rpgs as toys

edited January 2015 in Story Games
Had some thoughts this afternoon that are shaking up my perspective on games.

Basically, what happens when we start treating and analyzing traditional RPGs as toys, rather than games?

http://tenthousandmogs.com/?p=108
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Comments

  • I don't think most traditional gamers would agree.
  • @Bedrockbrendan-- I mean, yeah, I'm aware that this is not the common perspective, but it explains some things that I'd been struggling to understand using existing models.

    If it's not a useful perspective, I'd like to hear where it falls apart for you.
  • edited January 2015
    @Bedrockbrendan-- I mean, yeah, I'm aware that this is not the common perspective, but it explains some things that I'd been struggling to understand using existing models.

    If it's not a useful perspective, I'd like to hear where it falls apart for you.
    For me it falls apart in the same way some of the other observations in the other thread do (where a traditional gamer's not playing or wanting to play indie games is attributed to mainly negative qualities---lack of imagination, a desire to stay the past, fear of change, etc). This analysis essentially says we don't get indie games because we still fundamentally are playing with GI Joes and dolls. To me that isn't really an analysis, it is an analogy meant to make indie gamers feel good about themselves at the expense of traditional gamers, and I feel it doesn't offer any real insight into why traditional gamers don't tend to play indie games (I think there are a lot of complex reasons for it that have to do with taste and preference, not a lack of intellect, imagination or maturity). It also falls apart because if you look at some of the more comprehensive systems out there or games where there is a lot of emphasis on things like optimization and RAW, it is pretty clear to me that those are examples of RPGs where people very much want a game. I don't think it is that indie gamers want to play games and traditional gamers want toys, they just have different attitudes about what rules contribute to play. Obviously there are important differences, I just don't think they are differences we can ascribe to character or quality of intellect.

    And just want to clarify here since posts like this can't convey tone. I am not trying to attack you or at all angry, I just think this off the mark in a way that isn't productive.
  • Hmm, I suppose I should check my tone, but my feeling toward "play" is not at all disparaging. I think non-game play is as important, requires as much or more creativity, intellect, etc. as game-play.

    I own and play with lots of toys. And for what it's worth, I am and have been an almost exclusively "traditional gamer," and despite having experienced hundreds of hours of fulfilling play, I just couldn't describe almost any instance of that play as happening as part of a "game" by any useful definition.
  • Hmm, I suppose I should check my tone, but my feeling toward "play" is not at all disparaging. I think non-game play is as important, requires as much or more creativity, intellect, etc. as game-play.

    I own and play with lots of toys. And for what it's worth, I am and have been an almost exclusively "traditional gamer," and despite having experienced hundreds of hours of fulfilling play, I just couldn't describe almost any instance of that play as happening as part of a "game" by any useful definition.
    How are you defining game?
  • edited January 2015
    I'm suspicious of anything which involves painting "story gamers are like this, but traditional gamers are like that". It's generalization in a way that's hard to prove, or even offer much in the way of evidence for, and it assumes that there's easily generalizable categories of where people fall. Let alone whether it's trivializing of one side or another (which to be clear, I'm not accusing you of. I'm just saying, it's been done before, and will be done again).

    In any case, I also find the analogy not that convincing? I spent 3-4 hours a day playing basketball while growing up, and most of that time was playing in a structured game of basketball, or undertaking exercises in order to get better at that. Whether it was full-court, or 21, or Horse, a lot of that was just games. We did just hang out around and shoot sometimes, but the vast majority of basketball was a game.

    Similarly, if we take one subsection of what I'm going to assume you'd lump into traditional play, people playing in the Pathfinder Society, players get goals through the modules, they get a large amount of tools that are defined in meaningful detail how they affect achieving those goals, and GMs are given defined obstacles to oppose them, as well as lots of guidelines on how to resolve vagueness or handle going off-track. At the end, if you achieve the goals, you get rewards!

    If I look at tons of what you'd probably call story games, I've got clear calls to theme, and some resolution techniques, but the goals of the game are often more centered in things like "tell an interesting story using these tools". Often times, when there are conflicts, we might just resolve it through talking about it. That sounds like play!

    Are improv games more games or more play?

    I'm not saying that flipping it is actually better: I'm just saying I think it holds either way.

    I'd hate for this to go in the "what is a game?" direction. ( http://www.lostgarden.com/2014/12/top-5-design-debates-i-ignored-in-2014.html ) I just don't know if this is a helpful or clear distinction when applied to story games/trad games.

  • Yeah, I'm not feeling this one either; If anything, I feel traditional RPGs have MORE of the trappings of a "game" (turn taking, loss conditions (TPK), lots of "if then" stuff) versus more rules light products that are often more about, like James said "tell an interesting story" and lack a lot of the aforementioned stuff.

    I mean heck, if you use THESE definitions here:
    http://keithburgun.net/interactive-forms/

    Then none of this stuff even gets out of the "toy" category. So... yeah. Don't think so.
  • I agree with all the comments so far, in particular the comments which discuss how structured some "traditional" RPGs are (like a D&D tournament) and how loose some "story games" are (e.g. Archipelago, Jeepform, etc.).

    However, I do also think that this article points to something quite valid, actually.

    I remember one of my fondest RPG sessions as a teenager was a D&D game where we sat around a table, waiting for the DM to show up... and he never did.

    But we didn't know that. We were expecting him to come in at any moment. So, after a time, one of the players started speaking in character. We asked him a few questions; he started telling a story about some of his adventures. Eventually, we all started telling stories about our characters and asking each other questions.

    It was one of the most fun nights we'd had in the whole campaign!

    Were we playing a game we'd made up on the spot? Or "playing", in the sense of exploratory fun? Hard to say.

    I do know, though, that a typical indie game designer (including myself) would want to slap some structure on that experience, make it repeatable, and make the fun parts more consistently achievable. It's a very valid goal, but it does limit the exploratory nature of the thing.

    Comparing Legos to Hungry Hippos (for those who are familiar with the reference) as a metaphor for different types of RPGs is very apt, I think.

    The line isn't quite as clear as the article is making it out to be (I don't think it's as simple as "trad games" versus "indie games", since both range all over the map), but there's definitely a continuum here which is interesting to think about.

  • edited January 2015
    I think I also basically agree with all the comments made so far. I'm not sure how far we can go without getting mired in defining a "game," but I'd like to push as far as we can go with the definition presented, ie:

    Non-game play - "Freedom from all but personally imposed rules, no goals."
    Game-play - "Externally imposed rules, goals."

    I'm seeing the limitation of delineating between "traditional" and "indie." Better to say "things that imposes [procedural] rules and goals" and "things that don't." And I agree that there's a continuum between the two.

    The point of drawing this delineation or continuum is that it provides multiple modes for evaluation. Something that seems poor when evaluated as a game may shine when evaluated as a toy, and vice versa. Awareness of these multiple modes of evaluation is another tool for designers, esp. with regard to presenting their design.

    @James_Stuart, re: basketball:
    It's certainly most often played with in the context of game, but the basketball, hoop, and court don't prescribe procedure or goal. These toys suggest certain types of play, but the rules of the game are a fully separate entity, and can therefore be changed or iterated independently. Hence the multiple different games that have been developed using the same toys.

    Likewise with Pathfinder/Society. Pathfinder can be used to play games, but the goals and procedures of those games are not prescribed by Pathfinder. Pathfinder can also be used for non-game play, or for game-play that is different from Pathfinder Society game-play. The game is external to the material found in the book.

    Is this making any further sense? This is a very new idea to me, and I'll walk away from it if I have to, but I don't want to give up on it until I feel like I've expressed it clearly.
  • edited January 2015
    Have you heard of Keith Burgun? Check out these articles:

    The Four Interactive Forms
    Toy -> Puzzle -> Contest -> Game

    3 Minute Game Design: Episode 2 - The Forms
    A video of the said article

    Game Systems as Engines
    Expansion of the first article

    Toys and the Adult Mind
    Examples of toys for adults

    ---

    I just want to say that I agree with you, and Keith Burgun is why I can say that "roleplaying games are not games; they are game engines". Game engines are classified as toys.
    It’s a toy. A toy provides a structure for play.
    I'm not really sure what you mean with this. You try to explain it in the same paragraph, but when I read what I quoted I think that, when you got a toy, you make up the structure of play while playing with it. Kids do that all the time with their games. "Now the floor is lava. Quick, jump up on the furnitures!" Sure, a toy may come with a structure of play, like football, but is that the nature of the toy? I think it's normally just an influence of what to do while playing. Like you said: "...but sometimes it’s purely exploratory. A toy might constrain or suggest certain types of play, but it doesn’t tell you what to do with it, or what the goal of your play should be. "
  • edited January 2015
    I don't think calling RPGS, and traditional RPGS in particular, toys at all illuminates the situation. I have to say in all honesty, as a non-indie player, when I see responses like that (and frankly I am heartened that the majority of people appear to disagree with the OP on this one) it makes me wonder if the person is at all capable of looking at games and rpgs without trying to establish a hierarchy that always places their preferred approach at the apex in some way. RPGs are toys doesn't seem like analysis to me at all. Again, I also think by doing that you fail to understand why games like D&D are so popular (it certainly isn't because it is a toy).

    Again, not trying to come across as angry or to insult over this. I just don't understand the need to frame it this way. It would be like if I kept trying understand why someone liked playing checkers, but insisted on analogies that compared checkers to things like learning to breastfeed or masterbation. I might not even intend to be insulting, but surely it is obvious that if those are my analogies, the person who likes chess and doesn't think of breastfeeding when he does it, is going to take exception. It isn't going to advance the conversation at all.
  • edited January 2015
    I agree with all the comments so far, in particular the comments which discuss how structured some "traditional" RPGs are (like a D&D tournament) and how loose some "story games" are (e.g. Archipelago, Jeepform, etc.).

    However, I do also think that this article points to something quite valid, actually.

    I remember one of my fondest RPG sessions as a teenager was a D&D game where we sat around a table, waiting for the DM to show up... and he never did.

    But we didn't know that. We were expecting him to come in at any moment. So, after a time, one of the players started speaking in character. We asked him a few questions; he started telling a story about some of his adventures. Eventually, we all started telling stories about our characters and asking each other questions.

    It was one of the most fun nights we'd had in the whole campaign!

    Were we playing a game we'd made up on the spot? Or "playing", in the sense of exploratory fun? Hard to say.

    I do know, though, that a typical indie game designer (including myself) would want to slap some structure on that experience, make it repeatable, and make the fun parts more consistently achievable. It's a very valid goal, but it does limit the exploratory nature of the thing.

    Comparing Legos to Hungry Hippos (for those who are familiar with the reference) as a metaphor for different types of RPGs is very apt, I think.

    The line isn't quite as clear as the article is making it out to be (I don't think it's as simple as "trad games" versus "indie games", since both range all over the map), but there's definitely a continuum here which is interesting to think about.

    I think the big dividing line between a lot of these different approaches is where the structure needs to be. But the freeform situation you describe isn't necessarily one that a all mainstream RPGs these days would support. For instance 3E has a lot of rules governing social interactions between characters. It doesn't take it to the level of social combat, but you have skills for things like Diplomacy and Bluffing. So there is a structure there if people want to use it. I've actually been in a lot of debates with people who play D&D and Pathfinder about the subject of roleplaying and what it actually means (and here I mean Roleplaying in the sense of the playing your character in social or non-combat situations). Some people view it purely as speaking in character in the first person. Some view more as a third person activity. And others view it more as a simulation of a personality. Those are all viewpoints you will find within the mainstream and traditional RPG community. Some of those viewpoints are supportive of structure, some want more freedom. But even if you have someone like me who is entirely comfortable with freeform role-play, because I feel mechanics often do get in the way for how I like to deal with that, I like structure in other parts of the game and I like to follow the rules pretty closely. It is just for social interactions I feel it works better to simply have a good handle on your NPCs and play them accordingly (and for the PCs to do the same).

    I think people might be picking up on the "rulings, not rules" sentiment and assume that means the GM should do whatever he wants just like a child on a playground who suddenly decides "we're doing this now". But it is important to keep in mind not everyone in the mainstream likes rulings not rules (there is a large contingent of RAW players who play 3E and pathfinder and 4E), and for those who do embrace it, there are some guidelines for how it is supposed to work. The way I use it, is I play the system RAW, but deviate from the system when a result it would produce strains plausibility or when the mechanic in question just fails to address the situation in a meaningful way. My next step is to try to use an existing mechanic in the system to address the situation (trying to extrapolate on something that already exists for example). This is "the GM as referee" approach. It isn't just the GM declaring things, he or she needs to build the trust of the players for that to work, and to build trust you have to work on the art of adjudication. For me it is begins with the notion of being fair to my players and being willing to admit when I make a bad call (and reverse that call).

    So to me, labeling this a toy misses what is going on. If you want to compare that kind of play to something (and that is essentially all people are doing here is making analogies), then I would say it is more like a craft than a toy. But that doesn't make it less of a game. A big part of the excitement for me as a GM is not knowing what the outcomes will be. I like that I don't know how things are going to end, that the dice introduce twists and turns I never expected and that the players choices have weight. In the hands of a open minded and experienced GM, you can achieve that in traditional play.
  • Yeah, I think this is a real thing, but I don't think the article gets the taxonomy quite right. And even I agree that it comes down a little hard on trad games and gamers. Many trad games are pretty goal-oriented, and by design.

    This phenomenon, though, where someone unfamiliar with indie RPGs resents being told "what to do" by the game's rules? Totally a real thing. That desire for total creative freedom, for the advertising that says, "RPGs are games where you can try anything you can imagine!" to be true. And of course, it isn't true, regardless of the toy/game distinction. In addition to formalized rules, you have genre conventions, table etiquette, things like that.

    One interesting intermediate phenomenon is games that have "dials." See, for example, the 5E DMG's discussion of different fantasy sub-genres, or the Burning Wheel Magic Burner, where you choose which magic sub-systems are in play and which aren't, or all of GURPS. This is analogous to having a variety of games you can play with a basketball and a court or half-court: HORSE, 2-on-2, traditional 5-on-5, etc.

    Without passing judgment, I do think more games could benefit from being more explicit about how they are intended to be used. I mean, if a game says, you know, these rules do a good job of modeling this world or this genre, but it's up to the GM to bring a strong hand to the plot, I'd like to know that, you know?
  • edited January 2015
    RPGs are completely toys, and that's what makes them wonderful.

    Edited to add:
    Actually, I think there's something very useful about thinking about them all as toys: It frees up options design-wise in terms of thinking.
  • edited January 2015
    I think people objecting should differ between what's going on while playing and what the game manual consist of. I'm talking about the latter, but where roleplaying games only become games during the prep to play - when, in traditional roleplaying games, the game master have created the game by writing an adventure. An adventure that has goals, challenges and restrictions, and creates situations for decision-making.

    To me, the adventures are games but the roleplaying games are, in most cases, only game engines. The Half-Life engine is not a game, but Counter Strike is.
  • edited January 2015
    Yeah, I think this is a real thing, but I don't think the article gets the taxonomy quite right. And even I agree that it comes down a little hard on trad games and gamers. Many trad games are pretty goal-oriented, and by design.

    This phenomenon, though, where someone unfamiliar with indie RPGs resents being told "what to do" by the game's rules? Totally a real thing. That desire for total creative freedom, for the advertising that says, "RPGs are games where you can try anything you can imagine!" to be true. And of course, it isn't true, regardless of the toy/game distinction. In addition to formalized rules, you have genre conventions, table etiquette, things like that.
    I totally get there are meaningful differences between them. I am just saying we can discuss those without putting one in a box that is filled with positive vibes and one in a box filled with negative vibes. If you are doing that, I have to question whether you really want to engage in analysis that has the goal of understanding what is going on.

    So sure, story games and indie games tend to have more structures in place and greater focus on certain things. I do think you are right that many traditional gamers find indie approaches constricting because a lot of times they offer fixes for things that a traditional gamer just doesn't see as a problem.

    Without passing judgment, I do think more games could benefit from being more explicit about how they are intended to be used. I mean, if a game says, you know, these rules do a good job of modeling this world or this genre, but it's up to the GM to bring a strong hand to the plot, I'd like to know that, you know?
    I may be missing what you are looking for here, so hopefully this isn't off the mark. Feel free to clarify this further if I do miss your concern.

    One thing to understand here is people have very different views on what plot actually means in the context of an RPG. Some groups want a kind of story to emerge and the GM (as you say) to have a strong hand in making it happen) but that is a rarity among traditional gamers in my experience. Most groups I have been in, expect the GM to handle the set up, but want freedom to explore the situation and for the situation to develop organically around that.

    Keep in mind many traditional games do just that. Lamentations of the Flame Princess (which I think is pretty traditional) is rather explicit in the GM section on how the game is meant to be played. A lot of games neglect this (and I have certainly been guilty of this at times) because they assume anyone buying it is already familiar with RPGs and knows the drill. Even the 1E DMG, if you read it through, gets pretty explicit about what kind of prep you are supposed to do, how the game is supposed to be run, and exploration and turn increment procedures for dungeons. The 2E DMG kind of backpedaled off that and had this weird blind spot where it didn't get into the details of prep and exploration, but 3E arguably went into this stuff in a lot of detail with its back to the dungeon approach. And it really gave a clear idea of how it saw play, prep and adventure in my view.

    I think one of the reasons some rpgs don't address how the GM is supposed to handle things in explicit terms is because they want to leave that up to the individual group. Some people like plot, some people like exploration, some people like adventure paths, etc. If a game picks one approach, it limits its appeal. The assumption here I believe is a given group will already have its own way of handling this or arrive at one through various GM advice sources.

    This touches on the issue that the broader the appeal of the game (D&D would probably be an example here) the more of a blank slate you might want to be because any given game group is going to a diverse collection of preferences and tastes. I think this is the lesson from 4E. It did a very good job at appealing to a particular set of players, but in so doing alienated people like me. Genre emulation is fine for a niche game. My games are more traditional but within the traditional format we do a lot of genre emulation....but that means we are a bit niche in terms of appeal. I also love games that have a cool core conceit and focus on a particular kind of adventure (for example investigations or political intrigue). But the thing you run into with that stuff is most game groups are made up of 4-6 different people with wildly different tastes. I can have a much more successful long term campaign, if the core game doesn't insist on any particular kind of play and I am allowed to draw on all my players preferences to cobble together something everyone likes.
  • edited January 2015
    @Rickard, Thanks for the Keith Burgun referral, I was ignorant of him, but he nicely expresses this idea here:
    "Let me clarify these a bit, because some of these words might have connotations that I don’t mean, but they’re as close as I could get with the words I could find.

    Toy – A Toy is any interactive system without a goal / problem to solve. This is not meant to imply any kind of correlation with “childishness” or anything. You can also call this a Bare Interactive System. Many simulators fall into this category.

    Play – I mean “play” as in the expression “to play with”, or “to mess with”. This isn’t to say that this work is necessarily trivial, but rather that it’s exploratory.

    Mapping – This is the result of the play I was talking about. With play, we are finding edges, figuring out how a thing will respond. Eventually we end up with some kind of mapping of how this thing works. Interestingly, you could say that the object of a toy is to discover its rules.

    HOW CAN WE USE THIS? A good toy will have a vast amount of rules to discover. Think Legos, or Minecraft, or a ball."
    -from http://keithburgun.net/game-systems-as-engines/
    I think people objecting should differ between what's going on while playing and what the game manual consist of. I'm talking about the latter, but where roleplaying games only become games during the prep to play - when, in traditional roleplaying games, the game master have created the game by writing an adventure. An adventure that has goals, challenges and restrictions, and creates situations for decision-making.
    Yes. This conversation requires a differentiation between what's in the book and what happens at the table.

    And to re-iterate, I'd like to walk back as far as possible from talking about "indie" vs "traditional," because those terms are loaded and not neatly categorized. This is all about whether a book gives you procedures and agendas.

    Recently, I've seen designers begin to hold the imposition of procedure and agendas as an ideal--the point is to criticize that ideal, because while it makes the book a more complete game, it makes it a worse toy. Think of a basketball with the rules for horse printed on it and an warning that says "use only for horse." I already know how to play 21, and its annoying to be told I'm doing it wrong.

    I'm also getting pretty tired of the basketball metaphor, trust me.

  • edited January 2015
    @Rickard, Thanks for the Keith Burgun referral, I was ignorant of him, but he nicely expresses this idea here:
    "Let me clarify these a bit, because some of these words might have connotations that I don’t mean, but they’re as close as I could get with the words I could find.

    Toy – A Toy is any interactive system without a goal / problem to solve. This is not meant to imply any kind of correlation with “childishness” or anything.
    /.../

    Yes. This conversation requires a differentiation between what's in the book and what happens at the table.
    This is the problem with people. They a) jump to conclusion based on b) their assumptions which will lead to c) defending their own fixed positions, and that wont lead anywhere.

    If people could 1) ask questions to 2) get a better understanding, that would lead to 3) acceptance of other people's views.

    I'm not saying that people need to agree with everything. Feel free to disagree, but ask the source "why" before you start a keyboard war field to defend what YOU prefer. If you ask questions, that will open up for acceptance, rather than defensive behavior that makes you incapable of taking in new perspectives. It's not always a matter of what YOU prefer or YOUR perspective of things ... @Bedrockbrendan and @Deliverator, whom both has shown this first tendency in two recent threads now.
  • edited January 2015


    I'm not saying that people need to agree with everything. Feel free to disagree, but ask the source "why" before you start a keyboard war field to defend what YOU prefer. If you ask questions, that will open up for acceptance, rather than defensive behavior that makes you incapable of taking in new perspectives. It's not always a matter of what YOU prefer or YOUR perspective of things ... @Bedrockbrendan and @Deliverator, whom both has shown this first tendency in two recent threads now.
    Rickard, I think I have been quite polite and reasonable here. I also feel like I am asking why, and asking people here to ask questions about some of the assumptions they have. If every attempt to explain my tastes is going to be done using analogies that pretty much anyone would perceive as insulting, no amount of qualification of those analogies is going to help. I am not going to let the terms of the conversation be set in or framed in a way that paints what I like as infantile or lacking creativity. The OP created a questionable analogy. People don't have to accept your analogies. This wasn't just about the insulting implication of it, it was also that I just am not seeing the whole "toy as an interactive system without a goal or problem to solve". Not only is that a bad description of a toy, it is a terrible description of D&D.
  • @Rickard: I think actually, the discussion seems to be clarifying lots of people's positions, the author is expanding on several of his ideas fruitfully (and moving away from some of the phrasing).

    I think asserting that people are being defensive and being "incapable of taking in new perspectives" is pretty harsh, and then calling out two people in specific is likely to pull this conversation off into a metathread of "who thinks who is being a jerk".

    So I'm going to ask you to not do that, and I'm going to ask the people mentioned to not respond to that.

  • @Rickard: I think actually, the discussion seems to be clarifying lots of people's positions, the author is expanding on several of his ideas fruitfully (and moving away from some of the phrasing).

    I think asserting that people are being defensive and being "incapable of taking in new perspectives" is pretty harsh, and then calling out two people in specific is likely to pull this conversation off into a metathread of "who thinks who is being a jerk".

    So I'm going to ask you to not do that, and I'm going to ask the people mentioned to not respond to that.

    I responded before I saw this. If you want me to delete it, I can do so.

  • And to show what I mean with 1-3.
    Recently, I've seen designers begin to hold the imposition of procedure and agendas as an ideal--the point is to criticize that ideal, because while it makes the book a more complete game, it makes it a worse toy. Think of a basketball with the rules for horse printed on it and an warning that says "use only for horse." I already know how to play 21, and its annoying to be told I'm doing it wrong.
    It seems like you talked about a lot of things in this paragraph and I don't follow you.

    Is the procedure and agenda wrong? Is it that what you want to criticize?

    Why do the procedures and agendas make it a worse toy?

    I don't understand the basketball example. What is the example trying to show?
  • Agreed that "plot" is pretty poorly-defined. I was just giving that example because some games sort of "run themselves" once you do the setup (even if there's a GM; 3:16 probably falls into this category), whereas in others—even if they're very "indie"—you do kind of need the GM to create a fair amount of content (DRYH, for example).

    I would point out, also, that Lamentations is more of an OSR game than a trad game. I mean, taxonomy is imprecise blah blah blah, but certainly my own experiences have a clear trad/indie/OSR trichotomy.

    Regarding the various D&D DMGs: you know, one thing that's weird about those is how much of the content people just ignore. I personally find them laid out in a way that's not intuitive to really incorporating all their principles. I'm struggling with this in 5E a bit right now. Because you're right, of course: 3E's DMG, for example, lays out very clear procedures for dungeon delving... that no one (IME) played with.
  • @Bedrockbrendan,

    It's valuable to hear that you feel insulted, because I don't want to insult you, because I don't hold an insulting view of you.

    In some instances, you've pointed out things I should have said differently, or not at all. In some instances, it feels like you are responding to things I haven't said--In which case I can try to clarify.

    So let me try to clarify. The things to which I've compared RPGs are:
    This cool thing
    Basketballs
    Legos

    From my perspective, these are positive comparisons. Can you help me understand which comparisons are insulting?

    I just am not seeing the whole "toy as an interactive system without a goal or problem to solve". Not only is that a bad description of a toy, it is a terrible description of D&D.
    I think, for purposes of this conversation, we may be forced to accept that definition of toy. Given that, in what ways does D&D defy that description?

    @Rickard,

    It's not wrong to prescribe procedure and agenda if your goal is to design a game. If your goal is to design a toy, then prescribing procedure and agenda might make your toy less interesting.

    I'm thinking that a toy's quality is defined by how well it supports exploratory play. Legos are a great toy because they can interact and be played with in nearly unlimited variety. By adding building instructions to the Legos, you begin to prescribe an external procedure and agenda to that play. The instructions make Legos a better game, but a worse toy, since they cut out a large percentage of the possible interesting play.

    Identifying what you're trying to design (on a continuum of toy<-->game) is crucial to deciding how much to prescribe.
  • @Bedrockbrendan: Let's not delete your earlier post, but let's not continue it.

    @Dirk: I can't speak for Brendan (although I think earlier posts hint that he's not accusing you of being insulting, just of the potential).

    I think there's a rich history of people trying to be like: "that isn't a game!" "that isn't art!" A lot of the time that is pejorative. I've had larpers look down their noses at Nordic games, etc, etc. So I think whenever you try to redefine an experience others are having as "not a game", it's going to hit that touchstone. You can fight that with giving stipulative definitions, and with asserting that it's not pejorative. It's just the terrain of the "what is a game/art?" debate: it's fraught.
  • This wasn't just about the insulting implication of it, it was also that I just am not seeing the whole "toy as an interactive system without a goal or problem to solve". Not only is that a bad description of a toy, it is a terrible description of D&D.
    Here's where I get confused.

    A) What is insulting about referring to something as a toy using that definition (Yes, yes, "toy" is generally seen as a little bit derogatory, but it's not if you just use the definition)
    B) How does that definition NOT match RPGs? Fundamentally, RPGs contain no goals. They don't have a win condition. You might create one during play ("Save the prince from the dragon!") but that's essentially the same as me pointing you to the matter simulator linked above and saying "Build a bridge". Neither goal is inherent in the "engine".

    Maybe you'd like it better if we used the other term Rickard has - namely "engine"?

    Admittedly, I feel that pretty much all RPGs are toys/engines, and not "games" for purposes of these defintions, but that just makes it harder for me to see how you are being insulted, since the definition is being applied to all RPGs, not just the ones you like.
  • edited January 2015
    It's not wrong to prescribe procedure and agenda if your goal is to design a game. If your goal is to design a toy, then prescribing procedure and agenda might make your toy less interesting.
    I see. I haven't thought about it in that way. Interesting.
    I'm thinking that a toy's quality is defined by how well it supports exploratory play. Legos are a great toy because they can interact and be played with in nearly unlimited variety. By adding building instructions to the Legos, you begin to prescribe an external procedure and agenda to that play.
    By creating structures around playing with toys, you influence the play so people have a hard time thinking outside those boundaries?

    So you want to embrace that exploratory aspect in toys, and use that to improve our understanding of roleplaying games?

    Something I done recently is turning roleplaying games to games instead of toys, but limiting them in such a way that they participants want to break the rules between sessions. Making up house rules are part of a meta game, which some game theorists argue is part of the actual game too. But that's off topic because it's the opposite of what you're talking about. I just wanted to throw it out there.
  • I really don't think I
    This wasn't just about the insulting implication of it, it was also that I just am not seeing the whole "toy as an interactive system without a goal or problem to solve". Not only is that a bad description of a toy, it is a terrible description of D&D.
    Here's where I get confused.

    A) What is insulting about referring to something as a toy using that definition (Yes, yes, "toy" is generally seen as a little bit derogatory, but it's not if you just use the definition)
    Because toys are for children and games are for both children and adults. To me it is pretty obvious if you want to create dichotomy between mainstream games and indie games, and you position one as being a game but the other as a toy, there is a judgement imbedded in the language you are using.

    I thin the other problem is the definition itself. I don't think this is what a toy is. A has a goal: play. What toys don't have, typically, are sets of rules and procedures...though I would be willing to bet there are some that do.

    More than that though does this distinction at all illuminate the differences between indie and mainstream/traditional RPGs?
    B) How does that definition NOT match RPGs? Fundamentally, RPGs contain no goals. They don't have a win condition. You might create one during play ("Save the prince from the dragon!") but that's essentially the same as me pointing you to the matter simulator linked above and saying "Build a bridge". Neither goal is inherent in the "engine".
    Not having a win condition doesn't mean there are no goals. There are many goals, both explicit and implied, depending on the game. In D&D for example, gaining XP and going up in level is clearly a goal.
    Maybe you'd like it better if we used the other term Rickard has - namely "engine"?

    Admittedly, I feel that pretty much all RPGs are toys/engines, and not "games" for purposes of these defintions, but that just makes it harder for me to see how you are being insulted, since the definition is being applied to all RPGs, not just the ones you like.
    I suppose we can call them whatever we want, but we are just settling on an analogy, not arriving at any real description of what they are.

    I think the issue I am having is this all kind of arises out of the "why aren't indie games catching on with the mainstream of the hobby" thing. And it feels like the answers being offered up right now focus a lot more on painting the mainstream gamer with a broad brush that flatters the indie gamer, and doesn't shed any light on what it is they get out of mainstream games that they don't get out of indie games.
  • @Bedrockbrendan,

    It's valuable to hear that you feel insulted, because I don't want to insult you, because I don't hold an insulting view of you.

    In some instances, you've pointed out things I should have said differently, or not at all. In some instances, it feels like you are responding to things I haven't said--In which case I can try to clarify.

    So let me try to clarify. The things to which I've compared RPGs are:
    This cool thing
    Basketballs
    Legos

    From my perspective, these are positive comparisons. Can you help me understand which comparisons are insulting?
    I just think you'd make a lot more headway into understanding what traditional games are if you simply tried to describe them but also get some input from people who play them, rather than talking about analogies like this. I feel like we are getting hung up on legos and toys themselves, not talking anything specific about how these games are played.

    Let me try a different path here. What is it you are trying to help clarify or understand about traditional RPGs through these analogies?

  • Because toys are for children and games are for both children and adults.
    I'm sorry, but here, you're just incorrect, and it really explains a lot of your defensiveness. Both toys and games are only for children by the traditional viewpoint (Hence the term "sport' is used in an effort by many adults to make a game that they like somehow "not be a game"), and neither is necessarily for children by any modern viewpoint, especially one on a forum discussing an elaborate form of play pretend.

    Now I really am starting to feel like you are trying to take offense.

    I thin the other problem is the definition itself. I don't think this is what a toy is. A has a goal: play. What toys don't have, typically, are sets of rules and procedures...though I would be willing to bet there are some that do.
    I don't find this definition accurate at all; "play" is not a goal, because it's not something you can "reach". The "goal" of a game is an endpoint. Achieving "play" is a beginning. Also, toys absolutely DO have rules and procedures, even if they are just the laws of physics. If you want to build something out of blocks, there are certain rules and procedures you need to use.

    More than that though does this distinction at all illuminate the differences between indie and mainstream/traditional RPGs?
    It does not, and I think you'll find that most people in this thread agree that it is does not, which makes your defense of this point all the more puzzling.

    I think the issue I am having is this all kind of arises out of the "why aren't indie games catching on with the mainstream of the hobby" thing. And it feels like the answers being offered up right now focus a lot more on painting the mainstream gamer with a broad brush that flatters the indie gamer, and doesn't shed any light on what it is they get out of mainstream games that they don't get out of indie games.
    This...just makes it seem like you are carrying your defensive posture from the other thread to this one.
  • edited January 2015

    Because toys are for children and games are for both children and adults.
    I'm sorry, but here, you're just incorrect, and it really explains a lot of your defensiveness. Both toys and games are only for children by the traditional viewpoint (Hence the term "sport' is used in an effort by many adults to make a game that they like somehow "not be a game"), and neither is necessarily for children by any modern viewpoint, especially one on a forum discussing an elaborate form of play pretend.

    Now I really am starting to feel like you are trying to take offense.
    I am not trying to take offense. But if you propose a model where indie games are described as games, and trad RPGs are described as toys, I assure you people will thin you are stacking the analogy to make indie games look superior. And I don't think that is a big stretch. Clearly toys take considerably less skill to enjoy than games.

    I thin the other problem is the definition itself. I don't think this is what a toy is. A has a goal: play. What toys don't have, typically, are sets of rules and procedures...though I would be willing to bet there are some that do.

    I don't find this definition accurate at all; "play" is not a goal, because it's not something you can "reach". The "goal" of a game is an endpoint. Achieving "play" is a beginning. Also, toys absolutely DO have rules and procedures, even if they are just the laws of physics. If you want to build something out of blocks, there are certain rules and procedures you need to use.
    Sure you can reach play. It is a state that you can achieve. A goal can just be a milestone, not an endpoint. I set goals for myself all the time that are merely milestones.

    I am not trying to be a jerk or anything. But it is like you are insisting I accept your analogies and definitions, when they simply don't jive with me. Since you are trying to describe something that is a style of play I engage in, I think me giving you that feedback ought to be somewhat helpful.





  • I think there's a rich history of people trying to be like: "that isn't a game!" "that isn't art!" A lot of the time that is pejorative. I've had larpers look down their noses at Nordic games, etc, etc. So I think whenever you try to redefine an experience others are having as "not a game", it's going to hit that touchstone. You can fight that with giving stipulative definitions, and with asserting that it's not pejorative. It's just the terrain of the "what is a game/art?" debate: it's fraught.
    I think this is what I am trying to express.

  • @Bedrockbrendan

    I'm definitely to blame for framing it this way initially, but I think we've established that it's not useful to talk about this in the context of "indie" vs. "traditional" games. If we can't get out of that mire, this may not be worth continuing.
    Sure you can reach play. It is a state that you can achieve. A goal can just be a milestone, not an endpoint. I set goals for myself all the time that are merely milestones.
    Again, I think we may have to just say, "not for the purposes of this conversation."
    Clearly toys take considerably less skill to enjoy than games.
    How do you support this assertion?


  • This...just makes it seem like you are carrying your defensive posture from the other thread to this one.
    That may well be. I certainly took some offense in that thread. But I don't think it is outrageous to suggest that this line of reasoning arises out of a similar paradigm. I've seen it on my side of the fence as well and I don't think it is a particularly healthy way to understand why people play the games they do. Maybe I a misunderstanding what you are trying to achieve or reading too much into it. That is always a possibility in these discussions. This is why I was trying to move away from the analogy and talk more about the specific things underlying your analogy, so I see things a little more clearly.
  • edited January 2015
    I agree with @dirk: As long as everybody's cool, let's leave behind the original framing as not the best and just move on to talking about toys and games, with the definitions from Keith Burgun or whatever. I think there might be some interesting insights here in Dirk's approach, or whatever we can come up with.

    @Bedrockbrendan: That okay with you?

    If we're all cool, then:

    vvv NO MENTION OF TRAD/INDIE BELOW HERE vvv

    :)




  • Again, I think we may have to just say, "not for the purposes of this conversation."
    Clearly toys take considerably less skill to enjoy than games.
    How do you support this assertion?
    I think that is pretty much the standard perception. If you want to argue that isn't the case, that toys take just as much skill as games, I am all ears. But I think generally speaking most people see games as requiring more skills that we value than toys do.
  • edited January 2015
    (and to be clear, also leaving behind the thread of "are 'games' better/higher status than 'toys'")

    (edit: also, @Airk, let me know if that's okay as well)
  • No objection from my side. :)
  • The toy/game distinction absolutely makes sense to me; it's the difference between "make up something cool to do with this thing" and "do exactly *this* with this object." Both have challenges, both have benefits. But! I also think many RPGs fall somewhere along this spectrum. I actually really appreciate when RPGs have "dials" that you can use to set different things in a campaign such as tone.
  • Very well, I have some questions:

    * It is being proposed here that leaving instructions/procedures out in a "game product" (whatever it may be) allows or encourages greater creativity or flexibility in the "user".

    * Building in very thorough and detailed instructions of a thing's use limit its functions to those intended by the designer.

    So:

    1. Do you, personally, find that when you pick up a game which clearly outlines what it's *supposed* to be used for, your play with that game will be more limited/less creative/diverse?

    2. How do you find the "ideal" level of instruction with a game that you like to play and/or design? Is a product which doesn't tell you *anything* about how to use it at all superior to other products?
  • @Paul_T,

    I think that accurately summarizes the idea.

    1. Do you, personally, find that when you pick up a game which clearly outlines what it's *supposed* to be used for, your play with that game will be more limited/less creative/diverse?
    I don't think that an individual's play will necessarily be more various with more toy-like products. Rather, the variety of play found across individuals will be greater. More game-like products will produce more consistent experiences across individuals.
    2. How do you find the "ideal" level of instruction with a game that you like to play and/or design? Is a product which doesn't tell you *anything* about how to use it at all superior to other products?
    I don't hold any ideals about it. I like lots of games and I like lots of toys.

    My main question in light of this idea is how should "toy-like games" present themselves? I think that presenting a toy as a game pre-empts negotiation about how that toy will be played with.
  • #1: No; I actually find that when I am given instructions as to what the product is supposed to do, I am inspired to do cool stuff with it, whereas if a product just drops a bunch of random ideas in my lap, I look at them, scratch my head, and go "So... what is this supposed to do?"

    #2: You can probably infer by my answer to #1, that at this point in my life, I find products that don't explain what they are for to be next to useless.
  • I don't think that an individual's play will necessarily be more various with more toy-like products. Rather, the variety of play found across individuals will be greater. More game-like products will produce more consistent experiences across individuals.
    What do you mean with "individual play"? That each individual playing with a toy will create something unique about how they play with it?

  • @Rickard,

    Yes, generally. Since a toy doesn't prescribe how you play with it, each person's play will be different.

    There are other factors that shape toy-based play, though, that might make it more consistent. Like "how have I seen this toy played with?" or "what is the culturally enforced mode of play for this toy?"

    For example, I think there's a strong culturally enforced mode of play for the Piano. There's lots of ways to play with a piano, and kids often try them out--usually stifled by an adult saying "that's not how we play with the piano."

  • I think the poster child for, "this is a toy, not a game, and that actually means something," is Call of Cthulhu.

    I know some folks have strong feelings about that game, so I'll make another thread.
  • I think the poster child for, "this is a toy, not a game, and that actually means something," is Call of Cthulhu.


    I know some folks have strong feelings about that game, so I'll make another thread.
    Please do. It sounds like a fascinating topic.

  • Yes, would love to talk about this in practical application.
  • Great points.

    There are other factors that shape toy-based play, though, that might make it more consistent. Like "how have I seen this toy played with?" or "what is the culturally enforced mode of play for this toy?"
    We've definitely seen this with RPGs, to the point that publishers stopped putting any instructions in their games at all, assuming that their audience was already familiar with the Right Way to play the game.



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