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Speculative Physics

Testing the Boundaries II - Putting Things Together

by Mendel Schmiedekamp
Dec 28,2005


Testing the Boundaries II - Putting Things Together

Last month I described several aspects present in typical RPGs, which may or may not be required, and challenged for the creation of games which innately remove such elements as character, verbal communication, and sharing. As a continuation of those challenges I am presenting three ways to make an RPG more than simply a game. In many ways, these are not challenges of classification, as much as challenges about how we use and experience RPGs in our lives.

RPG as Society

An often neglected side of RPG design is providing social building blocks to enhance the functioning of the play group. These can take the form of advice and descriptions of interpersonal pathologies (such as the infamous list of trouble players), which keep this portion of the design wholly separate from the more creative mechanics and setting. It is far more challenging, and ultimately more influential to integrate the two sides of the coin, and encourage social dynamics as part of the game design entire.

At the same time, there are a variety of attempts to design organizations which support one or more types of RPGs. Including the RPGA and the Camarilla, these organizations have specific rules, administration, and structures which trickle down to affect how the members can play their games. Sometimes this effect is intentional, but often they are purely side effects of political or organizational decisions.

The crux of this challenge is to design a RPG which by playing it will produce a specific social organization, and this organization should be able to function on a global scale. This is not merely a game where organization at this scale is possible, but it must be synergistic. The effects and difficulties within large social structures, such as fan clubs, professional societies, and political organizations must occur in such as way as to encourage the design goal of the game and ultimately the player's enjoyment of the game. Indeed, unlike the organizations I mentioned above, the organization so created should be not require significant activity other than play. In essence, the social structure should come as a side effect of playing the game, not the other way around.

RPG as Work

Art and RPGs is a complex topic where many designers and players have sought to build an aesthetic theory, which allows them to call what they do art. Whether this is artistic designing or creating a work of art through play, the objective is to create something which others will agree is art. All in all, these people are attempting to make a work of art using RPGs as the medium.

In this case I propose doing the converse. Namely, making a work of art, with a RPG as the message. And again, this a not simply a juxtaposition of elements, the aesthetic qualities of the work of art should be synergistic with the acquisition of the game. Learning the game, and understanding the work should be intertwined processes.

More so than the other two challenges this month, the choice of what to combine with a RPG is very important. I suspect the simplest decision for a work of art is a narrative form, such as a novel, short story, or even a narrative poem. It also does not hurt that individuals with experience in game design often seek experience in the creation of written works of art. Visual, musical, or performance art may all be possible ways to transmit a RPG. Indeed, even if this challenge is met in a written form, the question of whether a verbal form is necessary still remains.

A harder challenge might be to restrict the medium to those furthest from typical RPG texts, in particular those which do not use verbal communication. In some ways that form of this challenge relates to the understanding we seek in the non-verbal RPG from last month, but from a different direction.

RPG as Ceremony

Recently the relationship between ritual and RPGs has been discussed and developed in theoretical circles. This is a fascinating question, potentially for both sides. It also begs a very interesting question. To what extent can RPGs provide the emotional and cultural functions of societal and religious ceremonies?

In particular, there seem to be a variety of events in people's lives which encourage the presence of ceremonies to fulfill social and personal needs during this time. This includes such things as funerals, coming of age rituals, and marriages. These ceremonies are not merely resulting from tradition, but ideally have a beneficial effect on the participants and the community as a whole.

This challenge is to design a RPG which provides the beneficial effects of a specific type of ceremony. Whether it is a birth celebration RPG or seasonal celebratory RPG, the objective is to combine the positive elements of ceremony with that of a RPG design, in such a way that each furthers the other. Again, this is not simply a juxtaposition. The challenge is not to have an RPG as part of, for example, a coming of age rite, but instead to have the RPG be the whole of the event, and by playing it to transition the individuals from child to adult, in their own minds, and in the view of society.

Next Month: Stacking Up TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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