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

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
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.

So the more I think about it, and reflect back upon the typologies over time and the theories that came from them (and contrast them with the more detailed and specific work we are starting to see from academics), the more I feel like it's all kind of like Malcolm Gladwell.

You know, middlebrow. Not really right. And allowing people (incl. me) to feel special and smarter than they are by discussing it. "Hey, did you know that if you spend 10,000 hours doing something, you'll be totally awesome at it? It's a law, like gravity! I READ THAT, SO IT HAS TO BE TRUE!"

It's not true ... but it does feel that way, doesn't it?

It's just strange- I made the usual joke about sorting people into groups, above, but it's kind of true. Imagine almost any other area where you'd get people kibitzing about how there's really 3 or 4 things that motivate people (and without empirical data). I don't think that would fly!

It doesn't mean it can't be useful. I think that good game design has come from it. But the underlying typology and theory always seem to be a lot of "just so" theorizing that sounds great until you really start to examine it closely.* It reminds me of Freud- sure, there's a lot of really good art, and literature, and critical analysis that owes a great debt to Freud. But I wouldn't recommend going back to Freud's "science" for treating schizophrenia.

Or maybe not. Who knows. Life is a boundless mystery.

*Again, I think that there's a reason that we keep seeing the amateur typologies re-occur, with different variations. It's people trying to make sense of the issues that they are having. After a while, though, a lot of it just seems dated- sort of like hearing a standup talk about airplane food.


Two quick notes ---

I think player typologies are useful, but moderately to largely overstated as a driving factor in RPG game development / theory evolution. I love board games. I love deep, tactical, heavy resource management and combat in board games (FFG Imperial Assault, LotR Living Card Game, Gloomhaven).

But when I sit down to an RPG play session, I largely desire to engage with game/milieu on a different level than what I get just by playing Gloomhaven.

I'm a huge "gamist" when I play board games. I'm something radically different when I play RPGs.

I think most of us like RPGs because they combine multiple game sensibilities -- gaming, drama, narrative, challenge, character building, resource management, imagination.

I find that people who are generally ONLY interested in just one facet of gameplay largely steer away from "traditional" RPGs. Off the top of my head I could name half-a-dozen acquaintances that are massive board game "geeks" / Warhammer combat geeks that have absolutely zero interest in RPGs, because they're just not interested in the additional facets of gameplay they are expected to engage with.

The existence of a growing "story gaming" population as a sub-set within the RPG player population is evidence that there's a lot of people who like inhabiting a role / engaging in a shared fiction / storytelling who simply aren't interested in memorizing D&D-style rules for combat positioning, facing, damage, exception-based-design combat feats and abilities, etc.

The unique thing about RPGs is the ability to engage in the fiction development loop --- proposition >> evaluation as to the truthiness of the proposition within the fiction >> consensus that fictional state has changed >> players engage with new fiction state.

Second, the disagreement around whether there's actually any theory development on these boards is less than important than the ability to be exposed to theory. The theories don't have to be new---they only have to provide value to someone who hasn't been exposed to them before.

And being elitist to people who have never been exposed to the theory before is terribly uncharitable. Sure, we can be dismissive of those who have never been exposed to the Fourfold / Threefold / GNS / Big model concepts before. "Go read up on 3 decades of theory and then come back."

Or we can be charitable and try to help those who aren't familiar come into contact with the theories in helpful, productive ways.

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Or we can be charitable and try to help those who aren't familiar come into contact with the theories in helpful, productive ways.

Seems like a great idea! Maybe someone should post a thread, with links to a number of resources that give a comprehensive overview of the topic.

I'm sure if someone did that, it would go over well. People would use it as a reference, and have a productive conversation.

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