RPGs and Weight Loss

edited January 2006 in Story Games
Sounds like a spam email header, doesn't it? I know it's a weird pairing, but it struck me this morning that there's a big (and problematic) parallel.

See, if you read a lot of health and fitness stuff, there's a large divide within it, though that is not always apparent to the reader. Sometimes articles are directed at general health, some are at people who are obese and some are directed at people who are already very fit and who are just looking to tone up, or shed those last few unwanted pounds.

Now, while the general truths of fitness and good nutrition underpin all* of these articles, they can be _radically_ different in their approaches and advice. Now, some articles are clear on who the audience is, but some aren't, which results in people getting good advice from someone else, but potentially bad advice for them. Worse, people read articles that are good advice for them and internalize that advice, and then dispense it without any qualifier regarding their audience, often to fairly poor results.

Now, I don't think it's unreasonable to say that there are different level of player "fitness". The criteria are as varied in gaming as they are in sports - a great powerlifter or Champions guy may not necessarily do well in a marathon or a game of PTA. Not to say they won't - some people are more rounded than others - but just that there'd be no reason to expect correlation.

Given that, I ask: how can we, in writing about what makes a good game, a good player, a good GM, a good play experience, or anything else we feel really matters, address that fitness level?

It may seem like a strange theoretical question, but I really intend it as a very concrete one. 9 times out of 10 when I hit upon people getting pissed off by a blog or Forge/rpg.net post about some advice or other, the issue seems to be that while the advice is quite good, it's target is very unclear, so by default, people assume it is directed at them. And if they are _not_ the target audience, the advice can very easily come across as condescending, insulting, or just plain wrong.

Now, maybe this is just something that can be addressed with more awareness. Clarity of who the target is can be written into almost any such material as long as the author stops to think about it. Even couching things in terms of specific games can help: Giving advice for how to run D&D rarely goes as badly, even if that advice is chalk full of crazy new ideas. People may (and probably will) _argue_ but they're less likely to feel "So my game sucks, huh? Well fuck _YOU_!"

Maybe it's something that could benefit form a formal terminology. Not sure how that would be done without bursting into flame though.

Anyway, we've got more than enough smart people who know what they want to say, I'm just suggesting this might be a useful way to think about how others are going to see what it is we have to say.

-Rob D.

* Well, most. Not really looking at the fad diets here, though comparing them to RPGS would probably prove a lot of fun.


  • Just as people have different levels of fitness, diets have different levels of efficacy and safety. While your aunt may swear that she lost 50 pounds on the Grapefruit Diet, I really discourage you from trying it yourself and, if you do, don't do it more than a week. It could destroy your kidneys.

    Some games are more effective than others. Some even encourage players to do things that tend to result in crappy games.
  • Well, I tried to be as clear as possible for the folks who come to my blog...

    Otherwise, I try to give advice that matches the thread or discussion I'm entering. Obviously a person who is asking how to run a better Call of Cthulhu game isn't interested in hearing about it's mechanical issues- on the other hand, someone who asks, "Joe pissed in the soda and kicked my dog, how can I change the rules to fix it?" IS asking a question, though obviously not completely open to hearing the answer...
  • Maybe it's something that could benefit form a formal terminology. Not sure how that would be done without bursting into flame though.

    Whew. Well, in principle, this is what the original Threefold Model was about -- dividing up role-playing styles so that you could give advice for one style rather than setting your advice up as the One True Way. I believe that GNS started out with similar intentions. However, these categories themselves broke down into a muddle of how to classify. It was a controversial on rgfa, on Gaming Outpost, and then even moreso on the Forge.

    My current thinking is that it would be better to define specific, more narrowly defined schools of gaming -- a la the Turku School (and Manifesto), for example. Broad categories (like the Threefold or GNS) lead to troublesome "classify my game" issues, which becomes political. If sounds like a bad game, you try to reject it from being in your category. If sounds like a good game, you try to define it as being within your category.

    Having narrower schools rather than a grand unified model allows a default answer of "This doesn't fit into one of the known schools" -- leaving the game uncategorized.
  • John: schools, mmmmmm.

    Rob -- Not to sound like an elitist prick, here, but I think the weight of the issue you describe rests on the readers, not the writers. Certainly there could be more explicit writing on the matter, sure, but that means nothing as long as the typical gamer continues to approach all gaming material as being directed to his particular play style. The very question "Is this actually about me?" which should be the first thing any reader asks is for some reason totally disregarded for the vast bulk of the gaming population, as if "gamer" was the same everywhere for all people. No matter how much I may specify "I am talking about mechanics that specifically forward a narrative structure reminiscent of noir movies" there will be some moron complaining that the mechanics don't handle swashbuckling sword-tossing ninjas.

    Here's my take: the people who I was actually writing for? They got the message. The people who I wasn't writing for, but couldn't tell the difference? Screw 'em.
  • Well, chicken and egg raise their heads here. Certainly, there are gamers who will _choose_ to never look beyond where they are (though I think they're a minority) but what about the gamers who simply haven't done so yet? To take D&D as a specific case, it's not unreasonable for a D&D guy to assume he's the target audience because, statistically, he probably should be. Of course, unreasonable or not, he's probably wrong (non D&D guys do seem, well, _louder_ in my experience), but is it more effective blow him off or to take a minute to address him?

    That said, I'm not going to say that the writer _doesn't_ have the right to say screw em. In a lot of ways, this is the same issue as has been discussed with con games - people who don't get it _are_ going to bring you down, so what are you going to do about them?

    So I'll hold off from prick, because it's hardly an unreasonable position, but I will agree that elitist is probably the right word. Clearly, that's not entirely a bad thing - by keeping things rarified, one can stick to games that they will find more fun and writings that they find more productive. I'll posit that it's a slow way to grow a community, but there's a reasonable argument in favor of slow growth.

    So I'm cool with such elitism, so long as I don't get bombarded by people asking how I dare call it elitist. :)

    -Rob D.
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