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Author Topic: Confused Agendas and Practicality (LONG)  (Read 3977 times)
clehrich
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« on: May 18, 2003, 08:36:01 PM »

I'd like to throw the following out, and see whether it strikes a chord.  If not, I'm not going to push about it.  I mean what I say, but if this approach seems unhelpful, I have no interest in forcing it down people's throats.

In an ongoing thread in the Scattershot forum, we have:
Quote from: Fang
Is it just me or is 'creative agenda' (as in 'what you do' and 'how you do it' in a game) getting way confused with 'creative agenda' (like in Lord of the Flies and The Jungle that were written to 'do something' beyond just entertain).

I don't see this as confusion at all, but I think a great deal of the difficulty in getting away from pure pragmatics in design is that folks think this is a confusion.  Let me try that in English, okay?

The purely pragmatic approach seems founded upon the notion that all game design is entirely about facilitating fun in a relatively traditional RPG sense.  This seems to me a pity, as I think one of the great strides made in the last few years in RPG design is the move toward doing things that simply have not been done.  For example, Sorcerer takes quite seriously the idea that players will want to explore, through their characters, moral or ethical questions in a fairly radical context.  This is, by comparison to AD&D2, for example, a drastic transformation in RPG approaches to ethics as legitimately part of the sphere of play; AD&D2 used a simplistic alignment system in an effort to avoid such questioning, while Sorcerer makes them central to play.

By this logic, and Sorcerer's generally accepted GNS coherence, it appears that the game is designed with goals that move well outside a traditional RPG sphere.  To use the terms proposed above, the creative agenda is quite a bit larger than "what you do" and "how you do it" in a game.  Indeed, I suspect that one of the reasons Sorcerer works so well is that it pushes the line between that sort of limited creative agenda and a much broader type of thinking.

Now I realize that nothing here is inherently new.  After all, Creative Agenda is, as I understand it, intended as a replacement for Premise, the latter term tending to precipitate one into endless circles about Egri and so forth.  Thus Narrativists C.A.'s generally do tend to reach outside traditional RPG spheres, because that's sort of the whole point of Narrativist C.A.'s.

If that's the case, though, GNS seems difficult to limit to practical design concerns.  At the same time, GNS is exceptionally useful for that purpose, and it would be a pity to castrate the diagnostic and constructive value of GNS simply because of a logical shiftiness.

I suggest, as I think have done for some months now, on and off, that practicality of design be to some degree backgrounded from theoretical discussion.  If the only goal of design is to create fun games in what has come to be a traditional RPG sphere, a sphere that nonetheless is dynamic and ever-transforming, then GNS and many of the other theories discussed here are certainly eminently useful.  But if you want to design the next Sorcerer, I submit that remaining within a pragmatic mode will not succeed.  To put it simply, all that you will be able to do is to re-do what's been done before, albeit perhaps somewhat more gracefully or whatever.  But if you want to do something really new, you need a non-practical approach.

Now it has been suggested (by Matt Snyder, I think) that the main thing you need to do something extraordinary and new is a flash of inspiration; his work on Dust Devils certainly gives his remarks legitimacy.  In a flash of my own -- though not of inspiration, I'm afraid -- I challenged that notion as unnecessarily mystical and obstructionist.  I'd like to refine that, and try to make my point more intelligently.

I maintain that RPG play has the potential to be a great deal more than an odd afternoon of fun.  I am willing to go so far as to argue for its legitimacy as a kind of art form.  But as an art form, it is peculiar in that it has no audience external to itself.  When you design a game, you design nothing but the blueprint for somebody else's artistic creation.  Your hope is that your design is so facilitating that almost any interested group can have a great time; you also hope, or I do anyway, that a great group will come together to create something that will have a deep impact and resonance for a long time.

By this logic, game design is utterly unlike writing a traditional novel or play, as have been discussed many times.  But I would propose that it is in fact a lot like art theory, or various forms of theoretical criticism in many academic discourses.  The fact is that really great theoretical discussion transforms utterly the material under analysis, makes it into a dynamic object in the mind of the reader, and thus as near as possible forces the reader to create a work of art in his or her own head.¹

But a classic divide within academic discourse, in fact, is between Theory and Practice, which are often seen as in conflict.  I see this all the time among my colleagues teaching college writing.  Most of them consider themselves writers of fiction or verse first and foremost, and academic critics second; theory they mainly consider an activity of the non-writer: those who can, do; those who can't, theorize -- this is their mantra.

I, however, am a theorist first and last.  As a scholar of religion and magic, I have no interest whatever in finding God, nor in practicing magic, nor anything of the sort.  I am interested solely in why others do so, and what it means to them, and I see this as valuable for a number of philosophical discourses -- which is really what good theory is anyway.

So to sum up this very long post, I would like to invite other theorists to cast away the chains of practicality.  If your current goal is practical, so be it -- but it need not be so.  When you try to create something great in game design, I believe that you are trying to do great theory in terms applicable to a specific situation;² if you try to be overly practical about it, you will be at odds with the hope that your readers will create something great themselves in the living world of RPG play.

So are we confused to see Creative Agenda, in the strict GNS sense, as something much larger than "what you do" and "how you do it" in a game?  Only insofar as we are trying to be practical about specific design criteria.  I believe it is helpful to retain the practical force of this term, since that is how it is currently used, but I suggest that limiting all theory to the practical will undermine the theoretical effort in general.  Thus such a constant focus will forever imprison RPGs in the locus of craft and hobby, and prevent even the notional possibility of their more than occasional aspirations to art.

Chris

Notes
1. In numerous analyses of classical music in the 20th century, it has been argued that composers are attempting to make this same "force" with respect to audiences.  Claude Levi-Strauss argued, for example, that Beethoven required intense knowledge of composition and music theory in order to be fully understood; at the same time, his music was sufficiently accessible that the less-educated audience could enjoy it at a more surface level.  Levi-Strauss then suggested that Schoenberg and the serialists constructed a music that could only be understood by the intelligentsia, such that while the theoretical moves were indeed brilliant, the music was unapproachable for the vast majority of audiences, and thus in the end was devastating to the status of so-called "classical" music in the modern age.  I don't know that he's entirely right about this, but I think probably mostly so.

2. This is the way essentially all great theory is done today, as should be the case with philosophy since Kant.  Great theory is done through rigorous analysis of a specific object, that analysis leading to larger meditation on generalizable issues.  Thus the historian of religions analyzes particular instances of religiosity in order to make broader points; the linguistic philosopher commonly begins with a literary work and uses the intricacies of the text to generate thought about language.  I try to do both, personally, by using religious instances to generate deeper thinking about language, but this relies on the history of the discipline, where it has increasingly been recognized that religious discourse may be religious, but it is nonetheless discourse, and thus falls within but attempts to challenge from within the nature of language itself.
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Chris Lehrich
Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2003, 02:12:28 PM »

I offer this as my early concern about how the term "Creative Agenda" seemed "too big."

If we confine the idea of Creative Agenda (I proposed making that an "Explorative Agenda") to the GNS implications of Exploring Color, Setting, Situation, Character and System, we do need to acknowledge (it seems to me) that there exists another "agenda" at a somewhat less-specific level (I thought we could call THAT the Creative Agenda).  I'm not sure if these two levels correspond exactly to the "practical" and the "theoretical", but I think it is important to recognize two things:

1)  They ARE seperate.  That is, everything that is true about one is NOT true about the other.  So if you have a Creative Agenda issue that isn't part of the Explorative Agenda (say, wanting personal growth out of your RPG session), GNS may not tell you anything particualarly useful about it.

2)  They DO, however, impact each other.  So that the specifics of how you apply your Explorative Agenda (Exploration of the 5, as influenced by your GNS preferences) may be GREATLY affected by your Creative Agenda.  

Influence passes between these two items - definition does not.

So . . . in my mind, we do need to keep these things seperate, but because of the way they influence each other, I don't think that really undermines Chris's call to maintain theory in the face of practicality.

Hope that makes sense,

Gordon
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2003, 04:14:28 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
I proposed making that an "Explorative Agenda..."

1)  They ARE seperate.  That is, everything that is true about one is NOT true about the other.  So if you have a Creative Agenda issue that isn't part of the Explorative Agenda (say, wanting personal growth out of your RPG session), GNS may not tell you anything particualarly useful about it.

2)  They DO, however, impact each other.  So that the specifics of how you apply your Explorative Agenda (Exploration of the 5, as influenced by your GNS preferences) may be GREATLY affected by your Creative Agenda.  

I very much agree, but to prevent confusion with the previous 'creative agenda,' how about 'ulterior agenda.

And one other point, I've become painfully aware that people prioritize these differently.  Some put facilitating the Explorative Agenda ahead of the Ulterior Agenda, some don't.  Can't we all get along?

Fang Langford
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clehrich
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« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2003, 07:44:13 PM »

Hi again.  Thanks for these initial responses.
Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
I offer this as my early concern about how the term "Creative Agenda" seemed "too big."

I think you made a fine point here, but Ron did as well; in the end, it looks as though his terminology has become standard, and I am loath to bend it now.  There's enough terminological confusion 'round these parts without re-defining things now.
Quote
...we do need to acknowledge (it seems to me) that there exists another "agenda" at a somewhat less-specific level (I thought we could call THAT the Creative Agenda).  I'm not sure if these two levels correspond exactly to the "practical" and the "theoretical",

Let me stop you right there, before going on.  I'm quite sure that this division does not correspond to "theoretical" and "practical."  If you thought that was what I was saying, I was unclear; we agree here, I think.
Quote
1)  They ARE separate.  That is, everything that is true about one is NOT true about the other.  So if you have a Creative Agenda issue that isn't part of the Explorative Agenda (say, wanting personal growth out of your RPG session), GNS may not tell you anything particualarly useful about it.

A good point.  Not quite what I meant about the other sort of agenda, but I'll get back to that.  On the main point, though -- that GNS likely has little to do with the alternative agenda -- I am entirely in agreement.
Quote
2)  They DO, however, impact each other.  So that the specifics of how you apply your Explorative Agenda (Exploration of the 5, as influenced by your GNS preferences) may be GREATLY affected by your Creative Agenda.  

Agreed.
Quote
So . . . in my mind, we do need to keep these things seperate, but because of the way they influence each other, I don't think that really undermines Chris's call to maintain theory in the face of practicality.

Well.  Hmm.  Okay, this isn't exactly what I meant here.

I think we have to keep these things separate, as you suggest, for the entirely ordinary reason of having intelligent conversations without constantly saying, "Wait, do you mean this one or that?"  Since "Creative Agenda" has become standard for what you've called "Explorative Agenda," I would prefer to stick with the standard; it's a label for a category, and seems to serve passably well for this purpose.

As to maintaining theory in the face of practicality, there's really a couple of levels here.  On the one hand, I'm with you in wanting to recognize an additional sort of aesthetic or artistic agenda, which while it may often be collapsible into Creative Agenda need not be so.  At the same time, this extra agenda is not in itself theoretical.

Creating an artistic object is not necessarily a theoretical endeavor.  But as analysts of a peculiar sort of artistic project, we must recognize the difference between the practical goal of keeping agendas close together and the theoretical goal of recognizing that they need not be identical.

What I'm up against here can be exemplified by the following hypothetical (but I don't think parodic) exchange:

------------

GameDesigner (GD): In my game, the Creative Agenda is about the ethical quandary which faces the PCs, a bunch of far-future soldiers, when they need on the one hand to defend their buddies and achieve their officers' objectives, and on the other to avoid simply annihilating innocent alien civilians.

Me: Okay, I'd analyze this game as demanding and provoking responses to the historical but highly fictionalized situation of (especially) Vietnam soldiers.  By translating the situation into a sci-fi universe, it seems to me that you are also encouraging players to encounter this situation in terms of the radically dehumanizing rhetoric of Vietnam -- not to mention of course some of the similar rhetoric which continues today about Muslims.

GD: I think you're reading too much into this.  Sure, I thought about Rambo and Platoon, but I put this in the far future because I didn't want this to be about Vietnam.  Where's the practical goal in reading the game as about Vietnam?

Me: Who cares about the practical goals?  The point is that at a theoretical level, your game is, like it or not, embedded in the ways people think about warfare in the modern world; this is the tension between our world as Baseline and your future setting as Vision.

GD: Since I thought of and intended none of this, the entire discussion is pointless.  I just want some practical advice on making the game more enjoyable to play.

------------

Now I've deliberately cast myself as rather less practical and more radical than I really am, or tend to be.  But I maintain that this divide is constant and a major problem.  RPG Theory, here at the Forge, is too often constrained by this critique: "But that's of no practical value to me."  This should not be accepted as a criticism; it's simply a way of saying, "I choose not to participate in this discussion."

So if I were to push the issue of Agenda quite far indeed, I'd say that Creative Agenda (traditional definition, which we might as well retain) is usually a practical concern of the author.  There may be other agendas, and I'd go so far as to say that there always are.  But they have nothing necessarily to do with authorial intent, and they may well be discerned only by theoretical analysis.  Nevertheless, it is our task as theorists to reveal these agendas, and to consider them consciously and intently.

I maintain that such analysis will promote good practical design, which is justification enough.  But I also maintain that the purpose of such analysis is ultimately to break down the arbitrary and self-destructive divide between RPGs and other creative endeavors.

Does this make any sense at all?
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Chris Lehrich
Matt Snyder
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« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2003, 08:56:13 PM »

I think I see what you are saying here. It does make sense to me, and I’m starting to see much of where we disagreed in previous posts. We’re still likely not to see eye-to-eye on every nuance, in no small part because some of the questions you raise are imponderables, but there’s merit in what you’re saying, I think.

Two key imponderables here are:

Can there be non-entertaining art?

If a designer does not intend, and even consciously resists claims that his work is art, is it indeed art?

These are imponderables, I _think_, because you and I would have different answers. Worse, our answers are likely to change with each significant game that comes along.

Also, I get caught up here:

Quote
If the only goal of design is to create fun games in what has come to be a traditional RPG sphere, a sphere that nonetheless is dynamic and ever-transforming, then GNS and many of the other theories discussed here are certainly eminently useful. But if you want to design the next Sorcerer, I submit that remaining within a pragmatic mode will not succeed.


From my perspective, the mistake is the presumption that practicality and the “traditional RPG sphere” are indistinguishable. I do not agree. We have seen, over the years, many games that, through intent or grace, eschew “traditional” notions of what constitutes fun in gaming. Sorcerer is not alone in that. And yet, I defy you to find ANY game, including Sorcerer and other games with “larger” agendas that no one describes as fun at best or “entertaining” at worst. I cannot conceive of any RPG that is not entertaining, even if only to a few people.

In a larger sense, I think I understand what you are getting at. First, we have that age old question -- are RPGs art? My answer is yes, possibly. (And the better question is: Is the game itself art, the creation of the game? OR, is it the actual play – what one produces with the “engine” art? Or is it both? I think both could be art.)

My take on all this is simple. I’m plainly uninterested (with no ill will to you or anyone with contrary opinions) in theory for theory’s sake. I understand the purpose of such endeavors - - interesting philosophizing and the shedding of light upon acts of art, creation and ultimately the human condition. Not to mention the eventual creation of new, playable games down the road.

However, consider my take: I think that practicality is the only means by which we will produce artistic games. Yes, they may be informed by theory, but they NEED NOT BE. This is crucial. That theory is not necessary to produce art. Practical creation is, however. This is not to say that art takes shape devoid of influence or skill. But ignorance of academic theories do not prevent an artist from creating works that could clearly fit. Absence of practicality, however, produces nothing at all. (And, yes, I realize you’re not dismissing any need for practicality. I gather that what you’re saying is that in coming up with new theories, practicality needs to sit on the back burner for a while, yes?)

I’m saying that I think that theory is NOT a necessary requirement for new aesthetics, which I gather to be the ultimate goal here, yes?

This is, of course, not to say that theories DON’T inform designs that create new aesthetics; that’s reason enough to proceed. I just wanted to voice what I see as the distinction between necessity and sufficiency here.
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clehrich
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« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2003, 09:51:23 PM »

Interesting response; thanks, Matt.

You're right -- I think we're not likely to see eye-to-eye on all issues, but I don't think we're quite as far apart as you fear.  Let me just pick up a few points you make:

Quote
Two key imponderables here are:

Can there be non-entertaining art?

If a designer does not intend, and even consciously resists claims that his work is art, is it indeed art?

If you'll allow me to amend the last phrase to "can it indeed be art," then I think the answer in both cases has to be "yes."  This is probably where we're going to disagree most fundamentally, in the end.  I won't go on about it at length; suffice to say that I don't think these are imponderables at all, in the sense that they cannot be pondered in an intense and productive mode.  In fact, they have been, at length, in numerous major artistic movements over the last few centuries.  To keep things short, though, I would split the questions more radically than I think you intend:

Can something be art if it is not entertaining, regardless of

1. whether the creator considers it entertaining; and
2. whether the creator considers it art.

To which I answer: yes.

Quote
These are imponderables, I _think_, because you and I would have different answers. Worse, our answers are likely to change with each significant game that comes along.

Again, theory/practice: I don't think it matters at all what game we discuss, for general theoretical questions like this.  By "art" I don't mean "good."  There's lots of art I find dreadful, but I won't on that basis claim it isn't artistic.

Anyway, enough on this part of the subject, since you have quite politely indicated that it's not something that mesmerizes you.

Quote
From my perspective, the mistake is the presumption that practicality and the “traditional RPG sphere” are indistinguishable.

Not quite what I meant; sorry about that.  I meant that if all one does is try to refine descriptions of how, practically speaking, to create games, then you cannot go outside the traditional sphere.  The reason being that all you have to work from is what's been done before.  In point of fact, of course, nobody actually does work only from previous games, because we're all influenced by other media.  What I'm saying is that pure practicality is in itself sufficient only to create wonderful versions of what's been done.  Fortunately, any creative game designer is involved in theory, whether she knows it or otherwise.

Quote
And the better question is: Is the game itself art, the creation of the game? OR, is it the actual play – what one produces with the “engine” art? Or is it both? I think both could be art.

Yes, I agree -- this is an excellent question.  My tendency is to see actual play as art-object constructed dynamically within the sphere created by the engine, but that's because I prefer a musical model to a visual or written one for this purpose.

Quote
I gather that what you’re saying is that in coming up with new theories, practicality needs to sit on the back burner for a while, yes?

No.  This is where we are far more in agreement than you think.  All I'm saying is that practicality is not the only legitimate measure of worth in theoretical discussion and analysis.  If you want to reduce my points to a concrete proposal -- and I'd rather not, but ok -- my proposal is that the following statement be dropped from RPG Theory as a legitimate argument: "This is not practical, so it is silly."  I am trying to provide a justification for theory on its own ground and for its own sake, and further trying to suggest that there is every reason to think such discussions will ultimately be fruitful for practical design.  I am not trying to say that practical concerns must be dropped from theory; I am saying that they cannot be used as a weapon against theory.

This is where we got tangled up last thread.  I thought you were doing what I'm trying to push against here; it turned out that's not what you meant, and I was overreacting anyway.  Does this clarify my position for you?

Quote
I’m saying that I think that theory is NOT a necessary requirement for new aesthetics, which I gather to be the ultimate goal here, yes?

To be precise:
-- Theory (as a category of explicit discussion and analysis) is not a necessary requirement for new aesthetic productions, even on new aesthetic bases.
-- Theory (same definition) is required for new aesthetics, because aesthetics per se is theory.
-- Theory (in the general sense of the integration of concepts from outside the material medium [of RPGs] with that medium) is required for any new aesthetic creation, but that definition is so general as to be mostly unhelpful (although cf. Levi-Strauss on music, mythology, and bricolage).

----------------

I increasingly think we are on the same page, and that most of our disagreement has to do with priorities.  You are not terribly interested in pure theoretical debate; I am.  You are terribly interested in the practicalities of game design; I am mostly interested insofar as they stimulate interesting theory.  But we agree that both forms of discussion are valuable (1) in their own right, and (2) as mutually stimulating.

If you agree with the last paragraph, I'm pretty sure we have consensus.
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Chris Lehrich
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« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2003, 10:25:41 PM »

clehrich,

Yeah, looks like my points are at best side issues to what you're getting it, which I read simplistically as "wonderful practical results can - and, by some interpretations, truly new and revolutionary results *must* - spring from entirely theoretical inquiries."  I have no argument with that - though I sympathize with folks who start wondering exactly when/how/etc. the philosophizing is going to generate something useful.

As far as my side point - as long as we can communicate what is and isn't part of the phrase Creative Agenda, we'll do OK.  I'm not claiming there's a right answer as to which word(s) to use  . . .

Gordon
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clehrich
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« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2003, 10:34:36 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
which I read simplistically as "wonderful practical results can - and, by some interpretations, truly new and revolutionary results *must* - spring from entirely theoretical inquiries."

Close enough, frankly.

Quote
I sympathize with folks who start wondering exactly when/how/etc. the philosophizing is going to generate something useful.

Almost every thread here -- this one being a deliberate exception -- tries to generate practical results.  What bugs me is when the occasional relatively "pure" theory discussion gets knocked for being impractical.

As a side note here, I should point out that I don't think all theory is useful or valuable.  I just don't think that measuring it against pragmatic standards is necessarily the best way to judge.
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Chris Lehrich
Eric J-D
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« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2003, 09:46:53 AM »

I have been following this thread and its near relatives with interest for some time, but have been reluctant to post because I first wwanted to be sure that Chris was saying what I thought he was saying.  Now that I know he is, I feel a bit more secure about contributing, although I don't know how helpful this will be.

At heart Chris' post is a plea for greater hesitation in dismissing purely or even largely theoretical threads based on their supposed impracticality.  As someone conversant in a good deal of theory I sympathize with this, although I'm reluctant to agree with him that this is anything like common practice at the Forge.  Perhaps this stems from his recent wranglings with another member of the Forge in a separate thread, but by and large I have found the Forge to be meritoriously hospitable to theory rather than opposed to it.

That said, I think that this thread would be most productive if it got back to its original theoretical starting point rather than persisting in its present one: let's accept, shall we, that there is a place for the purely theoretical at the table so that we don't need to tire ourselves with reading (or writing) further apologies for theory.

As Chris suggests in a number of places, his real interest seems to lie in developing a set of aesthetic principles that will aid in game design.  This is as clear a statement as could be of the compatibility of the theoretical and the practical--Chris is hoping that a sufficiently anlytical aesthetic theory will yield to aesthetic products (games).  As an aside I will state the obvious point that aesthetic theory is in no way essentially instrumental in its operations--theoretical aesthetics and aesthetic productions can be largely autonomous regions as well as display varying degrees of overlap, etc.

All to the good.  Chris' position should therefore make it suficiently clear that he is not in need of any Nike style "Just Do It" advice.  So, what remains then is for Chris (colloquially speaking) to throw down some aesthetic principles that might be an aid to future game design.
 
The optimist in me welcomes this if only on the chance that it helps a few people struggling with their own work.  The pessimist however (and I am sorry to say this Chris) is convinced that the history of the aesthetic from Baumgarten on has been a rather dismal failure.  Should this dissuade anyone from attempting to reinvigorate aesthetic theory? Certainly not; it cetainly hasn't stopped folks like Gramsci, Adorno or, more recently, Wendy Steiner.  Along the way though I think we'll need to be sure to distinguish between certain kinds of aesthetic theorizing--there is admittedly a huge difference between what someone like Winckelmann or even Steiner is adressing and what someone like Eagleton or Bourdieu are doing when they discuss the aesthetic.

What then are some aesthetic principles that might be useful for game design and which aesthetic domains are the most fruitful from which to analogize in order to cull these principles?

I'll leave that as a hanging question.

Eric (zhlubb)
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clehrich
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« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2003, 08:53:48 PM »

Quote
What then are some aesthetic principles that might be useful for game design and which aesthetic domains are the most fruitful from which to analogize in order to cull these principles?

If only that were an answerable question!  I think the best thing I can do here is to propose a few questions and possibilities, and hope folks take some of them up in other threads.

Questions

1. Where does the locus of artistic production lie in RPGs?  There are at least 3 semi-independent domains here: Product (as in the product you buy off the shelf or the web), Preparation (which the GM and the group put into a particular campaign prior to play), Play.  My inclination is to focus primarily on Play.  Some of these issues are being discussed currently in http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6541" target="blank">this thread.

2. When we talk about RPGs as art, what sort of model of "the work" are we dealing with?  On the one hand, most modern Americans are most comfortable with (i.e. seem to presume) an ars gratia artis theory of art, in which art is sort of its own thing unto itself.  But that approach is relatively rare in world history, and quite limited temporally in even the West.  Prior to the mid-19th century, art was presumed generally to have function in some sense, though of course the nature of that function was hotly contested in various spheres, media, and periods.  Perhaps most commonly, great art was supposed to affect the spirit, soul, etc. of the audience, producing a moral effect.  In the 20th century, there was a revival of interest in this approach to art, but often aligned with anti-establishment or iconoclastic ideologies.  This is all simply background, of course, but the question remains.  Suppose we write a Narrativist game in which there is the explicit purpose (by definition) of raising moral or ethical quandaries, why do we wish to do so, and does that have anything to do with the status of the work as art?

3. If it is granted that there can't really be any objective standards of beauty, it's simply not possible to formulate rules which will allow us to rate or grade RPGs as more or less beautiful, relative to each other or to other artworks.  There may, however, be principles that we can say generally define successful works, and may be called standards of beauty.  The idea of GNS coherence is a narrow but effective approach to formulating such a standard.  I have also suggested principles of elegance in the relationship of mechanics to player activities.  Arguably the majority of the RPG Theory discussions seem to revolve around the search for such principles, in fact.  But all this raises a further point: much great art in fact breaks the established rules of its day, often in specific, pointed, deliberate ways.  How do we formulate standards such that we can recognize such breakage as valuable without in the same breath discarding the principles already discovered?

Directions

1. The analogy of music to RPGs should be pushed.  One version has been proposed, the famous band metaphor or playing bass metaphor,¹ in which the players are musicians.  Taking a classical music model (a relatively late one), we might set this up as:
    Composer - Designer
    Conductor - GM
    Musician - Player[/list:u]But it seems to me that we should also consider the fact that many classical composers and theorists see the interaction of the audience with the music as necessarily active, not passive.  Thus in such music, there are 4 levels, not 3, and the least important is arguably that of the conductor.  If so, how does the RPG analogy shift?  What do we understand to be our audience-like role, as players?  What is it that the music demands from us, and what exactly do we mean by music here?

    2. The analogy of ritual to RPGs is something I would push extremely hard; I have posted at length on it several places, most recently http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6389&start=54" target="blank">here.  Unfortunately ritual theory is fairly hellish terrain, and doesn't appear to spark interest much thus far.  Nevertheless, I would argue that the principles of ritual interaction with imagined spaces could be very valuable for understanding RPGs as social events, and furthermore for dredging out some of the powerful dynamics within play.

    3. http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6166&start=75" target="blank">In this long thread, but at this post I proposed an analogy bewteen RPG play and mythology, based on a structuralist interpretation (Levi-Strauss's in particular).  While structuralism has many flaws, it does have the advantage of a rigorous methodology, something that could profitably be applied to interpreting RPGs.

    4. I think that questions of improvisational and other forms of theater could profitably be reopened.  It will be essential, however, not simply to imagine an identity between forms, but rather to push theatrical models to the breaking point in order to discern particular modalities of RPG play as a specific form.

    On Method

    I believe that the great danger in extending RPG theory into realms traditionally associated with other media is the tendency to over-analogize.  There is a whole genre here of analogy construction: the pinball game, the rock or jazz band, etc.  These are valuable exercises, because they push us to think about RPGs differently than we usually do.  The danger lies in thinking that such an analogy constitutes an identity.

    I would push strongly for a comparative method.  Setting up these analogies is a beginning, in that it establishes the grounds of comparison, the justification for putting two such disparate objects in the same discussion.  But then it will be the ways in which, given those comparative grounds, the two objects differ that will be most profitable for understanding either one.  Thus when comparing RPGs to playing in a band, it is ultimately the ways in which RPG play is not like a band that will tell us most about RPG play specifically.

    As a final note on method, I think that ultimately RPG theory will need to develop methods distinctive to itself.  At this point, we do not have this; we have some models, and some tendencies, but we don't have methods.  I suspect that somebody is going to have to write a landmark essay on the subject, then have somebody else write a landmark challenge to that, and so forth, before such methodological sophistication can begin.

    Conclusions

    I have none, as such.  I am certain that I have simply missed the vast majority of important directions and questions for RPGs as artistic products, and I know that I have not provided adequate references.  My apologies; I wanted to get this out and see what would happen.

    Chris


    Notes
    1. I had a hell of a time figuring out where this started.  I searched for "band metaphor" and for "playing bass," and you go back beyond a certain point and suddenly it vanishes.  The first posts I find that talk about this already refer to Ron's "playing bass" metaphor.  Anyone know where it started?  Sorry, I'm bad with search engines.
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Chris Lehrich
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2003, 09:53:27 PM »

I'll start here by trying to be helpful. I've felt that my comments haven't been appreciated of late, so maybe I can ingratiate myself slightly by being of some service. To whit, the info that you're looking for on the "band" metaphor, Chris, is probably on www.gamingoutpost.com, or may have been at one time. That is, a lot of the disscussion here was created on that site before the Forge ever existed some years ago. That said, I am currently unaware of the condition of the archives at that site, and have been given to understand that finding old posts may be difficult or impossible. That's just a rumor, however, you may want to look into it anyhow.

You may even run into my very first post where I challenged the idea of GNS based on it being potentially divisive. That was a pretty long time ago.

And just to try to clear some air, I am totally all for theory of any sort as long as it makes sense and adds something new to the discussion. None of my objections have been in any way of the sort that say, "well, it doesn't seem useful to me." So that must be somebody else who's saying that.

Because I love theory. That ought to be patently obvious to anyone who's read me, but I feel I have to say it anyhow.

Also, on G.O. you might find a post I distinctly remeber in which I claim in no uncertain terms that RPGs are absolutely an art form. I think I said something like they "may be a debased form currently" or something like that, but there's no question in my mind that they are art on some level.

I don't see the distinction you're making here. Either theory pertains, and, as you claim, will help make for better RPGs, or it's useless. Read that twice if it sounds like I'm disagreeing with you in any way. I like all theory because it all has practical applications in my book. The ones that don't have such an application are the ones that are incorrect.

So, let me reiterate that all my previous objections have been that I've yet to glean from any of this new theory anything new or helpful. I've heard some fancy sounding constructs but I haven't seen anything coming from them.

Also, I've not seen one person say that you can't continue to discuss what you're discussing. By all means, please continue if you see light at the end of the tunnel. There has been dissent (some want it to be seen as dismissiveness; but that's another argument), but that's what new thought gets, and must be able to endure to prove it's value.

I've also been asked to try and "help out" with the cause. This is an odd request. It's going to be difficult for me to add anything to a theory I don't agree with. I mean, as I see this as all going over old ground, I would have offered up any thoughts I had on what appears to me to be the subject long ago if I had any. So I need better understanding of this at the very least before you'll see any help from my corner. You'll have to trust me that I'll be in there fighting for this as soon as I see the truth of the concept.

But it seems to me that this still all revolves around the idea of creating some theory that will enable us to discover a way to incorporate our aesthetic choices into a game. Well, it seems to me that you do this, as Matt says, in practical fashion. No matter how abstuse the source of your motivations. I see nowhere where Creative Agenda was limited to not including being pedagogical for instance (in fact there was a thread or two on that very subject). Or anything lese that's being intimated here.

I find it ood that you would say that it's the guy who created the innovative game that's trying to rein everyone else in. Ron's done nothing but encouraged people to break boundaries. He's most outspoken in saying that GNS is only part of the formula, and that one ought to work out the larger picture before even thinking of using GNS for analysis (in fact I'm a much larger proponent of this than he is; but evn I admit it's not everything in terms of design). I think that Ron's been terrifically mischaracterized.

I don't want to be passive agressive about this, but I have a feeling that my take on this will be seen as expanding the definition of Creaative Agenda to what people are now claiming it was never intended to cover. Well, it's always been my understanding that Creative Agenda covered, well, the whole enchilada.

Why can't "what you do" include "learn about slavery" or "understand the works of Picasso". How is it that the definition of Premise in the GNS essay, which is the same definition as pertains to Creative Agenda (being that the latter is a replacement for the first), how is it that this definition can't cover what's being discussed here.

Again, maybe it does, and I'm just incredibly dense. Let me know. Or maybe it's a subset, and I'm not seeing which fragment it is. Or maybe it's a superset that includes something that I can't at the moment concieve of. Maybe it's any of these. I can only apollogize for my lack of picking it up.

You have no obligation to teach me. But I have no obligation to simply agree, either. So I'll wait, patiently, I guess unless you want to try to continue.

BTW, this will also sound dismissive, but it's been a long time policy of mine. If this is simply some sort of pure deconstruction (and your last post had some elements that wounded like they might be headed that direction), then you'll find me highly opposed to further discussion other than to agree to refer to Deridas as final authority and call the subject moot. I don't think it is, but I just want to ensure that this isn't a dead end that we're going down.

This all ses to me pertain to this thread. If I've made a mistake in that regard, then please disregard it.

Mike
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clehrich
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« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2003, 10:35:05 PM »

Hi, Mike.  Nice to hear from you again.

First, thanks for the band reference; I'll try to look it up.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I am totally all for theory of any sort as long as it makes sense and adds something new to the discussion. None of my objections have been in any way of the sort that say, "well, it doesn't seem useful to me." So that must be somebody else who's saying that.

Perhaps.  I certainly wouldn't point fingers at you, or anybody.  Last thread things did indeed get touchy, but I think Matt and I have certainly cleared the air between us, and I don't see the need to continue beating a dead horse.
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I don't see the distinction you're making here. Either theory pertains, and, as you claim, will help make for better RPGs, or it's useless. Read that twice if it sounds like I'm disagreeing with you in any way. I like all theory because it all has practical applications in my book. The ones that don't have such an application are the ones that are incorrect.

Until the last sentence, I'm with you entirely.  I genuinely believe that all theoretical discourse can have practical value for design.  I do think that this may take quite a bit of time, however.  If a theoretical discussion goes on for, say, a year without being of practical value, does that make it invalid?  No.  Theoretical discussion cannot be evaluated by practical yardsticks; that was and is my point about theory vs. practice.  As I say, I do believe that theoretical discussion does contribute to practice, but it may well be that some other person, reading a theoretical discussion, will suddenly think, "Hey!  I've got this neat way to enact that practically in my design!"  The fact that the theorist has thus far failed to make such a connection, in fact may not have attempted it, does not invalidate the theory.
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So, let me reiterate that all my previous objections have been that I've yet to glean from any of this new theory anything new or helpful. I've heard some fancy sounding constructs but I haven't seen anything coming from them.

Sorry to hear it.  In this thread at least, of course, I haven't proposed anything new in theory whatsoever, apart from a few odd potential directions that might one day get taken up.  If you mean the Baseline/Vision thing, it does seem to help some folks.  But again, that has really nothing to do with whether it's a worthwhile discussion.
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Also, I've not seen one person say that you can't continue to discuss what you're discussing. By all means, please continue if you see light at the end of the tunnel. There has been dissent (some want it to be seen as dismissiveness; but that's another argument), but that's what new thought gets, and must be able to endure to prove it's value.

Not to over-read here, but given that you're who you are, let me push you a bit here.  Why must I prove the value of the discussion?  How could I possibly do so?  Suppose I fail -- will that mean the discussion should be closed off?  I ask you to think very hard about this, Mike.  You feel I'm overinterpreting such challenges as dismissive.  I'm suggesting that, absent an entirely arbitrary yardstick for evaluation, your feeling that the discourse must prove its value must ultimately push toward such dismissal.  And I'm saying that the arbitrary yardstick usually set up -- that of practicality -- cannot legitimately be applied to pure theory anyway, on logical grounds.  Look at the first post of the thread again: it's a call for theory to break free of the chains of practicality as a legitimation device, not an attack on anyone or a proposal of new theory.  Seriously ask yourself, how did you read it otherwise?
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I've also been asked to try and "help out" with the cause.

Sorry, not sure what you're referring to.  Can you clarify?
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I see nowhere where Creative Agenda was limited to not including being pedagogical for instance (in fact there was a thread or two on that very subject). Or anything lese that's being intimated here.

You'll see it in my post.  I would like to limit it that way, because I think most people use it in a limited fashion.
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I find it ood that you would say that it's the guy [Ron] who created the innovative game that's trying to rein everyone else in.

Mike, I am honestly stunned that you think I said that.  Where?  I think his model, GNS, is limited.  He agrees, as both you and I have said again and again.  I would like to see strong new directions toward seeing a much larger, less limited model, not to supersede GNS but to perceive RPG play and production in a larger discursive context.  To expand GNS to serve this purpose will destroy all that is best about GNS: it is precise, carefully delimited, and has achieved something resembling consensus about application.
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I don't want to be passive agressive about this, but I have a feeling that my take on this will be seen as expanding the definition of Creaative Agenda to what people are now claiming it was never intended to cover. Well, it's always been my understanding that Creative Agenda covered, well, the whole enchilada.

This is a terminological question, and should be taken up on its own thread.  My understanding was that Creative Agenda was generally used in a relatively constrained sense; on that assumption, I would push for it to remain constrained, as the term thus covers an important object of analysis.  If you are correct that Creative Agenda always was and is the totality of such possible agendas, then we need a new term to cover the small one.  I think there is every reason to think that consensus has not been achieved here; let's have a thread that seeks it.
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BTW, this will also sound dismissive, but it's been a long time policy of mine. If this is simply some sort of pure deconstruction (and your last post had some elements that wounded like they might be headed that direction), then you'll find me highly opposed to further discussion other than to agree to refer to Deridas as final authority and call the subject moot. I don't think it is, but I just want to ensure that this isn't a dead end that we're going down.

First, which post?

Second, while it is true that I am interested in deconstructive approaches to RPGs, the main point of access I see there would be in the division between player and character, as I mentioned around here somewhere recently.  

Third, if by "pure deconstruction" you mean "pure destruction," I don't intend that, nor does it have anything to do with deconstruction.  I see no reason to bring technical deconstructive approaches into the Forge except where there is a particular point in doing so, nor is there any point in debating deconstruction unless everyone in the debate has read quite a lot about it.  The suggestion that I would find "refer[ring] to Deridas [sic] as final authority and call[ing] the subject moot" a useful endeavor I do indeed find dismissive, primarily because it is dismissive of theory outside the Forge that you clearly know little about.  I hate to put it that way, but I'm afraid I do detect an element of raw annoyance in your post that seems ultimately to boil down to something like, "Sure sure, whatever, can we get back to games now?"  Personally, I could care less whether we ever discuss Derrida on the Forge; if we do so, I hope it will be an informed discussion about applying deconstructive ideas to analysis of RPGs.

Hoping this clarifies matters somewhat.

--------

As a final note, Mike's brought up another interesting possibility.  We could seek the hidden metaphysics behind RPG divisions, such as player/character or the GNS distinctions....
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Chris Lehrich
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: May 21, 2003, 06:50:12 AM »

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The ones that don't have such an application are the ones that are incorrect.

Until the last sentence, I'm with you entirely.  I genuinely believe that all theoretical discourse can have practical value for design.  I do think that this may take quite a bit of time, however.  If a theoretical discussion goes on for, say, a year without being of practical value, does that make it invalid?  No.
Again, I don't see any time limits being put on anything. Take as long as you like. You don't mean to imply that I can't respond in the negative for a year, do you? As long as we both agree that we're both free to theorize as we like, then I don't see where we're disagreeing.

But I will stand by my point that if a theory can be disproven that it's then not useful. It might be molded into something useful through further thought, however. So I'm not saying that we ought not discuss. I'm saying that we ought to allow the debate to forge meaning.

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Not to over-read here, but given that you're who you are, let me push you a bit here.
This is what I don't get. Who am I? I'm just this guy who posts a lot here. But if you want to privilege my position, I guess I'll feel...privileged.

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Why must I prove the value of the discussion?  How could I possibly do so?

...

Seriously ask yourself, how did you read it otherwise?

I didn't read it otherwise. I've never called for some sort of practicality yardstick other than the theory has been said to be about practicality. See, if people say that this theory is about learning some deeper thing about RPGs that doesn't affect design directly, then I'd only consider that. But people have been saying that it's about things like improved deliberate design. So I've addressed that when it's come up.

Whether or not this is a theory that's going to take time to develop, I'm going to comment on it as sensibly as I can all the way. Disagreement is not dismissiveness. An attempt to forge truth is not only for practicality's sake.

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I've also been asked to try and "help out" with the cause.

Sorry, not sure what you're referring to.  Can you clarify?
Speaking in general terms, and you might not have been one who did this, our side of the debate has been vilified for being obstructionist, and it's been suggested that it would behoove us to get on the bandwagon and add to the theory instead. If you really like I can quote people, but I'd rather not get into that. The point is that it's a tactic that I don't appreciate. It makes us look bad for stating our side of the argument. Apparently if we disagree, we're just thickheaded bullies. It couldn't be that we're simply representing our ideas in the debate?

Again, I'm not pointing fingers. But any such tactics on either side have to stop. Neither side can resort to such passive-aggressive behavior if we hope to get anywhere.
 
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I see nowhere where Creative Agenda was limited to not including being pedagogical for instance (in fact there was a thread or two on that very subject). Or anything lese that's being intimated here.

You'll see it in my post.  I would like to limit it that way, because I think most people use it in a limited fashion.
I'd agree, actually. But that's because I think that most designers are highly coralled by previous thought in general. If this is just a call for designers to expand what's meant by Creative Agenda, I'm all for it.

Do we need a terminology change to effect that? Well, that will just put us back into the whole debate about the value of changing terms. For my part, if you can make it really compelling, I'm with you. But my personal standard is pretty high. I'd need at least a little more discussion on the subject before I'd sign on.

But like I said, I'm just this one guy...

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I find it odd that you would say that it's the guy [Ron] who created the innovative game that's trying to rein everyone else in.

Mike, I am honestly stunned that you think I said that.  Where?
Again, do you really want me to quote where I saw this? I'll take you're word for it, and assume that I must have misread. But I'd ask as humbly as possible that we should all try to monitor our own rhetoric so as to avoid accidental implications. The air is already too clouded. Again, both sides.

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I think his model, GNS, is limited.  He agrees, as both you and I have said again and again.  I would like to see strong new directions toward seeing a much larger, less limited model, not to supersede GNS but to perceive RPG play and production in a larger discursive context.  To expand GNS to serve this purpose will destroy all that is best about GNS: it is precise, carefully delimited, and has achieved something resembling consensus about application.
I completely agree. All I've said so far is that I don't think this is it. Not that I'm trying to make everything GNS, just that what's been presented seems to me to just be a restatement of known principles. Explain to me where I misunderstand, or add to the theory in such a way as it becomes plainly new, and I'll be right there with you. Or even if this is just an improved terminology, I'll be with you, again, if you can prove it's compelling.

But, again at the risk of sounding passive agressive, I suspect that the last statment will be seen by you once again as a call for "practicality". It's not, it's a call for truth.

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My understanding was that Creative Agenda was generally used in a relatively constrained sense; on that assumption, I would push for it to remain constrained, as the term thus covers an important object of analysis.  If you are correct that Creative Agenda always was and is the totality of such possible agendas, then we need a new term to cover the small one.
To get down to brass tacks, this is a new wrinkle that I've not been able to get a hold of. The "size" of the theory seems to be a moving target. At first it was a subset of Creative Agenda. Then it was a superset. Now, if Creative Agenda is the superset, then the new theory goes back to being a subset. Not to be snarky, but this seems to be saying that the new theory is "whatever Creative Agenda is not".

I was actually more comfortable with this all when the new theory was said to be some subset of which I didn't understand it's fractional nature. I could almost see it at times.

Is my misunderstanding somehow caused by trying to understand it in terms of sets? Just a stab in the dark. My mind is organized very much on heirarchical models.

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pure deconstruction

First, which post?
You ask questions that sound similar to "what is art?". That's getting close to matters of epistemology and other deep philosphical insight that I doubt we're going to solve here. That is, question number two above treads on ground that I'm not sure we can dig too deep into here. OTOH, if you can make it work, go for it. This is just a bit of skepticism. We don't all have your academic background (that was passive agressive, wasn't it).

That's all I'm saying.

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As a final note, Mike's brought up another interesting possibility.  We could seek the hidden metaphysics behind RPG divisions, such as player/character or the GNS distinctions....
Sure, needle me. :-)

I'll be labeled an anti-intellectual for this, but I despise Thoreau [sic]. Existence preceeds essence, IMO. Again, not for debate here. If you want to talk metaphysics, I'll just have to refrain from participating.

Mike
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Eric J-D
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« Reply #13 on: May 21, 2003, 08:51:46 AM »

Whoa whoa whoa!  To quote Senior Love Daddy, "You got to cool that shit out!"  How did this thread revert to its somewhat acrimonious tone?

Let's get back to business shall we?  Chris has responded to some questions I asked in a previous post, and I'd like to respond to those.

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1. Where does the locus of artistic production lie in RPGs? There are at least 3 semi-independent domains here: Product (as in the product you buy off the shelf or the web), Preparation (which the GM and the group put into a particular campaign prior to play), Play. My inclination is to focus primarily on Play. Some of these issues are being discussed currently in this thread.


Thanks for this clarification, Chris.  I admit to being slightly surprised by your statement because several of your earlier remarks such as this one that follows your imagined exchange between you and a game designer

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I maintain that such analysis will promote good practical design, which is justification enough. But I also maintain that the purpose of such analysis is ultimately to break down the arbitrary and self-destructive divide between RPGs and other creative endeavors.


and this one

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I am trying to provide a justification for theory on its own ground and for its own sake, and further trying to suggest that there is every reason to think such discussions will ultimately be fruitful for practical design.


led me to believe that your primary interest here was setting some theoretical foundation (viz. aesthetic) for game design rather than play.  Was I wrong, or has your interest shifted somewhat?

I am very glad that you broke the locus of the aesthetic in roleplaying into the following categories

 
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Product (as in the product you buy off the shelf or the web), Preparation (which the GM and the group put into a particular campaign prior to play), Play.


because a question that I had in mind earlier concerned exactly which objects and/or agents were under discussion here.  If a set of aesthetic principles can be derived at all for roleplaying (and I am interested in the possibility despite being somewhat skeptical of its realization), then it seems to me the first is perhaps the only appropriate place to try it out.  Given the ubiquitous hold of the maxim de gustibus non est disputandum, I fear that any attempt to formulate principles for the other two will prove futile, except in so far as they may prove useful to the  one articulating the principles in question.

Question #2 states a number of historical truths that, I think you'll agree, certainly pertain to some artistic media more than others.  The moral usefulness of the pictorial arts has a longer history within aesthetics, for example, than either that of music or drama, although 16th and 17th century defenses of the English theater against attacks by some Puritans (William Prynne et al) are notable exceptions.  My only point here is that the kinds of art we take as the source for our analogizing to roleplaying will permit greater or lesser use of this issue (i.e. of the moral/didactic/instrumental dimension of art).

Question #3 leads me again to suspect that game design and not game play is one of your real interests.  When you speak of comparing RPGs to one another and to other artworks or deriving "principles that we can say generally define succesful works," I confess that I hear this as appplying to design and not play since play for me is too dynamic to be considered a work.

Your message quickly gets back to the issue of play in your proposals for  the directions that RPG Theory might take.  I agree with you that musical analogies have been fruitful, most especially when they have recognized the activity in question as "jamming" rather than "performing" since the former resolves the problem of audience.

I am very interested in this:

     
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2. The analogy of ritual to RPGs is something I would push extremely hard; I have posted at length on it several places, most recently here . Unfortunately ritual theory is fairly hellish terrain, and doesn't appear to spark interest much thus far. Nevertheless, I would argue that the principles of ritual interaction with imagined spaces could be very valuable for understanding RPGs as social events, and furthermore for dredging out some of the powerful dynamics within play.


Your obvious interest in J.Z. Smith shows here as well as in the section on method where you caution that



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The danger lies in thinking that such an analogy constitutes an identity.  I would push strongly for a comparative method. Setting up these analogies is a beginning, in that it establishes the grounds of comparison, the justification for putting two such disparate objects in the same discussion. But then it will be the ways in which, given those comparative grounds, the two objects differ that will be most profitable for understanding either one.


These are both excellent points and I hope you will get to work on an essay that delineates the application of ritual theory to roleplaying.  However, I am not certain of the extent to which aesthetic criteria are in operation within ritualized practices.  Clearly ethical criteria are at least as  equally in operation, and while the gap between these an aesthetic considerations may be more overstated than real, any future work on the application of ritual theory to roleplaying will need to take this into consideration.

As for my own conclusions, I have none either.  Only further questions.  The most immediate of these is the one I began with.  To what extent are you interested in the aesthetics of game design as opposed to the aesthetics of play?  Can game play be fruitfully analyzed using aesthetic principles and, if so, how generalizable can a theory of the aesthetics of play be made?

Questions?  Comments?

Eric
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clehrich
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« Reply #14 on: May 21, 2003, 02:03:48 PM »

Eric's right, Mike.  Let's take it to PM, okay?

Anyway,
Quote from: Eric
As for my own conclusions, I have none either. Only further questions. The most immediate of these is the one I began with. To what extent are you interested in the aesthetics of game design as opposed to the aesthetics of play? Can game play be fruitfully analyzed using aesthetic principles and, if so, how generalizable can a theory of the aesthetics of play be made?

This I think sums up a good deal of your question to me; I'll get back to the specifics.

I think you're right that this is a problem, one I haven't really worked out.  But it seems to me that this is precisely what can make RPGs so interesting for the whole problem of aesthetics and ritual.  On the one hand, you have an object (Play) so dynamic that it's very difficult to talk about concretely as an object; on the other hand, to accept the Product as the primary art-work I think goes against much of what we've learned from (especially) GNS.  That is, system (Product & to some extent Preparation) matters, but notice that it's system that has to change, not play as such.  That is, the ultimate object of aesthetic activity in RPGs is play, and system is primarily a means of facilitating that more or less well.  All the drive toward coherence and intelligent understanding of the GM's role and so forth is intended to make the "real thing" (play) happen.

This is very difficult to grapple with in terms of traditional art theory, insofar as I understand it; it's tricky enough with music, and there you can always blame the audience for being Philistines if they don't get it (as Adorno does).  But in RPGs, if the audience doesn't get it, nothing happens -- there is no art.  See how weird that is?

As to the ritual thing, I'm working on it.  J.Z. Smith is certainly a big factor with me -- I studied with him, after all -- but I'm also trying to push towards a broader theory.  

All I can say is that I hope somebody else (other than me, that is) will take up some of these odd questions and musings and see what happens.  Otherwise I'm starting to feel a bit like I'm trying to preach from on high, a position I'm really not terribly comfortable with.
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Chris Lehrich
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