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Author Topic: Aesthetics and Reality  (Read 18806 times)
clehrich
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« on: May 02, 2003, 08:31:15 AM »

Okay, so I was grading papers or something, and when I turned around, there had been this hugely interesting debate http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6295" target="blank">here about aesthetics, reality, emulation, genre, and a whole lot of other things.  I read it all with great interest, and got to the end, and found that the thread is now closed.  Okay, so here's a new one, taking up similar issues.

As I understood it, the issue was about the relevance of "reality" to RPG play, with Fang championing tossing out realism in favor of GenEx, in order to best emulate other-media source material.  Other posters (John, Mike, Marco, etc.) suggested that the emulation of non-RPG source material is not necessarily the point.  This all strikes me as somewhat talking past each other.

Let's suppose we take for granted the conception of "reality," so that it doesn't become a term of debate.  As I see it, "reality" here means simply our general sense, as people with some experience of the world, of how things generally happen, and what's likely.  So "reality" would include things like this: You generally die if you are heavily machine-gunned in the head, or fall off a very high building.  Note the word "generally," by which I mean that sure, there are exceptions, but our sense of reality is that these exceptions are few enough that we wouldn't take the chance, i.e. we wouldn't gleefully jump off a high building in the expectation that that one-in-a-million chance is going to come up trumps.  Besides, we assume that the very rare guy who comes out alive is going to be seriously hurt in the process.  This isn't always physical, incidentally, as our sense of reality includes: One is usually upset to discover that the love of one's life actually only wants one's money and is sleeping with somebody else on the sly; in such cases, one may act somewhat irrationally.  Okay, so that's reality.

Now let's also set aside "story"; for this purpose, I agree with Fang: it's not relevant here.

Okay, so what's the debate?  

We've got two poles of an axis: reality and genre.  The genre may or may not be "pure reality"; such things are done, but not commonly in RPGs.

The questions, then, are these:
    [*]What do we mean by genre expectations in the first place, as they specifically relate to "realism" questions?
    [*]Where do aesthetic considerations come into this?
    [*]What do genre expectations have to do with "source material"?[/list:u]Let me start with the last, because it was a bone of some contention.

    While it is common for RPGs to base themselves upon source material of one kind or another, it isn't necessary.  http://www.auroragames.com/pdf/shadows.pdf" target="blank">Shadows in the Fog makes heavy use of Victorian source material of many kinds, but I cannot think of a single example from any medium that fits what I think the game is about, so the game has to do a lot of work setting up the genre expectations.  If you design a game based on Star Wars, by way of contrast, it is likely that you want the game to be a lot like the films.  Note: likely, not certain.  At all events, the whole point of outside sources, setting, and in many ways mechanics themselves is to set up genre expectations.

    Okay, so now back to the first question: what's this got to do with reality?

    Well, the thing is that no genre expectations are so specific that they determine everything there is to be said about the setting.  Doesn't matter the medium -- you can't determine everything.  Now in most media, this isn't a major concern, because you simply don't film (or whatever) the things you don't know about; or rather, you only know what you film.  This is like No Myth, really: if the expectations about something aren't set explicitly, they're not set at all.  There is no background knowledge somewhere about the genre that sets such expectations.

    So the background knowledge, which in fact you have to have if you're going to interact with the world dynamically (as in RPGs and not in films), comes from reality.

    Let me put it like this:

    Genre expectations permit the imagination of and interaction with a limited situation in conscious tension to how the world actually is.

    Examples:
      [*]James Bond is better, cooler, faster, and more dangerous than any actual human person.  The world he lives in is in that sense not like ours.  But the tension created in a given situation relies on our expectation that some aspects of reality will be respected.  He can't get out of the prison by flying; this is not part of genre.  But this needn't be specified: the genre is clear by distinction from reality, not because it's all delimited.  Can he do things, from film to film, that we never knew he could do before?  Yes, that's what Q is for.
      [*]Superman is insanely different from ordinary people.  The world he lives in includes others somewhat like him, and is clearly not reality.  But a lot of interest and tension is generated by the fact that his world is mostly like ours, e.g. Lois Lane, if dropped from a plane, will die unless Superman saves her.  Again, it's conscious tension against reality that makes his powers have purpose and meaning.
      [*]The Lord of the Rings is a story set in a world seemingly utterly unlike ours.  But when it gets right down to it, Frodo and Sam, for example, are very ordinary people, and basic rules of reality do apply to them.  There is thus strong tension in the situation, because we define the fantasy with respect to our own reality, and we assume that the hobbits are pretty much like us unless we're told otherwise.  This is why, when Gandalf reemerges in Book 3, we're surprised: we didn't realize that he was even remotely capable of defeating the Balrog, much less surviving a mile-long fall.  We suddenly think, "Damn!  He's way more powerful than we realized!"  And this sets him up as the White Rider for the battle of Helm's Deep, and the way he can rout huge armies by riding at them and waving a sword.  We believe this, because we now know: Gandalf is really not at all human, and just looks like it.[/list:u]I hope by now this point is clear: the non-reality aspects of a genre only make sense and have meaning or interest with respect to reality.

      So where do aesthetics come into it?

      1. How do you know what reality is, anyway, except by aesthetic judgment?  This is the old "truth is stranger than fiction" thing.  If you hear that somebody fell 500 feet onto pavement and got up and walked away, you think, "naah, couldn't be."  Okay, but you might be wrong -- stranger things have happened.  Your sense of reality is simply not correct, because it's simply your aesthetic judgment of what reality is like.  I suspect that some stuntmen and commandos and other people who do really really dangerous things have a somewhat different aesthetic sense of reality than the rest of us, because they have a more informed way of aesthetically judging what's possible or likely and what's not.

      2. How do you decide when some event is or is not within the genre?  Aesthetics, by exactly the same methods that you use when you determine whether something seems "realistic."

      I'll briefly go back to a post I did a while ago, which you can find http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=5151" target="blank">here, where I made a comparison to Michelangelo.  Basically what I'd like to say, in the present context, is that genre expectations are constraints, rules, that predetermine certain aspects of the artistic object (RPG play is included here).  If you can perfectly fit the rules, you can emulate a genre, if that's your goal, or otherwise create a plausible situation within the world/setting/genre/etc.  Now when you bend or break those rules, you need to do so very consciously and carefully, because you're again challenging expectations.  This is what happens with, for example, James Bond: they try to make it look very realistic, as though the "rules" were simply reality as it ordinarily is, but Bond pushes the limits of those rules, a bit at a time.  He doesn't suddenly turn into Superman, but rather turns out to be just a little better shot than we can quite believe is "really possible," but we accept this because the art of Bond is to push that sort of boundary.

      So you can't throw out reality, I'm afraid.  To do so would require creating an art object that is completely incomprehensible, because it would not relate in any way to the ordinary.

      Anyway, let's see if people still want to debate this.
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      Chris Lehrich
      Bankuei
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      « Reply #1 on: May 02, 2003, 09:00:35 AM »

      Hi Chris,

      Quote
      So you can't throw out reality, I'm afraid. To do so would require creating an art object that is completely incomprehensible, because it would not relate in any way to the ordinary.


      I believe this is highly related to the "conveying setting" issues that pop up occassionally on the boards, and shows strongly in games in whether the author can convey their sense of reality or not.  I'd say the great failing of many games, especially ones that push an "alien sense of reality"("Everyone's a god", "Everybody is a ghost", "What would it be like to live in a dream world?"), have a hard time "hooking" folks.  If you don't have enough "reality" for folks to grab onto, then, its very hard to describe and convey that settting.

      Chris
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      Emily Care
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      « Reply #2 on: May 02, 2003, 10:46:49 AM »

      Thanks for continuing the discussion, Chrises.

      The take away lesson I'm getting from this conversation is that "realism" (with all its myriad definitions) comes down to establishing plausibility. Anything can be plausible if you care to play with or in it, but most times what people look for in a game are the parameters of commonly understood reality, and outside of that they look for something that matches genre expectations of a known text.  There is an element of communication involved.

      As Chris (Bankuei) writes, genre expectations give participants a "hook", an easy in to the shared game world.  This might be seen as a shared aesthetic sense of what's believeable or desirable in the game.

      Quote from: clerich
      Basically what I'd like to say, in the present context, is that genre expectations are constraints, rules, that predetermine certain aspects of the artistic object (RPG play is included here). If you can perfectly fit the rules, you can emulate a genre, if that's your goal, or otherwise create a plausible situation within the world/setting/genre/etc.
      Now when you bend or break those rules, you need to do so very consciously and carefully,because you're again challenging expectations. This is what happens with, for example, JamesBond: they try to make it look very realistic, as though the "rules" were simply reality as it ordinarily is, but Bond pushes the limits of those rules, a bit at a time.


      So looking at it this way, "reality" and "realism" may be seen as one large genre expectation. In practice it falls out to be many, many different things depending on the priorities of the individual.  The thread What is the most realistic RPG? profiles a few such personal views.  But even given that breadth, there are many things commonly seen as part of "The Real World." There are a lot of things that you can do in rpg that you cannot in this shared conception of the real.  Sorry this is so obvious, but think about it--why is it that folks don't regularly play blind tap-dancing weasels that can fly and breath fire? Maybe a simpler example is better.  I believe John Kim posted recently in this thread about a game where water runs uphill.  That's perfectly acceptable, that _can_ happen in any game, but I believe that particular game was quite fantastic in setting.  Any element that you can imagine can exist in rpgs, but it won't be there unless it can be accepted as plausible by the game participants.  Now for some reason, most gamers believe in Reality.  What is true in TRW doesn't need to be sold to them, or communicated to them. Maybe it's really just a matter of familiarity.  Most everyone can relate, at the minimum, to a world where water flows downhill, and gravity works, unless you are outside of a gravity well.    That's probably a good example of shifting perspectives about reality itself: how long prior to achieving space flight was it commonly accepted that there could be a place where objects were not affected by gravity? Isaac Newton's discovery was no mean feat.  

      So, re-thinking what I first stated: reality is a frame of reference, as are genre expectations.  Just like with music, you can play any string of notes, but unless the person listening to them has a frame of reference that allows them to hear it as music, it will just sound like noise.  

      --Emily Care

      edited for clarity
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      Black & Green Games
      deadpanbob
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      « Reply #3 on: May 02, 2003, 11:12:50 AM »

      I'm also glad that this discussion is continuing.

      I'm not going to debate the nature of reality as proscribed by Chris in his initial post.  So take it for granted that reality is a shared sense of what is common sensically plausible.

      I agree with you in the sense that reality provides the comparison point that gives definition to a given game's genre expectations by means of compare and contrast.  Genre expectations define, in this sense, what rules of reality it's fair to break or bend, and just how far outside of reality can one go for a given action/thing/decision/whatever.

      However, I don't think that RPG game mechanics need to try and simulate or emulate reality at all.  They simply can't do it.  You can't show me a mechanical system that does a reasonable job of emulating reality.  When I, as a real person, decide to shoot someone in the head with my big gun, there are a lot (maybe nearly an infinite number of) variables going into whether I succedd or not that can't be captured by game mechanics at all.

      Game mechanics are abstractions that attempt to capture the 'feel' of reality - while some games at the extreme actually claim that their mechanical components are actually 'realistic'.  The more variables the rules take into account for any given action, the more complex the rules become, and thus the more unusable they become from the perspective of having an enjoyable game experience.

      Fang was making the case for the fact that he thinks too many RPG designers strive for a "simulate reality" system while eschewing the actual 'rules' for the Genre set out by the source material.  He's saying, in essence, that a lot of game designers would create a game about James Bond, and then make it frightfully difficult for "00" agents to say jump off a cliff and chase down an airplane in a nosedive in order to escape from an army of soldiers trying to kill him.  Fang goes on to postulate that many designers, when they realize that characters in the game won't be able to actually do things that seem appropriate inside context of the Genre, slap on some meta-mechanic that makes this possible.  He's arguing that the 'simulate reality' mechanics should be thrown out the window and only the 'exception mechanic that facilitates/captures the feel of the genre' should be used at all.

      I'm slightly in the middle on this one.  I think that mechanics need to be judged in total for a game to see if they accurately capture the feel of the Genre.  I don't think that reality has any place in the mechanical system designs of RPG's.  Sure, reality is the signpost/backdrop that allows all of us real people to get into and understand the game - it is the baseline against which all Genre expectations are compared.  But I maintain that reality can't be accurately modeled in an RPG.

      Cheers,



      Jason
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      John Kim
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      « Reply #4 on: May 02, 2003, 02:08:29 PM »

      Quote from: deadpanbob
        Genre expectations define, in this sense, what rules of reality it's fair to break or bend, and just how far outside of reality can one go for a given action/thing/decision/whatever.  

      It seems to me that this has a sci-fi/fantasy bias:  i.e. a genre is something which bends or breaks reality.  However, in more general usage genres include things which are 100% realistic.  For example, there is a genre of "true crime" books -- which are novels about real-life events.  Most genres stay within reality: i.e. mystery, historical drama, etc.  

      I talk about this in my "Understanding Genre in RPGs" essay ( at http://www.darkshire.org/~jhkim/rpg/styles/genre/definition.html ).  

      There may be elements in a story which are totally within the realm of reality, but which break the genre.  For example, in the true crime genre, if the PCs decide not to commit a crime, then we have clearly broken out of the genre -- even though the genre is perfectly realistic and it is perfectly realistic not to commit a crime.  

      Quote from: deadpanbob
       However, I don't think that RPG game mechanics need to try and simulate or emulate reality at all.  They simply can't do it.  You can't show me a mechanical system that does a reasonable job of emulating reality.  When I, as a real person, decide to shoot someone in the head with my big gun, there are a lot (maybe nearly an infinite number of) variables going into whether I succedd or not that can't be captured by game mechanics at all.  

      I have heard this before, and I don't understand it.  My work as a PhD physicist was programming simulations.  The programs are inevitably filled with ignored factors and rough estimations.  There will always be factors which you cannot take into account, and the results always differ from the real data.  

      To take an example closer to RPGs, the Navy used the board game "Harpoon" in order to train cadets in naval tactics.  Now, the mechanical system is far from perfect and doesn't take a ton of factors into account -- but the point of reasonableness is if the cadet knows more about real naval tactics afterwards.  This would be my criteria:  that is, if using the rules, are the results more realistic than if a GM with no particular knowledge made up results off the top of his head.  

      I think that Traveller was an excellent example of this:  As a kid, I learned more about astronomy and orbital mechanics playing Traveller than I did in any classes.  

      Personally, I love realism in RPGs.  These days, I don't care much about physics or firearms -- but I am often quite taken by good historical RPGs which convey details of history.  For some reason I'm not much excited by hard science RPGs, but I certainly appreciate the efforts of games like, say, Aurora which take effort to use real science.  

      Quote from: deadpanbob
       The more variables the rules take into account for any given action, the more complex the rules become, and thus the more unusable they become from the perspective of having an enjoyable game experience.  

      I'd say that it is a fallacy that more variables are required for more realism.  It often aids realism to abstract away detail. For example, you might have real-world statistics on the chance of fatality for a gunshot wound to the torso -- but no information differentiating this between abdomen vs chest.  In this case, it is more realistic to use less detail.  If a wound is classified only as being in the torso, then you have reasonably accurate results.  

      Similarly, I am trying to make the Wealth rules in my Vinland game realistic.  My source is only rough information from books on Iceland.  I have no need or want to detail every transaction.  Since I don't have price information, doing so would almost certainly make my system less realistic.  What I want to get right is mainly how much of a burden weregeld is, a rough impression of social mobility, and such.  

      Quote from: deadpanbob
       I think that mechanics need to be judged in total for a game to see if they accurately capture the feel of the Genre.  I don't think that reality has any place in the mechanical system designs of RPG's.  Sure, reality is the signpost/backdrop that allows all of us real people to get into and understand the game - it is the baseline against which all Genre expectations are compared.  But I maintain that reality can't be accurately modeled in an RPG.  

      This is the main point that was heavily argued in the other thread.  Not all RPGs are trying for a specific genre.  For example, I think it is silly to criticize HarnMaster for not living up to epic fantasy.  It was deliberately designed to mix historical realism and fantasy.
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      - John
      deadpanbob
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      « Reply #5 on: May 02, 2003, 04:04:52 PM »

      Quote from: John Kim

      I have heard this before, and I don't understand it.  My work as a PhD physicist was programming simulations.  The programs are inevitably filled with ignored factors and rough estimations.  There will always be factors which you cannot take into account, and the results always differ from the real data.  

      To take an example closer to RPGs, the Navy used the board game "Harpoon" in order to train cadets in naval tactics.  Now, the mechanical system is far from perfect and doesn't take a ton of factors into account -- but the point of reasonableness is if the cadet knows more about real naval tactics afterwards.  This would be my criteria:  that is, if using the rules, are the results more realistic than if a GM with no particular knowledge made up results off the top of his head.  


      Okay, I don't want to hijack the thread, and I appreciate that this has been your experience.  I spend all day everyday creating statistical models that attempt to predict real world outcomes from a set of data.  All such models are essentially complex abstractions from sets of data that don't in any case take into account all factors involved in a given situation.  In fact, the act of creating a model nec. attempts to generalize from the specific data a formula that can predict an outcome with a reasonable degree of confidence.  The problem is, when one tries to apply the model to individual cases, it often doesn't offer much in the way of actual predictive outcome for the individual case.  Sure, over the course of many many such individual cases, the results of the model may (or may not depending on the quality of the model) prove to be true.

      The problem I have is just that - the fact that any such models are very unstable when applied to the individual case.  None of this is to say that RPG's can't have real world, realistic sources and attempt to provide real world, factual information as a part of the game.  What I'm saying is that trying to work up a functional model based on reality isn't what most of the games that claim 'realism' are doing - and even if they are the model will break down when applied to the individual case.  Just because a simulation/model can help to provide a good learning tool for what tactics work best doesn't mean that model is any good at predicting individual outcomes.

      For example, what factors would you choose to bring into a 'realistic' resolution mechanic for an armored, mounted knight charging into battle agasint a small unit of peasant foot-soldier pikemen?  And would those factors be the same one's you'd use to model the chances of the same knight hitting an opponent of similar skill, also mounted, in combat?

      I still contend that all resolution mechanics need to be a lot more mindful of how the results 'feel' than their basis in real world fact.  If the results during actual play 'feel' as the players expect based on the Genre expectations, then they've done their job.

      We'll just have to agree to disagree on this point, I suppose.

      I do agree with what you said about certain Genres are entirely subsumed within 'reality' as we've defined it here.  I stand corrected on that point.  That's my personal bias at work - I only like playing games where the characters are capable of doing things that couldn't possibly happen in 'reality' (Indian Jones, Star Wars, the Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon etc.).

      Cheers,



      Jason
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      Bruce Baugh
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      « Reply #6 on: May 02, 2003, 08:20:32 PM »

      John's post touches on a concern of mine, which is that reality is a moving target.

      Take the case of guns. Almost nobody who lacks experience with firearms understands how they actually feel to shoot, and since the vast majority of gun owners never go out committing crimes with them (or even stay in and commit crimes at home), they don't know how it feels to behave with a gun under stress. The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports show that people mostly miss, for instance; it takes dozens of shots at close range for the average urban firefight to hurt anybody. The one game that actually models this accurately, Friday Night Firefight, looks weird to people who haven't studied the matter.

      Then there are the cases where what people know proves to mostly be propaganda. What the average gamer "knows" about the Middle Ages, for instance, is mostly Enlightenment screeds and propaganda, demonstrably wrong point by point and embedding irrelevant and unfounded assumptions.

      Then there are the cases where our understanding changes over time withut any lack of good will. The nature of matter's most fundamental components is a case in point, and can actually come up in some contexts, particularly engineering and stuff.

      All of this without even touching on divergent notions of human nature.

      So I much prefer to say "this is the effect I'm after" and point at some inspirations. It doesn't matter whether the real world is like that it or not; it matters if my would-be players like it and agree on what we're doing.
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      clehrich
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      « Reply #7 on: May 02, 2003, 08:55:30 PM »

      I guess all I was trying to say is that "reality" is fluid, and not simulable.  That is, it is only possible for an ordinary person to assess realism on aesthetic grounds, for all the reasons that John and Jason describe about "serious" simulations, where millions or more are at stake.

      If you have a terrific simulation program, and it takes into account just about everything, and just once (because any simulation is going to have more random factors than you could shake a stick at) somebody gets shot horribly and survives, that contradicts the sense of reality that we have as human people who watch too many movies but don't actually go out and kill people with weapons all the time.  This is the point made about Friday Night Firefight.  So for most purposes, "reality" is a GenEx same as everything else, and doesn't really have a lot to do with how things actually are, in the sense that the FBI or the cops could tell you some things about, say, how often people firing guns in a firefight are likely to hit anybody.

      But John raised the point that is most important to me, as a humanities wonk: reality where it applies to social-historical situations.  We've talked again and again about religion, or society, in fantasy settings, but I'm bringing it up again.  I'm like the cop talking about firefights when it comes to religion: I have enough training that my "reality" bumps are very precisely honed.  And when I find that everyone believes in a bunch of gods but that this doesn't affect the way they live, I say "crap" and move on.  This is one of many examples; if you want to debate it, let's start another thread.  My point is just that "reality" is composed of far too many factors to model, except aesthetically, and that aesthetic modeling is extremely variable depending upon the interpreter.

      If, then, reality itself in RPGs is an aesthetic judgment, and most RPG genres bend reality to formulate another set of expectations with respect to the notional reality described, I'm confused about why there should be conflict here.

      I understand clearly what Fang means, insofar as he's saying that far too many systems try to construct absolute simulations of reality.  Okay, but I think he's saying a lot more than this, and I'm not sure what it is.

      I also understand that folks are saying it's not necessary to simulate alternative realities such that the end-product is exactly like a given medium (TV show, movie, etc.).  Okay, but why is this in conflict with what Fang is saying?

      I think there's a missing middle term, and that until we isolate that, this debate could (if Fang will let it) continue forever.  But I think Fang has something important to say -- right or wrong -- that is getting glossed over in this discussion.

      Am I missing the point entirely?

      ---------

      Sorry -- on re-reading, it sounds like when I say "if Fang will let it" as though I'm referring to his closing the other thread.  I don't mean this; he was perfectly justified in doing so.  I mean "if Fang will let it" in the sense that he may or may not want to try to open up his own thinking to find the missing term, without which I think I'm jousting at windmills.
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      Chris Lehrich
      John Kim
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      « Reply #8 on: May 02, 2003, 10:25:55 PM »

      Quote from: clehrich
       My point is just that "reality" is composed of far too many factors to model, except aesthetically, and that aesthetic modeling is extremely variable depending upon the interpreter.

      If, then, reality itself in RPGs is an aesthetic judgment, and most RPG genres bend reality to formulate another set of expectations with respect to the notional reality described, I'm confused about why there should be conflict here.  

      OK, I'm not sure I understand the point of calling it an "aesthetic judgement".  It sounds to me like you're saying "Well, we're never going to model things perfectly or to a professional degree, so it's a waste of time to do research or math for your game design."  I absolutely disagree.  Realism obviously isn't necessary, but I don't think it is an invalid goal.  Research is one of my reasons for gaming.  Noting my previous example, I think my childhood would have been lessened if the designers of Traveller had said, "Heck, we can't do truly realistic alien worlds, so let's not bother with math and science, and just make up stuff which feels good."  

      As a contributor to Aurora, I don't think you're saying that -- but that is how your comments read to me, and I thought I should say so.
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      C. Edwards
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      « Reply #9 on: May 02, 2003, 10:29:40 PM »

      As I see it the whole issue comes down to a failure to communicate the purpose of a game’s design in relation to its ‘source material’ and how that relates to consumer expectations based upon that same ‘source material’.

      A genre operates under a certain set of rules. They vary between genres and even to a degree within an individual genre. Here’s the problem. In that other thread there was much talk about an RPG being based on a genre, that is in most cases just false. The games that Fang is perturbed by are not based on a genre but the color elements attached to a genre. These RPGs stretch the color elements of a genre over a rules-set meant to be a simulation of ‘reality’ (to some degree) and generally ignore the conventions of the genre they supposedly emulate. That’s it.

      There’s nothing inherently wrong with that of course. When somebody buys a game that has the trappings of a particular genre splattered all over the cover and in snippets of colorful prose throughout the book and the game doesn’t return a play experience in much of anyway resembling its ‘source material’, that’s when bitterness ensues. If game designers market their games responsibly this isn’t really an issue. That’s hard to do though if you’ve convinced yourself that you have just created the greatest thing since grilled cheese. (Or if you value the dollar over any kind of integrity, but I’m in a ‘benefit of the doubt’ kind of mood.)

      That’s my take, hopefully it helps some.

      -Chris
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      John Kim
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      « Reply #10 on: May 02, 2003, 11:28:12 PM »

      Quote from: C. Edwards
       When somebody buys a game that has the trappings of a particular genre splattered all over the cover and in snippets of colorful prose throughout the book and the game doesn’t return a play experience in much of anyway resembling its ‘source material’, that’s when bitterness ensues. If game designers market their games responsibly this isn’t really an issue. That’s hard to do though if you’ve convinced yourself that you have just created the greatest thing since grilled cheese.  

      Heh.  Well, I can certainly agree with that.  I was sorely disappointed by the new Lord of the Rings RPG -- which definitely falls prey to talking pompously about genre and epic story, but then has a lot of pointless reality-like (but not actually realistic) rules.  My favorite pointlessness: -1 to Physical Tests for light rain vs -3 for heavy rain.
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      Le Joueur
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      « Reply #11 on: May 03, 2003, 04:59:20 AM »

      Quote from: C. Edwards
      As I see it the whole issue comes down to a failure to communicate the purpose of a game’s design in relation to its ‘source material’ and how that relates to consumer expectations based upon that same ‘source material’.

      A genre operates under a certain set of rules. They vary between genres and even to a degree within an individual genre. Here’s the problem. In that other thread there was much talk about an RPG being based on a genre, that is in most cases just false. The games that Fang is perturbed by are not based on a genre but the color elements attached to a genre. These RPGs stretch the color elements of a genre over a rules-set meant to be a simulation of ‘reality’ (to some degree) and generally ignore the conventions of the genre they supposedly emulate. That’s it.

      There’s nothing inherently wrong with that of course. When somebody buys a game that has the trappings of a particular genre splattered all over the cover and in snippets of colorful prose throughout the book and the game doesn’t return a play experience in much of anyway resembling its ‘source material’, that’s when bitterness ensues.

      Yep that's it, pretty much.  Well said.

      Plus, let me add my opinion that those things "there's nothing inherently wrong with" (games that "stretch the color elements") won't be as popular if honestly portrayed as not "emulating their genre" (unplayed sales not withstanding).

      And one other observation, getting beyond just "[stretching] the color elements" as you call it, does not need to be overt.  If nothing more than a 'hidden agenda,' it still prevents "bitterness."  That's like only the most abstract gun rules in a soap opera game or the near absence of car repair rules in an action movie game.

      I am not saying that absolutely no one cares about "simulation of 'reality,'" I'm saying this 'simulation' 'sells better' (inspires less "bitterness") if tempered by a 'hidden agenda.'

      So I guess I'm saying that in my experience a game does better across it's whole audience (both those who prefer a "simulation of 'realty'" and those who desire an 'emulation of genre') if it has a well crafted 'hidden agenda' to 'emulate its genre,' than if it simply "[stretches] the color elements" (appealing therefore to a smaller market and causing "bitterness" in some).  Furthermore, I just don't see those who prefer a "simulation of 'reality'" suffering any of their own "bitterness" if the 'hidden agenda' is hidden well enough.

      It should go without saying, therefore, that I think "simulation of 'reality'" is a good thing, so long as it is not an end unto itself.  (Can anyone name a role-playing game that is played as 'just reality?')  And I believe that only "[stretching] the color elements" is very close to "simulation of 'reality'" as an end unto itself.

      Fang Langford

      p. s. I don't know what the 'missing term' is.  I was just trying to say that games that have HA with SoR appeal to more people than games the just have SoR and StCE, even if both have SoR.
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      Jere
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      « Reply #12 on: May 03, 2003, 07:05:16 AM »

      Quote from: clehrich
      I guess all I was trying to say is that "reality" is fluid, and not simulable.  That is, it is only possible for an ordinary person to assess realism on aesthetic grounds....


      I would have to agree with this. So much so that I've stopped lurking to agree with this point.

      Lets take an example. I want to write a game that deals with the Arab world as a setting in the time around World War I. One of my favorite books from my teenage years is the Seven Pillars of Wisdom by DH Lawrence so I decide to make that my central source.

      Already I'm making assumptions. Historians cannot agree how actual/truthful Seven Pillars is. I just heard an NPR story where two imminent historians had radical disagreements on the accuracy and vermisitude of this book. One considered it a novel, the other something a more truthful. Both talked about the shifting book Lawrence wanted to read. So by choosing Seven Pillars I've choosen a very specific world I plan on simulating. A world that doesn't necessarily agree with reality, but thats fine. I could as easily be simulating a specific pulp style or Joseph Conrad.

      By choosing Seven Pillars I've decided that its style is my overriding concern, and that will override anyother source I may choose to build my simulation. I could have easily have chosen an Arab source (Mustafa Lutfi el-Manfalouti, for example) and that would radically change the game setting I'm trying to simulate. Either way by choosing this guidepost I now find myself dismissing quite a few historians/sociologists. They just aren't relevant (choose five historians on the era from 5 different countries and you'll get five radically different opinions on Larence and his truth-telling)and you find that your simulation isn't reality as some people who lived then might understand it.

      And that goes to just about anything I choose to simulate. No picture can be complete, it can just be close-to-accurate for the things I'm choosing to model. Simulationism is great fun, it just isn't a complete picture. And I'm not sure it should be in any game. If sociologists and other humanity types admit that even their most powerful simulations can only show a few factors of life why do you expect a game to be different?

      Jeremiah Genest
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      Jere
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      « Reply #13 on: May 03, 2003, 07:08:49 AM »

      Quote from: Le Joueur
      So I guess I'm saying that in my experience a game does better across it's whole audience (both those who prefer a "simulation of 'realty'" and those who desire an 'emulation of genre') if it has a well crafted 'hidden agenda' to 'emulate its genre,' than if it simply "[stretches] the color elements" (appealing therefore to a smaller market and causing "bitterness" in some).  Furthermore, I just don't see those who prefer a "simulation of 'reality'" suffering any of their own "bitterness" if the 'hidden agenda' is hidden well enough.


      Could you give an example of a game that really tries to simulate reality and isn't really just emulating a genre (or specific source material)? I'm hard pressed to think of a single one.

      Jere
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      Le Joueur
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      « Reply #14 on: May 03, 2003, 07:12:04 AM »

      Quote from: Jere
      Quote from: Le Joueur
      So I guess I'm saying that in my experience a game does better across it's whole audience (both those who prefer a "simulation of 'realty'" and those who desire an 'emulation of genre') if it has a well crafted 'hidden agenda' to 'emulate its genre,' than if it simply "[stretches] the color elements" (appealing therefore to a smaller market and causing "bitterness" in some).  Furthermore, I just don't see those who prefer a "simulation of 'reality'" suffering any of their own "bitterness" if the 'hidden agenda' is hidden well enough.

      Could you give an example of a game that really tries to simulate reality and isn't really just emulating a genre (or specific source material)? I'm hard pressed to think of a single one.

      You and me both.  That's what I've been asking for....

      Fang Langford
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