Monday, October 26, 2015

My Life as a Gamer: The Problems With RPGs

The problems with RPGs stem from a misunderstanding of their history and origins.

Role-Playing Games are wargame derivatives (made clear in Jon Peterson's Playing at the World), wherein the player runs a single unit--an individual, named, character--instead of a unit or an army. When the medium works within that space, they are potent and deliver experiences that cannot be had otherwise.

However, many of those in RPG development (regardless of medium) mistakenly think that these are literature derivatives and then get frustrated when they apply the tropes of literature (Literary or Genre) and fail to get the expected results.

Games are media of active and interactive participation. Role-Playing Games are media of Virtual Life Experience because they put the player into a situation that they cannot experience at all, or are highly unlikely to experience. This trait allows players to safely encounter that situation (especially unreal ones) and deal with it using the limited resources--starting with information--at their disposal.

RPGs justify their existence by this approximation of reality.

The reason that literature and its structures are inappropriate for this medium is because the partaking of a narrative is, by necessity, a passive thing. It's a one-way communication method, where the creator/presenter talks to the audience using rhetoric to get his message across, and it's roots in persuasive speech makes its applicability to gaming exactly what it is now: the thing you do to learn how to play, and then put away to engage with gameplay.

RPGs are a totally different thing. The essence of RPGs is the same as the essence of enterprise: to determine what the situation is, define what the solution is, assess what is at hand to bring about the solution, plan the solution, and then execute the plan.

Gaming is the same as war, business, or politics. Narrative creation does not apply.

You are in the moment, experiencing reality as it is, and it is on you to succeed or fail at the objectives that you determine for yourself. It's why the inclusion of narrative tropes is so often taken as cheating, as damaging the authenticity of the experience, because beating the game by exercise of superior skill to overcome opposition is the fucking point. Beating the villain right away, defeating his schemes before they get off the ground, or otherwise doing things that--in a narrative work--are considered bad storytelling is the fucking point.

The power of the medium comes from this emergent phenomenon, when too many RPG developers would outright negate the players being intelligent and savvy by undoing their victories via narrative device (or other outright cheating), and if they would instead embrace this (and make their games to accomodate it), the current stagnation of the RPG media as a commercial entity would end and the truly wonderful things that once were commonplace will return in a heartbeat.

Embrace the truth of the RPG medium, and you will profit greatly.

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