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Author Topic: End of Theory from behind the scenes  (Read 8669 times)
Montola
Member

Posts: 36


« on: December 05, 2005, 03:35:23 PM »

I posted the following to www.lumpley.com comments, but abiding Ron's moderatorial request I hereby repost it to where he feels it belongs.


One thing I want to ask Ron and the others: Who were exactly the people making the decision of closing the forums? What kind of process was used? Who were consulted beforehand?


As background, I had personally not many bets on this card, and the phase where Forge discussion is perhaps organized and summarized into some thematic threads, is of course valuable for outsiders like me. However, I have some academic interest on the issue as a case study of power excercise in online communities. (I studied these things a lot while writing my master's thesis). As an outsider, I don't feel personally wronged, but I wouldn't be surprised if some people did. Like Chris maybe does.

 - M
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Neal
Member

Posts: 143


« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2005, 04:16:35 PM »

Speaking off-the-cuff as an academic, discussions of theory are always power negotiations.  Witness the clout of Duke University (and go ahead and read Homi Bhabha, while you're at it, as evidence of what that clout produces).  Discussions of theory always have at their heart the answer to the question: "How shall we understand X?"    Thus, in a top-down environment (as in any moderated forum), they are problematic.  They always -- always -- resort to the argument from the club.  Do you want to be heard?  Then speak our language, accept our axioms, and get in line.

Now, I don't have a big issue with Ron's definition of theory, which I seem to recall as "What makes the most sense."  In fact, I rather think that's a tidy way of looking at any theory which is descriptive rather than prescriptive.  In short, theory which tells us "what is" rather than "what should be."

Did the Theory forum provide this, as advertised, or did it seek "harmony," to use your words?  I'm not sure.  I saw a lot of discord on those pages, myself.  Then again, it was discord within fairly narrow limits: pixel-bitching about the meaning of Simulationism, as I recall.  I can personally think of few things more worthless.

That's part of the problem with theory: it sets forth a vocabulary, and any linguist worth his salt will tell you that a vocabulary constrains expression.  Not that Ron or any of the other posters insisted that the vocabulary remain stable.  It's just inertia.

And inertia rules the day.  Inertia and common sense.  Commonsense meaning not "back to basics" thinking, but rather "tell me in small words or words I'm used to" thinking.  Get past that and you can do theory.  Stop short, and you've got jargon.

Perhaps there's a chance for a RPG Theory forum, but probably not one that announces itself as such.  I suppose this is all just to say, I'm not unhappy that the forum is gone.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2005, 04:39:29 PM »

Hi Markus,

Thanks for bringing this over here.

One thing to say up-front is that the Forge isn't run through consensus. Decisions are mine and Clinton's, period, and we even have acknowledged spheres of authority in case we disagree. Clinton's is over format & function, and mine is over content and comportment. We're also very familiar with the fact that whatever change we make, people will howl like wounded dogs. That happened even when we messed with nothing more than the color scheme. Neither of us is sympathetic to any perceptions of entitlement, on anyone else's part, regarding the Forge.

In this case, clearly both of us needed to agree in order for the change to happen. I'll describe it as I recall it, but Clinton, if I get something-or-other backwards, chime in to fix it, if you'd like

Perhaps about a year and a half ago, maybe a little more, Clinton first suggested to me that we actually close down the Forge. Both of us were pretty tired and our initial goals in beginning the site were now fulfilled. You can see some later signs of my fatigue in This forum is being reviewed, which was a sticky for a while, and in what became an ongoing sticky, RULES FOR THIS FORUM. We came up with a step-by-step plan, in which step #1 was arriving at some intellectual closure of the debates that I had begun in 1999 (Gaming Outpost, original Hephaestus' Forge, etc).

Clinton advocated various radical changes that I'm not net-savvy enough to describe, most a little out of my comfort zone. I suggested that we alter the forums significantly to reflect real activity and reflection rather than self-reinforcing, ego-based marking-off of intellectual territory. You might be interested to know that I consider the real activity/reflection to be theory, and the latter not to be theory. A first, minor move in that direction was to change their order - they used to be reversed from what they are now, more-or-less, with Site Discussion at the top. Putting Actual Play at the top made a definite, positive difference in site usage, just what we were looking for.

Sometime in late 2004, I came up with the compromise-idea that we have just implemented a few days ago, to close down the two major theory-forums and encourage continuing their functions more constructively through Actual Play in particular. We were both really happy with how Actual Play posting was going.

Then, Jonathan Walton began his Diaspora: How I learned 2 stop worrying and love the Forge thread, which seemed as good as time as any to make our behind-the-scenes musings public. Later, I posted This one's important and Needed: archives.

Oh, and this didn't make much difference in terms of affecting our point of view (which was essentially fixed in place over a year ago), but I also discussed the plan with a lot of folks at GenCon, all of whom were familiar with the threads. Their general point of view was, "Hurry up already!" It wasn't a necessary confirmation, but it did prompt us to put the plan toward the top of our to-do lists.

That's really the whole story. We've taken our time over it mainly because when I was ready, Clinton was distracted or busy, and when Clinton was ready, I was distracted or busy. Most big changes at the Forge take about six months to a year to happen, mainly due to this phenomenon.

How about the closure? Well, my current plan, no matter what, is to see the current version of the site evolve into the best it can be. I consider the changes a powerful improvement, and anticipate that after a week or two of shock, people will settle into the improved situation without much fuss. For all I know, it'll be such fun that Clinton and I will put off the next step toward closure for at least another year, or who knows what. We tend to have a big Forge Assessment conversation about once a year, and so far, in each such conversation, we usually brainstorm anew. When we arrive at any other concrete notions about closure or whatever, you'll know about it when we feel like it.

Perhaps my biggest point is repeating my first one: How Clinton and I run this site has nothing to do with decision-making through parliamentary, democratic, or discussion-based feedback. If every single person who ever posted to the Forge were to email both of us tomorrow, crying out "Please please don't change anything please!" we'd do it anyway.

Best,
Ron
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woodelf
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« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2005, 12:43:53 AM »

Perhaps my biggest point is repeating my first one: How Clinton and I run this site has nothing to do with decision-making through parliamentary, democratic, or discussion-based feedback. If every single person who ever posted to the Forge were to email both of us tomorrow, crying out "Please please don't change anything please!" we'd do it anyway.

I kept that part to make it clear that i read it, and i respect it. That said, i'd like to put forth a viewpoint that perhaps you hadn't considered--and perhaps you had. Either way, it leaves me in an interesting situation, and i'll take suggestions on how to deal with it.

My brain works in the abstract and the theoretical first, and the concrete and empirical only secondarily. So i work from theory to experience, rather than from experience to theory. Many people (apparently Ron and many others, based on their emphasis of the importance of Actual Play threads, and the wording of the closure message in the RPG Theory forum) start out with a bunch of experiences, and then synthesize a theory to explain them. I start with a theory, and then use constructed/contrived experiences to verify or contradict it. And i simply can't learn the former way, or at least not efficiently. To this day, i don't understand thermodynamics (in a chemistry sense), because i had a professor who believed that the only way to learn was to do problem sets until you understood the concept--and he refused, even after i tried it his way for half a semester, to even try any other way. And i understood quantum mechanics before i'd even learned algebra, because i read some Asimov essays that explained it from first principles. So when it came time to do quantum solutions in college, i found them a breeze, while most of the rest of the class (who had as much or more math background than i did), found them challenging or impossible. Even in the physical realm, this is how my brain works. If you try and teach me a dance as a bunch of steps, it'll take me years to learn it, and i'll be wooden and mechanical (i still suck at argentine tango, frex). But if you communicate to me the overall feel and concept of the dance, then translating that into concrete steps becomes very easy for me (i've gotten quite good at westcoast swing in a fraction of the time that i've been struggling with argentine tango).

Now, on top of this, i only have one playgroup at the moment, and they're not particularly open to experimentation--they want to stick with one system, setting, etc., for long periods of time. And their sensibilities are pretty middle-of-the-road gamist/simulationist with a relatively high tactical crunch factor.

So, i enjoy discussions of the theory involved in RPGs, and the whys and wherefors, and figuring out how these give greater understanding of actual play. However, any demand that i start from an actual play situation will likely squelch most of my contributions, either because i have a theoretical idea that i haven't yet figured out how to translate into meaningful actual play experience--which is perhaps precisely why i want to discuss it--or because it'll be months before i can have an opportunity to work whatever it is into my games.

Does anyone have a suggestion for how someone in my situation can both participate in discussion and fulfill the "actual play-based" requirement? Or am i misunderstanding what is expected of discussions here?

Similarly, i've been slowly wading through the "required reading", trying to get caught up to the point where i don't have to ask questions that have been answered a dozen (or hundred) times before, and i'm about half-way there. Where should i go, with the RPG Theory forum closed, when i come to a point that i don't understand, and which has nothing to do with any actual play experience i've had?
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woodelf
not necessarily speaking on behalf of
The Impossible Dream
Montola
Member

Posts: 36


« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2005, 01:55:56 AM »

Thank you for the answer, Ron.

For a peripherally involved person such as myself, a summary of the road leading here was in order to understand what's going on and why. It is also necessary to understand this in order to contextualize the things I read in blogs, Forge archives and ongoing Forge forums.


 - M
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2005, 05:50:39 AM »

Hello,

You're welcome, Markus. Feel free to ask any other historical, logistic, or social questions about the Forge.

Calvin, I think that the existing essays as well as the wealth of continuing discussions at the various links can provide you with as much abstraction-based context as you need. You state that you like to start with the theoretical and move to the application, and I am saying you can still do that. I'll look forward to seeing the applications.

Best,
Ron
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2005, 06:57:23 AM »

Ron's assessments are entirely true. The part about my radical ideas that he's not net-savvy enough to describe cracked me up and is definitely on the mark. Ron's saved you guys from Total Site Upheaval a few times.

I will say that I'm already finding that I read about 50% of Forge threads now instead of the 20% I was at. I'm enjoying the site much more than I was before we closed those two forums.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
woodelf
Member

Posts: 55


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« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2005, 07:38:12 AM »

Calvin, I think that the existing essays as well as the wealth of continuing discussions at the various links can provide you with as much abstraction-based context as you need. You state that you like to start with the theoretical and move to the application, and I am saying you can still do that. I'll look forward to seeing the applications.

But what about discussion of the theoretical in order to understand it enough to figure out what the application is? That's the stage that i find both illuminating and interesting--is there no longer a place at the Forge where such discussions are appropriate? For me, there's often no point in talking about it by the time i get to applications, because it's already been figured out. That is, i can share/expound, but it's usually not a useful time for two-way discussion.

Oh, and i figured that this has to be addressed to me, but where'd "Calvin" come from?
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woodelf
not necessarily speaking on behalf of
The Impossible Dream
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2005, 08:06:20 AM »

I thought you were Calvin. Probably some other poster with "elf" in his handle.

Anyway, it seems to me as if what you describe is fully possible with the current guidelines for the forum. It also seems to me that you are flailing a little because of the unfamiliarity of the new context. I have decided to let you develop an approach which works for you. I think quite a few possible approaches exist. I have not shut you out of participating here unless you decide it, but I also think you're going to have to choose your own path. PM me if you have specific questions about a given post or thread you'd like to start. Good luck.

Best,
Ron
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