Musings on the RPG culture “wars”

Just thinking on the whole “traditional games: threat or menace?” vibe going around… the problem I have with most of the defenders of them is an assload of cognitive dissonance, not introduced, but first heavily promoted by the White Wolf family of games. It’s the S word, in this case storytelling.

When players rely on a GM to provide a story / plot for their characters to progress through, they are not story telling, they are participating in the GM’s story. They are in exactly the same position as a player of a computer RPG.* It doesn’t matter whether the plot is preplanned, busked on the spot, whatever, if players have surrendered their immediate veto rights over the story to the GM, then they are not story telling.

Okay, notes on that include storytelling may or may not equal fun. Experiencing a story through the eyes of a participant can be great fun, if not, why would every other form of entertainment keep going so strong. RPG’s in the conventional mode provide a unique medium for story “reading”, in the broadest sense.

But they also provide means for co-operative story telling that don’t exist anywhere else. And the difference between conventional games and “forgesque” games is often not in the rules, but in the GM advice, the interpretation of the rules: Sorcerer is, for the most part, stunningly conventional in it’s bare bone mechanics. So, again for the most part, are Dogs in the Vineyard and Heroquest.

It’s in the explicit arrangement of power among players.

Anyway, I’m rambling now, off.

*ANY computer RPG.


10 thoughts on “Musings on the RPG culture “wars”

  1. You sort of lost me in the third paragraph and I can’t really tell what the point is. Are you saying that in traditional games the GM creates the story and the players interpret that story? I think I’d agree with that. The Forge theory has fractured into so may livejournals that I don’t have time to read that it’s difficult keeping tabs on things. I don’t have a problem with theory development but what I do have an issue with is the inherent snobbery of much of it. Traditional games are not bad or evil. There’s a tacit agreement of roles between the participants that works well and there’s scope for a wide variety of games within this framework. Sure things can go wrong but in most cases they don’t, at least not in my experience. I was really wary of Cons at first because of all the horror stories and then I found that as long I stayed away from some easily identifiable types that there were many like-minded gamers out there with whom I could have some great experiences. Hmm, that sounds like someone talking about their sexual experiences.

    1. [i]You sort of lost me in the third paragraph and I can’t really tell what the point is.[/i] Rereading, that may make two of us… I think I was pre-empting the assumption that, as a forgista, I think any sort of deprotagonising play is “badwrongfun”. Frankly, bullshit on that. I think a great deal of the “inherent snobbery” is projected: a great deal is also present, but getting to know the folks pontificating helps tell the difference. But this presumption of snobbery forces me and other folks into defensive “I’m not saying your fun is wrong” statements everywhere while discussing our fun, or why we prefer our fun. Fucking identitity pollitics.

      1. I guess it’s more like entrenchment than snobbery and is present on both sides of the divide. “Your fun is fine, but look at all the fun I’m having” can seem to have the unspoken codicil “which is better” even when it isn’t there. To Forge or not is an esthetic judgement and hence holds no truth value. When I played Polaris at SteveCon Paris recently we struggled to find players and one only agreed because he was drunk and his mate just tagged along. They gave it a go and suprised themselves because it was rewarding. I have a difficult relationship with the Forge, mostly because Ron pisses me off, but I do like the games. I find it a difficult place to have a dialogue if you don’t subscribe to some basic assumptions about gaming, or if you question those assumptions. And this is very similar to my encounters with religion, which probably colours my judgement. So in the most part I’ve stopped posting. To forge or not to forge: that is the question Whether is nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of deprotagonisation Or to take arms against a sea of illusionists And by opposing end them? To push: to pull no more; and by pull to say we end …

      2. Hell, I don’t post or read there much any more, mainly because I don’t play enough any more to back up my ramblings. But in outlook, I’m pretty mianstream forgista,whatever the heck that may mean. I think we’re beginning to get a similar relationship between theory, especially forgesque theory, and design to that between postmodernism and literature, or cinema. A hell of a lot of people bad mouth the theory, while lapping up the products that emerge from the theory.

    1. Nah, not a war, just a vibe. A vibe which comes around at least once a year and has, lets face it, frig all to do with designing or playing games, but a shedload to do with identity culture.

      1. Yeah, well, it’s a kind of game. Just nothing to do with the kinds of games I’m interested in.

  2. And the difference between conventional games and “forgesque” games is often not in the rules, but in the GM advice I’ve noticed this before, yeah. I think the heart of the Forge is to look at what actually happens at the gaming table. That’s interesting and valuable but could be done without the specialized terminology and with a more humble attitude.

    1. I’ve always found the lack of humility at the forge to be 90% projection on the part of the reader. But it may be just the way I read it.

  3. I ran a 16 week werewolf campaign, and I wasnt short of ideas or gaming material. It was the hardest 16 week running a campaign I have ever experienced. I had to constantly entertain the players, devise the ever changing story to suit the desires of the players, including the focus of the plot. Despite the “wealth” of advice in running the damn game (plus my 20+ years of GMing experience), the game failed to ignite me. Running a game the White Wolf way doesnt work.

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