Friday, July 2, 2010

Fences

Provoked by a post by my friend Roger Calver over on the RPGSite.

What is a roleplaying game? This depends greatly on who you are asking. Some people want to limit the definition to only include games which include certain characteristics. This is a litmus test definition, or definition by edges. The problem with definition by edges is no matter where you put the fence, there will be something that ends up straddling it.

I prefer to define by center - i.e. X is a thing like this. Thus, the definition from center for an RPG would be something like "An RPG is a game where you play a role". I think the problem with this for some people is that it lets in a lot of things they'd prefer to keep out. Fences are for keeping what is inside in and what is outside out. Borders need policing. After all, something may be slipping inside that fence!

Humans are very territorial, or at least the cultures I am familiar with are. Sometimes this idea of territoriality gets sublimated into other things not associated with real estate, like intellectual and social turf. It always comes down in the end to fear. Fear that the Other will get inside that fence and destroy what is safe and ours, like a weasel in a henhouse.

So what's to prevent that weasel getting in without the fence? Nothing. Nothing at all. Weasels can come and go as they choose. I think there is more harm in marking and patrolling that ideological fence then there is of weasels raiding the henhouse. This harm comes from bitterness, anger, and divisiveness. Each time we make a fence, we subdivide our mental landscape until we are all kings of a quarter acre. We get niggly and mean-spirited, suspicious and paranoid. I tend not to like hanging out with folks like that, personally.

You would think that we tabletop RPGers would remember how we cut off those horrble computer RPGs from our communion - after all they were different! We showed them! It was like sawing a limb off a tree - but from the wrong side.

-clash

9 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Problem is--as I said. I don't think I've ever seen a hen house without its own fence. I think the analogy doesn't quite work, because in some cases, fences are useful. (They use them here to stop coyotes, and wild dogs, primarily.)

    If you are stopping a legitimate threat to your livelihood? I think the fence is a good idea. If not, then no. The problem is where does actual threat begin? Me I don't care where you put the fence, there will always be one--people like those ("boxes.") It is just a matter of where.

    More to the point: I'm not sure "story games" could exist without the fence. It isn't just one side putting one up and saying stay over there! It's pretty much both sides flinging dirt clods from behind their own fences.

    I do try to avoid flinging dirt clods myself--but in trying so called story games, I've not found any I find interesting. Where there are lots of traditional games I find interesting--this suggests there approach, no matter why or how its labeled, or where the fence is--is missing some element I find important.

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  3. Hi Tim:

    No analogy is perfect. Take it where it fits, but don't try to stretch it too far... :D

    Anyway, in my opinion, the danger of having fences is much greater than the danger of not having fences.

    I'm not a story gamer - I have no goal of story in playing - I play for other reasons. Thus most story games do pretty much nothing for me either. I just don't see them as threats.

    -clash

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  4. It seems such discussions are all too common. It is sad that such is the state of the online community but then, what else would they talk about? RPGs? Methods to do what you do better? What worked for you and what didn't? Such discussions have long since been exhausted (in many peoples eyes).

    A side note, fences are most often constructed by one person or a small group. I am not "indie". Why? Because I was not buddies with Ron when we first met. I am Swine now. Why? Because I did not drink the Koolaid and worship at the appropriate alter. Fences make it convenient for people to claim the moral high ground. They can "shun" those who do not categorize well. A group can say "We believe this positive thing and they believe this negative thing. You want to be positive(correct) right? Then join us".

    Really clash, it becomes little more than a cult of personality that serves one (or a small group) man's ego. This is a hobby, not a religion. Ideologies is almost insulting to frame an entertainment pass-time in. At the very least it is hilarious in a tragic sense.

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  5. It's very human to be hilarious in a tragic sense... :D

    -clash

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  6. In the game of Risk, I and my fellow players assume the roles as the field marshalls of thier respective armies. However, I would argue that it would take an incredible stretch to claim that Risk is a RPG. Besides being territorial, humanity likes to classify different things. :)

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  7. Funny yoou should pick that particular game, John! When I was a young fellow and Risk was new, long before D&D was even a gleam in Messrs. Gygax and Arneson's eyes, my brother and I would play the game assuming the roles of Field Marshals - complete with ridiculous names and titles, in-character banter, funny accents, and ficticious nations and backgrounds. We did the same sort of thing with Stratego (same as Risk) and Strat-o-Matic Baseball (Baseball managers from made-up teams) for that matter. This was all an outgrowth of our unstructured, rules-free play with plastic army men and dinosaurs.

    Where you draw the line is up to you, but for us, the way we played it, Risk was an RPG. :D

    -clash

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  8. Touche, Marshall FloppyPants.

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  9. Hehe! You had to pick Risk! We never roleplayed Monopoly! :D

    -clash

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