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Author Topic: A Theory: System doesn't matter for RPing moments  (Read 15529 times)
Ace
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« on: September 18, 2002, 10:39:16 PM »

On the whole  I agree with Rons thesis that system does matter,  but I think there is an overlooked point there when it comes to those who disagree.

Ceratinly System drives mechanical play experience.  "Handling time" if you will

It also drives the players expectations to a lesser extent.

Part of the "feel" of a system like say Rolemaster is the expectation that you will have "kewl crits" without that, the system and the experience just isn't the same

OTOH Roleplaying experiences aren't affected as much by the rules.

I have had great RPG moments in AD&D 2e, GURPS,  Rolemaster, Call Of Cuthulu, Buffy and a host of other games.  And AFAIK know this experience is pretty common among long time gamers.

System was trancended <EDIT> Or at least the limits were

Thats why a lot of folks say system doesn't matter, you can have great "Moments of Roleplaying" in any game no matter where it falls in the GNS loop.

My speculation is  that great moments are rare enough that it becomes difficult to tie them to a style of game, instead they become a rather abstract quality of "great RP moments"

Those factors, scarcity and illusionary systemlessness  give folks the somewhat false notion that 'For RPing system is irrelevant'

 My personal take?

 better <Edit> Certain <edit> systems mean more opportunitys for great moments

If you cut out rules that don't contribute to what you are trying to achieve than you can increase the likelyhood of getting what you really want.

Games are of course a chaotic endeavour so you can't be sure you will get a "click' but at least you will have a better shot at one.

<EDIT>
I added a few word to the post and cleaned it up a notch for clarity.
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Marco
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« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2002, 05:40:32 AM »

I think the whole SDM thing can be summed up by saying "if the system you're playing isn't working for you--you might get a better experience with another one."

When it gets twisted into someone saying "You're playing the wrong system" (a recent RPG.net thread where someone told a poster more or less 'your use of AD&D is contirbuting to your bad gaming experience') it's outside anything that Ron said (and IMO pretentious and contrary to massive anicdotal evidence).

To put it another way: the theory that you might have a better experience with another system is valid--but there's no way for anyone but you to make that determination.

If you don't want system in your roleplaying, then use a system that doesn't have interaction mechanics.  Some people feel that the experience is enhanced with interaction mechanics so they'll go to a system that has them. Neither is even marginally objectively better.

Also: I don't think that a great RP moment in AD&D means system was "transcended." I think great RP moments are as likely in AD&D as anywhere else and that the system promotes "great RP moments" as much as anything else.  That is to say that "great RP moments" describes absolutely nothing when used in a context outside of yourself.

-Marco
[Btw: if it sounds like I disagreed with you--it's only with some specific terminology and what a percieved as a few generalizations which, I feel were only just that :) ]
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2002, 06:28:36 AM »

I disagree. If "great role-playing moments" means what I think it means, moments where players are heavily into well delivered first-person dialog, and description of actions, then I say that System Matters very much. OTOH, Marco's right, I might be projecting my own idea of what makes for "great role-plaiying moments"; that's a very subjective statement. You and I might both simply be displaying our biases.

But, assuming that we agree on what constitutes such a moment, what if a particular system requires the GM to step in to force a roll in the middle at some point. In a distracting way? What if it didn't allow for such play at all?

The point is that, yes, one can "transcend" the system. Ron points that out in the essay. That's what we call drift. Ignoring the rules or wahtever to create play not engendered by them. That's always been an assumption of System Matters that people can and will do this. You seem to assume that the only way to have such moments is to "transcend" the system. That no system can support such moments.

But such systems do exist. Or if one that does exaclty what you want does not, perhaps it can be invented. As Marco points out, if it's system that's the problem, then go freeform. Why not play with a system that actually does engender the sort of play that you are looking for? Some systems do not get in the way (or get in the way less) of the type of play that you are talking about. So if that's what you want, then play a game that does that.

I'm just repeating the essay, as you haven't said one thing that invalidates it in any way.

Mike
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Marco
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« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2002, 07:33:26 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes

The point is that, yes, one can "transcend" the system. Ron points that out in the essay. That's what we call drift. Ignoring the rules or wahtever to create play not engendered by them.

Mike


Drift is defined (by Ron who created it) as:
"the movement from one GNS focus to another during the course of play"
so if I start playing AD&D in some fashion and keep doing it that way, it's not drift, yes? IMO that isn't all that meaningful--but if you're going to invoke the term, so be it. Explain how it applies here.

In practice drift often gets used (fuzzily) to define playing a game "in the way it wasn't meant to be played" (or something like that). I find that prescriptive and in some cases presumptious (how does the speaker know how a game was 'meant' to be played?)

Now, you say:
Quote

I disagree. If "great role-playing moments" means what I think it means, moments where players are heavily into well delivered first-person dialog, and description of actions, then I say that System Matters very much.


Exactly--if you don't like how a system handles something then, by definition it doesn't work for you. That isn't, however, much of a revelation.

If you think you have a better system, fine--but when the SDM idea is invoked to tell someone they're playing the wrong game, that's untennable. Role-Playing is a complex experience. Great Roleplaying is no more meaningful a term in this context than story-oriented (I think both those terms are meaningful and indeed useful--but because of the tight definitions at work I don't think either can be employed).

Your example boils down to "I don't like a mechanic that distracts me from something I like." That's a personal statement--it says nothing objective about how the rule will apply to other people's enjoyment or indeed even their preception of it's invocation (the pendragon thread hit on this).

When someone says words to the effect of AD&D is the wrong game for great role-playing (or something like "wrong tool for the job") I suggest that the issue lies in the perception of what the game is especially in its relation to the speaker rather than any objective reality of the game.

-Marco
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2002, 08:30:44 AM »

Quote from: Marco
Drift is defined (by Ron who created it) as:
"the movement from one GNS focus to another during the course of play"
so if I start playing AD&D in some fashion and keep doing it that way, it's not drift, yes? IMO that isn't all that meaningful--but if you're going to invoke the term, so be it. Explain how it applies here.
No that's shifting. Drift, as I believe Ron agrees, is playing a system in a manner different from the way that the system is designed in order to get a different GNS support from it. The poster spoke of "transcending" the rules. That sounds like drift to me. We don't have to presume, we can take his word for it.

My objection is with the posters notion that system is only important in terms of "mechanics' and not for something he calls "great roleplaying moments". I agree with you that he should define what he means specifically. But I also go out on a limb and state that, whatever it is, consideration of system can have an impact on it. I can't see how system would not affect any aspect of play. Even if only minorly.

Quote

Exactly--if you don't like how a system handles something then, by definition it doesn't work for you. That isn't, however, much of a revelation.
Ah, but it is. That's all that System Matters is saying. There are some who say that a system that doesn't handle things that you like doesn't matter, that only the GM and players matter. The essay merely refutes that.

Quote
If you think you have a better system, fine--but when the SDM idea is invoked to tell someone they're playing the wrong game, that's untennable. Role-Playing is a complex experience. Great Roleplaying is no more meaningful a term in this context than story-oriented (I think both those terms are meaningful and indeed useful--but because of the tight definitions at work I don't think either can be employed).
You sound somehow threatened. Has someone used System Matters like this to you? If so they are misreading it, or, as you say being presumptious. This says nothing about the essay, but a poor interperetation of it. Should we stop telling truth because some will misuse it?

Quote
Your example boils down to "I don't like a mechanic that distracts me from something I like." That's a personal statement--it says nothing objective about how the rule will apply to other people's enjoyment or indeed even their preception of it's invocation (the pendragon thread hit on this).
As I admitted, it was probably our own biases showing. How did I not say this?

Quote
When someone says words to the effect of AD&D is the wrong game for great role-playing (or something like "wrong tool for the job") I suggest that the issue lies in the perception of what the game is especially in its relation to the speaker rather than any objective reality of the game.
How are we disagreeing here? I totally agree. Again, how does the System Matters essay support the idea that particular games are wrong as in your example above? It merely says that if you find it the wrong tool for you that youshould use another.

Yes, this seems obvious, yet the essay is in rebuttal to a huge sentiment that used to be around that "system doesn't matter". The name of the essay is designed around that phrase precisely because people said it so often. I think to the extent that this seems odd today this is because the movement that was behind the essay has convinced people that, in fact "System Matters".

Mike
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Valamir
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« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2002, 08:49:08 AM »

I'm not really sure I'm following what you're saying Marco...but if I am, than I have to say, I couldn't disagree with you more.

RPG mechanics are a tool.   Like any tool there are things that a particular example will do well and things that a particular example will do poorly.  What you seem to be saying (correct me if I'm wrong) is that its impossible to evaluate a set of RPG mechanics as to what tasks they perform well and what tasks they perform poorly.  If that is indeed what you are saying, than not only do I disagree with it, but I can't even imagine how you could think it.

Could I chop down a sapling with the claw end of a hammer...sure, I've done it.  But I would have been much better served by a saw or a hatchet.

The same is true of RPG mechanics.  CAN you do X in game Y? Absolutely.  With a good GM you can do anything.  But mere fact that it CAN be done is not the same thing as saying that the game was designed to support it.  Anecdotal evidence of "I played AD&D and we told great stories" in no way suggests that AD&D is an ideal system for story telling.

There are tons of examples of great stories that have been told in AD&D, and every one of them was told IN SPITE of the system, not BECAUSE of it.  In this ACE is 100% right on.  These games definitely transcended their rules.  The GM and players took the tool they were presented and went where ever they needed to with it.  But just as my ability to fell a tree with a hammer doesn't make a hammer the best choice for felling trees, nor do such experiences with AD&D make AD&D the best choice for telling a story.

You seem to be unwilling to seperate the game as a set of printed rules in a book, from the game as played by players around the table.  Good players around a table can compensate for all kinds of definciencies in a bad game.  So much so that the players themselves may never even have an inkling that the game is bad...because their experience with it was not.  That doesn't change the fact that the game rules were bad.  They may have transcended the rules.  But with a better rules set to work with they may have gone even farther...or gone just as far with less effort.
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C. Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2002, 09:35:58 AM »

Quote
Could I chop down a sapling with the claw end of a hammer...sure, I've done it. But I would have been much better served by a saw or a hatchet.


A person that really enjoyes the particular experience that chopping down a tree with a claw hammer creates, and who wasn't judging the experience based on the parameters of speed of completion and physical effort employed, would most certainly not be better served by using a saw or a hatchet.

Seperating the rules in the book from those same rules being viewed, or used, by a human being is nearly impossible.  While I may not be one of them, there are many, many people who think that AD&D suits all their role-playing needs.  Week after week they play the game and enjoy themselves.  You, me, anybody could give them twelve good reasons why AD&D doesn't maximize their potential for a particular form of play but we would all just be blowing smoke out of our arses.  Does system matter? Damn right it does, but only on an individual basis.

Where the real trouble starts is when the guy chopping down the tree with a hammer has another guy back at camp waiting for firewood that presumed his buddy would be using an axe.  But that's a whole other thread.

-Chris
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Valamir
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« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2002, 09:56:34 AM »

Quote from: C. Edwards
Quote
Could I chop down a sapling with the claw end of a hammer...sure, I've done it. But I would have been much better served by a saw or a hatchet.


A person that really enjoyes the particular experience that chopping down a tree with a claw hammer creates, and who wasn't judging the experience based on the parameters of speed of completion and physical effort employed, would most certainly not be better served by using a saw or a hatchet.


heh, heh.  Point taken.

But I caution against assumeing that all standards of quality can only be effectively measured on an individual subjective basis.  That line of reasoning makes it impossible to have discourse on any subject that is not based on math.

In point of fact, there can be (and are) standards for quality in a wide range of things that could be described as equally subjective experiences.  It is not required (nor possible) for a standard to encompass every concievable permutation of individual preference.  The fact that it does not do so (can not do so) does not invalidate it as a standard.  Even in statistical analysis it is SOP to disregard outliers when performing regressions to find "best fit".   The fact that the derived formula cannot mathematically explain every single result in no way invalidates the formula as being useful (assuming a properly designed regression).

Now this is straying significantly from the topic at hand, but my point is that one can not use "in my opinion", or "my preferences", or other such personal anecdotal experience as an arguement...precisely because those things could ALWAYS be used as an arguement for ANY discussion.  The net result of such use would be to conclude that there are no standards at all and that all things produced are of equal quality.

Since we know that all things produced are NOT of equal quality, if we are to uncover ways of evaluating quality we must therefor find measures that don't rely on such arguements.

All of which is a long winded way for me to express "hogwash" to the idea that all discussions of the "right tool for the job" are pointless because it all comes down to subjective perception anyway.
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Marco
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« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2002, 09:57:07 AM »

Mike,

I quoted Drift directly from the big GNS essay. In a forum that uses a lot of specific terminology I would expect that to be the definition.

In terms of it being used "on me:" It isn't. The "practical application of the philosophy" that as Val says that all the great stories told in AD&D were done IN SPITE of the system is being done right now on RPG.net and it's presumptious.

All the great stories told in AD&D were done with the AD&D system. Saying anything else is prescrpitive and ... in a bad way. I'm not addressing what a game does well or badly in specific--I'm addressing how well a game tells a "great story."

And because the conventional wisdom (which I belive you share) here is that "story" either means something really, really specific or is meaningless--and the terms "great RP experience" or "great story" are either very specifically defined (which they aren't) or are meaningless then what you're really saying is:

"For me AD&D doesn't help *me* tell what *I* consider to be great stories."

How you can define what a great RP experience or a great story or an enabling factor in doing so is for someone else boggles me.

You tell me you used AD&D to do a "court intrigue adventure" and it really worked, I won't say "hey man, that's the wrong tool you need to play a game that focuses on that." I wouldn't presume to tell them the session would be better if they used another system--that's for them to determine on the basis of a lot of things (maybe in all those printed pages of game there's some things they *really* like that appeal to their sliver of gamist nature ... or maybe they love the richness of AD&D's monsters despite the fact that the current game centers on palace intrigue).

You tell me you used AD&D to do a court intrigue adventure and the nobody had a good time because the players don't like intrigue ... I won't go and blame the game system.

And that's exactly the way the argument gets used (the speaker says that AD&D doesn't promote "that kind" of play--as though a different game would change what the players enjoy doing).  

I'll say it again: using SDM for anything that deals with story or role-playing is either purely personal or quite presumptious (or you can really tightly define "story" or "roleplaying" and then build a statement from there--which is fine but very limited in relevance).

-Marco
[Note: I do think it applies to mechanical resolution--i.e. I want a game with deadly bullets--then sure, the analysis is good. But that does NOT relate to story or role-playing experience save as deadly bullets do--and even that gets murky if you ask "are deadly bullets better or worse for a great RP experience or a good story"]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: September 19, 2002, 09:58:09 AM »

Hi there,

What a lot of people may be missing in this thread is that when people "use a system" and then claim that it works for their purposes, they are actually not using that system at all - they've invented and are using another one entirely.

One example of this - which I think describes the original post's situation - is to put "the book" aside and shift to a Drama-heavy system. They think they're "going system-less," but that's because their concept of "system" is too limited. Such play definitely employs a system of who gets to say what when, of who gets to go when relative to everyone else, and whether a stated action succeeds. It's a Drama system.

Most so-called "system-less" play is very formalized indeed in terms of organizing the Dramatic assertions.

Another example, a very different one and which has arisen in this thread as well, concerns the house-rules effect. As I've described in the past, I used to ask people about their AD&D games, back in the day. "It can cover anything!" they say. "No need for other games!" (insert GURPS, D20, whatever, if you want)

I'd ask them questions: Do you use racial level-limits? Why, no. Do you use the fire-and-forget magic? Um, no (insert elaborate discussion of mana or other magical homebrew). Do you start at first level? No, no, never. Do you ... and so on. What emerged again and again was that all these groups were not playing AD&D by a long shot. They were building new games without realizing it.

In conclusion, the term "system" in my big essay encompasses a much wider range (and more-inclusive level) of things than it usually refers to in casual RPG-discussions.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: September 19, 2002, 10:16:40 AM »

Marco, I think the key word in all of your posts is "presumptuous".  Perhaps it is presumptuous (by very definition) for a person to "presume" that they can help a given group have a better Role-playing experience by showing them how a different system would have worked better.  But it is equally presumptuous for the given group to presume that it wouldn't.

Point being:  "How presumptuous of you to think that you can improve our game experience"  is identical in terms of level of presumption to "How presumptuous of you to think your game experience couldn't be improved"

In other words, whether or not a topic of discussion is "presumptuous" is hardly a valid standard of evaluation.  Further it assumes that "presumption" is a perjorative thing.   Not being presumptuous can be equally bad...in the sense of "man, if only I'd known.  Why didn't you tell me this was out there"..."Well I didn't want to be presumptuous"

So perhaps your issue with the idea of "System Does Matter" is not really one of taking issue with the concept.  But rather one of feeling uncomfortable about bringing the subject up, thinking that it means having to tell other people that they're doing something wrong.

Sure there are people that will use it that way.  Those people will delight in telling you you're wrong in any number of ways for any number of reasons.  A missapplied model just gives them a convenient tool to use while they're doing it.  But without such a model, they'd be doing it anyway...just with less jargon.
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Marco
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« Reply #11 on: September 19, 2002, 11:30:49 AM »

Valimir,

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't evangalize games you like (to a degree, of course). If someone comes asking for a different game I'd be happy to make suggestions. If someone complains about a *system* problem making suggestions is fine. If I see someone having fun and go "it could be better if you do it this way" I'm a late-80's White-Wolf I-game-better-than-you weenie.

Telling someone that he's using the wrong tool for the job when it comes to constructing a "great story" is presumptious ... arrogant ... and purely matter of personal taste (if you don't think so then why is the ability of a system to tell a "great story" is quantifiable and "story-oriented"  gaming a worthless term?)

As for people "not playing AD&D" (or whatever). I didn't play with the armor-class mods for different armor types. I don't know why ... I mean, we just never cared to. You can make the point that I wasn't playing AD&D but it's a meaningless one (it walked like a duck and quacked like a duck ... I'd call it a duck). While I acknowledge the (interesting) assessment that these people all play AD&D differently, the common sense evaluation is that they're all playing a similar enough game to be called AD&D.

Like analyzing page count for combat system, it's an *interesting* analysis but let's not confuse it with a primary tool for evaluation (observe a session of AD&D with no combat and very few rules and you won't be *able* to tell if they're playing AD&D or not ... or a group could play strictly for years and then ignore a rule and you've declared the whole game to not be AD&D?)

Also: The term quality was invoked--I find this interesting. In computer science quality is defined as how closely the finished product meets the requirements. This is counter intuitive to many people: "A cement life preserver is high-quality if that's what the design called for!?"  The reason its done that way is that everyone thinks they know what "right" is (just as one might think that it's clear that great stories in AD&D succeed in spite of system) but when you get a group of people together somehow they all disagree.

Quality outside of the computer science definition is subjective (ask 20 people for a book that's a "great read").  So ... what are we to do? Use sales ("Hackmaster is flying off the shelf!?") Use number of players or satisfied customers? (WotC is still champion). What can we do in pursuit of a standard of quality?

In literature quality is determined by critics and cannon. Critics are the respected voices in the field. Cannon is a body of work determined to be of quality to which other texts can relate.

So if I pick Jorad as a critic and Sorceror as part of cannon then someone can compare the design goals of D&D3e to those of Sorceror using Jorad's opinion of each and determine which is of higher quality.

It works for Academia. If that's what you're calling for, let's be clear. And be clear that it's subjective to the group's evaluation of critics and choice of cannon.

-Marco
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #12 on: September 19, 2002, 11:53:43 AM »

Quote from: Valamir

But I caution against assumeing that all standards of quality can only be effectively measured on an individual subjective basis.  That line of reasoning makes it impossible to have discourse on any subject that is not based on math.


Why is that? I would disagree. In fact... I will disagree.

You can't have the same kind of discourse that you would have about math, but you can certainly discuss it.
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contracycle
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« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2002, 12:16:55 PM »

Quote from: Marco
Valimir,
Like analyzing page count for combat system, it's an *interesting* analysis but let's not confuse it with a primary tool for evaluation (observe a session of AD&D with no combat and very few rules and you won't be *able* to tell if they're playing AD&D or not ... or a group could play strictly for years and then ignore a rule and you've declared the whole game to not be AD&D?)


What is the purpose of evaluation if you do not form an opinion?  What is the purpose of an opinion if you do not make decisions on its basis?  And how would we learn from each other if we did not report our opinions and evaluations?

Furthermore: If we could observe a group of players with AD&D manuals in front of them, but as you describe them with so few rules that "you won't be *able* to tell if they're playing AD&D or not", then in what sense could they be said to be actually playing AD&D?  Presumably they would not need these books to be open much.

If a group played strictly, and then ignored a rule, they would presumably have had much greater use for the actual text of the game.  They could surely be said to have played THAT game, while a group who barely needed anything beyond character definition might not.  The group playing with few rules might be better served by a set of rules which address what they actually do... which not entirely coincidentally is where a lot of narrativist designs go.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #14 on: September 19, 2002, 12:30:10 PM »

Can we agree that patronizing a person and analyzing a system are two different things? I mean you don't have any problem with people having an opinion of how a game plays from analyzing the system, do you? For their own use? What you seem to be against is rudeness. Which I think we can all agree on.

But if someone asked me what I thought of two different games, you wouldn't have any problem if I gave them advice based on an analysis of the systems of the two games. Would you?

Again, it seems to me that you have a problem with a particular application of the theory as a tool in a campaign to domineer over other players. But I'm not seeing that as intrinsic to the theory. Once can believe it, and still be civil, polite, and respectful of people when discussing it. As can anyone with any theory.

So, do you have some other objection to the theory, or is it just when it's used in a rude fashion?

Mike
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