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Same As It Ever Was: Define the Players of RPGs, then Define the Theory of RPGs

". . . You may ask yourself, am I right? Am I wrong? . . ."

"And you may say to yourself, 'My God, what have I done?'"

Omg, is life just a railroad??

“Same as it ever was…”

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So, to be clear about the OP- the idea isn't that the four-fold way (or other, more recent classifications) is, or isn't, an accurate way to model players and/or player agendas.

Yep, I got that. No confusion.

It's more that there's a repeated cycle of-

So, I think we were also speaking with different scales of focus - you seem to be a bit more focused on the "lather, rinse, repeat" on larger scales, and I was speaking of it leaning to the individual discussions here. Both are valid scales to think on, and I think they have a great many similarities.

A. Declaring that there's a problem in TTRPGs.
B. This problem is caused by inconsistent desires/agendas/types of players.
C. Therefore, a new typology of players will be announced (almost always with some types being more equal than others, in the George Orwell sense).
D. Based on that typology, a theory (or theories) of TTRPGs and/or game design will bloom, under the concept that the system itself will enable/encourage/assist in certain types of play.
E. Rinse, repeat. (The epilogue of the book has this re-occurring, with ...IIRC, I don't have it with me at this second ... the creators of Ars Magica writing in to A&E happy to have discovered it ...).

So, one question that arises is whether there's actually been a new recognized typology put forward since... the Big Model in 2005 or so? It seems that, on the larger scale, we've gone without a new iteration for over a decade.

But the vast majority of tables will get much more use out of (for example) reading what iserith writes about DC checks or the action economy than they ever will from these discussions.

A lot of that has to do with the environment - collaboration and learning happen best in places of psychological safety, which EN World is not.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So, I think we were also speaking with different scales of focus - you seem to be a bit more focused on the "lather, rinse, repeat" on larger scales, and I was speaking of it leaning to the individual discussions here. Both are valid scales to think on, and I think they have a great many similarities.
Agreed.
So, one question that arises is whether there's actually been a new recognized typology put forward since... the Big Model in 2005 or so? It seems that, on the larger scale, we've gone without a new iteration for over a decade.

Well, I was concentrating on the "big picture" as first seen in the leadup to the Blacow model. But, yeah, it's constant. New models are constantly being proposed ... some gain more traction than others (Blacow, GNS/Big Model, the original threefold -DGS, the early Thornton and Perren typologies of wargamers, Pulsipher's classifcations, Tweet (& Laws) in the late 80s and 90s, some of the Scandinavian typologies that diverged (primarily) from LARPing, emotional response typologies and so on, and that's before getting into whether estorerica like FKR is even part of the typologies, or apart from it).

I would say that there is actually a lot out there, especially within the last five-ten years, but the discourse, here, is largely frozen between Big Model/GNS advocates and those who are not giant fans of same.

A lot of that has to do with the environment - collaboration and learning happen best in places of psychological safety, which EN World is not.

I would say that EN World is actually pretty good- I'd say that the internet, in general, is not a place of psychological safety.


...but it does have some great cat videos! Also? A lot of quality streaming TV. Too much.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Well, I was concentrating on the "big picture" as first seen in the leadup to the Blacow model. But, yeah, it's constant. New models are constantly being proposed

But, check the dates on those models.

Blacow - 1980
Threefold model - 1998
Robin Laws - 2002
Color Theory - 2002
Meilahti School (part of "Nordic" theory)- 2002
Turku School (another "Nordic" theory) - 1999
Channel Theory - 2003
Forge Theories (GNS and Big Model) - 1999-2005.

What has there been since 2005? Can we actually name any? It looks more like there's Blacow, and then a burst of theory around the turn of the century, and then not much new in the past decade.

I would say that there is actually a lot out there, especially within the last five-ten years, but the discourse, here, is largely frozen between Big Model/GNS advocates and those who are not giant fans of same.

So, imagine I'm from Missouri - the "Show Me" state. It isn't enough to assert that there's a lot out there, we should be able to point to it and say, "There it is!"

I would say that EN World is actually pretty good

Only in comparison to the Wild West. As someone who gives talks on psychological safety in my professional life, and how often what minimal psychological safety we have must be enforced by red text and threadbans, I'd have to say no, EN World isn't good enough for the kind of work that'd be required.

I daresay no place so large would be - new theory is not really a job for hundreds of people - it is a job for handfuls of people.

...but it does have some great cat videos! Also? A lot of quality streaming TV. Too much.

Thank the powers that be for the cat videos, because we need them to recover from the rest of it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Neither is a market study from 20 years ago without knowing the methodology.

Note how I didn't take a whole lot of a position, other than, "Hey, I remember this is in line with that"?

Overblowing what I did say makes a strawman. Please don't.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
But, check the dates on those models.

Blacow - 1980
Threefold model - 1998
Robin Laws - 2002
Color Theory - 2002
Meilahti School (part of "Nordic" theory)- 2002
Turku School (another "Nordic" theory) - 1999
Channel Theory - 2003
Forge Theories (GNS and Big Model) - 1999-2005.

What has there been since 2005? Can we actually name any? It looks more like there's Blacow, and then a burst of theory around the turn of the century, and then not much new in the past decade.

(I'd note that there are several influential ones prior to Blacow, some in the 80s, and some, such as Laws and Tweet, that began to be stated prior to 1998 ... before Laws combined Alston and Blacow).


Allston 1988 (I'd definitely put that in the list!).
Bartle Types (for MUDs, but also used) ('89-'90, summarized '95, expanded 2004)
Bowman/McDiarmid LARP Typologies (2010-12) (aka Player Motives)
Henley 2011 (the psychlogical "it fees good" process typology, hearkening back to the early 80s).

...but again, most of this is ephemeral because it is self-published, "amatuer" and usually goes back over the same issues that have been previously raised. But I'd largely agree with you, except I'd probably say that none of these are really new- I can identify all of them, but while they might be useful, I'm not sure that any of them are really different.*

I would further say that we are getting additional interesting work that's a little more academic, we are retreating from a focus on the amateur player typologies, and looking more at focused studies (what is the specific relationship between player and avatar, what are the models for types of performances within an RPG, what are modes of conversation moves employed by TTRPG players, etc.).

...but that doesn't really come up here. :)


*There are only two types of people in the world. Those who separate others into arbitrary groups, those who don't, and the innumerate.
 

This is completley in alignment with what I said. So I'm not seeing disagreement here.

I'm not @innerdude so I hope he'll correct me if I've misinterpreted, but I took him to be saying he disagreed with the following:

But, since we aren't really exploring the possible theory landscape, we aren't going to find anything in the discussions.

Because based on the below, he seems to have found something significant in these discussions:

And believe me, I will now 1000% go out of my way to elucidate my experience with coming around to what "Story Now" play can do. Having an understanding of what it is and what it does has improved my group's level of play and enjoyment. Because I greatly care about finding new, fun, exciting, and innovative ways to get better at and maximize enjoyment from play.

My experience is very similar.

Perhaps what is to be found in these discussions isn't something pertaining to the hobby as a whole, but is rather more personal to some people taking part in the hobby? I've personally found quite a bit in these discussions, and that's why when I see the sentiment of "what's the point, this is nothing new" it just sounds empty.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Note how I didn't take a whole lot of a position, other than, "Hey, I remember this is in line with that"?

Overblowing what I did say makes a strawman. Please don't.
You mean like claiming that my entire position is based on their current surveys? Yeah, that would be disrespectful.
 

soviet

Explorer
It seems to me that the core insight of the Big Model is that it's not a typology of players but a typology of games. Of playstyles. If one accepts that, whether you accept the three presented creative agendas or not, it follows that design can focus less on appeasing players as their types and more on offering distinct flavours of games that people can opt to enjoy or not on their own merits. That is, I am not a narrativist; I am simply a player who likes narrativist games but who might enjoy simulationist and gamist games as well if it's clear which mode I am meant to be in. And if one accepts that, again independent of whether you accept G N and S themselves, it follows that typologies themselves are not as important as finding or articulating distinct ways to play a game (however atomised) and building bespoke systems that reinforce them.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It seems to me that the core insight of the Big Model is that it's not a typology of players but a typology of games. Of playstyles. If one accepts that, whether you accept the three presented creative agendas or not, it follows that design can focus less on appeasing players as their types and more on offering distinct flavours of games that people can opt to enjoy or not on their own merits. That is, I am not a narrativist; I am simply a player who likes narrativist games but who might enjoy simulationist and gamist games as well if it's clear which mode I am meant to be in. And if one accepts that, again independent of whether you accept G N and S themselves, it follows that typologies themselves are not as important as finding or articulating distinct ways to play a game (however atomised) and building bespoke systems that reinforce them.

First, you identify the players (which is shorthand for playing styles or playing agendas- no, a person is not a roleplayer nor a narratavist, they are not a ego-tripper nor a gamist, those are merely terms used to describe preferences in play).

Then, you use the typology to create a theory of game design.

...isn't that what I wrote in the OP?

But just as interesting as the creation of the typologies is the later application in RPG theory. Obviously, there is the initial typology, which both acknowledged that this was an unbiased look at the games and preferences of players, while also putting its fingers on the scale ... Don Miller provided the answer in A&E 74, that "players and GMs are influenced in their FRP playing orientation by the particular set of rules that they are exposed to ... [players] may be permanently prejudiced by their first indoctrination to FRP. ..." He proposed that systems should have typologies (he offered two Manichean options; simplicity/complexity, and realtiy/abstraction). Stating that he was in the "creative vanguard," Miller then articulated that the rules could no longer be designed without thought or sophistication, and that "a game's underlying philosophy affects everything that the game's systems do or fail to do" and that designing systems can be aided with theory to serve the interests of particular groups.

We can sub out terms, but the "Big Model" is pretty much previewed right there, down to starting out with the typology (which originated as Dramatist, Gamist, Simulationist (Kim/Kuhner, 1997)) before becoming a base for "designing systems that can be aided with theory to serve the interests of particular groups ..." Unsurprisingly, the Big Model ended up focusing on a single creative agenda, because these critical tools used in the amateur community inevitably privilege one approach over others.

Which is great, but is also a limitation and is why they tend to get pushback and the cycle repeats.

(IMO. YMMV. etc.)
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
The extent to which I care about the notion of designing a game with certain player typologies in mind is, like, a negative number or something. I don't really find discussions of that sort add much to my appreciation or understanding of a particular game either. At least not in terms of moving to a discussion of what that game does or how it works or a discussion of that sort.

This isn't to say that discussions of player typology is without merit, I just don't find it useful in a big way that some other folks seem to. Very much a YMMV sort of place.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The extent to which I care about the notion of designing a game with certain player typologies in mind is, like, a negative number or something. I don't really find discussions of that sort add much to my appreciation or understanding of a particular game either. At least not in terms of moving to a discussion of what that game does or how it works or a discussion of that sort.

This isn't to say that discussions of player typology is without merit, I just don't find it useful in a big way that some other folks seem to. Very much a YMMV sort of place.

I really can't recommend Elusive Shift enough, if only because there is just so much about the early TTRPG communities from the 70s that I didn't know about.

Given my interest in FKR systems recently, I was pleasantly and happily surprised (for example) to see the same heavy FKR influence back then; I have to admit, however, that I was completely shocked to see how widespread the conversations about referee authority (or whether the referee was just a player, or even if you need a referee- like Diplomacy, and En Garde) were.

I shouldn't have been- people back then weren't dumb, but I was.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Because based on the below, he seems to have found something significant in these discussions:

Yeah, I got that. Which is why I noted that an individual might learn something. But, we collectively, meaning the broader community don't not learn much new from the repeated discussions of the same thing.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
This isn't to say that discussions of player typology is without merit, I just don't find it useful in a big way that some other folks seem to. Very much a YMMV sort of place.

IMHO, we do a whole lot of talking about the typologies and theories, but we do a pretty poor job of translating that into useful day-to-day practices.

One major issue is that, as soon as you start talking about a theory, or techniques aligned with theory, someone is going to show up to try to shout down the theory.

Another is that some of the folks around here who know the theory best don't seem to be skilled at combining that knowledge with coaching techniques.

In addition, the forum as a media isn't terribly well suited to coaching either.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Well, I don't know if coaching is even the desired outcome, valuable as it might be. I was more indexing the idea that in terms of discussing game X and how it works that the idea of player typologies is at best peripheral and and worst a distraction to that discussion.
 

Aldarc

Legend
IMHO, we do a whole lot of talking about the typologies and theories, but we do a pretty poor job of translating that into useful day-to-day practices.

One major issue is that, as soon as you start talking about a theory, or techniques aligned with theory, someone is going to show up to try to shout down the theory.

Another is that some of the folks around here who know the theory best don't seem to be skilled at combining that knowledge with coaching techniques.

In addition, the forum as a media isn't terribly well suited to coaching either.
It's not just the issue of forums; fandoms tend to generate certain tribalistic behaviors that are resistant and hypersensitive to coaching as well as criticism/analysis. Even criticizing something like the Marvel movies risks setting off land mines and a pack of attack dogs foaming-at-the-mouth on any perceived slight made against them, often with accusations of snobbery, elitism, and other mean-spirited ad hominems.

The reality is that not everyone wants to be coached in theory or criticism. Many people simply want their particular fandom praised and validated.

Well, I don't know if coaching is even the desired outcome, valuable as it might be. I was more indexing the idea that in terms of discussing game X and how it works that the idea of player typologies is at best peripheral and and worst a distraction to that discussion.
Typologies are useful when it comes to recommendations: e.g., "If you like Y-type board games like A, B, C, then you may want to look into games D, C, and E."
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It's not just the issue of forums; fandoms tend to generate certain tribalistic behaviors that are resistant and hypersensitive to coaching as well as criticism/analysis. Even criticizing something like the Marvel movies risks setting off land mines and a pack of attack dogs foaming-at-the-mouth on any perceived slight made against them, often with accusations of snobbery, elitism, and other mean-spirited ad hominems.

I am pretty sure I covered that with "someone is going to show up to shout down the theory" and my previous comments about psychological security.

The reality is that not everyone wants to be coached in theory or criticism.

I wasn't even talking about coaching in theory or criticism. I was talking about turning theory into practical actionable techniques for people at their tables.

I'm talking about how, IF some folks did want to learn techniques, it would be difficult in this environment to teach them well.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Well, I don't know if coaching is even the desired outcome, valuable as it might be. I was more indexing the idea that in terms of discussing game X and how it works that the idea of player typologies is at best peripheral and and worst a distraction to that discussion.

Except, they really aren't.

Say you are a long-time D&D player, and you've heard about this "Blades in the Dark" thing, and you wanted to discuss the game and whether it was right for your group. The player typologies are how you'd get at that information. And the RPG theory feeds into how the techniques of running Blades in the Dark are different from those of D&D.

Coaching comes in because that's the best way to teach practical techniques. The coaching isn't about theory, it is about, "How do I make this game work in practice."
 

Aldarc

Legend
I am pretty sure I covered that with "someone is going to show up to shout down the theory" and my previous comments about psychological security.

I wasn't even talking about coaching in theory or criticism. I was talking about turning theory into practical actionable techniques for people at their tables.

I'm talking about how, IF some folks did want to learn techniques, it would be difficult in this environment to teach them well.
Believe it or not, but I'm not trying to pick a fight with you. Just because I'm adding something to what you are saying doesn't mean that I disagree.
 

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