Yanked from the Forge, in response to Greg Costikyan

Yanked from the forge thread in response to this presentation by Greg: yanked because it’s just saying what the emininently more qualified Chris Kubasik said, but, IMHO, pithier.

Okay, well, the problem is really very simple, and it’s the same problem we have in threads about “where’s the audience” or “where’s the text” when we try to apply conventional theories of film, theatre or literary studies to RPG’s.

In conventional criticism, we have this thing, a performance, a novel, a film, that is packaged and delivered to the audience, reader, whatever. The audience takes in the package and relates themselves to it, but it never relates itself to them, not actively.

And that’s why 99% of conventional criticism and theory is about as much use to RPG theory as food criticism. They’re talking about what’s on the plate, we’re concerned with what to put in the oven. Related? Sure, but we’re all about the process, not the result.


17 thoughts on “Yanked from the Forge, in response to Greg Costikyan

  1. Y’know, I don’t agree with everything Christopher Kubasik says…but I agree with most of what he says. And this is one of those times I think he’s spot on.

    1. Well, I think the “working scriptwriter” helps a lot to sort his comments on creating stroies from, well, poseurs, wannabe’s, know nothing’s and ivory tower tosspots. Of which, I am a member. Definitely.

  2. Its always been my contention that most RPG theory is about something static and finished, rather than the dynamic thing that is a roleplaying session. Indeed, GNS was initially an attempt to look back at games and analyse problems rather than to get under the creative process. It has always been a gross simplification of player motivations. I think the package idea of art is also an over-simplification. So what are we left with if 99% of theory is bunk?

    1. We’re left with the 1% of litcrit, drama crit, movie crit, wahtever, which is concerned with actually creating something rather than looking at somehting and going “Hmmm… this reinforces / contradicts my prejudices and is therefore good / bad”. Yes, GNS started as diagnostic for “why games go wrong”, but is, was and will be founded in the “doing it” camp for how to “do it” better, rather than the “You are playign incoherently, and that is bad” camp. Which is, like, where a lot of folks misinterpret the model; it’s not a tool for critical appraisal of a done deal, is a diagnostic tool for practitioners.

      1. ooh, also, yes, Saying GNS is a gross oversimplification of player motivations is both true and irrelevant: the three terms are very gross, overarching classes of priority that encompass inside each a very broad range of motivations. However, without them (or a similar broad grouping) you either have One True Way, or Everybody Is Different, neither of which help you to determine why you’re doing what you’re doing. The package idea of art crit is an oversimplification, but also the only way a post-creation critic can approach a “text” in construcitonist terms: the alternative is a futile game of “what was the artist trying to do?”

      2. Although sometimes the artist will tell you what their plan is. And certainly in the more traditional games, and perhaps even more so in the newer indie ones, the motivation behind the game is pretty easy to identify. Just ask the GM or read the rulebook. Just rambling on here … In fact, I’ve found that with the more awkward players, I’ve got two of the most awkward you might expect ever to meet, an exposition of intent before the game starts means that it is much less likely to flounder. And even for more accomodating players it’s a good starter. Given that the game is the performance, commonality of purpose seems a prerequisite for a succesful game. And I have never ever used anything like GNS terminology to say what kind of game we’re playing. And not just because not everyone would understand it, but because it’s not relevant to the experience.

      3. Well, i could get GNS evangelist here: I’d say whatever you want out of the game could be expressed in GNS terms. But since you’re GNS hostile, why the heck would you talk abut what you want out of a game in terms you don’t like? Anyway, the important thing is to treat everyone like adults and talk about what you want to play before you play. You wouldn’t form or join a band without discussing musical styles, you wouldn’t form or join a drama group without discussing what kind of play you’re producing. Why would anybody join a game “because it’s, like, you know, an RPG”?

      4. It’s not so much that I don’t use the GNS words than GNS not being, to return to the previous analogy, the ingredients in our roleplaying cake. Our cake is based on ideas of setting, character opportunities and other stuff which I don’t have time to explain. “Why would anybody join a game “because it’s, like, you know, an RPG”?” but they do though don’t they. Players say “ooh, Traveller, can I play”. And then later on they start whining that they “never knew guns were so deadly!” Of course we should have said, “you do realise that we’re seeking to emulate the gritty style of SF encountered in Aliens rather than addressing the premise of seeing what your PC would sacrifice to gain money, or the just trying to rack up those megacredits”. Anyway, I’m off to game now. We’re playing Gateway tonight. We’re looking at the premise that … oh, nevermind ;-).

      5. Yeah, they do… and they end up crashing, like those college bands that split for creative reasons before their first gig. I could go on all night getting “what do you play for” out of you and giving you the forgista line, but hey, play, have fun.

      6. I’ve known plenty of people who would join a game simply because it was an RPG, regardless of what was being played, who was playing it (beyond the occasional “oh, not if Bob is playing, he’s a jackass”), or how it was being approached (which was rarely, if ever, discussed). Hell, I did that myself until the end of university. I was in a really good group, and I became spoiled. I started to become keenly aware of how and when certain people were disrupting play with dysfunctional behavior. (Weird. I actually, unconsciously typed “behaviour.” Crazy Brits, influencing my spelling with your sinister, British telepathy.)

      7. *wiggles fingers* Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, not around the eyes but into the eyes… *click* and you’re under! You will write a snotty e-mail to the Sci-Channel demanding they buy Doctor Who, I repeat, You will write a snotty e-mail to the Sci-Channel demanding they buy Doctor Who *click* And you’re back in the room.

      8. Oh, trust me, I’m astonished the Sci-Fi Channel wouldn’t buy Doctor Who, especially because they think it’s “too British, and American audiences wouldn’t like it.” American audiences like it precisely because it’s British! I mean, there are all sorts of frickin’ Anglophiles here in the States who think Britain is all pastoral fields and games of cricket and “Oh, I say, let’s have a spot of tea and watch some intelligent detective show on the telly, shall we?” These people want shows that are “too British”!

      9. Hey, they cancelled Farscape, at which point I gave up trying to understand them. Who’s got the rights to the old Dr Who in the US?

      10. I’m not sure if anyone does have the rights. No one I know off does, at any rate. Repeats (usually edited together into one long movie, rather than serialized as it is in the UK) used to be shown on Public Television (along with Blackadder, Monty Python, Keeping Up Appearance, Are You Being Served? and other British shows), but most PBS stations don’t seem to show it anymore, and I haven’t heard anything about them even trying to get the new series shown. Even BBC America isn’t planning to show it, as far as I know. My mother’s seen it, but only because she lives close enough to Canada to pick up the CBC.

      11. Ah yes, I seem to remember something about the BBC withdrawing licences for the old series in anticipation of the new…

  3. I’m totally in agreement on this. Conventional criticism fails for RPGs. However, I’m prone to say that general design theory is more appropriate to RPGs, particularly that which applies to user interfaces for computer applications since that is about how both the person interacts with the environement provided and how the environment responds to the person.

    1. Sure, when designing a game system, a background in, or at least an understanding of the principles of, design will help enormously to build somethin for the intended purpose… However, without an understanding of what game play is, what the rules should be aiming to encourage, reward or facilitate (and indeed, what they’re supposed to discourage, punish or debilitate), the design has no well defined purpose. It may hum like a buzz saw, but unless it’s helping players (including the GM, natch) groove like they wanna, it’s just humming. And, for an understanding of what players trying to get the “human drama” vibe that’s Nar, story now, whatever you want to call it, you gotta look at the folks who tell stories already, steal what you can while keeping an eye out for what they do that gets in the way of the collaborative, shared imaginary space bit of the game. And for gamism, you look at others sorts of gamers & sports psych’s, and for sim… heck, you look at obsessive SF/ Fantasy fans, I guess. But you don’t ask a restaraunt critic to teach you to cook.

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