How are "indie", "mainstream" and "trad" games similar?

edited March 2010 in Story Games
Different labels get bandied about, and a lot of focus tends to be put on their differences.

I'm interested in their similarities, especially in terms of participant skills and practices (be participants players, GMs, or equal co-creators) that foster good play.

I'll start by mentioning a couple of things:

- Golden Rule: Don't Be An Asshole.
- Observing the RPG contract, aka maintaining character/player separation.

Please discuss!

Comments

  • Very 'trad' games, i.e. the earliest ones, have basically the same principles as very 'indie' ones in my view - the most important being the absolute primacy of player agency. The only difference is that in 'old school' games it isn't systematised, only assumed.
  • edited March 2010
    Well the obvious one is that all of them feature one or a number of players who get together to tell a collaborative story by acting out or describing the actions of a set of fictional characters. Beyond that, I don't think there are any similarities that bridge all circumstances or examples. That's what I like about the hobby and the Indie scene in particular: its diversity. I mean, you can talk about things like social contract and considerate play, but the vast majority of that stuff is just basic good manners anyway so I'm not convinced that it's an intrinsic part of the hobby.

    -Ash
  • Can you explain this a bit more: Observing the RPG contract, aka maintaining character/player separation"?
  • Posted By: DestriarchBeyond that, I don't think there are any similarities that bridge all circumstances or examples.
    This is perfectly true -- and I'm not looking for things which cover every single example. I'm looking for things which exist on all sides of the divide(s), even if not every game ever features them.
    Posted By: GB SteveCan you explain this a bit more: Observing the RPG contract, aka maintaining character/player separation"?
    RPG contract is the social contract that says that you and your character are separate entities: your character might be a homophobe, but it's not OK for me to make assumptions regarding you based on that. Likewise, just because you might be conflict-oriented I should not assume your characters are -- and so forth. (It is an abstraction, obviously: of course there is leakage in between you and your character, and between my idea of you and your character.)
  • edited March 2010
    Posted By: nikodemusI'm looking for things which exist on all sides of the divide(s), even if not every game ever features them.
    Given the amount of crossover and diversity in all three sectors, that would seem to cover practically everything...

    -Ash
  • Posted By: nikodemusmaintaining character/player separation.
    Not a universal constant; see Spionefor example, where character traits/events are derived from actual player experience.
  • Both traditional and indie games generally rely on one person to facilitate/explain/run the game.

    Even GMless indie games tacitly rely on this: when you play Polaris, you need someone who knows all the rules and can guide newcomers through them.

    Graham
  • edited March 2010
    Posted By: GrahamBoth traditional and indie games generally rely on one person to facilitate/explain/run the game.

    Even GMless indie games tacitly rely on this: when you play Polaris, you need someone who knows all the rules and can guide newcomers through them.
    I'm increasingly seeing examples where this isn't the case. For example, there is no official GM type person in Capes, and in many games (i.e. MSG) the position rotates between the available players. It rather goes without saying that you need someone who understands the rules, but that would be true of ANY game regardless of its type or genre. You can't play Contract Bridge if nobody knows how. On the whole though I think this does say a lot about group dynamics, in that even when a game has no official GM written into its rules, it is common for one person within the game to rise to a position where they are practically acting as a GM. This may be due to pack dominance and peer pressures, or it may be due to preconceived expectations on the part of the traditionalist role-players that make up much of the target audience.

    -Ash
  • Since "indie", as far as I know, only describes commercial arrangement and not any concept in the game itself, there is no real difference between any of those terms except in how they reach the public.
  • Jason, I think the readers of this thread will all have different ideas of which games are "indie" and which are "traditional", etc, but since we're just talking about the similarities between those games, is there any need to argue about what those categories are, and how to define them? I really hope not. It's probably not going to happen here with any degree of success.
  • Posted By: GrahamBoth traditional and indie games generally rely on one person to facilitate/explain/run the game.
    Also only nigh-universal. Serial Homicide Unit doesn't require this. The game uses an audio recording to teach the game as people play it.

    If there are commonalities, they're very close the the fundamentals of the form: Communicate with your fellow players to create a shared imagined space. Good techniques fall into categories: Those that enhance communication (like the mentioned "don't be a jerk" rule), or shape the sharing/communication in some way; and those that serve to inspire and/or shape the imaginations of the participants.
  • Like Michael says, this discussion may as well be "what are the core elements of a roleplaying game"? A spontaneously created narrative are the only two I can come up with off the top of my head the use of a system to resolve narrative questions or introduce random elements to feed creation.
  • Posted By: Paul T.Jason, I think the readers of this thread will all have different ideas of which games are "indie" and which are "traditional", etc, but since we're just talking about the similarities between those games, is there any need to argue about what those categories are, and how to define them? I really hope not. It's probably not going to happen here with any degree of success.
    A hell of a lot of people worked very hard over many years to define indie as "outside the three tier distribution system", now they just want to throw that away?! What did I fight with them all those years, and eventually grudgingly give in for?!
  • How are "indie", "mainstream" and "trad" games similar?
    They all inspire argument on the internet!

    More seriously, I'd point to years of Forge theory as a list of qualities that those types of games share. That is, a taxonomy that includes setting, character, situation, system, and color. A social contract binding it all together, implying more than one player. Ephemera or moments of play. The idea of stances, implying the idea of player vs. character.
  • Posted By: Adam DrayHow are "indie", "mainstream" and "trad" games similar?
    A social contract binding it all together, implying more than one player.The one player thing is one I've been wondering about. I like to think How to Host a Dungeon is a story game.
  • edited March 2010
    Posted By: JDCorleyA hell of a lot of people worked very hard over many years to define indie as "outside the three tier distribution system", now they just want to throw that away?! What did I fight with them all those years, and eventually grudgingly give in for?!
    Er, says who? The term Indie has been used for years in the music industry before it came to the RPG industry, and has always defied official definition. I still like the original meaning of the term from way back, which can approximately be rendered as 'owned by its creator.' Furthermore many Indie games go through the 3-tier system. There's even a fulfilment / distribution company called Indie Press Revolution. I don't think you're going to get a consensus on this one, I'm afraid.

    -Ash
  • Posted By: nikodemusI'm interested in their similarities
    Maybe:
    * They involve people getting together for a length of time
    * They are activities that can break the ice and even help build friendships
    * The "win conditions" for them are more personal than they are prescribed by the game.

    - Ryan
  • Sorry, I meant "creator owned", which again, has nothing to do with the content. But I guess if we're giving that up forever, fine by me, I never liked it.
  • edited March 2010
    Posted By: Ryan MacklinPosted By: nikodemusI'm interested in their similarities
    Maybe:
    * They involve people getting together for a length of time
    * They are activities that can break the ice and even help build friendships
    * The "win conditions" for them are more personal than they are prescribed by the game.
    Again, there are exceptions to some of these. Though rare, there are RPGs designed to be single player (I must admit that the only one I can think of right now is J. Morningstar's (I think) the Plant, but I'm sure there are others.) Similarly, I've seen quite a few RPGs with absolute set-in-stone win conditions too. I think Piledrivers and Powerbombs may have 'em, Ganakagok certainly does as does Roanoke, and there may be others.

    I do like the idea of breaking ice and building friendships, though again this may be more a function of group dynamics than an intrinsic part of the hobby and there may well be cases where an RPG would actually get in the way of this, if some of the group were seriously anti.

    But then I think that pretty much anything we say beyond the very basic core of the hobby will have its exceptions. Maybe we should learn to see the beauty of the exception rather than ring the similarities?

    -Ash
  • Why are we getting into "yeah but what about this" type arguments? The OP's been pretty clear in his desire to capture things that are common, generally, to all such games.

    I'd say in most RPGs, regardless of where they fall on the design tree, focus on people pretending to be people they aren't. In some cases, the game-as-played doesn't meet this intent, but that intent is more-or-less constant in my experience.
  • Posted By: Robert BohlWhy are we getting into "yeah but what about this" type arguments? The OP's been pretty clear in his desire to capture things that are common,generally, to all such games.

    I'd say in most RPGs, regardless of where they fall on the design tree, focus on people pretending to be people they aren't. In some cases, the game-as-played doesn't meet this intent, but that intent is more-or-less constant in my experience.
    Yep, that's pretty much the core definition of RPGs, and I think we already covered it. But to add something new to the thread, most RPGs that I have ever read (with no notable exceptions that I can think of) concentrate on powerful, dramatic events. Usually this boils down to some kind of fighting, an investigation or mystery of some kind, or a clash of personalities a 'la soap operas. I don't know of any RPGs that deliberately go out of their way to model everyday, mundane occurrences. Such things are usually hand-waved past without a second glance.

    An obvious thing maybe, but it is something that I beleive is near-universal.

    -Ash
  • Posted By: JDCorleySorry, I meant "creator owned", which again, has nothing to do with the content. But I guess if we're giving that up forever, fine by me, I never liked it.
    It's perfectly possible for a word to have two - or more - meanings, which are understood to be different depending on context.

    For instance, it's clear in this case the OP is using "indie" to mean non-traditional game mechanics, as opposed to non-traditional publishing methods. If this was a discussion of publishing methods, that context would lead to the word indie being understood differently.

    I wonder if your previous arguments about the meaning of the word, and investment in those arguments, has led you to forget this.
  • edited March 2010
    Off-topic post removed.
  • Posted By: NomdePlumeI wonder if your previous arguments about the meaning of the word, and investment in those arguments, has led you to forget this.
    Oh, no! In fact that's what I argued! But everyone else said "NO, it means CREATOR OWNED ONLY" and eventually I came around to their way of thinking. Oh well. Joke's on me.
  • Let's keep the definition debate out of this thread, ok?

    Let's also keep the "but LOOK AN EXCEPTION!" cries out, ok? Anything that is reasonably represented on both sides of the fence is considered common ground.

    For example, for the purposes of this thread "There is a single separate GM" is a valid generalization: several mainstream games do that, as well as several indie games -- it doesn't matter that there are a ton games where this is not true.

    You know, "there are black dogs and black cats" -- existence of white dogs and cats doesn't make that statement untrue. Now, if it turns out there is just a single black dog... then you can point at that sentence and laugh.
  • Jason said,
    Since "indie", as far as I know, only describes commercial arrangement and not any concept in the game itself, there is no real difference between any of those terms except in how they reach the public.

    Yeah. I'm boggling at the question. I just don't know where to start discussing it.

  • Hm. I guess the question is, "What things to RPGs tend to have in common?"

    • They involve at least two people engaging in a social endeavor.
    • They are creating fictional circumstances, including setting, characters, actions, and frames of reference.
    • They rely on a level beyond "good sportsmanship" to have a good time. (E.g. Most games don't have win/loss conditions.)
    • They rely on the credibility of the players' statements to make the fiction be "true". (E.g. No matter how many times the GM says, "Rocks fall, everyone dies", it doesn't matter if the players move on to the next adventure. No matter how much one player describes their character raping another, if the other players refuse to acknowledge it, it didn't happen.)
    • They rely on constrained randomness or other logical complexity to represent risk and unexpected outcomes.
  • Nikodemus gave us some guidelines that may help:
    Posted By: nikodemusI'm interested in their similarities, especially in terms of participant skills and practices (be participants players, GMs, or equal co-creators) that foster good play.
    So similarities in a) skills and practices that b) foster good play.

    Perhaps things like:

    * Play is best when everyone is attentive and engaged.
    * Players are expected to play by the rules, as interpreted/amended by the group. Cheating (fudging die rolls) is generally not okay unless the players all agree to it.
  • I promise to address the post topic right after this!

    Indie games are creator owned.

    Creator owned does not define the game’s content. But it does influence it!

    Game content in larger companies are often driven by pure economic reasons. They have business needs, overhead, employees… generally more on the line.

    This creates restrictions. A lot of my friends who have worked at or for Wizards of the Coast and Paizo want to work on scifi games. But fantasy sells. An equivalent scifi game might sell only 20% of what their fantasy games sell for. And if they want to take risks, that might mean delving into horror, maybe superheroes.

    Restrictions are not limited to theme. But everything. Your game supports a certain number of players. Focuses mainly on combat. Is built to be incomplete or expanded on to pave the way for more product.

    Even your art direction is limited by these restrictions. You know a cover featuring a female elf or dragon like creator or something with large horns, depicting violence or the potential for violence is going to sell more.

    Plus if you want to sell in retail stores you want to publish a big book (even if the game suffers due to the size) because you can sell it at a certain price point and you have a thicker spine that stands out when facing out on book shelves. Or you go for the box set so that you have better store presence in non-gaming bookstores or are next to the boardgames.

    Creator owned does not define your game’s content. But it means way less restrictions. You have less on the line. You don’t answer to anyone. You can do anything you want. Even if no one in the world will care about it. Even if it is doomed to sell poorly. It doesn’t matter.

    Now creator owned games can be modeled after larger businesses (and large businesses sometimes take surprisingly huge risks or publish secondary content in addition to their main lines as experiments). And they can make the same exact games for the same reasons and have similar goals. But they don’t have to. At least not to be successful. Your success does not have to equal money.

    And although creator owned does not equal games about super niche subjects or games with no combat, creator owned makes it much, much more likely (although this depends on what’s popular, you could define traditional content as “sells well” and indie content as “doesn’t matter how well it sells”). Which is why I feel “creator owned” and certain styles of games are often linked even though the definition of indie is not content specific.
  • Similarities are…

    > it’s social (people play together)

    > it’s a conversation (listening and communicating is key)

    > it’s creative (create fiction powered by your imagination)

    > trust is needed to play

    > it’s cheap

    > it’s highly customizable (what matters is what you agree matters)

    Rock,
    John
  • I think the point that almost all RPGs focus on dramatic action is astute.
  • edited March 2010
    Niko, there's a lot of good stuff in the aphorisms and maxims thread.
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