Design and Theory

For once, I will post some remarks about design, in response to a post on Ben's LJ and the initiating Forge thread and a followup thread, which is simply the order in which I read them. In essence, there has been some discussion --- and I gather there has also been reaction, some of it violent, elsewhere on the web --- of half-baked games being published too soon, the Forge’s possible and actual participation in this situation and the potential for improvement, what the Forge is and should really be for, and any given designer’s own personal emphases with respect to play, design, publishing, the community, and so on.

If I wanted to comment on these threads directly, with reference to their original contexts and debates and personalities and whatnot, I’d do so at the Forge, breaking my self-imposed omerta (which is mostly a matter of lack of interest combined with lack of time). This is just my own weird take on the issues from what is perhaps a peculiar perspective.

What I will propose here is an alternative theoretical direction that may perhaps be of some service with reference to these difficulties. Please be aware that this post is VERY LONG.

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My Goodness

My book is up to #30,003 on Amazon, which is very high for this sort of book, and you can now do the "search inside" thing. I have received fan email from several scholars, two of whom are actually sending me things by way of congratulations.

I don't really know what to say.


Hope they don't all hate it when they read it, whoever they are, is all I suppose I can say.


Not that it has anything to do with gaming. I thought I was logged in on the other blog. Oh well, I know you all care too.
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A GNS Question

John Kim's blog had a post about GNS and his interest or lack thereof these days. I have, as you know, been somewhat absent from this whole little mad field, myself, and I found myself thinking, "So what do I think about it these days?"

As I turn that over in my head, possibly profitably but possibly not, I have some questions for you. Please insert "and the Big Model" after GNS if that is helpful to you; I don't really care.

1. Do you find GNS useful in your current play?

2. Did you find it so in the past?

3. If you design games, do you think about this while you design (including general mulling over)?

4. Did you do so in the past?

5. Do you think that GNS should change and develop significantly?

6. Practically speaking, do you think it will change noticeably in the next year or so?

7. When you see someone make a GNS-based remark somewhere on the web, do you react with interest, annoyance, or what?

8. What is your overall assessment of what GNS has achieved in the past?

9. What is your assessment of its future?

You don't have to answer all that, obviously, but I am genuinely interested to know, as I see very, very different things about this.

Oh, one more thing: is it worth creating a poll like this? I've never done one.

More stories

Enough about Ron's post as such. My point about stories, though...

Start here with this link and read several pages of this stuff. This is quite raw data, direct from the Kwakiutl when they still existed in a fairly solid way. A word of advice: don't allegorize -- this material is a great deal more difficult to interpret than it looks, and as you'll see, that's saying something.


jeffwik pointed me to this Forge thread on storytelling games, brain-damage, and whatnot. How very odd. I kept reading, because that's the kind of freak I am, and I just kept thinking that the whole thing was pointless for reasons other than the ones constantly stated. I mean, the whole brain damage thing was nonsense, and I have no brief for sociobiology in any of its ridiculous forms (not that it can't be well done, but it's certainly rare and this isn't a good example). But the whole thing starts with a false premise.

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Spot That Thread!

On Malcolm Sheppard's blog, I found the following in a "looking back on 2006" post:
Anyway, we also got into "brain damage," which was Ron Edwards' borrowing of sociobiological rhetoric for gaming. Many gamers are giving Ron a pass on this as some kind of metaphor, but he's made it clear he believes it's literally true and I figure he's following a doctrine of neural Darwinism in doing so. What he has not done, however, is identified what a story is in a sociobiological context, which makes his critique kind of halfassed, even within its own rules. So Ron would do well to give the whole "just so story" on the sociobiology of the Big Model, or else it's just the arbitrary invention I believe it to be -- but *by his own standards.*
I don't read the Forge much these days, and I confess I don't know what Malcolm's referring to. It sounds fascinating. Anyone know the thread?


I just wanted to put this link here up, primarily for my reference. It's a thread from the Forge a couple years ago where I wrote a lot about how to run a mystery. Feel free to discuss it here, certainly, but I just wanted to have it somewhere I'd know where to find it.

Making Cultures: Chapter 1

Chapter 1. First Principles: Sacred and Profane

I notice that religion is relatively often added late to fantasy worlds. It also seems to have consistent institutional and mythological forms: priests with temples dedicated to particular gods in a pantheon. Sometimes there is a significant attempt to integrate these into the game-world; more often, they seem tacked-on, something primarily the concern of religious professionals (clerics, druids, etc.).

All of this depends on a number of fundamental assumptions that are stunningly difficult for most modern Westerners to get around. And because these assumptions are so deep, and because they in some sense run right to the core of what we think culture is in the first place, I think the best way to start building something new and different is to challenge those assumptions.


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Making Cultures: Start of a long series


Over the last few years, I have run into quite a number of discussions about how to design cultures for fantasy games. To me the most interesting of these have centered on questions like, “How do you design a fantasy culture so that it isn’t Eurocentric?” And I’ve posted bits and pieces of a personal response to such things, here and there, especially on The Forge but also in other places. I keep pushing around this notion that someday I’m really going to lay it all out in one place, clearly, from beginning to end.

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