I know, today is usually "Cracked Monday", but I decided to shake things up when over in my blog entry about the #rpgnet chat, I got someone (calling themselves 'patriot online', but let's call them "Virginia" instead) giving the tired old pundit-hater Swine-troll rant about how irrelevant I am, which 'irrelevancy' he felt absolutely obliged to point out on my own widely-read blog, after my All-star chat participation, etc. etc.
He said that I didn't convince any of the other panelists (note that not all disagreed with me, on a vocal minority) of anything, that I didn't "set them straight" in the sense of getting them to change their ways. As if that was what I'd meant. Dude, this is elementary-level rhetoric right here, seriously.
It wasn't them I was trying to sort out, it was the audience.
When you engage in a public debate, the point is never to try to
convince your opponent to give up his rabidly-held beliefs, it is to
convince the audience that your points and the logic of how you've
structured them are better than his.
In said rant, he also jumped in to talk about, and I quote:
"There is no one true way to play. If you are playing and a story
comes out of it, that's playing correctly as long as everyone has fun.
If you are playing to form a story and everyone is having fun, you are
playing correctly. Both ways you are valid and playing Role Playing
Games as long as everyone is having fun."
And this was what prompted today's suspension of Cracked Monday. I felt the need to respond yet again to the sheer stupidity of this type of claim, which many have made before. The Story/Game question is not a matter of taste, opinion, partisanship, or feeling; its just about logic.
And yes, in this case, because we are dealing with Logic, there very much is indeed a LITERALLY WRONG way to play.
Let's say you made a new game of snakes and ladders or something like that, and you were explaining and promoting this as a game where "everybody wins". But then in the actual play, it turns out that not only does everybody not win and the game does in fact still have a single standard winner, but that the modification to the game is that if you land on another player's spot he's immediately and permanently eliminated from the game.
Logically speaking, on a purely FACTUAL basis that is in no manner affected by opinion, the claim being made is thus WRONG. It is a logically incorrect statement to claim that this game is one where everybody wins.
In order for the claim to be true, you would have to change the rules. And as long as you're still playing snakes and ladders, your claim that everybody wins cannot be true. You may end up altering the game radically with new rules and then still trying to call it snakes and ladders, but if the game is so totally different at that point, why still call it the same thing?
On the other hand, you may try to just ignore the rules, conventions, structures, and traditions of the game, like you might for very little children, and say gameplay continues no matter what and that the point really is for the little tykes to ALL get their man to the end so everyone can do just what they wanted and no one needs to have a tantrum. But at that point you're not really playing the game (or indeed, some would say any game) at all. You're just engaged in creative babysitting with the dice rolling reduced to mere meaningless busywork, since the results are a foregone conclusion: no one will get unexpectedly eliminated, everyone gets to the end... or little sally gets to have her piece stay on the snake's head because she thinks its funny, or tommy's guy can just 'teleport' to the end because he doesn't want to play anymore but also doesn't want sally to tease him for losing the game. Anything goes, because gameplay has become utterly secondary to babysitting spoiled brats.
In fact, in either of these "fixes" the claim "snakes and ladders is a game where everybody wins" would still be factually WRONG. Because in the first fix you are changing the game's fundamental structure (not just a detail like mere mechanics, but the whole point of the game) into something that it is not; and in the second you are just ignoring the 'game' concept altogether.
It is exactly the same way with RPGs and stories. An RPG is made to simulate a world, full of random events, hopefully done well (by a good GM) so as to have verisimilitude, to be as Immersive as possible. It is a world where the CONSCIOUS creation of story is impossible, any more than in the real world you could just decide "ok, tomorrow I'm going to win the lottery, and then later have a drug cartel chase after me only to discover that the drug lord is my own grandfather! Wow, I didn't see that one coming. But it'll be ok, even though I'll be in a shootout I get away in the end".
Just like in real life, whatever plans you may have, in an RPG where the rules actually apply, can be completely thwarted by some random element, be it an encounter with a goblin that puts a swift end to your dreams of going from farm boy to lord wizard, or a bad roll on a jump check that leaves the would-be heroic rescue splattered on the floor.
If you say "well, let's make new rules, so the whole point is that the rules control the flow of story itself and not the environment. The environment will just be a facade, a potemkin village, that doesn't really mean anything or do anything but acts as a backdrop for the flow of our story, which is what the rules will allow us to control"; well then, you've changed the most fundamental thing that the game affects. What you've created is something radically different from an RPG.
If you say "well, we're playing RPGs but our goal is to create a story, and when the rules get in the way of that we just fudge it", then you're not actually playing the game at all. If your games are all railroads or illusionism, if no PC can ever die from a random goblin strike or 20-story drop unless the STORY demands it, then you're no longer putting the game first.
And on the contrary, if the story-ambitions of a player or GM can be thwarted by a bad roll, then GAME must be taking precedence over story.
These are OPPOSED concepts. What you are playing depends on where you decide the buck-stops. If you decide that the Story is important enough that in the end any rule can be ignored for story's sake, then you're not playing a game. If you decide that the Game is important enough that no storytelling sense of 'that doesn't seem very cool' can prevent the truth of what just happened in your virtual world, then you're NOT creating story, you are playing a GAME of a virtual world.
You can't have both. And that's not opinion, its logic (as in "A is not B"; it is a question of mathematics, where any personal feeling or opinion has FUCK ALL to do with it).
So yes, Virginia, you can say that there is a right way to do RPGs. I know, it makes me a terrible meanie for all the would-be artistes and novelists out there. But fortunately, the majority of gamers, of regular roleplayers, actually want to play that way. That's why D&D has stayed so popular over the years, while expressive story-crafting exercises about sexually-confused victorian college professors has not.
Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia