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D&D 5E 5e and the Cheesecake Factory: Explaining Good Enough

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
How is it possible to have a concept of "doing X thing well" without, implicitly, saying X thing is valuable?

Because, generally speaking, "value" is subjective. You can see that a car has amazing acceleration and top speed, and that the engineering to do that is well-done. But you have no desire to drive fast, and need cargo space. The sportscar isn't a good car, for you, and it is not worth the $90K the dealer charges for it.

Or, as a better example, a movie. Sin City.

My wife cannot watch this movie. It is full of violence too brutal for her to watch. She can recognize many of the film's technical accomplishments. She can see that the film does exactly what it sets out to do. But, for her, what it sets out to do is not watchable - and if you can't watch it, it cannot really be called "good", now can it?

Thus, scoring well on a particular set of metrics does not mean "good".
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Does this mean that, until the invention of "consumption" sometime in the last few hundred to few thousand years - depending how you want to draw various historical boundaries - nothing humans did was of any quality?

I think you are too tightly defining "consumer" in the modern sense. Before buying and selling, you could have a quality flint hand axe. Before anyone used flint hand axes, though, there was no such thing as a good, high-quality flint hand axe.

Use of the hand axe - "consumption" of the goods, for whatever that means for a particular goods or services - is required before there can be good or bad versions of it.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think you are too tightly defining "consumer" in the modern sense. Before buying and selling, you could have a quality flint hand axe. Before anyone used flint hand axes, though, there was no such thing as a good, high-quality flint hand axe.

Use of the hand axe - "consumption" of the goods, for whatever that means for a particular goods or services - is required before there can be good or bad versions of it.
I'll repost the whole of the post I responded to in the post that you then responded to:

The consumer is the final judge of quality, and businesses pursue quality in order to get sales. You can win all kinds of industry quality awards and get rave reviews from critics, but ultimately, the consumer is looking at a whole bunch of different things, and what's really annoying is that each individual consumer weights each factor slightly differently. If something sells really well, beyond the point where we can just call it a fad, resulting in very large numbers of satisfied customers, it's doing something right, maybe a few things really right, maybe a lot of things mostly right. Regardless, it's not a misstatement to say it's overall a high-quality product.
This post is using consumer to mean a person to whom businesses, which are constituents of industries, sell products.

Here is Ruskin on consumerism and quality (I'm requoting the quote found in Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, pp 149-50):

You must remember always that your business, as manufacturers, is to form the market, as much as to supply it. If, in short-sighted and reckless eagerness for wealth, you catch at every humour of the populace as it shapes itself into momentary demand - if, in jealous rivalry with neighbouring States, or with other producers, you try to attract attention by singularities, novelties, and gaudiness, to make every design an advertisement, and pilfer every idea of a successful neighbour's, that you may insidiously imitate it, or pompously eclipse - no good design will ever be possible to you, or perceived by you. You may, by accident, snatch the market; or, by energy, command it; you may obtain the confidence of the public, and cause the ruin of opponent houses; or you may, with equal justice of fortune, be ruined by them. But whatever happens to you, this, at least, is certain, that the whole of your life will have been spent in corrupting public taste and encouraging public extravagance. Every preference you have won by gaudiness must have been based on the purchaser's vanity; every demand you have created by novelty has fostered in the consumer a habit of discontent; and when you retire into inactive life, you may, as a subject of consolation for your declining years, reflect that precisely according to the extent of your past operations, your life has been successful in retarding the arts, tarnishing the virtues, and confusing the manners of your country.​

Even if one doesn't agree with Ruskin, and thinks there's no difference in quality between the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and (say) The Seventh Seal - indeed that the former must be better, because more people paid to see them! - still there is no denying his point that producers shape the market, and taste, as much as satisfy it.

This was obvious to Ruskin 150 years ago, and should be even more obvious to anyone now. Advertising and marketing are real phenomena, and their job is to create wants and needs, not just (or primarily) to provide information about how already-existing wants and needs might be satisfied.

The history of the use of flint axes ten or one hundred thousand years ago has no bearing on this.

Nor, to pick another contemporaneous example, does the history of rock and cave art. This was not created for "consumption", or as part of a process of generating demand for "product". Whatever one might want to say about the quality of such works, the idea that the consumer is the final judge of quality has no work to do in that respect.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
Just because I like something more than another thing, doesn't mean that first thing is of higher quality...it just means the latter thing hits my preferences better.
I find this line of reasoning interesting. What are your thoughts when two or more things hit the same preferences for you, which do you choose?

My guess is this will engage arguments around the more widely available, the more popular, the better supported. But... why aren't we all playing Pathfinder?
 

Blades in the Dark has a mechanic to do flashbacks. If you don't care for this, it's of no value to you, or even takes away value. That preference doesn't say anything at all about how well BitD does flashbacks.
So literally everything is a quality something, so long as you can find a value associated? "Quality" becomes rather a weak word in that context. Anything, so long as there's some merit one can find, can be a "work of quality"; a film so bad no one can find anything to like about watching it is, for example, now a "work of quality" because it's the best bad example anyone could ever hope for. It's not a quality work for what it wanted to do, but it's still quality work under the right perspective.

Because, generally speaking, "value" is subjective. You can see that a car has amazing acceleration and top speed, and that the engineering to do that is well-done. But you have no desire to drive fast, and need cargo space. The sportscar isn't a good car, for you, and it is not worth the $90K the dealer charges for it.

Or, as a better example, a movie. Sin City.

My wife cannot watch this movie. It is full of violence too brutal for her to watch. She can recognize many of the film's technical accomplishments. She can see that the film does exactly what it sets out to do. But, for her, what it sets out to do is not watchable - and if you can't watch it, it cannot really be called "good", now can it?

Thus, scoring well on a particular set of metrics does not mean "good".
So.....

Are you saying "quality" isn't measurable, and thus purely a matter of taste, or are you saying something can be "quality" without being "good"? Because I'm really quite confused as to what you're arguing here.

~~~~~~~

Totally unrelated to the above: No one has yet meaningfully engaged with the question I asked, other than to reference back to it. How should I feel about this "something for everyone," "restaurant that does a bit of everything well enough" theory, when there's a very clear and present example of something it DOESN'T do well, both intentionally and accidentally?
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
I think there has to be a distinction between the world of materials and the artistic world.

In material terms quality refers to how competent something is sure. It ability to perform its function or its grade.. 19 carrot gold, or strength of steel, the craftsmen ship of a suit. Or the durability and binding of a hardback RPG book. This can be measured. In this regard @Ovinomancer is bang on.

However in artistic terms quality is often seen as synonymous with its good. A quality film, a quality joke, a quality dinner. Entirely subjective. Part of this is slang and changing language use. Part of it is us trying to apply material qualities to something that isn’t material and has uses beyond a mechanical function.

It can be difficult to determine quality in artistic endeavors because they often don’t have specific goals, or have so many goals that they can’t be easily quantified. Or they will affect different people in different ways.

The two areas don’t overlap very well. The oscars separate out the technicality of a film as a separate awards. So they can say ‘this film was technically excellent... but...’

The world quality just isn’t very good for dealing with things who’s worth isn’t based on intrinsic material value.
 
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Coroc

Hero
An idea I've been noodling around with for a few weeks is trying to understand not just "Why 5e," but "Why 5e?" To put it more bluntly; it would seem obvious (to me, at least) that D&D has been having a cultural moment, and capturing the zeitgeist, in a way that hasn't been seen since the prior Golden Age of the late 70s and early 80s. While this is great for D&D, I think that it's also great for the TTRPG hobby in general. D&D is traditionally the 800lb gorilla in the room for the hobby, but to borrow a phrase- when D&D sneezes, the rest of the hobby catches a cold; but the rising tide of D&D tends to raise all the games by bringing in more attention, more new players, and more interest.

Moving it back to the issue of Why 5e, I think that there are a number of factors at work that are exogenous to the game (such as the popularity of streaming platforms, the return of older gamers after a hiatus, a return to basics in hobbies, and so on), I've been thinking about the factors in 5e that have made it attractive to gamers. And the more I think about it, the more I've realized that 5e exemplifies something I understood earlier in my life- The Cheesecake Factory Theory.

So, without further ado, The Cheesecake Factory Theory of TTRPGs.

(Quick explanation for non-Americans. The Cheesecake Factory is an upscale-ish chain restaurant. It is known for having, in addition to cheesecake, an incredibly large and diverse menu with over 250 dishes from burgers to pastas to salads to steaks to pizzas to all-day breakfast to TexMex/Asian/Italian/American/Fusion Entrees)

Imagine you are going out to eat with a large group of friends.
Anne loves Chinese food, and hates standard "American" fare.
Bob loves pizza, any kind of pizza, and dislikes "weird" food.
Cathy wants to get some fattening, yummy desert, and isn't too picky about the entrees; but the place has to have good desert.
Derek needs a place with a full bar, because ... Derek.
Eddie always prefers choices; it's not that he's going to order breakfast at 8pm, he just wants to know that he can.
Fran needs a place with a number of large and hearty salads, because she never got the memo that they are filled with calories.
Gary is doing keto, so he only wants steak. Just steak.
Henrietta can only go to a place that can accommodate her dietary restrictions.

Now, none of your friends would necessarily choose CF as their first choice (except maybe Derek, because he hasn't been tossed out of that bar yet) ... but all of them want to go out to eat together. So the Cheesecake Factory, even though it might not be the top choice for any particular person, is by far the best choice for the group because it is agreeable to all of them! The best choice for that group of people to have a good time might be the Cheesecake Factory ... not because the food there is the best, but because it offers something for everyone, and doesn't have any dealbreakers (for example, it can accommodate people with dietary restrictions like Henrietta).

And that, in a nutshell, is the appeal of 5e. 5e is the Cheesecake Factory of TTRPGs.

I don't mean this to be either an insult (for those of you hate chain restaurants) or a compliment (mmm, I love me some Cheesecake Factory), but just a working descriptive theory. 5e has worked so well, has been so popular, not because it is great, but because it is so perfectly acceptable. Let me go through some of the various reasons, and then, since this is already too long, let other people rubbish the theory in the comments.

1. It's D&D. This goes without saying, but it has the brand. Everyone knows what D&D is. It's practically a synonym for the TTRPG hobby - seriously, if you have a friend who still doesn't know what TTRPGs are, you can always tell them that you are "playing D&D" and they will have an idea.

2. It uses all the old tropes. The six abilities. Saving throws. Classes (including the classics). Alignment. Fireball and magic missile. It's easy to bring players back when there is a certain level of comfort. No matter what edition was the last edition you played, from OD&D to 4e, you can make the leap to 5e.

3. It's got combat, and it's got the rest. Some people love combat, some people love the other pillars. It's always amazed me that there are people that play 5e and break out the minis and the battlemaps, and others that play it with few combats that are ToTM, and everyone in between.

4. It allows for optimization, and not worrying about it. D&D has a history of optimizers and rules lawyers, and 5e can certainly enable that. On the other hand, with bounded accuracy and attunement and other rules in 5e ... there is no pressing need to optimize.

5. At any given table, players can be both really engaged and ... not so much. One of the key features of D&D that has always been appealing (and often unremarked) is that it allows players to ... um ... check out a little. Some players don't like to have to be "always on" or telling their backstories or interacting with the environment or creating new narrative hooks for the group. They just want to be there, enjoy it, and doodle and occasionally interact. Why? I don't know, but there's usually one of them in every group ... Derek. D&D's mechanics allow for players to choose options that keep them from being the center of attention, if that's what they want.

6. The recurring event. D&D can always work as a one-shot, but it's best as a campaign; even the published adventures (Adventure Paths) acknowledge this. That's part of the charm, as well. Sure, there are many better TTRPGs in terms of one-shots (IMO) that don't require the prep and the setup time of D&D, but D&D has the standard "go out, adventure, kill stuff, get stuff, level, repeat" that is the basic pleasure loop of TTRPGs, and means that the same group can keep coming back for the same social event.

I could keep going on, but the idea generally holds. 5e isn't a great game in any given aspect; I would argue that there are other, better TTRPGs out there for many uses (and I'd even say that in terms of pure "D&D" some people might prefer other editions, or even clones). But when it comes to disparate groups of people getting together and finding that sweet spot of play, I am envious of the way that 5e always seems to be good enough for a critical mass of people to play.

Also? It accommodates dietary restrictions. Unless you're on Keto. There might be some carbs in the PHB.
good comparison, and yes 5e does a good job in being the CF.
Only one point i am missing 5e has got houseruling and homebrewing into the RAW, so it is like your CF, allowing for customizable extras for each dish too.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
In material terms quality refers to how competent something is sure. It ability to perform its function or its grade.. 19 carrot gold, or strength of steel, the craftsmen ship of a suit. Or the durability and binding of a hardback RPG book. This can be measured. In this regard @Ovinomancer is bang on.
The problem is that while they can be measured, what level is quality and what isn't quality are not a part of those measurements. Is a quality tire the one that is resistant to puncture(can be measured, one that lasts more miles before needing replacement(can be measured), one that grips the road better(can be measured), all three, two of the three, and to what levels are required before "quality" is invoked?

There's nothing inherent in measurements that can tell you quality. There can only be subjective opinion on when a measurement becomes quality(ie you view 80,000 miles as quality).
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
The problem is that while they can be measured, what level is quality and what isn't quality are not a part of those measurements. Is a quality tire the one that is resistant to puncture(can be measured, one that lasts more miles before needing replacement(can be measured), one that grips the road better(can be measured), all three, two of the three, and to what levels are required before "quality" is invoked?

There's nothing inherent in measurements that can tell you quality. There can only be subjective opinion on when a measurement becomes quality(ie you view 80,000 miles as quality).
You’re right in that the establishment of what quality is dependent on the uses it’s put to and the general opinion. Informed by craftsman but ultimately judged by the user. Though to be clear material quality is not the same as artistic quality.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
You’re right in that the establishment of what quality is dependent on the uses it’s put to and the general opinion. Informed by craftsman but ultimately judged by the user. Though to be clear material quality is not the same as artistic quality.
Right. It's not the same, but both are subjective. One just has measurable qualities to judge quality on, the other is as you note, based much more on subjective opinion.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
So literally everything is a quality something, so long as you can find a value associated? "Quality" becomes rather a weak word in that context. Anything, so long as there's some merit one can find, can be a "work of quality"; a film so bad no one can find anything to like about watching it is, for example, now a "work of quality" because it's the best bad example anyone could ever hope for. It's not a quality work for what it wanted to do, but it's still quality work under the right perspective.
Not at all what I said. I'm trying to see how you got "everything's quality" from anything I've posted, or that quality is defined by any measure of merit. My post was pointing out the difference between utility and quality. It seems that most of the discussion is interchanging these concepts, and I'm trying to separate them out so that clarity can come forth. No part of that is an argument that things are of quality because they exist. That would, as you note, be pretty useless.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
The problem is that while they can be measured, what level is quality and what isn't quality are not a part of those measurements. Is a quality tire the one that is resistant to puncture(can be measured, one that lasts more miles before needing replacement(can be measured), one that grips the road better(can be measured), all three, two of the three, and to what levels are required before "quality" is invoked?

There's nothing inherent in measurements that can tell you quality. There can only be subjective opinion on when a measurement becomes quality(ie you view 80,000 miles as quality).
No, you're confusing utility with quality again. Those measurements can absolutely tell me what utility that tire has for me, due to my use conditions. What tells me the quality is how many benchmarks the tire meets -- just 1 may be a low quality tire, 2 might be a reasonable quality tire, and all 3 is a high quality tire. These are met even if I have no need for one or more of these benchmarks. My preference doesn't change anything about the tire, only it's utility to me. Quality is a trait of the tire, not of my utility.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think there has to be a distinction between the world of materials and the artistic world.

In material terms quality refers to how competent something is sure. It ability to perform its function or its grade.. 19 carrot gold, or strength of steel, the craftsmen ship of a suit. Or the durability and binding of a hardback RPG book. This can be measured. In this regard @Ovinomancer is bang on.

However in artistic terms quality is often seen as synonymous with its good. A quality film, a quality joke, a quality dinner. Entirely subjective. Part of this is slang and changing language use. Part of it is us trying to apply material qualities to something that isn’t material and has uses beyond a mechanical function.

It can be difficult to determine quality in artistic endeavors because they often don’t have specific goals, or have so many goals that they can’t be easily quantified. Or they will affect different people in different ways.

The two areas don’t overlap very well. The oscars separate out the technicality of a film as a separate awards. So they can say ‘this film was technically excellent... but...’

The world quality just isn’t very good for dealing with things who’s worth isn’t based on intrinsic material value.
This is... not very true and spoken like someone that's has little exposure to the arts, or, rather, perhaps too much exposure to post-modern deconstruction.

I'm lousy at arts outside of being a decent miniature painter (some days). I'm working on being better, though, and watch a number of channels on minis painting, and there's absolutely some non-subjective measures of quality. Lack of visible brushstrokes is a big one. Good blending, good use of contrast, etc. Whether or not I like a given miniature, though, is subjective, but I can absolutely give you some feedback on the quality of the painting (although you might want someone more experienced) regardless of if I like or dislike the mini.

Also, while I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, my son is a rather gifted trumpet player (waiting to see if he's gotten in to one of the top music conservatories in the nation, fingers crossed). There's absolutely measures of quality to a performance there, ones I've learned and some that still escape me (although Boy can tell you all about them). This even goes for pieces that I absolutely hate, that sound like noise to me. Boy can listen to these and marvel, because the quality (he tells me) is amazing and the piece is insanely difficult. I hate that stuff (the modern atonal stuff), but I recognize there's still quite a lot of quality playing there.

Utility or preference is not the same thing as quality.
 

pemerton

Legend
Ruskin was a complete tit. Read about him.
I quoted from Raymond Williams book. I have read about Ruskin. I didn't make a post about his character, or his politics in general. I made a post about the relationship between consumer preference and quality of artistry/design.

Are you denying that producers shape taste as much as satisfy it? Are you asserting that there is no difference between producing something of quality and producing something that flatters the existing vanities of the consumer?

However in artistic terms quality is often seen as synonymous with its good. A quality film, a quality joke, a quality dinner. Entirely subjective. Part of this is slang and changing language use. Part of it is us trying to apply material qualities to something that isn’t material and has uses beyond a mechanical function.

It can be difficult to determine quality in artistic endeavors because they often don’t have specific goals, or have so many goals that they can’t be easily quantified. Or they will affect different people in different ways.
while I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, my son is a rather gifted trumpet player (waiting to see if he's gotten in to one of the top music conservatories in the nation, fingers crossed). There's absolutely measures of quality to a performance there, ones I've learned and some that still escape me (although Boy can tell you all about them). This even goes for pieces that I absolutely hate, that sound like noise to me. Boy can listen to these and marvel, because the quality (he tells me) is amazing and the piece is insanely difficult. I hate that stuff (the modern atonal stuff), but I recognize there's still quite a lot of quality playing there.

Utility or preference is not the same thing as quality.
One point that comes out in Ovinomancer's post is that someone who is familiar with the field can discriminate in ways that someone else who is not cannot.

I am not a gifted musician or visual artist. My partner is a good amateur drawer and painter, and has taught me a bit about how to make sense of visual art. My critical eye is not terribly sophisticated, but I can see things that I probably couldn't see 10 or 20 years ago.

This fact, that discrimination is something that can be learned, is part of the argument against the contention that artistic quality is entirely subjective, and is indistinguishable from what someone likes.

Also @Ovinomancer, best wishes to your son for his audition/application!
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
No, you're confusing utility with quality again.
I am not. I never gave my personal preference for any of those things. Those measurable things are what make up a "quality" tire. No different than "quality" steel being of certain strength, etc.
What tells me the quality is how many benchmarks the tire meets -- just 1 may be a low quality tire, 2 might be a reasonable quality tire, and all 3 is a high quality tire.
Yes, the arbitrary benchmarks set forth based on the measurable "utility." The benchmarks you reference don't say anything about quality other than what your preference for quality is.
These are met even if I have no need for one or more of these benchmarks.
Yep. Just like in my tire example. Those benchmarks of distance, grip and puncture resistance are met even if I don't have a car. I never said those were my preferences. I put forth measurable things that go into making a quality tire. Benchmarks. Not utility.
Quality is a trait of the tire, not of my utility.
Yep. Just like I said. Those "quality benchmarks," though, were set by the subjective opinions of somebody. Tires weren't invented and then suddenly a booked popped into existence that explained which benchmarks meant quality.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This is... not very true and spoken like someone that's has little exposure to the arts, or, rather, perhaps too much exposure to post-modern deconstruction.

I'm lousy at arts outside of being a decent miniature painter (some days). I'm working on being better, though, and watch a number of channels on minis painting, and there's absolutely some non-subjective measures of quality. Lack of visible brushstrokes is a big one. Good blending, good use of contrast, etc. Whether or not I like a given miniature, though, is subjective, but I can absolutely give you some feedback on the quality of the painting (although you might want someone more experienced) regardless of if I like or dislike the mini.

Also, while I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, my son is a rather gifted trumpet player (waiting to see if he's gotten in to one of the top music conservatories in the nation, fingers crossed). There's absolutely measures of quality to a performance there, ones I've learned and some that still escape me (although Boy can tell you all about them). This even goes for pieces that I absolutely hate, that sound like noise to me. Boy can listen to these and marvel, because the quality (he tells me) is amazing and the piece is insanely difficult. I hate that stuff (the modern atonal stuff), but I recognize there's still quite a lot of quality playing there.

Utility or preference is not the same thing as quality.
Sure, but quality benchmarks are based on utility and/or preference. Somebody preferred a certain level and set that benchmark as quality for you.
 

I quoted from Raymond Williams book. I have read about Ruskin. I didn't make a post about his character, or his politics in general. I made a post about the relationship between consumer preference and quality of artistry/design.

Are you denying that producers shape taste as much as satisfy it? Are you asserting that there is no difference between producing something of quality and producing something that flatters the existing vanities of the consumer?
I'm asserting that an appeal to authority is only as good as the character of the authority.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm asserting that an appeal to authority is only as good as the character of the authority.
I'm not appealing to an authority. I'm quoting an argument! I take it that you have a different view, that you deny that producers shape taste, and that you deny that there is a difference between producing something of quality and producing something that flatters a consumer's existing vanities?
 

I'm asserting that an appeal to authority is only as good as the character of the authority.
Appeal to authority only becomes a fallacy if the authority you are quoting is irrelevant to the topic. If the authority you are quoting is:

1. An expert on the area of knowledge under consideration,
2. Speaking about their area of mastery, and
3. Expressing a view that is in general agreement with other experts in the field (as opposed to some crank's one-off conspiracy theory),

Then that's not a fallacious appeal to authority! That's just doing your due diligence with your research and citing your sources!
 
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