of a crock when the "Story Games" people say D&D is really "Roll Playing" and not "Role Playing".



    Y’all need to quit being haters and roll more dice. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  25. Reverend Keith said: "For example, I'm not a fan of the FATE rulesystem, but the bit during character creation where you describe a quick story that helps define your character..."

    Personally, I would appreciate some kind of quick terminology that let me be aware of, and avoid that kind of of game, when signing up for convention events, for example.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Ha! Trust me Delta, I'd want the same for D&D games where rolling 1 for my wizard's hit points was viewed as sane. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  27. I'm not a fan of expanding the nomenclature for hobby subtypes. As a comics fan nothing makes me retch like the term "graphic novel." If we start differentiating Angry Birds from "interactive stories" it's only a matter of time before the peanut gallery at the forge starts with the "collaboratively randomized improvisational performance events"

    ReplyDelete
  28. I guess role-playing games (D&D) and story-creation or 'Nar' games (MLWM) are different sorts of game, yes. OTOH they are both still 'games', and AFAIK LA Noire is still definitely a 'game', just a different sort of game from Angry Birds.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Nah. Neither D&D or MLWM are games. They’re toys. Like SimCity, which isn’t a game either. Despite the fact that people keep calling all these things games.

    As they say, though, “You’re milage may vary.” ^_^

    I think the cross-talk and cross-pollination are good. But I do think that there are at least three kinds of things that are still called RPGs for which it would be helpful to have different names for.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.