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Speculative Physics

Testing the Boundaries I - Taking Things Apart

by Mendel Schmiedekamp
Nov 29,2005


Testing the Boundaries I - Taking Things Apart

Defining RPGs is a difficult task. Several things are minimally necessary. As I would put it, an RPG must be collaborative and creative. It also must have constraints of some sort (formally or informally) both on the players as a whole and on the capacities of each one. It must also have an underlying structure of play behavior. Without these it would be impossible to treat something as an RPG. Certainly other properties can also be observed in RPGs. The question is are these necessary properties or not?

In the course of developing RPGs many supposed requirements have been removed. Whether the position of the GM or the idea of separation of real and imagined action, RPGs have explored some of their boundaries. But there is still much more to do, and many bounrdaries which may or may not be real ones.

The purpose of this article and my next one are to present some challenges for experimental game design. These are not meant to be easy challenges. Indeed, some or all of them may turn out to be impossible. But the important part is to explore those boundaries. If they hold firm then that tells us what may be essential. If they do not, then they may hold the next revolution in game design. It is a difficult task, but it is well worth undertaking the challenge. And remember, the objective is not merely to create a game which could meet the challenge, but one which naturally does so without being forced.

This month will deal with removing common elements from RPGs, next month will involve adding novel aspects to them.

Without Characters

The first challenge is eliminating the character structure from RPGs. While this is related to the elimination of the single player to single character structure found in most RPGs, this reduction goes much deeper.

A character is a personalization, it turns some collection of ideas and elements into the image of a personality. This is essentially a crutch for play, we have some understanding of people, so by taking an abstraction and creating a person from it, we have a simple handle for that abstract idea. Unfortunately the structure of a person has significant built in biases.

The core of this challenge is to present an RPG which entirely avoids this crutch. Played naturally, the game would not anthropomorphize anything, even human beings who may appear in the context of play.

Without Words

The second challenge is that of eliminating linguistic communication during play. Whether verbal, gesticular, or otherwise, overt structures of communication are banned. But in such a RPG communication remains essential.

Emotive communication is all that is permitted. Facial expressions, touches, and emotional responses, such as crying or laughing, are the crux of this type of RPG. Now, the game document itself may be verbal, and indeed would likely benefit from this allowance, but once play begins, even such a document is removed from play.

The core of this challenge is to avoid the coloring of language, and to some extent culture, on the structure of an RPG. The theoretical goal is to determine to what extent language is an intrinsic part of the communication of the game. It is not enough to encode a language within emotion, instead the game must be designed to make the emotions sufficient on their own.

Without Sharing

The third challenge is based on a common assumption about the structure of RPGs, namely the Shared Imagined Space. This idea focuses on a collaborative creation of imagined elements of play, of which some portion is mutually available to all players. The third challenge is to create a game where imagined space is explicitly not shared.

In essence, this restriction separates the creative and collaborative aspects of play. Each player is free to create an imagined space, but collaboration occurs outside of those spaces, with only the results of interaction descending back to a given space. It can reasonably be thought of as a RPG where each player has a distinct perspective of what is real, and they interact based on each perspective, and affect each other's reality. However, the current attempts to do this involve an overarching imagine construct or a single player (usually the GM) for whom all of the individual spaces are made available.

The core of this challenge is to eliminate the common ground, but retain collaboration. Each player presents events or actions stripped of context, and new context is produced by each player, without an intermediate imagined space or player. Ultimately, the goal of this challenge is to show if the Shared Imagined Space is necessary, or simply a myth.

Next Month: Putting Things Together 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

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