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Roles & Action or Dear RPG, Please Respond
by Seth Gorden on 06/15/11 05:04:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


D&D Dice

It all goes back to Dungeons & Dragons. Never played? If you’re reading this article, odds are that you have. You may never have rolled dice and filled out a character sheet, but if you’ve ever played a video game RPG, you’ve played some variation that was once inspired by D&D. Everything from Ultima to Mass Effect bears with it an influence of dice-rolling, attack and defense stats, and special enumerated abilities. But I’m not writing to discuss numbers. This post is about role play. At the table, much of the experience and plot progression is shaped by improvisation of its players and group leader. Historically, this has not been a strong point of video games.

By necessity, video role playing is nearly always defined by a class or job. Class determines what actions are available to you, and very often it defines your avatar’s appearance. Dialog, where available, is prescribed by designers and writers who have already played and prepared this game for you. And this brings me to the heart of the matter. As a player of RPG video games, what do I get to create? There are a number of talented developers and studios working on this problem from a variety of angles. Herein, I will discuss the obstacles I see, and propose a few ideas on how to address them. I have no complaints today, but I am attempting to accurately identify constraints that can help us discover undeveloped terrain in our role-playing landscape. Let’s explore!

8bit Role Play

In the 1980s, the console RPG genre charged forward with a couple of Japanese-developed titles you may have heard of, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Many nostalgic RPG fans still play these classics, and their owners have no qualms over continuing to port and sell these originals as new platforms become available. Why is their appeal so long-lived? Upon release, they were new experiences for many gamers. Those of us used to the plethora of action and puzzle titles available were blown away by the strategy, story, and sense of grandeur about our activities. For me, these games also provided a means of risk mitigation. Jumping around on platforms was fun, but I was not very accomplished at the task. Even with the ubiquitous platforming of Super Mario Bros, I felt crushed whenever lives ran out and the game reset. The early console RPGs provided a sweet refuge from the punishing post-arcade action games.

The first time I talked to King Lorik in Dragon Quest, I thought “Whoa! He wants to record my deeds on the Imperial Scrolls of HONOR! I am an honorable warrior. The King wants me to continue my quest to save his daughter and rid the Kingdom from the terrors of the Dragonlord.” And so I did.

Scrolls of Honor

The game’s core experience was not about stats or equipment or class, it was about continually growing mastery over the environment. I measured my progress by the amount of terrain I could safely navigate, and the number of yet-difficult monster fights I could survive before returning home to heal and tell my deeds to the King. They were simple games by today’s standard, but their simplicity held with it the value of imagination. Most of the game was made up of goals I set for myself. That  offered me a sense of ownership, and it explains part of the appeal that launched the genre into its golden age in the next decade. It still plays a part in the marketability of these originals today.

Modern Development

For the last decade or so, the over-arching focus I’ve seen is a push for bigger worlds. This in turn drives the player to explore and try new things. To a great extent, these games contain specific experiences that 8bit predecessors could not deliver in such detail. However, detail remains the primary distinction. Role still defines Action. Your class or job determines what you can effectively wear and wield.

American RPGs, such as Oblivion, have addressed the issue by making all items available, and letting the stats and effectiveness fall where they may. Players certainly have a lot more choice in that regard. We get to play dress-up, and people seem to enjoy that. Now that custom faces are a standard part of the creation process… we can be masters of our visual identity.

Mastery of Visual Indentity

This explicit presentation is counter-intuitive to the mind-dwelling, imagination-driven table top adventures that formed the genre. But it is nonetheless the strength of our digital games and, for the most part (at least for big studios), there will be no turning back on this visual fidelity. The imagination is a secondary concern at best.

On the other hand, many games now allow the players to define some interesting bits of their character through play. A common feature is the one-dimensional axis of Good & Evil. It’s a bit shallow, but it’s easy to use and simple to measure. Moreover, it fits nicely into storytelling. Star wars already has Jedi and Sith, and most Hero’s Journey tales involve a Quest for Good and feature oppressive Evil Folks that attempt to impede progress. The infamous Fable series actually alters appearance based on this scale of goodness. But it begs several questions. Does measuring goodness allow for a sense of creation? Cannot evil be beautiful to behold and goodness ugly? Does this measure actually support role play?

A single axis of alignment doesn’t really encompass a character, a whole being, no matter the fidelity and polygon count of our flowing cape, fancy sword, or glowing countenance. We love the stories our designers tell, and most developers aren’t keen to let the players run amok with words and plot. How can we offer a sense of role play without giving up narrative control? I believe it lies in the relationship between Roles and Action. Even open world concepts are a free form evolution of the idea that Role defines Action. What if we reversed it?

New Ideas

Imagine that we start, much like Oblivion, in a world full of tools and attire, full of characters and monsters. But, instead of prescribing classes and jobs, we award them. If a player is always stealing from their neighbors, call them Thief. Why wait for them to enlist in the official guild and be handed the title only for approved quest-driven thieving? We may not be able to give up our whole story, but we can start responding to the player in other meaningful ways. We can acknowledge their action beyond prescribed avenues of progress, and give them a world that cares about their participation.

Let each town or guild form their own opinion about a player based on what they witness the player do. Global reputations make very little sense. A reputation is hardly the same among people in the same place, much less across companies, towns, or countries. A player might decide to be a thief in their hometown, grow tired of a life of crime, and move on to become a farmer elsewhere. Should we have magically-aware guards at every pass that always know of your every deed with god-like omniscience? I think not. There is little value in that response. But without getting to ridiculous levels of memory-precision per NPC, town-wide opinions could be a next step to explore.

While we’re developing our reputation, why not get to know the locals? In a rural, agricultural community, a farmer would be a valued and prosperous person. Perhaps the most respected people in that place would be planting and harvesting grain, or raising livestock for wool, hide, or meat. In a big city, it could be the aristocracy that are most prized for their persuasive skill and diplomacy. Gang of bandits? They respect the killing and looting. Talking to the poor? They might only respect an act of generosity.

Each group may easily have a list of valued activities. Whenever the player engages in these activities (or opposing ones), options can open or close, invitations can be given or withdrawn, and titles can be awarded and lost.

Non-player characters could remember important events. Even in a town that loves you for your general goodness and stores of grain, there could be that one guy whose land you bought out from under him, whose puppy you kicked. He might not like you. Variety helps bring a world to life!

Perhaps if the player performed epic feats of heroism (as with most games), NPCs might respond with something other than firing off cut-scenes, or saying “Thanks for that. Cheers.” Maybe they’d close shops and throw an interactive BBQ whenever you stroll into town. That would be awesome! By acknowledging the player for what they do, we put the player in charge of their destiny.

Shop Closed

We already have loads of content and quests in our games, but framing it as acknowledgement makes it personal. It offers an experience of role play that I believe holds greater immersion than signing up at the nearest quest-giver and asking for a better title and more gold. The game would instead proudly declare “I see what you’re doing there, and I care.”

Discussion Points

Party System: This proposition is given with a single-player experience in mind. Party based games will face additional challenges. For instance, a player in charge of several characters may end up with a team of very same-ish fighters. There may have to be encouragement or constraint to make every character useful and, if possible, unique.

Dynamic Quest Generation: I hear Bethesda is working a flexible quest framework in their upcoming title Skyrim. Sweet. This is a good area of research. Plug-and-play flexible frameworks that reflect the player’s action. That counts in as progress in my book. What else can we provide in framework that would support a dynamic story environment?

Modeling the Hero’s Journey: Many already know about this classic storytelling progression. I posit that if it has a formula, we could write a system to dynamically encourage and recognize the Hero’s Journey plot points. This might turn out to be more simulation than story telling, but there’s potential here that may be worth exploring.


I enjoy exploring the potential for meaningful role play in video games. Exposed number systems with explicit classes have been a great ride from table top, but I do look forward to a cycle in game evolution where they diminish in value in favor of more direct personal experiences.

There is still plenty of territory to explore with the methods in use. A great game can shine for many reasons, and is not contingent upon any sense of ‘true’ role play for my approval. But I do believe that players, particularly those who enjoy RPGs, would love the opportunity to sway the balance or culture of a world, even if the main narrative cannot be directly altered.

Perhaps some day soon, players will be able to provide food for their neighbors, start or end wars, or choose their loyalty based on their own values. We have the content, we have creative force to write and produce these kinds of stories, and I look forward to seeing what comes of the next generation of role play.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you feel inclined to share your thoughts and comments!

Take care and tempt not the fates.

[Original Post: Here]

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Darren Tomlyn
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Please note that all posts I make on this site are based on my blog - (click my name) - so if there's anything you don't quite understand, start there ;)

In some ways I'm going to be getting well ahead of myself here, since I'm probably going to covering all this later in my blog anyway - problems with cRPG's are the very reason I've been involved in all this in the first place.

(So this could be quite a long post (as usual)).

"It all goes back to Dungeons & Dragons."

Yes, it should all go back to Dungeons and Dragons, but the lack of recognition of exactly how and why it does so is part of the problem - especially in relation to computer games.

As usual, we run into one of the main underlying problems affecting EVERYTHING to do with games (and the language associated with them) at this time:

The lack of recognition between a definition, and its application.

What has happened, is that we've wound up with two conflicting perceptions of what the term Role Playing Game represents, which are causing problems for each other, the term itself, and even (computer) games in general. The reason WHY this has happened, is that games, in general, are not fully recognised for what they are, and so how such a term (Role-playing) is related to such a thing and therefore can be applied consistently, is not recognised. Likewise, some of these current applications are not fully recognised or understood consistently, due to being considered to be related to 'role-playing' only.

In other words, we have a bit of a mess. The post above is a symptom of that.

What DEFINES D&D as a role-playing GAME, is part of the problem we have. Because games, in themelves, are not fully understood, it is unsurprising that some of what is taken from D&D that is thought to define the term, is inconsistent with what games are.

Games are NOT defined by the peice used to play them with. This means that whatever character/object/entity you play a game with, does not matter for its definition. Just like playing Monopoly with a chess piece doesn't turn it into chess.

Types of games are only defined in two ways:

a) The medium used.

b) The type of written story a game enables.

The problems with the term RPG are caused by either a lack of recognition of this, in ADDITION to confusion between the two.

So, let's start with D&D.

Is D&D a Role-playing game because of its MEDIUM, or its WRITTEN STORY?

The answer, is the former - D&D is a Role-Playing Game, because it uses the player as the medium themeselves - to enable the written story of the game.

This means that all of the numbers and character classes etc. are merely part of the SUBJECTIVE APPLICATION of such a medium in creating the individual GAME of D&D itself. Becuase of that, RPG's exist even without such things - but that is why we call it a Pen-and-paper RPG instead.

So I think we can all see what has happened here - such subjective applications have become part of the definition itself.

This is what has caused the problems with the two different perceptions of RPG's in relation to computers.

The ONLY method of using a computer for an RPG, that would be consistent with such a definition, is if the player(s) is/are also part of the medium itself. Some computer games have been built to enable just that, but they are in a very small minority, even if, according to how the term is used independently of computers, RPG's is what they must be.

THIS is what you're looking for - a 'true' cRPG, that is and would be consistent with the term whehn used outside of computers themselves.

The real problem, is of course, which is what you're complaining about, (though how much you understand I do not know - but I'll explain anyway), is that the term RPG, in relation to computers, has become known to represent something that is NOT fully consistent with what the term itself represents outside of computers, and so what it 'should' be used to represent, due to such a perception, is not fully recognised at all.

The problem with the term RPG is that it is not being perceived in a manner that is consistent with games themselves when involving a computer. As I pointed out before, characters as a playing peice (within a computer), along with character classes etc. are NOT what the term should be used to represent at all - either it has no place in defining a game, or it is part of its application, rather than its definition.

What really matters, is of course what such 'playing peices' and systems etc., exist to ENABLE - the WRITTEN STORY that such a type of game MUST be defined by (since the medium itself, a computer, (or maybe even pen-and-paper) already exists).

The problem, is that such a written story, has NOTHING to do with 'characters', which is why the perception of it as involving 'role-playing' is causing problems, and affecting what (computer) games can truly be, do and involve.

All of which is affecting what you see.

But if we step away form the term RPG, since it shouldn't really be used to describe such a type of game, what is it that all these 'RPG systems & mechancis' exist to do? What written story do they exist to enable, that can then be used to define the type of game, independently of the term 'RP' as it really should, (but doesn't)?

What it exts to enable is probably one of the most powerful methods of gameplay - one of the most influencial written stories possible, in relation, and in ADDITION to all of the others:

Systematic, (since it needs to be the/a cetral tenent of the game, and non-optional), user-defined/influenced (since it needs to be part of the WRITTEN story), GAMEPLAY DEVELOPMENT (over time), (the main written story it enables - most 'CRPG's' of course use characters to enable such a thing, but there is no reason why it should be so limited), above-and-beyond the basic gameplay (since that is a written story that is defined elsewhere) and setting (since that is a story that is TOLD, and therefore does not define a game at all).

Given that such a written story does NOT have to be limited to just the gameplay itself, but can also be used to affect the setting or gameplay mechanics, it should unsurprising why I consider it to hold the most potential for computer games going forward...

Nick Witsel
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This is indeed a very difficult subject. Based on my interpretation of what you just said, rpg's should not be defined by their mechanics and metrics like "xp" "world maps" "quests" "leveling" or "skills and atributes" but by the idea of having the player creating the story as they play. Or in other words: actual roleplay. An example in my opinion would be a game like Dwarf Fortress. The game generates a world with many civilizations and history, and from there on allows you to set your own personal goals and motivations once you start playing. There are no goals or quests the game gives you. The game is increadible has an incredible amount of depth thanks to the all its functions and effects it can generate.

However, the main gametype does not put you in the shoes of an individual. Instead you manage a group of dwarves to do whatever you wish to do with them. Much like how the sims never puts you in direct control over your characters, so does dwarf fortress. However, the game's adventure mode, does put you in direct control of an individual and allows you to travel across the entire world space doing whatever it is you want.

So I'm curious, do these examples match your view on what you could consider RPG's in the right direction?

Darren Tomlyn
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An RPG or rather a computer-RPG in this case, would use the player as a medium, above and beyond the computer itself.

The problem with this for a computer game, is that without other people being involved for such behaviour, it is hard if not impossible for it to function and exist in any manner except as part of any other type of game already existing and defined upon a computer.

The only way a person can exist as a medium in addition to a computer, is if their behaviour affects a written story that is also somewhat separate from the computer too - between different people and players. It would then be the games job (using the computer) to enable that to happen and allow any and all required actions and reactions to happen for the written story to exist.

Such games DO exist, but as you can imagine, are not very common at all. Such as that being dicussed here:

(I have no idea why it breaks the URL like that).

Seth Gorden
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@Nick Witsel

Dwarf Fortress is an interesting example. I do enjoy games that start with a free-form adventure or creative premise. And I'm curious about whether designers (either indie, AAA, or anyone) would be able to write a strong narrative in the context of such a world, and make it flexible or responsive to the player's course of action.

My favorite RPGs of the past were created by people with a strong vision for an experience, and the motivation to bring that vision to life. I wouldn't recommend evaluating divergent design paths as 'right' or 'wrong', necessarily. A big part of the fun of this industry (to me) is that developers see things differently. There is always opportunity to try something new.

Seth Gorden
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@Darren Tomlyn

Thanks for your thorough analysis. RPGs are a big subject. As you have observed, definitions within the world of role play are a bit of a mess. You offer up two conflicting definitions of roleplay, and I'm sure that with additional voices in the conversation, we could come up with more distinctions. However, my interest is less about untangling the mess, and more about acknowledging the current state of Video Game RPGs, in specific, and exploring what we can do from here to breathe more life into player's sense of role. I could rephrase my thesis as 'encouraging a sense of ownership'.

It's obvious that you've put a lot of thought into the subject, and if you've got any ideas about the kind of experience you're after in RPGs or what developers can do to create a feeling of belonging for players, I'd love to hear about that.

Darren Tomlyn
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Well, now we've got (some) of the basic foundations out of the way, we can a (little) more specific.

What we're dealing with here is the relationship between the piece the player uses to write a story with - (a character, though, again, there's no reason it should be so limited), the setting within which the story takes place, and the story that the game itself (on behalf of its creators) has to tell.

What you're ultimately talking about is having the game react to what the player does, rather than the other way round... (Which, IMO, is exactly how it should be, especially for c'RPG's').

To get even more specific, however, the role of whatever it is the player controls in a game should be defined by the story they either can or will write. For the most part, this isn't really a problem*.

The real problem we have, is with the actual written story itself.

You talk about a sense of 'ownership'. This all comes down to one thing: Power and choice. The more power and choice we have over something we control, the greater the sense of ownership - especially if such an element can be seen as being 'unique'.

There are two main ways in which this can happen - the second of which is something that we haven't really seen yet:

1) Power over the actual 'playing piece' itself that is controlled by the player. You mention some of this above, such as appearance etc.

2) Power over the written story itself. Now, there are two main ways in which this can happen, which can be, or even should be, linked. The power to DO something unique, and the ability for the playing piece to BECOME something unique, based on the written story itself.

A lot of what you're talking about is of course the latter.

It's ALL about power and choice. This is of course a problem in today's climate, where game designers don't want to make games with so much choice in them in case players get confused or lost.

But we can do something about that...


Well, that's what my blog is here for, and (slowly) heading towards...


Well, I say it's not really a problem, but of course it depends on it's application. The situation you are thinking of, is probably one where the classes and role of the avatar is already defined or chosen from BEFORE the game starts (even if it can be affected afterwards) right? What you're probably then thinking of is having the class or role of the character then defined by what they do during the game instead, right?

I actually think that either of those have problems. In my opinion, what makes c'RPG's' POWERFUL is the ability to have power and choice INDEPENDENTLY of how they actually play the game itself. Now, obviously, the role and class you choose before the game can still allow that to happen (though usually in a more limited manner), but I think the best balance would be to start without any class/role, and then make choices about it as you play, but not necessarily linked to how you've playED the game itself. If it's done correctly, character classes can still be an option, but not necessary. (Maybe I'm starting to give something away...).

Dan Felder
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Darren, I can't believe you're still insisting on these prescribed, artificial rules for definitions. All they do is impose artificial limits on what games can grow to be. Whether or not something fits your view of a, "true" rpg is really quite irrelevant to whether its majestic, fulfilling experience or not. You have yet to demonstrate how on earth thinking of games in this way is at all helpful. Unlike the breaking down of genres in storytelling, which is extremely subjective and has been broken down in many different ways over the centuries, your definition labeling does not produce any value for a designer or developer. Genres broken down by plot structure and conventions help people fulfill audience expectations in surprising ways and understand the way such genres work to produce enjoyment. Your insisting that what we call RPGs aren't really RPGs and such is useless to a designer. It has no power to increase the enjoyment of the title or its moving parts.

Game designers attempt to to evoke specific experiences in the player, just like any artist constructing a piece. Your definition quibbling does nothing productive to this end. You're fundamentally saying, "RPG games should do X because I say that's what an RPG game is... Regardless of whether this is fun or not or creates enjoyable experiences for the player". How is this useful to anyone? Ultimately, it's not.

Darren Tomlyn
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The act of creating a game, is to create something to enable a certain type of behaviour of OTHER PEOPLE. Just like understanding how sound works is useful to create (better) music, understanding how to promote certain aspects of such behaviour and interaction is helpful when creating games.

The whole reason WHY the term 'RPG' has become so confused is because it's been applied in a manner that is not consistent with what games are. If you do not fully recognise why understanding such a thing is useful, then I cannot help you. If you do not understand why recognising what it is that such a thing IS consistent with representing is also useful, then I also cannot help you.

Just like recognising the difference between thing people DO, and things that happen TO people is useful, understanding why and how different aspects of games and their mechanics affects people's behaviour should also be important and welcome.

If you don't understand how and why all this matters for the design and creation of (computer) games, then maybe you're on the wrong website...

If you do not see and understand how the term 'systematic, user-defined gameplay development, above and beyond the basic gameplay and setting' can be applied, and matters for computer games, then I really cannot help you.

The whole reason we're having this discussion is BECAUSE of how games, and types of games, are LABELLED. The LABELS ALREADY EXIST - the problem is that they are NOT consistent - and this is causing some 'problems', and if you don't recognise that, then why take any part in this conversation at all?

Games are ALL about a written story, (within a structured, competitive environment). What we're discussing is some of the ways in which such a thing can be affected. Simple.

Matthew Mouras
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This is linguistics. It has its uses as an academic exercise, but your response doesn't seem appropriate to this article. Seth has written up some interesting ideas that you are ignoring in favor of hearing yourself speak about semantics that are of limited use to a developer. Yes I recognize that Gamasutra is a place to debate the study of games, Your approach just isn't terribly useful - write your own article.

Your tone isn't helping your cause either.

Thanks for the piece, Seth. I always found the global love or hate fest in games like Fable to be shallow. It was interesting to think about some of your suggestions for a more persistent world.

Seth Gorden
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@Matthew Mouras

Thanks for your comment. I'm glad the article has stimulated some thought. If it brings any other new ideas to mind, please share them! I definitely want to see how other people view the challenge of developing immersion.

Dan Felder
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And this is why your constant discussion of labels is useless. It doesn't matter what you call something or what you say they should be called - we design to evoke responses and behaviors. Quibbling about labels and definitions doesn't help do that. Discussing the reactions we're after and how best to evoke those reactions on the other hand, is actually useful.

For more than a year now you have constantly been saying what can really be reduced to, "We need to understand what the definition of various types of games are and correspond to those definitions before they can be fun". I submit to you that no matter whether Mass Effect, Oblivion, Dragon Age or Final Fantasy 7 are considered RPGs under your definition or not, it doesn't make those titles any more or less fun. In fact, it doesn't change them at all. Even if tomorrow we started calling Mass Effect something as silly as an RTS or turn based strategy game - which it obviously isn't and I'm only using for the sake of example - it wouldn't change the enjoyment of the game. All it would do is confuse the customers who have identified with what the working definition of RPG is.

Useful definitions of various works are achieved through an analysis of their substance, structure and style - broken down into how and why they work. The Horror genre is different than the Romantic Comedy because of the conventions of the genre, their strengths and weaknesses and what people expect out of them. These are useful factors in the definitions, and they do not limit what a Horror or Romantic Comedy can be.

Should we examine how various mechanics affect various people in various ways? Absolutely! That's the core of design. But is that what you're doing? Not at all. Arguing about definitions is arguing about nothing. We can label anything whatever we want. And to quote the bard, a rose by any other name still smells as sweet.

Finally, games are not all about a written story. I am a champion of stories in games and I am fascinated by their potential to communicate incredible stories. However, the ludonarrative creates fascinating potential for games without a planned story ahead of time. You can try to claim these structures aren't, "what games are" but your protests ring hollow. You have no justification to break with the entire industry and common vernacular in such a way. The way that we define things is always dependent on common usage. The same way that I know "hat" is the correct name to call a, "hat" is because that's how people use the word. If you go around and say, "we should call 'hats' 'antelopes' for X, Y and Z reason..." It's ridiculous. Definitions are dependent on how people use them. That's how language works.

Your entire search for the definitions of games is not only useless but it is a plain failure to understand the principles of communication and how language works. If you are confused about the definition of what a, "game" is - grab a dictionary.

In the mean time, you can call my projects whatever you like... Anything from an RPG to a duck-billed-platypus. No matter what name you ascribe to it, it won't change the nature of the game or make it any more or less enjoyable.

And that is why I called the definition-search of your endeavor useless. If you actually talk about mechanics and their effects, that's useful. However, it has nothing to do with definitions - since mechanics are their own identity no matter what you call them.

Have a pleasant day.

Steve Mallory
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I humbly disagree that "games are all about a written story" - in fact, many of the most compelling games stories are implied ("Missile Command" is an absolutely terrifying technohorror game) or are derived from the act of play itself ("Go" or "Chess" in classic terms, or in more recent terms from games like "Civilization", "SimCity", or "Spore" ).

Tying the player(s) to a specific narrative flow and removing all authorial control is what we are most comfortable with, true, and if done right, can create very powerful stories. But to tie the player to a specific narrative flow defeats the greatest strength of RPGs (however you define them) and Computer Games in General - once we can provide the player true authorial control of the narrative.

Dan Felder
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While I wouldn't say that tying a person to a specific narrative flow defeats the greatest strength of RPGs or Computer Games - I would certainly agree that games are not all about a written story. I'm a voracious proponent of story elements in games, having entered the industry specifically because I was intrigued by games as mediums for storytelling, but even I don't think that games are all about a written story.

Furthermore, story elements need have no dialogue at all - story is constructed from events experienced by the player. We often add dialogue, but the true fabric of story is the events - not the words. Games can use story elements without the traditional trappings it seems Darren is referring to and still do it beautifully.

Darren Tomlyn
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*bangs head on table*

Read my blog first - ALL of it. You might understand the following then:

It would appear that you have no full recognition and understanding of what is meant by the term 'written story'.

Story n. An account of events either real or imaginary, (created and stored inside a person's memory).

Things a person does FOR him/herself = writing a story

Things that happen TO a person = being told a story

Things a person does FOR others = telling a story

Everything a person does FOR him/herself is a written story - creating a story (an account of such events in his/her memory) that would not otherwise exist.

The word game represents an application of behaviour.

The behaviour the word game represents an application of, is something a person does for him/herself - i.e. the process of writing a story. Competition,and structure (rules) are then applied to such behaviour in order to make it into what we now call a game.

EVERYTHING a person does becomes a written story, (and can also be a story they tell, which becomes a story someone else is told).

Games exist to enable and promote such behaviour - using competition and structure (rules), and so without that, it is not a game. Competition and structure can exist to enable other behaviour, and so, in themselves, are not a game.

The written story is the WHAT of games, the structure HOW, and the competition is (part of) WHY.

(p.s. play (as a noun) = non-productive story writing, (what) (and since it's non-productive is it usually done for the purpose of enjoyment instead (why))).

The basic games are:

A race

Structured combat

Competitive throwing/movement for accuracy/precision, distance or time (duration).

These are the basic written stories every game in existence is derived from (with varying degrees of abstraction and combination).

The word game represents an application of behaviour - the process of a person or people competing in a structured environment BY writing their own stories.

Stories that are TOLD, or the process of TELLING a story, have no place in the definition of games. The only other type of story that can be involved in LABELLING games, is the medium used to enable such a thing to exist, but since such media are OPTIONAL, they have no place in the definition of the word game itself.

The applicable media, in relation to this post, are of course computers and people.

Every type of game that use such media therefore has to be labelled and defined by the type of written story they enable and promote. EVERY other type of computer game does so - EXCEPT for RPG's at this time. If you do not see a problem with that, then why bother with such labels in the first place?

Now go back and re-read everything I've written in relation to this post...

Seth Gorden
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@ Steve Mallory

I often look at older game, both for nostalgia and to study how gameplay and story are conceived within the limited hardware context of previous generations. And you have hit on a strong point here. Story does exist because of text or dialog. I believe the well crafted game-story takes place in the imagination of the player, the only place where a player can feel that the story happened to them.

Missile Command is a great example of a compelling wordless story (at least for its time). Thanks for sharing that!

Dan Felder
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1) Might want to tone down the arrogance Darren. You are constantly convinced that you have a shining insight into the core of video games - but over the last year many, many people have consistently come to the same opinion about the usefulness of your positions even if they are correct... Which is in serious doubt as well. You are either failing to communicate your ideas adequately or else they are just plain flawed. In either respect, humility serves you well.

2) Trying to make something as broad as, "Things a person does for himself" = story is completely at odds with the quoted definition you use. Things I do for myself aren't necessarily an account of those events... They're just going through the events. Many lives are experienced but never accounted for. Your attempting to shoehorn in, "oh, they're accounted for inside the memory" is ridiculous. For one thing, the story wasn't 'written' in this instance. For another, this squares very oddly with the whole idea of fiction. If a fiction book is written, the events weren't actually undertaken by the protagonist... The protagonist doesn't really exist. Was no story written? Then what am I holding in my hands as I read the book?

Not only is your first definition flawed, your interpretation of, "things a person does for him/herself = writing a story" is ridiculous. Not only is it awkward and limiting in terms of whether fiction counts, it's also absolutely useless. You're basically saying, "Games are about people doing things". Yeah, that's why it's called an interactive medium. And even that is flawed, since the interplay of the game's events (things that happen to the player) playing off the player's reactions and responses is a huge part of the game experience.

And, just for fun, let's find the actual definition of story and see if yours fits with any version of it.

sto·ry[stawr-ee, stohr-ee] noun, plural -ries, verb, -ried, -ry·ing.


1. a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.

2. a fictitious tale, shorter and less elaborate than a novel.

3. such narratives or tales as a branch of literature: song and story.

4. the plot or succession of incidents of a novel, poem, drama, etc.: The characterizations were good, but the story was weak.

5. a narration of an incident or a series of events or an example of these that is or may be narrated, as an anecdote, joke, etc.

6. a narration of the events in the life of a person or the existence of a thing, or such events as a subject for narration: the story of medicine; the story of his life.

7. a report or account of a matter; statement or allegation: The story goes that he rejected the offer.

8. news story.

9. a lie or fabrication: What he said about himself turned out to be a story.

10. Obsolete . history.

–verb (used with object)


to ornament with pictured scenes, as from history or legend.


Obsolete . to tell the history or story of.

Retrieved from

Note how none of all these many definitions fits with yours at all. The only thing that comes at all close is the, "account of events" item way down the line - which is still representing story as the account itself - and doesn't count as simply being inside a person's memory. Furthermore, your applications of it (writing a story being just taking action on your own) don't fit with even this definition at all. Your approach is contradictory, nonsensical, limited and ultimately useless... As well as just plain wrong with what the words you're using mean.

3) These are the only three game types you can think of? Really? Adventure games based around puzzles disagree with you. Pretty much all social games disagree with you. Simulation games disagree with you (well depending on the simulation). Flower disagrees with you. Others too. And not only that, but trying to limit a game like "Mass Effect" and saying, "It's just structured combat" is reduction to the point of absurdity. There are far more elements in Mass Effect at work than just "structured combat" and the game is done completely differently than other versions of it - up to the point where such categorizing becomes useless. Again, genre categorizations are meaningful because they define conventions and/or mechanics. These ones are incomplete and useless even if they weren't.

4) Now you're claiming that things happening to players have no purpose in games (since you say that being told a story has no place in games)? Really? You don't think that enemies should fire back at the player as they go through a level? You don't think that a well-liked team mate's sudden betrayal is a powerful experience for the player? You think the Boss should patiently wait for you to kill him without fighting back (he wouldn't want to risk doing something to the player after all)? You think that Link should hang out in his village forever and the evil monsters never invade? You think that Shepard should never get hit by the Promethean beacon? And going back to DnD, which is what this article was derived from, you think that the players' enemies should never hunt them down and attack them in their home base, or try to trap them in a scheme? These are ALL things happening to the player.

And that's letting aside how ridiculous it is to say that being told a story means things happening to you. When I read a book or see a movie, the events aren't happening to me. Yet it fits every established definition of being told a story. If you want to broaden "things happening to you" so far that it even counts when you're reading fictional text or watching images onscreen - as ridiculous as that is - you have to also accept that games are even MORE about things happening to you than such mediums. According to such a definition, games are far more about being 'told a story' than the static mediums. You once more contradict yourself even under the flawed definition you operate under.

5) The reason we use definitions is for the purposes of communication. That is what the point of language is. That is why we use the accepted definitions and not yours.

We categorize genres of games with respect to their conventions and mechanics - so we know what players expect and what framework we're operating within. This is useful categorization and helps us in the design process. It is vastly different from your, "Racing game, structured combat, accuracy/movement" categorizations. Your categorizations are not meaningful for design purposes (with the exception of a racing game, but that is just copying an existing genre so you gain no points for that).

This is why we use labels. And it is also why we reject yours.

6) I have reread your posts on this article. By all appearances, they still seem as useless and nonsensical as before.

Darren Tomlyn
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The words that are problematic at this time BECAUSE of inaccurate definitions in dictionaries are:







(Competition isn't too bad, neither is art, but they can still be improved upon).

Quoting dictionaries will therefore NOT help you, since they're wrong.

The reasons for these problems are simple:

1) A word is being described for what it represents in ISOLATION, even though what it is the word is used to represent CANNOT EXIST in isolation. (Noun, verb, adjective, (and indirectly game and puzzle)).

2) A word is being described based on the PERCEPTION of what it represents, especially in relation to its APPLICATION, that does not match with how the word is actually USED for what it represents purely in itself. (Story).

NEITHER of these problems should exist at all - but the people whose job it is to study the language, and create the dictionaries etc. have failed to DO their jobs properly.

Note: I've already ran some of this past professors of language and had no problems! (The only problem I have is with going to Uni in the first place, which they advised).

In regards to the word story itself, the dictionaries (or equivalent) have been WRONG since ~12th century - i.e. ALWAYS!

The whole point about the word story is that it can, (and should) be used as an objective representation of a person to and by which their basic behaviour can be described and related in such a manner. The English language currently lacks such a thing, which is a problem when it comes to describing words such as game, art, puzzle etc. in a manner that shows how they are related, objectively.

The word story exists within - is treated by - the English language separately and independently of the act/behaviour described and represented by the word TELL. We have ALWAYS used the word tell in combination with the word story - and therefore treated them separately! (I'm afraid I can't dig out the evidence I have a this time - but the example given with the entry for story in the big multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary, mentions the word tell with the word story and dates from ~13C (or was it ~12C? - something like that)).

So if we use the VERB tell with the NOUN story, then the chances are high that the word story therefore represents a THING that CAN be told, not is.

Story != narrative

(narrative is an application of narrate = to tell ((a story) i.e. an application of story itself)).

So, what is this THING we call story, and HOW and WHERE does such a thing exist independently of being told? The word story is used as representing an intangible thing - a form or arrangement of information:

Story n. An account of events, either real or imaginary, (created and stored inside a person's memory).

Think in terms of memory BANK, with events being the 'currency' stored ;)

The parentheses are necessary, because they only matter for the word story when used in ISOLATION - such a thing can also exist and be referenced to elsewhere, based on the words used in combination - (e.g. 'it's a story' etc..).

So, yes, this means that EVERYTHING a person does, and EVERYTHING that happens TO a person, creates a story of such events in their memory. THIS IS THE ENTIRE POINT! (Of course, people can also create their own - (imagine a story) - too). But as I said:

Things a person does for him/herself = writing a (their own) story

Things a person does for others = telling a story

Things that happen to a person = a story they are told.

Yes - the word game represents an application of this REALLY, FUNDAMENTALLY BASIC AND SIMPLE BEHAVIOUR!

(As does art, puzzle, work, play etc.).


Unfortunately, it looks like I'm going to have to recap even further :(

TBH - I'd much prefer to put these in separate posts - but they probably frown on multi-posting like that here, as I've already found elsewhere :(

Based on how the words are USED - the main types of word within the English language are ALL RELATED - (noun, verb, adjective and adverb) - sometimes in both directions. The problem is that the way they are DESCRIBED in dictionaries, does not currently reflect the existence of such relationships, even if it's obvious based on their use.

There are THREE main (sub) types of NOUN, based on the OBVIOUS relationship between nouns and verbs/adjectives, (though not EVERY noun fits within such types):

1) Things (either tangible or intangible). (I hope this should be obvious?)

2) Applications of what verbs represent, either directly - (flight is an application of fly, movement is an application of move, competition is an application of compete etc.) - or abstractly (event, state, game, art, accident, party etc.).

3) Applications of what adjectives represent, either directly - (agility is an application of agile, strength is an application of strong etc.) - or abstractly (colour).

The word game belongs to a type of NOUN that is ultimately derived from whatever it is that VERBS represent, as an application. The problem, therefore, is being able to describe verbs for what they represent in a manner that allows us to describe this type of noun consistently for what it represent in relation. ALL dictionaries at this time FAIL to do this.

ALL the words that are currently used to describe both verbs, (occurrence, state, action etc.), usually belong to this type of noun instead - i.e. as an application of a verb, rather than verbs themselves, and the main words used to describe this type of noun, (event, state), do so too, but do not show how they are related. (The word state has even been used for BOTH!).

All the words used to describe this type of NOUN and VERBS come back, ultimately to the same description:


But I've run into many problems precisely because people get confused between 'things that happen' and 'things'. Obviously the current dictionary entries arn't helping at all.

But we can do better. We can use another method of describing 'things that happen' that allows us to describe both verbs and this type of noun for what they represent in relation to each other, by using another word in its place:

Behaviour, (for what it represents in ISOLATION).

This means we can describe both verbs and this type of noun as:

Verb n. a word that is used as representing behaviour.

Noun n. 2. a word that used as representing an application of behaviour.

(Note: I haven't been able to think of an equivalent of behaviour for adjectives - help?).

This is why I say that the word game represents an application of behaviour, because it does, and a different application of DIFFERENT BEHAVIOUR to the similar words art, puzzle and competition (as an activity/event).

The question is WHAT application of WHAT behaviour does the word game represent?

As an example - Snakes and Ladders is a race, (enabled by abstract throwing for distance).

This means that every other race must also be a game - (or snakes and ladders is not).

As I said - the BASIC games - the basic (and also subjective) applications of the application of behaviour the word game represents are:

A race (e.g. snakes and ladders etc.)

Structured combat (e.g. Chess etc.)

Competitive throwing/movement for accuracy/precision distance/time (duration). (Golf etc.)

EVERY SINGLE GAME IN EXISTENCE is derived from these, either directly or abstractly, in isolation or combination - or it is not a game. (It usually winds up as a competition I find, though occasionally a puzzle).

There are also a few other basic applications each game requires to exist:

Single/multi-player (whether involving direct or indirect competition with optional interaction).

Real time/turn/phase-based/

Chance/skill based.

The behaviour the word game represents an application of - is someone doing something FOR him/herself. This is not the most precise method of describing such behaviour, no, but that is why the word story is so useful.

Games are about the PROCESS of people writing their OWN stories in a structured, competitive environment - or competing by writing their own stories in a structured environment. Since games are about a process, they can be perpetual.

Competing means TRYING to gain an outcome/goal (or story) at the expense of, or in spite of, someone or something else. Competition can also represent a process too, and can therefore be (and often is) perpetual.

Games merely require a set of rules, something for someone to write a story with, an element of competition, and a time and place to happen. They DO NOT require ANY other type of story to exist - no story telling or being told!

Puzzles are about people interacting with (created) stories being told, or interacting with stories being told to solve a (difficult) problem. Puzzles may ALSO have rules and involve competition! (Trying to gain a solution at the expense of its creator).

Competitions are about people competing to be TOLD a story, (which may also involve a structured environment (rules)).

(Art = creative story-telling).

For this reason, just thinking of games as involving competition and structure (rules) is NOT enough - without the behaviour the word game represents an application OF, they are meaningless.

Puzzles are NOT games, nor can they ever BE a game in itself. The word puzzle represents a DIFFERENT application of DIFFERENT behaviour based on its use. (Sudoku is NOT a game etc.). Puzzles CAN be used to ENABLE a game, but only in a very limited manner without changing what it is AS a puzzle - (a race to complete a puzzle). Most so-called 'puzzle-games' are either puzzles or competitions mis-labelled as games, or using similar, but not exact 'puzzle-like' behaviour as an application for a game, and therefore not truly a puzzle at all. (Puzzle-game is technically an oxymoron - you cannot write and be told the same story simultaneously).

Most games INTERLEAVE puzzles and competitions these days - which is BAD - why? Because stories are then TOLD in PLACE of being WRITTEN - i.e. it ceases to be a game, and becomes a puzzle or a competition until it (if) returns to being a game.

Competitions and games are INCOMPATIBLE. Either the process itself (a written story, which a competition does NOT require), is what matters or it's the goal/outcome/reward. Whether or not an activity is one or the other at any given time, is of course an entirely subjective application of either by an individual player. The reason why a lot of people have problems with certain games, or at certain times in games, however, is usually due to this that is not being fully recognised or understood - (the endgame in World of Warcraft/Diablo2 for example is a competition).


Games are DEFINED by the behaviour of its PLAYERS - the WRITTEN STORY. They can also be labelled by the medium used when it helps to define such a thing itself.

Any activity can therefore be considered a game if a person sees such elements within - even simulators, adventure games etc.. But puzzles and competitions are not games in themselves, so if that is ALL they are - then that is how they should/must be defined and described - (which is NOT happening consistently at this time at ALL).

Of course, when the word game is recognised as being play (noun), and even still DEFINED as such, it's no wonder people are having so many problems!

(It hasn't represented anything to do with what the word play represents as a noun, based on its use for over 4/5 centuries - (it used to represent such a thing when it was first introduced to our language, but quickly changed since we already had the word play itself) - (it then ran into another type of behaviour which left its mark on both - (gambling/gaming) - before moving on again, to become what it is today, which has nothing to do with play as a NOUN whatsoever, only as a VERB - (games ARE being played for work!)).

A race, structured combat and competitive throwing/movement etc. are not really genres per se - any more than organized sound is considered a genre of art - they are just the most basic, simple applications of what the word game itself represents, from which all others - the genres you are used to - are derived. (The term race here, is far more general than what you'd consider to be a 'racing game' - it's about trying to reach ANY type of situation or condition/state before someone/thing else).

This is about the very FOUNDATIONS upon which everything you see in all of your subjective applications of games, is built. The problem at this time, is that they are wonky - and so can only be built so high. Since people haven't a clue about the difference between games/puzzles/competitions, they do not fully understand HOW to build games to reach that sort of height - which is why we wind up with competitions or puzzles instead when we get up to a certain height - the foundation they are built on does not support such a thing being a game at this time.

But I can help with that.

Games are about people writing their OWN stories - not stories being TOLD, (apart from the setting itself for computer/board games etc.), or the telling of such stories.

The problem with the term RPG is that it is NOT being used in a manner that is fully consistent with such behaviour at this time, which is a problem, because it's holding things back based on the subjective perception of what it represents, rather than what it is ultimately USED to represent, that can be consistent.

Steve Mallory
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There needs to be a crowbar separation between your definition of story, which is the "meta-story" derived from the outcome of play, and the "narrative" most often used as a structure to scale and balance gameplay for the duration of the interactive experience, but also provide a contextual basis for play and hook for the player to continue their interest beyond the structured and repetitive mechanics of play. A great example of this sort of separation writ large is "Left 4 Dead" and "Left 4 Dead 2" - there is a narrative, an implied chain of events leading up to and that the players participate in that their metastory, the outcome of play, is superimposed over.

Dan Felder
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A great term for this is the ludonarrative, the progression of events that comes out of the counter-play of responses form player and game - each responding to what the other is doing. This is often conceived of being at odds with the narrative - which is the strict structure of story as classically understood.

I feel that this is often broken up too far though. So long as the game doesn't take over what your character says (interactive dialogue like in Mass Effect works great) or else the scenes are written so skillfully that your character says exactly what you would want to say anyway (extremely hard by not impossible) they have a happy marriage.

In this way, Storytelling as classically understood becomes a form of "story-living", with players able to embody the story as the events happen to them and they respond. The game is the world and they are trying to respond to it, and often alter it. Interactive media.

Steve Mallory
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I've studied Narrative Design quite a bit since I've gotten into the industry (going on almost a decade now) which has been termed the merger of Ludology and Narratology, or more succinctly: How do we give the player agency in the narrative through gameplay?

Drawing back to the game described at the beginning, DnD (or - arguably - virtually any pen and paper RPG) is the ultimate blend of Ludology and Narratology. The players in the game have the agency to modify the narrative of the campaign and have the resulting actions interpreted by the DM in order to modify said narrative on the fly. The DM has agency to modify the narrative on the fly and in nearly infinite ways.

Unfortunately, data restrictions in games limit the amount of agency the player ultimately has, which is why LITERAL agency isn't what is really required, but the perception of agency is what is important. If the player believes that their choices have made a difference, and see's enough of a difference to convince them that their actions have altered the narrative, then the designer has succeeded by creating a truly gripping, interactive narrative.

Dan Felder
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Absolutely agreed.

Dan Felder
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Your very screech that, "THE DICTIONARIES ARE WRONG!!!" Demonstrates your lack of understanding about how language works - and removes basically any and all credibility you have.

Language is based on common acceptance of what terms mean. That's how definitions work. They're used for the purposes of communication. The dictionary can only be wrong if what it says a word means does not accurately reflect the usage of the word (for example, if they say, "cup" is a bovine animal often found on farms. This isn't how people use the word, "cup").

When you preface your post with such an absurd claim, there really is no need to go into any further discussion. There are other, less blindingly arrogant and patently absurd people commenting on this article - people with intriguing thoughts and compelling analysis - and I would rather spend my time responding to them.

If you are so convinced you are correct and that the dictionaries have been 'wrong' about story since the 12th century - write to the dictionary publishers and see what they have to say. These are people whose whole careers are based on evaluating the meaning of words. Or do you think none of them are able to understand what you are arguing either?

Have a pleasant day.

Darren Tomlyn
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Story n. An account of events, either real or imaginary, (created and stored inside a person's memory)

Narrate v. to tell (a story)

Narrative n. A story that has been, or is being, told. (An application of narrate).

Work n. productive story-writing

Play n. non-productive story writing (and therefore written for the purpose of enjoyment instead)

Game n. Structured competitive story writing

Art n. Creative story telling

Puzzle n. 1. Interacting with creative stories being told 2. Interacting with stories being told in order to solve a (difficult) problem.

Competition 1. The state of competing 2. that which is being competed against. 3. An activity in which people compete to be told a story.

Darren Tomlyn
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I know pretty well how language works thank-you - which I why I know there's a PROBLEM!

The dictionaries are WRONG because the language they use to describe what OTHER words in the language represent does NOT match how the words are USED - and isn't very good for describing such concepts in the first place...







Are ALL affected as I said, and have described in my blog and here - (though I'm working on the post for puzzle).

As to talking to people - I have, thank-you - everyone told me that to make any difference I should go to university - which I have not been able to do, unfortunately, so I am stuck here - I created my blog because of the area that is affected by what I've found - specifically games.

NONE of what I have found and figured out is difficult to comprehend - it deals with the basics of the English language and human behaviour. Unfortunately, precisely BECAUSE it's so basic I have to explain so much, and counter so many other problems people have with such concepts.

Like you.

Dan Felder
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*sighs* Darren, you are literally arguing with the dictionary. Talk to them if you think they're wrong and you have a case that people who are experts in the study of language would agree with.

I do not accept your definitions as valid, I have not met anyone else ever who has used the terms "writing a story" in the ways you use it (and many people on this article alone actively disagree with your usage), and even if you were right - this would all be useless for designers anyway.

This is why people are not finding your arguments valid or useful. Perhaps you would do better to listen than slinging shouts and exclamation points around claiming that the world is wrong and you are right... Even when it comes to the common usage of words (which goes to the majority by definition).

Darren Tomlyn
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As I said - I've talked to professors etc. - and EVERYONE game me the same bit of advice - in order to HAVE any impact and make a difference, I need to go to Uni myself, which I have been unable to do - (I've moved around a bit too much recently, at too short notice).

False? Incomplete?


How can anyone design and make a TYPE of product , if they don't know WHAT it is?

Steve Mallory
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I would modify your definition of narrative slightly in the context of interactive fiction in games:

Narrative n.: a story that is being told by the game directly and explicitly to the player

Dan Felder
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1) If all professors you've spoken to are suggesting that you seek additional education in response to you telling them your ideas - you might be wise to have a bit more humility in your tone.

2) Demonstrate that your definition is wrong? Sure thing. Check the dictionary. It disagrees with you. Now, you'd like to argue that the definition has been outdated for 9 centuries. The burden of proof is now on you, prove that the vast majority of people use the word the way you say they do. Since just the common people online on this blog haven't heard it used that way and don't use it that way (hence our not agreeing with your definitions or just not understanding what on earth you were talking about when you started to use the word in such an odd way) - there's an indication that it quite a few people don't use the word this way. Now let's add it to the fact that I who have studied narrative theory across several mediums across the U.S. in a variety of workshops and in the study of many brilliant and famed writers have never heard story used the way you're using it... And the word is clearly not used that way. If you would like to demonstrate that my experiences have been the product of unbelievable chance and that, in fact, the accepted definition is as you've put it and we are all one of the very, very, very few who don't agree with it - as are all the people we've met... You have to demonstrate this. You are arguing with the experts of nine centuries in a case where the majority usage rules. This is an extraordinary claim on your part and it requires extraordinary evidence.

3) It's incomplete for the many reasons I've outlined above. Not only does it change the definitions of what counts as story, it also rules out quite a few things that people already use as 'story'.

4) The very purpose of innovation is to design something to serve a certain need, not to fit a definition. The Wright brothers didn't know what an airplane was when they started inventing it. All they knew was that they wanted to make a machine that could fly. The design evolved in response to the effect they were trying to produce.

On the other hand, if you're trying to make an existing type of product - you need to know the established, universally accepted conventions of the product. These conventions must be crucial and meaningful if they are to have any use - such as an FPS' first person viewpoint and an adventure game's use of puzzles to further the story. These conventions are useful in two ways - understanding consumer expectations so they can be fulfilled or exceeded and understanding what existing structures/mechanics are already proven in creating the effect you're going for (an example is how adventure games tend to be focused on letting the players explore characters and environments - so they are very fertile for compelling character/story games, making them an excellent vehicle for many types of license games - as Telltale games has proven time and time again).

That is how people can design and make products without worrying about your definitions. In the first example, that of innovation, the whole point is for people to design something without knowing what it is. In the second example we have two parts - understanding consumer expectations from past titles in the same category and understanding what effect the mechanics actually have on the players. In this first part, changing the definition from the accepted ones hurts our understanding of consumer expectations (and the ones you're dealing with aren't specific enough to game genres to matter for this purpose anyway). In the second, changing the label of the game the mechanics comprise doesn't change the effect the mechanics have on the players. A rose by any other name... In either case your attempts are irrelevant to the designer's task.

Steve Mallory
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Let me expand on this slightly...

A story has no structure outside of the structures we impose on it for ease of consumption. It is merely the collection of facts (correct or incorrect) conveyed in the course of the narrative.

The narrative is the structure that story has been given in order for the consumer to understand the facts conveyed to them by the narrator.

So, story is the content required to prove the premise and the narrative is the structure in which the story is communicated.

The definition I listed above is the commonly accepted term, in the industry, of what narrative is. If you were to walk into a game studio and discuss the "narrative", that is what the development team would understand.

So, expanding it based on the my comments above

Narrative n.: the structure established by a game to convey a story directly and explicitly to the player

The problem is, Darren, is that you are attempting to define terms based on your accepted definitions of words that you consider immutable. A lot of the terms used are done out of simplicity and ease of recognition.

For example - in this article, the RPG. RPGs in the classical sense (ala DnD), can only recently be considered "true" with the advent of the very crude moral-choice systems in games such as Dragon Age or Mass Effect because the choices presented allow the player to select a role for their avatar in the game world, and the choices provided allow the player some agency in how the narrative is determined.

The term RPG, more generally, has come to be widely accepted in the game industry as:

"Providing the player access to, and able to modify, detailed minutia that relates to the specific gameplay performance of the player avatar over the course of the game."

Sports games with create-a-player modes, like NBA2k11 have RPG elements. By providing the player access to detailed minutia, the player can then modify it to define the "role" that he wants to play, but that is getting a bit pedantic.

Put it this way, RPG elements give the player a greater amount of perceived and actual Agency over the gameplay systems provided by the developers.

Lastly, I would take a strong look at your definition of Competition - its lazy to define a term using its derivatives. "Competition: to compete" is just bad, based on my experience. A better definition, given our context, is: "Competition: a test of skill or ability A contest in which a winner is selected from among two or more entrants"

Dan Felder
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Well said Steve.

Additionally, though I think this is buried in your definition of RPGs it's worth bringing into the spotlight - the 'experience' component is a major factor in what people consider RPGs. Simply letting you gain experience from killing the robots in Portal and using it to increase your running speed or jump distance would in the common vernacular give Portal "RPG elements". Naturally, XP and stat-building doesn't have much to do with the idea of "role-playing" - but it has become a convention of RPGs and a very noticeable one, leading these mechanics to be considered an RPG element.

Steve Mallory
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Ah, yes. I did imply the reward system, though, even for a RPG system, there is not necessarily NEED an explicit reward system, just the ability to modify stats to assume a role within the systems provided to the player. It just helps :)

Usually, its through some sort of reward system that the player can then modify their minutia to better suit the implied role they are wanting to perform for their particular experience, thus creating a positive feedback loop for the player to continue playing to get better, earning more rewards to make further modifications, etc etc etc.

Luis Guimaraes
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For me the genre RPG means: "No matter how skilled you are, if your character is low level, you can't do anything, and no matter how bad you are playing, if your character is skilled, you can do everything. The character walks, talks, fights and gets better at the game, you don't. You're just the coach".

Steve Mallory
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And that is one of the biggest draw backs to RPGs on any platform other than their traditional platform, paper and dice or on a game board. They are also social adventures, and typically require teamwork from multiple people to accomplish a similar goal. An interesting definition, and far more telling about the structure of the genre on computers and consoles than anything else :)

Steve Mallory
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And finally, I finally put it together why your arguments bother me so, Darren. Its not your tone, or your assertion, is that your arguments are poorly constructed because they are based on the Moralistic Fallacy. You're assuming the world should adopt your position because you assume that's the way the world ought to be. Sometimes things aren’t as they ought to be. I understand what you are saying, I really do, and in if I'm following it right, it has merits, but try to see if you can put your arguments together without making that assumption...

Dan Felder
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Hmm... I wouldn't think so. I certainly see where you're getting this feeling - but often RPGs contain strategic or skill-based elements that make a factor beyond power level. Even the simple strategy of the fire emblem series can demonstrate the difference between a good player slaughtering their enemies and a sub-par player struggling mightily. Naturally, level 20 characters will always overwhelm level 1 characters... But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's even pretty realistic.

Some RPGs are made up of nothing but their stats with you being the coach. Sometimes you are the tactician, and their stats are well-matched to your enemies. Sometimes your stats just determine your health, damage and powers while your skill determines if you can hit the target in the first place (action rpgs like Mass Effect). The power-increasing systems work well as baselines and indicators of increased mastery, while skill or tactics are the deciding factor in just how well you can use what you've got.

I let my expert DnD players take on challenges above their level and reward them with better items and experience than they'd get otherwise when they succeed. Their creativity and tactical excellence allows them to overcome challenges that they otherwise wouldn't be able to... And last I checked, DnD was still an RPG. ;)

It makes sense that a beginning mage can't do as much as an archmage can. And it makes the process of becoming an archmage becoming more rewarding. But the skill and brilliance with which you apply your abilities will still allow you to take down enemies that, in a fair fight, would be far beyond you. Just make sure these elements are included as well.

Luis Guimaraes
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Yes of course it's more like a feeling thing. But it's like what's the bad part (somehow) of RPG genre (in video games, I also play some DnD). It's like the extreme of the genre, trending towards satire.

Every cRPG is something like a mix of what I said before, with additions and twists in the direction of other genres and styles of play. I also loved and still love some cRPGs that fall very near that hyperbole. Like Pokemon Cristal that I often get to play again after a couple years.

Most games are a mix of RPG/action, RPG/strategy, a mix of both or something more unique, and some players do like having the character taking that responsibility, and I also enjoy exploring towns and it's little systems.

I think a lot of things should be done to improve all subgenres of cRPG.

Cody Kostiuk
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>>> Darren Tomlyn wrote: "The problem with the term RPG is that it is NOT being used in a manner that is fully consistent with such behaviour at this time, which is a problem, because it's holding things back based on the subjective perception of what it represents, rather than what it is ultimately USED to represent, that can be consistent."

Can you give me an example of what's being held back and how?

Darren Tomlyn
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It's going to take a while to reply to all this - so bear with me.

I realised my definition of narrate above was incomplete - which affected your perception of narrative:

Narrate: to tell (a story) / tell the story of.

Again - I didn't make this mistake at all in my blog - (which is again, what it's there for).

So narrative is a SIMPLE application of narrate, nothing more. This is the cause of most of your problems.

One of the reasons WHY you all have problems with the word story is the lack of recognition of HOW it is USED.

The word story and the word narrative are not USED by the language in the same way. The main reason for this is simple - although both the word story and narrative are NOUNS - they are not the same TYPE of noun.

Narrative, as an application of narrate, along with any and all other nouns related as such to verbs, represents an application of such BEHAVIOUR - and therefore does NOT require such behaviour to be used in COMBINATION in regular use.

The word story DOES. The word story, unlike narrative, is used independently of ANY application, state or quality, and therefore requires other words to be used in combination to represent such a thing - unless used as referencing an existing example with such properties included.

This is fully consistent with the rules of English grammar for representing THINGS. Just like we use the word fly in combination with the word bird, or open in combination with the word door, we need to use the word tell in combination with the word story, (and always have), for example.

We do NOT use the word TELL in combination with the word narrative, precisely BECAUSE it already represents an application of such behaviour.

Defining the word story as a thing that is told, is the equivalent of defining the word bird as a thing that is flying - or a door as a thing that is open etc. - i.e. NOT consistent with their USE.

This is an EXTREMELY basic, simple matter of linguistics - we use the word tell in combination with the word story, but not the word narrative, therefore one exists independently of being told, whereas the other is an application of that very behaviour.

Story != narrative

So, if the word story is treated by the language itself, based entirely upon its USE, independently of the act of telling, what is it the word story must represent, and how and where does such a thing exist in such a manner?

The word story is USED as representing an INTANGIBLE THING - a form or arrangement of INFORMATION. The problem we have, is that it is currently perceived by how it is APPLIED, rather than for what it represents in isolation, which is HOW it is USED.

So what is a story, and how and where does one exist in a manner consistent with its USE - independently of being told?

A story is used as representing an arrangement of information about a series of events, (ANY events), either real or imaginary. Such a thing can and does exist in MANY different forms and places.

But how and where does such a thing exist WITHOUT BEING TOLD, that then CAN be told in a manner that is consistent with its USE?

The answer can only be a person's MEMORY, precisely because of the requirement for being imaginary.

But since stories can exist elsewhere and be referenced to, a person's memory is merely where a story exists in ISOLATION - and therefore needs to be defined as such.

Story n. An account of events, either real or imaginary, (created and stored inside a person's memory).

I use the word account here since I feel it fits pretty well - (have you ever heard of a memory BANK?), though is used as a THING, and not an application of behaviour which people might confuse it for. The problem is that I feel the words series, or record, are just as problematic. The parentheses are there precisely BECAUSE they only matter for the word when used for what it represents in ISOLATION.

ALL of the problems you have with the word story - and EVERYBODY ELSE - stems from that - confusing the word story for WHAT it represents with how it is APPLIED, even though the language treats the two separately.


Imagine that we only knew that birds existed when they were flying overhead, and so we defined a bird as such an animal that is flying, and yet we treated the words bird and fly independently of each other within the language - and used them in combination. Then imagine someone came along and realised that because the words were treated separately, they wondered whether or not they can actually exist separately too. Then, lo-and-behold, he found a place where the birds were nesting and so were not flying at all - but obviously still existed. The definitions of bird therefore needed to be changed - birds do not have to fly in order to exist, and therefore should not be defined as such.

Simple, yes?

Steve Mallory
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Missile Command is must determine if the cities get destroyed, and which cities, or must your missile silos take a hit...

I get chills :)

There should be a demarcation, though, between explicit story - text and dialog - and implicit story - the story of the player playing the game. Both exist, and they can potentially tell different stories depending on the breadth of explicit content provided to the player and the mechanics they have for modifying that content.

"Left 4 Dead 2" has an explicit, overarching story at both a campaign level and at a mission level, but each playthrough also generates an implicit story that is determined by the player(s) interacting with the game mechanics. Did Nick survive? Did Coach? What about the tank? Did you get him to fall off the bridge, or burn him with a Molotov cocktail? These are all elements of an implied story that fits within the story content and narrative structure determined by the game mechanics.

Explicit Story Content: the data provided to the player(s) by the developer to create context for the game mechanics.

Implicit Story Content: the data generated by the player(s) by using the explicit story content and game mechanics.

Darren Tomlyn
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What you're talking about is the difference between a story being TOLD, and a story being WRITTEN. It's about BEHAVIOUR, nothing more.

Jon Ze
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Maybe the term RPG is evolving into a different direction without you.

Darren Tomlyn
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No - because I study what's important for games - the BEHAVIOUR OF THE PLAYER(S).

EDIT: (I didn't explain that well).

Games are about an application of behaviour of people - the players of a game.

The behaviour of the people who create and design a game, and also the game on their behalf, HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT BEING A GAME.

Games exist without ANY narrative, ANY 'created setting' - only a set of rules and a person to play, and a setting is required.

Dan Felder
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Sorry, but what you're studying really isn't helpful Darren. People have been telling you that for over a year now. Perhaps you would do well to consider, after all this time, that you may be better off redirecting your efforts elsewhere - into studying games from a different angle.

Dan Felder
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Seth, very good post. I'd like to explore a few points.

I DM two weekly DnD games, so I completely get where you're coming from on the comparative magic of pen and paper and computer rpgs. Both have fantastic strengths and comparable weaknesses. Just as novels are great at portraying inner conflict in characters but stagger in action sequences while a movie is fantastic at action sequences but stumbles in portraying complex inner conflicts - the different approaches have different strengths.

In pen and paper RPGs, I construct adventures that evoke creative solutions to complex problems. I focus on constructing many different environments with strange factors to consider in each one. Each adventure session builds on previous experiences, but also introduces new elements that the players have never encountered before. Recent examples include an extra-dimensional room with circular motion, so that a player that fell into the darkness would reappear falling from above in a continual cycle until rescued - a crooked storm current that whisked the players in varying directions through a battle, an enemy that generated new monsters each time it was struck with a blow, a lava worm that spat out huge globs of magma making the ground its breath struck into burning terrain, a giant monster with a rocky hide that could be climbed up on with an athletics check by a daring hero to be struck in the skull for an automatic critical and a bronze clockwork statue enemy that a rogue could make a thievery check to disable if they thought quick enough. New situations forcing the heroes to constantly think of new ways to apply their powers and skills keep the game exciting and can be easily constructed... Since I don't have to code each individual mechanic or construct the varying enemies or environments' art assets. Furthermore, extremely complex characters and diplomatic situations can be constructed - since conversation trees can be adlibbed. Finally, Pen and Paper rpgs are the best at open-world style games - since the DM can dynamically react to the players' decisions and build each week's new adventure based on where the players are heading next. I can actually create the world as they need it, with only vague ideas at first of how it works that become refined once I know where they decide to go. Pen and Paper games can put incredible power in the players' hands and craft something perfectly for them, open-ended and exciting.

On the other hand, it is very difficult for Pen and Paper games to reliably create tension and catharsis in combat. After all, combat encounters take a LONG time. You don't get the repeatable fun of random battles or fetch-quests. You can't approach the game in your spare time, you have to go to a weekly meeting with your other friends, and the potential for building personal relationships with NPCs is much more difficult. Mass Effect and Dragon Age can let you interact with your team and get to know them far more deeply than a group tabletop can handle, simply because you're dealing with the needs of the group.

Because of these factors, Computer RPGs are much better at focused plot lines where meaningful decisions make your distinctive mark on the game world. By focusing on fewer environments and upping the action and menace of more distinct quest lines, the game can create a thrilling rollercoaster experience that only the best DMs can come close to matching.

This should render the open-world game broken for computer rpgs then, but of course we know it doesn't. Why? While massive production budgets can help a great deal in creating vast experiences - the real magic at work here are the environments. Creating beautiful environments that players want to search out creates a sense of exploratory wonder like few other factors can, one that is impossible to mirror in pen and paper rpgs.

Combining the quick satisfaction of fetch-quests and constant increase of power and loot in many small steps with gorgeous environments players want to explore and exciting gameplay that keeps combat visceral and energized are the magic ingredients that make an open world computer RPG tick. On the other hand, you can focus on story and character interactions such as bioware does and slim the other features for a more focused adventure line. Trying to combine the two requires a truly staggering amount of code, but could be incredible if it's every perfectly done. Regardless, the gameplay drives the engine of repeatable satisfaction (often combined into a series of limited objectives - quests) while this engine carries you around a world that is visually beautiful and full of intriguing characters - a world worth exploring. And again, note that all this springs from the same engine of consistently engaging mechanics.

On the other hand, Pen and Paper finds its magic from just the opposite realm. Characters can take most any action imaginable and throwing new elements at them that provoke improvisation and new ways to interact with environments is a great way to keep the game fresh and fantastical. Pen and Paper thrives in the realm of open worlds - content dynamically generated in response the heroes' actions. Constant diversity is a huge key, with combat encounters serving as the anchor for a few repeated mechanics... And even those change drastically, as different compositions of groups and power selection drastically change how combat plays out.

Ultimately, pen and paper games are better at crafting open-world and dynamic experiences while computer games are better at building immersive and cathartic adventures. The Pen and Paper is great at creating worlds while the computer game is great at creating adventures. Of course, there are ways for both mediums to handle these elements well - just as movies can occasionally show inner conflict very well (Tender Mercies) and books can occasionally do action very well (R.A. Salvatore's fight scenes are often lauded as being visceral and exciting). However, for games to bridge such a gap many additional resources along with consummate skill is required.

As for the issue of forming your character's identity - I find that many existing paths limit rather than deepen. Dragon Age's system of showing the approval or disapproval of your companions was infuriating - as Morrigan's sarcastic comments when I did good deeds were hilarious to listen to... But the disapproval mechanic rapidly drained her abilities and I found myself unable to take her into town for fear she'd soon leave the group! The mechanic actually made me spend less time with my favorite character or else force me to act like someone I didn't want to be in the game (an asshole). That is a problem.

The good/bad dynamic simplifies characters to a terrible degree as well. Aside from the obvious issues with such a linear scale, which you've gone into quite well, I also find that my favorite characters are complex in their notions of morality. I remember playing Commander Shepherd as a character who professed not to care about being a good guy and would treat authority figures, especially those that lauded their power, with anywhere from suspicion to absolute contempt... But was extremely kind to those without any power of their own, people hurt or begging on the streets (and quick to make excuses for this kindness). This grew naturally out of my chosen backstory of his being a member of a gang that worked his way into a military position. Seeing authority figures as just more petty tyrants like he'd seen screw with people on the streets, only dressed up in finery and with an official title, he was suspicious and disrespectful of the authority figures he encountered (but for a very few who had earned his respect, who he'd take a bullet for). This was an entrancing character to play... And of course I didn't earn anywhere near enough paragon or renegade points to take the conversation options that I most wanted to. There were times when I wanted to be a badass (dealing with corrupt authorities) and times when I wanted to be a saint (helping the powerless). The paragon/renegade system punished me for creating a more complex character. It actually forces near one-dimensional choices if you want the full range of options available.

Another less intensive example is the classic redemption plot - a character that begins as dark and damaged but through his experiences is redeemed, making himself into the hero he was always meant to be. That's an amazing journey to go on, but the good/evil mechanics often punish you for starting evil and turning good along your journey. You don't have enough lightside/darkside points to manage maximum power.

Which brings me to another issue of such one-dimensional systems... They're often rigged up so that different mechanics are related to the good side vs. the bad side. In KotoR, I loved using the dark side powers. They made me feel like a badass. The light side powers were relatively boring to me. However, I wanted to go the redemption path with Revan and make him as noble as possible for the climactic conclusion. So using dark side powers were vastly inefficient. And it wasn't like the dark side powers were evil in and of themselves, slicing people up with lightsabers or shooting them full of holes is okay - so why is killing them with lightning different? The actual act isn't any more immoral than what I'm already doing. However, because those powers are tied to the dark side - using them was unbelievably inefficient. The lightside/darkside issue forced me to play with less fun mechanics to maintain the integrity of my character - despite the actual morality of those actions being no worse than what a good jedi was doing. I understand the reasons for this choice, but it led to bad design. And of course, it turned conversation for most people into an exercise of figuring out which selection gave you lightside or darkside points.

Characters are deeper than a mechanic can measure. When we impose them in this way, we take the story out of roleplaying and force people to juggle other considerations besides what they want to do or what their character would do. Divorcing the two like this creates more one-dimensional characters, not deeper ones at all.

This is now way long so I'll stop here.

Alan Jack
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The debate about how to best implement RPGs in this day and age is fascinating to me, because I never really got into RPGs as a youngster - mostly, I just didn't move in the crowd that did that sort of thing.

Nowadays, I find this gives me a unique perspective on the situation that I'm quite proud of - I like them, but I don't have the deep, fanatical understanding of them that a lot of hardcore RPG fans have. Despite my love of them, I tend to suggest things that some fans would find apocryphal, and I still have little patience for things that are commonplace in both computer-based RPGs and (as far as my limited understanding of them goes) their paper-and-pen predecessors: wooden acting, repetitious "swords and spells and dragons"/Steampunk/Sci-Fi settings and an inherent sexism (yes, a flimsy argument, and not one I want to get into here - but something I observe quite often).

Here's an example: why don't members of my party react like actual people to things? People are not mathematical formulas, nor are we perfectly designed for combat. A perfect example from KOTOR: Carth's Blaster. This weapon is clearly labelled as Carth's very own prized possession. When I saw it as such, I assumed he'd had it his whole life - I could see it now, scarred and notched from various excursions and fights. I imagined when he sat alone it would give him comfort to feel its weight at his side - that he could run a finger along the barrel and remember every firefight it had got him out of. Unfortunately, it was considerably less powerful than the one I took from a bounty hunter only a few days after meeting Carth, so I gave it to the irritating little Droid and had Carth use another one. Carth's response? He fought better and harder as a result of the increased statistic.

Where is the intangible quality of human life that can't be expressed in a statistic? Where is the illogical, wild and unpredictable element of human nature in RPGs?

Dan Felder
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I really like where you're going here, and I'd be happy to respond in greater depth later. However, I think it's worth noting that the developers of KOTOR probably thought that Carth's Blaster was just the blaster that Carth was using at the time - and thus better than the standard fair, though it wouldn't stay that way forever. I like your idea of Carth's blaster - but I don't think that's what the designers had in mind, which is why they treated it differently.

If they did share your idea of it though, it would have been interesting if trying to have him equip a different blaster led to a dialogue with Carth - where you have to try to convince him to take it and he's reluctant to part with it. It might be a great way to trigger the general thoughtless mechanic of upgrading weapons into furthering your understanding of Carth's character. I like that a lot.

Basically, I don't think that loot systems break RPGs. I think they just add more options for interesting depth to it, when done well.

Rebecca Phoa
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Since KoTOR, Bioware has become better at integrating the stuff that you might be talking about: distinctive character looks and better combat prowess (to more or less success because Bioware fans are very opinionated). Two recent examples:

In Dragon Age 2, you can only upgrade the armor of the joinable NPCs--each NPC has their own distinctive look. So for example, Isabela has this light armor pirate gear on and while her equipment can be upgraded, she still looks like 'Isabela'; when she becomes a love interest, she gets a special outfit.

They also implemented this in Mass Effect 2 where each character gets a maximum of 2 static 'uniforms'. Unless you get those Alternate Appearance packs. Any new 'equipment' are updates: so pay x amount to make all shotguns have better damage output for example. There is no selling, only buying. Armor is upgraded in the same way. There is no traditional loot or economy.

Seth Gorden
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@ Alan Jack

You've made some great points here. Knights of the Old Republic does some very interesting things with character and interactions, particularly for the time it was released. I happen to have played through that game again this year, and I agree about the supposedly-personal items. For all the effort the developers put into the characters' story progression, they weren't really allowed to react to items or weapons or other common gameplay elements as we might expect.

Given the strengths of the game, I tend to forgive these missing pieces. One of the realities of game development is that it is not an infinite affair. And I think this is another important constraint of video games to acknowledge. Even games with huge budgets have to ship eventually. I assume in the case of KOTOR that character-reactions to smaller items was not a priority compared to the main plot progression. That being said, I would love to see new games consider the possibility. Though, it might take some studio bold enough to shake off the trappings of current RPGs in order to achieve. Innovation often requires focus.

As Dan Felder mentions above, too many paths or options have the potential to become shallow experiences rather than deep, focused ones. So I can't claim to have put my finger exactly on the next great idea for RPGs, but I am fascinated by the potential for NPCs that care about the world around them. I hope to see some examples of that emerge in the next generation of games with the RPG label, and I agree that broadening the reaction space of NPCs is a good way to go, for RPG players new and old.

Another idea: I would love to see families in games, beyond scripted plot lines. Just NPCs that exist in families and react to the events that happens to their family. The player could belong to a family. Not every games has to be about an orphan, an amnesiac, or prophesied warrior. You could start as a regular woman or man, perhaps defending your sheep from wolves. Then invaders come and threaten your family to get your sheep! How will all the characters react in this game? What if the invaders kill one of your parents or a sibling? What if they killed or stole all your sheep? I would think that could lead to some genuinely emergent emotional reactions from players and NPCs alike. And certainly, if there was an item called Alan's Pitchfork on the farm, you'd be rightly angry if they stole or broke that.

Thanks very much for your feedback. I'm glad to get an opinion from outside the main stream of hardcore RPG players. Considering the expectations of new players is absolutely a concern of mine as a developer. If you have other idea for ways that developers can evoke the kinds of reactions you'd want to see, please share those too!

Alan Jack
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The thing about it is that, although my argument is that people are NOT mathematical formulae, you could do this with maths. You can do everything with maths. It's all in how you present it.

In my example, Carth happens to have, say, +2 to hit with his own blaster. Or maybe more. Only this isn't represented as a number in-game as much as it is a message saying "Carth prefers his own blaster" - or, preferably, seeing the character take the weight of any new equipment, swing it around, and visualise their response. Take Carth's pistol away and he scowls at you until you give it back. Give him armour he doesn't like and he fidgets with it.

I think more random elements - that, despite numbers & figures, some characters might just not like certain weapons, armour and tactics - could add incredible human depth to a game.

Seth Gorden
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@Alan Jack

Subtle details like that would add humor, as well. I would enjoy seeing more of that in fantasy titles.

Dan Felder
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I like this, but a marriage of the two would probably work best. If you keep things too vague and don't get into the numbers (or some sort of objective analysis of power level) - players often don't know how to evaluate different weapons and can get frustrated thereby... Not to mention confused.

Saying, "Cart prefers his own blaster", having dialogue pop up if you give him another or just relying on the subtle scowls are all cool. But there's no reason not to also put in parentheses (+2 to hit). This way the mechanics are an expression of the character instead of just an artificial add-on, while the players also get to understand clearly how much each benefit helps them.

I think the easiest and clearest way to implement this type of attachment to items is to trigger a short dialogue tree when if you try to get Carth to change weapons. He protests, you can find out why (and thus more about his character) and you can attempt to persuade him to switch. If you succeed in the persuasion, he shifts amicably. If you fail, you can force the switch and he'll grudgingly go along with it - but with a -2 to Hit while using other weapons... For a mission or two. Then he finds you on your ship and tells you that he's made a decision and realized that it's time to hang up his old weapon and that he's ready to go in fighting with anything you suggest (naturally, this would be expressed much more deeply in the game and in the context of why Carth was reluctant to use another weapon to begin with). Now the -2 penalty goes away.

Not only would this mechanic be an interesting expression of the character's themes and feelings - it would also be an additional and believable use for Persuasion for even the more combat-focused characters. When personal relationships affect your combat experience, suddenly combat-focused players get a lot more interested in their charisma score.

All in all, a very interesting idea.

Bevan Bennett
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A better example might be Planescape: Torment, where items that are sufficiently meaningful to a particular NPC (Dak'kon's blade, for example) simply don't get replaced at the player's whim... maybe upgraded through some mechanism... but never replaced.

Going back to the OP, this is something I've been personally investigating for some time (with few tangible results so far)... how do we make "better" NPCs that both respond more believably and naturally and also make the game more enjoyable through their versimillitude. A persistent, per-character memory model is an important first step, IMO. Next is a reasonable cognitive model sufficient for NPCs to actually care about things that happen.

Bevan Bennett
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...or at least produce a better illusion of actually caring. ;)

Seth Gorden
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@Alan Jack

As you mention, inherent sexism in games an important topic, but is outside the scope of the conversation I want to have with this article. But on the related note on gender roles in games... my friend and colleague Robert Walker put together a concise and effective post on the design of male and female characters at the following link:

You may find that to be an interesting discussion.

Daniel Kinkaid
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These are the types of things I've been thinking about for a while now. What a person does in the world should have an effect: Save a township from a Dragon, and they should literally worship the ground you walk on, regardless of WHY you did said act, and regardless if you've burned half the world behind you. Every local township, region, and country should have their own opinion on your actions.

Classic example: King owns a piece of legendary armor that you need. Princess is held by a Dragon. In the old days, you kill dragon, and get armor as reward. Question: Why can't I simply steal the armor in the dead of night? Buy off the kind? Assassinate the king and make a break out of the castle? Why do I note have these choices, but instead have to be held back by what the game designers thought out for me?

Once these issues are addressed, we'll see a major advancement in the RPG genrea. Until then, more of the same can be expected.

Dan Felder
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In these cases, you have three options as a developer.

1) Make the other options impossible and just let the dragon-slaying one be the only way to go (the current way, and unsatisfying).

2) Make the other options all viable, or at the very least the major ones (this requires lots of extra development resources)

3) Lay 'bait' for the players so that they don't WANT to go for the other options - they only want to go for the dragon-slaying one.

Case in point - this coming Saturday in my weekly DnD group I want my players to destroy a lich's castle. However, they have a great ship and could easily sail anywhere in the world. So I lay bait.

The castle is full of magical items and spells that the wizard and warlock are both interested in for different reasons. It is also ruled by a legendary lich now reborn, which excites the warlord - as he can make his name in battle against such a terrible foe (and he's all about building his reputation as a hero). The Paladin worships Kelemvor, the good god of the dead that despises undeath - so the Paladin will be eager to tear through these undead ranks... As well as defend the goodly kingdom these creatures are assaulting, one of the few truly noble countries in the corrupt world. With such enticing bait, I can be certain that the players will go after the undead stronghold - no matter that the entire world is open to them to explore. I have made no other option anywhere near as enticing to their characters' motivations as this one.

It doesn't matter that I haven't planned out what would happen if they try to assassinate the goodly king, none of them WANT to assassinate the goodly king. Of course, the magic of pen and paper is that I can improvise this scenario even if they did go down it - but I am certain that they won't.

The best possible solution would be to make any and all imaginable options doable. Of course, this is also infeasible. So as designers we can lay 'bait' on the paths we want players to follow anyway, making them want to go after them for its own sake and not just because they have no other options. People tend not to mind rails on the sides of cliffs, they don't want to jump off the cliff anyway. It's much more forgivable if a game doesn't allow you to do something you already don't want to do.

That said, I would argue here for giving players a choice as often as possible. Giving the players two differing ways to accomplish goals makes things feel more meaningful and special, even if they're not feasible. A rather silly but solid example is in the red/blue versions of pokemon - where the bike store sold bikes for far more money than you could possibly have on hand. It was impossible to get the bike without a bike voucher. However, the fact you theoretically had the option to pay made getting it this other way feel cleverer.

A more subtle example is putting two hallways before your players. One faintly glowing red, as if flickering flames dance withing, and one with moaning sounds coming from it. This distinction makes a fork in the level layout feel like a more meaningful choice than otherwise.

The most solid examples are those where you can go two different routes to victory in battle - choosing one of several objectives to pursue or different ways to approach the enemy base - or else attempt diplomacy over violence, or vice versa.

This principle of branching choice is what makes dialogue trees so compelling. If you are actually interacting with the NPC, the choices you make are given meaning by you having other options.

Presenting players two or three clear choices when possible is a great idea, and two are often enough. Too many choices can often overwhelm and confuse players. And either way, you definitely want to use the principles of, "baiting" the lines you're most interested in having the player follow.

After all, if your player gains an additional magical power whenever he slays a dragon - he'll find the dragon-slaying scenario far more interesting than anything else you present to him. The bait is there and they player follows through.


Bart Stewart
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"Why do I not have these choices, but instead have to be held back by what the game designers thought out for me?"

Dan makes good practical points about player choice. But I imagine a couple of slightly different answers to this question.

There are basically two possibilities (not mutually exclusive) for designer-control games. One is that it may just be easier to provide a set path and a limited collection of verbs. High-quality games with a lot of content already take a lot of time and effort and money to make. Allowing player choice in a way that remains balanced and fun would dramatically increase the difficulty level, as well as the cost.

The other possibility is something that's been bothering me for a while now. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that computer games over the past several years have been increasingly limiting player actions because more designers are coming to believe that the player experience must be 100% controlled at every millisecond. It's as though game developers are terrified that if they allow an undirected play experience for a fraction of a second, many gamers will conclude that "there's nothing to do" or otherwise quit playing because they aren't sure what to do next. Thus we get more and more corridor shooters filled with over-the-top scripted events.

I can't prove this "never let 'em wonder what to do next" theory, of course. But as theories go, it's a plausible explanation for why computer game developers are clamping down on player choice.

That said, Minecraft is a fairly fascinating counterpoint to this theory. On the one hand, two and a half million people paying for an unfinished game that -- to this point -- has been extremely free-form and undirected argues that there's a good market (at least among PC gamers) for games that don't exercise brutal control over the player's every action. At least some gamers are able to create and appreciate highly "ludonarrativist" play.

On the other hand, one of the loudest complaints against Minecraft (which I predicted) is "there's nothing to do!", hence all the mods that add active challenges to the game in some way. For that matter, Notch himself is referring to the next update as "the adventure patch," which will presumably add a more directed play experience. It's just a fact: there are a lot of gamers who actually do want to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to get it done, and who feel bored or even uncomfortable with being free to choose how to interact with the gameworld.

What I wish this would imply for CRPGs is not just player choice, but consumer choice. Obviously there's a market for games that provide players with clear direction -- WoW owes part of its success to its highly directive quest structures, for example. Publishers would be crazy not to fund the development of such games, and they're (mostly) not crazy.

But I think there's also a real market for well-polished games that allow gamers to choose their own paths. They don't have to be completely free-form; they "just" need to be designed so that players have lots of verbs but the consequences of using those verbs accumulate within a consistent physical, rational, and emotional structure. In other words, character actions -- as others in this thread have proposed -- need to be keyed in reasonable ways to the people and things in the gameworld. Actions should have plausible consequences. That enables player choice in a way that also serves good storytelling, which (for those of us who did play D&D) is the Holy Grail of roleplaying.

Surely there's room in the marketplace for both kinds of RPG?

Finally, I note that any genre-specific topic on Gamasutra that elicits 50+ replies must mean the genre is thriving! I'm glad we don't all agree on what "roleplaying" means; that implies different designers will create different kinds of games. And that's a form of diversity that is nothing but healthy for the computer game industry.

Darren Tomlyn
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I feel, having been looking at all this for years, now, that one of the main reasons for the direction games have been taking, is the influence of people from the film industry etc.:

In other words, people are now viewing games as being just another method and medium of and for TELLING a story - in other words changing a game into a work of art. This has then also affected, and reinforced another view of games as 'interactive story telling' etc., otherwise (or should be) known as puzzles. Add to this the act of competing to be told a story (competitions), and we wind up with what we have with games at this time - where games/puzzles/competitions and works of art are all mixed in with each other, without any full recognition or understanding of how they truly affect the others for what they are.

Which is where all the arguments begin, because games represent the opposite behaviour to that of puzzle and competition, but isn't fully recognised as such, either.

Game are things people DO (for themselves). Creating a game, therefore means creating something that ENABLES something for someone else to do - not merely something that happens to them, (ultimately on behalf of its creator).

If the story of a game exists BEFORE it is played - it is not a game. A game is about the process of CREATING/WRITING such a story in a structured competitive environment.

A type of game that is inconsistent with a process - either as a medium to enable such a thing, or the type of process itself, is therefore a problem. Hence the arguments and discussion about 'RPG's'.

Steve Mallory
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You are missing the point of what a game with an explicit story and narrative structure gives the player context to the mechanics and their use in contrast to games with an implied story and narrative structure. It is particularly evident in RPGs given their historic origins, the story and, if applicable, narrative structure, provide the context for play and the determined game mechanics.

All a game is, explicitly, is a series of mechanics that are competitively (either against ones self or others) determined by either skill, strength, or luck. There CAN be an implied story about how these mechanics determine the outcome.

A game with a story is still a game, but how the play affects the story is what we are talking about and what makes RPGs such powerful game and story telling experiences.

Put another way: one of the most famous TSR and Wizards properties is 'Dragonlance'. It was created as a new universe for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and the original adventures and it had an explicit story that the 14 modules allowed the players to fill-in-the-blanks and complete the modules, generating an implicit and unique story, modifying the explicit storyline and narrative structure based on player input.

The Dragonlance modules had an explicit story - a group of heroes must discover the true gods and defeat the machinations of the Dragonarmies, led by the Dark Queen Tahkisis - but the implicit story, that you are talking about emerges with how the players choose to complete this story and the quests associated with it.

Remember: a game with an explicit story is using the story to provide context to the mechanics of the game that the player experiences.

Darren Tomlyn
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What you are talking about here - is how to use a narrative in a(n individually) SUBJECTIVE manner to promote a game.

But multiple games can have the SAME narrative, but not be the same game.

Narrative - as a story being TOLD to the player(s), has no place in the DEFINITION of ANY game whatsoever - ALL it CAN do, is HELP to support the identity of an INDIVIDUAL game.

Narrative CANNOT be used to ENABLE a game at all - merely promote it.

(Note - in this context, a setting is not narrative - the narrative exists within such a setting itself).

Story != narrative

Games are about people competing by WRITING/CREATING their OWN stories - every story that is told to the player should either ENABLE such a thing, or report back to the player the outcome of such a story (commentary). SOME stories games have to tell, especially on computers, are instead used to PROMOTE the game rather than enabling it. This is where the problems lie.

(To understand the difference between enable and promote - imagine a puzzle and a game. A puzzle is used to ENABLE a game if they happen simultaneously - e.g. a race to complete a puzzle. If the game only begins once the puzzle has been completed, i.e. is interleaved, then it is merely being used to PROMOTE it - (the Duelmaster series of books are an example of the latter).

What you need to do, is recognise the difference between interacting with a story being told, and writing a story, because only one of those is a game - the other is a puzzle.

Now, we started out on the right track - trying to think of how to make the story being TOLD react to the story the player WRITES, and so form part of that, rather than exist on it's own - right?

The problem (you're having) with that, is confusing that with the type of narrative you're used to - i.e. a story that has already been pre-written for the game BEFORE it is played.

The reason why that is a problem, is that the story a game is DEFINED by, CANNOT and MUST NOT EXIST until it it played - the whole point about a game is that it represents the behaviour of WRITING/CREATING just such a story - which means the more of such a story that is being TOLD, the 'less' of a game it is - (and the more of a puzzle/competition/work of art it is instead).

When people already KNOW the story that will be written - it's called CHEATING.

Steve Mallory
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Alright, I'll agree that Story != Narrative, that's because Narrative is the structure of the story as presented to the player and nothing more. It is point of view, thematic and literal structure to the content provided.

What you need to do is understand, better, the role of story content as provided by developers - regardless of genre - and its role in enabling the player to write their story. Story provided with games provide context for the player.

Games do not require story (see such games as "Go"), and Games can have implicit stories ("Chess", "Missile Command"), and Games can have Explicit Stories ("Mass Effect"), and all games can optionally generate user-created stories, because - and this is important - a game is just a collection of mechanics. It is formula, tables, and rules. That's it. The stories generated by play is the result of players setting the rules of play into a narrative structure and story beats for the consumption of others.

The rest is just intellectual snobbery.

You'll go far if you remember the following:

The only thing that stories delivered in games provide is context for the mechanics of play.

Darren Tomlyn
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See above posts for what I have to say about the word story - which is causing you problems here.

Narrative can merely represent two things - as an application of narrate:

A story that has been or is being told.

A story that has or is being told of something else (that happened).

To narrate something is to tell a story or tell the story of something (that happened/is happening).

Because narrative is about telling a story - it must already have been written for it to be narrated (told).

The 'structure' of narrative is merely because of the story itself already having to exist that is then being told, nothing more.

If the story being told has been created (imagined) then it is a form of art. (Creative story telling).

The application of behaviour involving interacting with stories being told - (that already exist, having already been written TO be told), that have been created (usually for such a purpose), or in order to solve a problem, is labelled by the word puzzle.

Unfortunately, people, (especially those involved in games and game design) see the above as being defined by their own behaviour as creating such a thing (interactive story telling) - when what they are creating is nothing more than a work of art for someone ELSE to interact with.

For this reason, 'choose your own adventure books' or 'interactive dialogue' (or interactive fiction) are puzzles - mazes in (usually) literary form.

The whole point about the word story based on what it represents according to its use in ISOLATION - is that it can be used as an OBJECTIVE representation of a PERSON, by which their basic behaviour (things they do for themselves/others/things that happen to them) can be described and understood in relation to, in an objective manner itself.

Story n. An account of events, either real or imaginary, (created and stored inside a person's memory).

Art is about TELLING stories.

Puzzles are about interacting with stories being TOLD

CompetitionS are about competing to be TOLD a story.

Games are about competing in a structured environment by WRITING a story.

The story of a game must NEVER exist before it is played - the more that does, the less of a game it is.

Any story told in a game, must therefore ENABLE such a story to be written, or it is NOT a game - it is merely art, a puzzle or a competition. Such things then REPLACE the game, even if they promote it - a story CANNOT be written and told at the same time.

Most stories that are TOLD in games, (any games) at this time, are generally used to PROMOTE the game - (but not always - which I have a massive problem with). In other words, the story being told, then allows a story to be written afterwards. Yes, it may provide context, but there are other ways of doing so that do not replace the written story, and may even ENABLE it:

1) By using the setting itself - (since this is a story being TOLD that is required - you might as-well use it to its full capability).

2) In reaction to the story being WRITTEN, essentially becoming part of it, rather than replacing it.

This second method SHOULD be what we're discussing here...

Jon Ze
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@Darren- let the games industry be young and grow organically for a little while before you decide to classify every unturned rock.

Darren Tomlyn
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The 'games' industry has existed for centuries. If you're talking about the computer games industry then ok, but everything they create must still obey the same basic rules as do EVERY OTHER GAME, according to how humanity has USED, and is USING the word, or it is not a game in the first place! (If it's not a game, then they're not part of the 'games' industry anymore, are they?). This is a PROBLEM.

Games pre-date computers by MILLENNIA. The original Olympic games, for example, WERE games, based on how the word is now used!

The problem we have, is that people do NOT fully understand what games, puzzles, competitions etc. ARE, (though only, generally, in relation to COMPUTERS!), in order to be able to create such a thing to its full potential - even though what these words are used to represent is probably as old as humanity itself!

There are a number of reasons for that, some of which my blog is here to explain. (Another reason I haven't really touched, because it's so ridiculous, is the perception that everything is different just 'because' we're using a computer...).

How and why can a puzzle be considered a game just 'because' it's now on a computer?

Human behaviour has NOT changed - the words to describe such behaviour, and its application might have, but as far as the words game, puzzle, art, competition etc. are concerned - that hasn't been the case now for a couple of centuries either!

As I've said in my blog - the problem is that the people whose job it is to inform/teach other people about the language they use, have been FAILING to DO their jobs. What we've wound up with is a direct consequence of this.

A failure of LINGUISTICS.

The following words are those I know that are directly affected:







Art and competition could be improved - they are not a problem in isolation at this time, only in relation to some of those above - (noun, verb, game, puzzle).

Jon Ze
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Are you a robot?

| "The 'games' industry has existed for centuries. If you're talking about the computer games industry then ok..."

You displayed uncertainty to my meaning of the word "games". Instead of waiting for my answer to a simple semantics issue, you went off for about six paragraphs about linguistics.

Dude, this is why people get frustrated trying to hold a conversation with you.

Back to the point; We have just started to mature in our thinking about games (yes, *all* forms, ever). Simply stating that something has a history of thousands of years does not disqualify it from being considered young.

Darren Tomlyn
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I wasn't uncertain at all - I just pointed out why it wasn't correct as is, and would be only (technically) be correct if you were talking about computer games instead...

That the games industry is *young* is a purely individual subjective perception that is NOT borne out by the evidence.

*HUMANITY* knows what games are - and therefore what it is the word game represents now, and has always known, which is why such things have taken place and been created with such consistency for MILLENNIA.

Until computer games appeared there has been very little inconsistency at all - (there are a couple of exceptions - of which one major example has actually become deliberate - that may even be explained by the route the word game took to mean what it does today. Again, out-of-date definitions is part of the problem).

The problem we have is that certain PEOPLE do not fully understand this at all. And the reason for that, recently, is because the people whose job it is to study how the language is USED, (by a large portion of humanity), and then educate and inform everyone else of such use, haven't been doing their job, (as far the English language is concerned, anyway - not sure about any other).

This is what has caused the problem we have.

HUMANITY KNOWS WHAT GAMES ARE - even if we've only used the word game itself to represent such a concept for a few centuries. The industry that grew around providing such a thing over the past few centuries, from card to dice and (then?) board games certainly knew as-well.

Certain PEOPLE, however, do NOT, nor have ever done so - and unfortunately, some of those are now in, (and have reached) a position of INFLUENCE over some of (the rest of) humanity itself. THIS is now causing problems, and is why the problem with linguistics is to blame.

The *games* industry is NOT young - it may have been a century (at least) or a couple of centuries (at most) ago, but not any more. There shouldn't really be any *excuse* for computer games not to be based upon such knowledge, but as I said, the problem with linguistics has, in some ways, almost created this problem ALL BY ITSELF - which is why people are having to re-invent the wheel all the time, even as far as the basics of games themselves are concerned...

If the games industry is 'young' then so is the music industry - (hint - it's NOT). The game and music industries are not young. The *recording industry* is currently in it's *teen-aged angst* years, as is the computer games industry, but they are newer and less developed parts of both the music and games industries themselves, regardless of what they might think - (you'd think that music didn't exist until it was recorded, going by what some of their executives have to say!).

Cody Kostiuk
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Darren, if you could respond with short and concise comments, you'd have more success with explaining your concerns. You write more trying to diffuse all perceived counterarguments and potential misunderstandings than just saying what needs to be said. The majority of your comments are convoluted to the point where they feel deceptive.

Steve Mallory
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What Darren seems to fail to appreciate is that his definition of story (and narrative) is incorrect, and no matter how much he bangs his fists on the table, the only way his argument works is if the word matches his definition. This is called a Moralistic Fallacy. He is wrongly presuming what ought to be has some bearing on what is.

And I can't believe this didn't occur to me sooner, but it reminded me of something one of the great game designers - Chris Crawford - said about using games as a Storytelling device. I'm going to paraphrase, because he has spoken at length about games as storytelling devices, and such a post would be huge.

The story that Darren is going on about is static. It is generated only when the game is complete. The tale is written, and it is done, and relies exclusively on the bounds of the rules of play to provide any dynamic components. That can be a very boring story, depending on the rules of play involved. The game is your nouns and the mechanics are your verbs. Can you write a story about a game of checkers, yes, but ask yourself how many "verbs" the game of checkers really has? The story's interactivity is limited - there is only so much that the player can do to make the conflict in the story compelling. It will be a story, yes, but a terrible one, lacking interesting conflict.

By contrast, Role Playing Games are seen as having a great potential for interactive storytelling. The classic pen and paper RPGs, such as Dungeons and Dragons, are near perfect examples of interactive storytelling between the players, the mechanics and the arbiter dungeon master, each encouraged to bring as many verbs as they can to the table. They all work together to create the complete story at the end of the game, but also modify the variables of the story over the course of play based on mechanical, random or player-generated means. These are relatively powerful storytelling devices because the nouns and the verbs given to the players are bound by their collective imaginations.

In the transition into Computer and Console Games, due to technical concerns, the verbs and nouns had to be pruned. This limited the interactivity, or authorial control, the player had over how the story is written. The fewer the verbs, the less interactive the story, the more developers had to write using verbs outside of the vocabulary provided to the player over the course of play in order to create a compelling, interesting stories.

Cody Kostiuk
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>>> Steve Mallory wrote: "The story that Darren is going on about is static. It is generated only when the game is complete. The tale is written, and it is done, and relies exclusively on the bounds of the rules of play to provide any dynamic components."

You're point seems to outline the confusion I had during other discussions with Darren. I'm still not quite understanding the need to strictly define fundamental video game terms beyond their current usage though. I don't think I can remember any video game discussions where semantics had any significant bearing on the context or crux of a conversation. I appreciate Darren's passion and perseverance, but what is this "problem" he is trying to solve? Do you know?

Steve Mallory
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I'm not really sure, beyond attempting to redefine widely established terms to suit his own reasoning. Again, moralistic fallacy - he is attempting to see the world as it ought to be, not as it is, and his arguments for changing the terms aren't particularly well reasoned. He asserts that dictionaries are wrong. That is a pretty bold statement to make, and a pretty big burden of proof.

He sees the only story that can come from the game as being the end result of play. At a high enough level, in its most general, yes, stories about play are generated by play, but that doesn't mean they are good stories, or even compelling stories. You could write a story about Checkers, each sentence describing a move and the ultimate result of the game, but is it a good story? How much agency does the player have in altering the story? In the case of checkers, not much, he has very few verbs to work with.

What game stories should be about, and what Paper and Dice games ala DND create, is a truly a dynamic story where the nouns and verbs are limited by the imagination of the players, the mechanics of play and the arbitration of the game master. When computer game stories work is when they take the necessary limited vocabulary of nouns and verbs and create the impression that the player is limited only by the mechanics of play. If the player thinks they have more options than really exist, and the choices the player makes are meaningful in the outcome of the game, then the designer has succeeded. Unfortunately, that sounds incredibly easy, but is very very difficult to accomplish.

Darren Tomlyn
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Read my post (far) above on the word story. Posted at 18 Jun 2011 at 6:44 am PST in reply to the first post in reply to the original.

You cannot argue with my reasoning without arguing with the rules of English grammar themselves.

Bird - noun - animal - tangible thing != fly

Story - noun - information - intangible thing != tell

List - noun - information - intangible thing != tell

Picture - noun - information - intangible thing != draw/paint/give etc.

Door noun - object - tangible thing != open


Narrate - verb - behaviour = tell (of story)

Narrative - noun - DIRECTLY derived from/related to verb - application of behaviour = (application of) narrate

Game - noun - ABSTRACTLY derived from/related to verb - application of behaviour = something a person does FOR him/herself in a structured, competitive environment.

Competition - noun - DIRECTLY derived from/related to verb - application of behaviour = 1. the state of trying to gain an outcome/goal at the expense of/in spite of someone/something else.

The word story exists and is treated as such by the language independently of ANY AND ALL BEHAVIOUR (and state and quality). Narrative is not.

That we USE such words representing such behaviour in relation to this THING we call a story is PROOF of such a conclusion. The words in common use that PROVE this are TELL and WRITE.

The problem we have with the word story - (and others - including the word game) - is mistaking what words represent in themselves for how they are APPLIED.

IF this were NOT true the word TELL would NEVER BE USED in combination with the word story at ALL - the word/phrase STORY(-)TELLING would NOT EXIST, because it wouldn't be necessary!!!!!!!!!

I've ran this past experts - it's so ******* basic they all went ''duh' you're right - you should really go to uni to get it sorted out' or something similar.

You can ask Dr Anthea Fraser Gupta, Senior Lecturer in Modern English Language, University of Leeds, if you want - I already did - (along with others - but she's probably the easiest to ask...?).

This is all so ***** simple that NO-ONE I have EVER spoken to in real-life (not online like this) has ever had ANY problems understanding it.

This is, like I said, the equivalent of knowing that the word door represents a THING that merely CAN be open - not IS. Simple.

Steve Mallory
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Again, your argument is couched as a Moralistic Fallacy. You've already said before, the dictionaries are wrong and that your definitions should be the correct one. Your entire argument, therefore, is couched in what you think ought to be, not the way things are.

And your very definition of "Narrative" is very telling, because it implies a much larger definition than you are willing to admit.

Oh, and your definition of game is so absurd, but, before I broach further, let me put a question to you:

Is SimCity a game?

Darren Tomlyn
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WRONG. My definition of the word story is based on EVIDENCE OF HOW THE WORD IS USED - the CURRENT definition is NOT - it is based on the PERCEPTION of how it is used that is OBVIOUSLY WRONG.

As I said - it's the equivalent of DEFINING any OTHER THING, by ITS BEHAVIOUR - something the English language, by its very nature, keeps as SEPARATE words, even TYPES of word (noun/verb) - doing so therefore breaks the RULES OF THE LANGUAGE.

The word story is a very basic, simple word representing someTHING very basic and fundamental - the fact that the words that represent an application of such a thing are also, is not a surprise at all. I haven't said much about the word narrative itself at all - because it's the word story itself that matters - there is nothing I have implied except that it's an application of narrate, which is an application of story. Admit what?

If art is about telling stories, (which it is), then games must be about writing stories - simple. What does that mean for the word story independently of the words tell and write?

I feel Sim City is a game because I see the basic elements of a game in the activity when I play (take part) in it. The Sims, however, to me, is NOT - I do not see enough competition in that program for me to define it as such - therefore I see it as a toy. Simple subjective applications of consistent definitions. If you personally disagree then that is FINE - that is EXACTLY HOW the language is supposed to work - subjective applications of (hopefully 'objective/consistent' (as much as possible)) definitions. The reason we have problems is that the words game etc. are not perceived and understood in a manner that is consistent with how they have been used, and what they must represent while doing so - and so any and all subjective applications are not grounded in such a consistent definition - which is what is causing problems for cRPG's.

At the end of the day - ALL of this - EVERYTHING WE TALK ABOUT ON THIS SITE - comes back to ONE thing - HUMAN BEHAVIOUR. The reason we have problems, is the lack of recognition and understanding of THAT.

Jon Ze
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@Darren - I just wish the discussion on Seth's posts here had more RPG, and less linguistics.

Thanks for shoving your own personal agenda wherever you can, though.

Darren Tomlyn
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The problem, is without the thorough grounding and foundation of being able to fully recognise and understand WHAT application of WHAT behaviour of WHO all this relates to and is about - none of this will make any consistent sense at all - which is why we're having all these arguments in the first place, and why everything is all over the place - and how and why the word game has become so subective...

THAT is the problem with games - especially their creation and design today, and is DIRECTLY affecting the perception and use of the term RPG in relation to computer games.

Without this foundation - NOTHING will ever be consistent, and so what's the point?

Steve Mallory
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How does one compete in "SimCity" as compared to "The Sims"?

Note: this is a trick question.

Darren Tomlyn
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You may think it's a trick question - (which says it all, literally) - but it's not. It's a very genuine question to ask.

In Sim City - I feel and recognise the presence of competition far more than The Sims - the presence of the rules within the setting itself, and the stories the game tells, both to promote my behaviour and in reaction to it. I also feel the process of writing my own story more aswell.

The problem I have with the Sims, is that I don't feel anything there for me to compete against. I know the elements it has, but I always feel like I'm just playing with dolls - nothing more - it just makes me feel like I'm going through the motions - not particularly competing BY writing a story - either it's just play in itself, or I'm merely interacting with the story it tells me. Like I said - it's a matter of subjective perception - an application of definitions, not creating the definition itself. And because of that - everyone else's opinion can definitely vary.

But then - such an argument is NOTHING new - (see art) - because of the basic nature of humanity itself, and how our language reflects such a thing in its use and application. Which is part of its job.

Steve Mallory
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Well, it is a trick question...because both games are identical in terms of the following core gameplay mechanic:

"The player is given free reign to manipulate the equilibrium of game systems that determine the success or failure of their in-game meta-tasks."

Note: this changed in The Sims 2 and The Sims 3, but lets keep with the core The Sims gameplay.

Competition implies a goal. Both SimCity and The Sims required the player to create their own goals - a meta-competition, if you will, not enforced by the game. No player is told "you must do this", instead, they are forced to ask themselves "what do I want to do?"

There is no explicit competition in SimCity. SimCity just explicitly illustrated many of the passive simulations that determine the playable space much more than The Sims ever did, creating the illusion of a self-driven competition to cause your city to grow which is much more attuned to behavioral psychology than it is to game theory.

They are both electronic toys - good ones, but by your definition, toys none the less.

Darren Tomlyn
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Of course they're similar in mechanics - but it's my own subjective PERCEPTION of their individual subjective applications of such mechanics that matters for my own subjective application of such a definition upon it! (Welcome to the English language!)

Also - welcome to the human race - what people perceive doesn't have to have any logic to it at all - you can have two similar works of art on the wall and a person may only like one for no particular reason they can tell. Deal with it.


Competition implies a goal.


Which is all competition requires from ANY goal/target to be competed for - the IMPLICATION of its existence - not its definition.


Both SimCity and The Sims required the player to create their own goals - a meta-competition, if you will, not enforced by the game. No player is told "you must do this", instead, they are forced to ask themselves "what do I want to do?"

There is no explicit competition in SimCity. SimCity just explicitly illustrated many of the passive simulations that determine the playable space much more than The Sims ever did, creating the illusion of a self-driven competition to cause your city to grow which is much more attuned to behavioral psychology than it is to game theory.


This is EXACTLY how competition works - it can be both PERPETUAL - (never reaching ANY goal/outcome whatsoever) - and also SUBJECTIVELY recognised and its definition applied (again) - meaning such goals are often subjective too!

Many games are built around such a concept - which some people can't deal with since they need more objectivity in how such competition is presented for their own perception of it, and maybe the reasons for it to exist in addition to that: see, say, Eve Online for example.

All of which is FINE - it's just how concepts are APPLIED, and subjectively recognised by individual people - which the language itself needs to SUPPORT, since it's part of the basic nature of humanity itself.

Life itself involves perpetual (as far as we're concerned) competition - a perpetual competitive process. So can games.

To compete is about the PROCESS of TRYING to reach/gain any outcome/goal - whether objectively defined or subjectively perceived, not the outcome or goal in itself. (Which is another mistake some people seem to make with games - since they're also about the process of competing itself - not about such goals/rewards etc.).

This is also why I PERSONALLY can see more elements to compete against in SimCity, than I can in The Sims - because I can perceive such goals and outcomes far more easily in that particular game. Simple.

So I see SimCity as being a game - involving me, the player, competing in a structured environment by writing my own story. Whereas in The Sims, I merely perceive the act of play or interacting with the story I'm being told - (what The Sims are saying they want/need etc.). (Note: I didn't play The Sims for long, (and haven't touched them since) - for precisely this reason, and I haven't touched SimCity since I had an Amiga... (I might still have it in a box round here somewhere actually)).

Since play as a noun != game (at least for the past 4-6 centuries - and even then, maybe only in the original German), and this is mainly what I see in The Sims, I don't consider it to be a game. You may disagree - but that is your prerogative.

The only thing that matters is that everyone is reading from the same/similar hymn-sheet as it were - the same/similar definition of the word game itself, that is fully consistent with its USE - (so it can be then be APPLIED in such a manner consistently) - which, at this time, literally DOES NOT EXIST - and that is why we're having problems.

There are two main reasons for this:

a) They type of concept the word itself represents, as based upon the type (or even sub-type) of word it is, is not recognised or understood. (How the word is related to the rest of the language).

b) The difference between what it is the word represents in itself, (its definition) and how it is applied, (its application) is not fully recognised or understood either.

The links between the word game and the rest of the language are currently broken - which is why it's become individually subjective.

cRPG's are merely a symptom of this problem.

Steve Mallory
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All I have to say is: "shine on you crazy diamond." :)

We have nothing else to discuss, Darren. I see things the way they are, and you see things the way you think they ought to be. Let me offer you a word of advice, and this is coming from someone who holds a couple of degrees and has worked in the industry for close to a decade.

Tone it down and Think Things Through.

You're tone is downright hostile and confrontational, which immediately turns off the casual reader. It makes you sound defensive and implies a lack of cogent reasoning in your arguments.

Your entire argument is couched in a fallacy of reasoning that makes coming to terms with your arguments impossible: look up the Moralistic Fallacy. See if you can couch your arguments without the defense of your position being the way you think things "ought" to be, and represent them in a concise and cogent manner. If you can't structure your argument in a cogent manner, you're likely pursuing flawed reasoning.

Darren Tomlyn
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What I'm talking about is the very foundations of human behaviour, our perception of it and how it is represented and used within the (English) language. Game is a word that represents a (simple) application of (extremely basic) behaviour and therefore an understanding of this is necessary to understand both HOW and WHAT it is the word game represents in a consistent manner, both in isolation, AND in relation to the rest of the language.

Everything we're talking about here must be built upon such a foundation or it has no context within which to exist - since what these words represent CANNOT exist in isolation themselves - (since they're not 'things', which do) (Yes, I know that the word is used to represent such things that can be used to enable such an application of behaviour to exist - but it is derived from such a use, and therefore would not exist without it).

This is almost level 1 English - (and I passed level 2 last year with ease (I didn't actually have any English language qualifications - too much literature, and not enough language at college)) - the teacher at the time fully agreed with what I had to say then too - which was only part of what I see and understand now).

We're talking about the very definitions of the types of word the English language contains - the heart of the English language itself - that is causing the problems I see. Thankfully, the roots of the language - it's basic rules - can, when based upon how the words are used, as they should, be used to correct these problems - of which the word game, and therefore cRPG's is merely a symptom.

If you do not understand the difference, and relationship between nouns (as a WHOLE) and verbs, which you obviously do not (cannot?) - otherwise you'd already know just how and why the above is true - then you do not have the foundation necessary to fully understand the nature of what it is that is (trying) to be discussed here - which is why the language you are using is simply not suitable for such a purpose. The word emergent has, and can have, nothing to do with the behaviour the word game itself represents. Puzzle, maybe, but not game.

Your problem, is that you're approaching games, as an understanding, from completely the wrong direction.

The behaviour of the player(s) in a game can NEVER be 'emergent' - such behaviour is DELIBERATELY created by the player, irrespective of anything that happens to them - any set reaction to things that happen to the player does not count or matter for what games are in general. If the behaviour in games is 'emergent' then any meaningful choice cannot exist - ever - at all - anywhere in the universe - people simply can never DO anything, ever, anywhere, at all, FOR themselves. ALL behaviour would be 'emergent'.

This is obviously false - so your entire premise is wrong, and therefore your entire perception of games and human behaviour is wrong. Your entire foundation is therefore built on sand.

And you're not the only one with such problems.

A simple understanding and recognition of the simple human behaviour such words represent applications of should not be too hard to gain - but it seems that, as designers/creators many people have lost touch with the nature of, and exactly whose, behaviour the word game exists to represent - they see it instead from their own perspective, which is not consistent with what games are - (computer) game designers/creators merely create works of art for people to (hopefully) interact with - nothing more - either as games, (or, unfortunately) puzzles or competitions - many times all in the same product, often inconsistently. (Especially in cRPG's).

From the language you have been using, and your (maybe!) lack of recognition of the relationship and differences of definitions and applications, this is a problem I feel that you have.

EVERYTHING that matters for games is down to the people who play them. THEIR behaviour is ultimately what games exist to enable, or even vice-versa. Rules and competition are merely the applications required to do so. Such a combination - an application of behaviour - is what the word game represents.

But rules and competition, in themselves, are NOT unique to games. Puzzles and competitions can use them too, but to enable a different type of behaviour and/or in a different manner to that of the word game itself.

Such differences, at this time, however, are not recognised or understood.

This is a problem for cRPG's especially.

Because people do not study, recognise and understand the behaviour of the player(s) in relation to games, fully, at all, either in isolation, or even (just as importantly) in relation to work/play, art, puzzle or competition.

Games are things people DO (for themselves) - not things that happen TO people. Simple? yes. Basic? yes. Fundamental? Very. But that is the very nature of the behaviour we're dealing with.

So my advice to you - in relation to this thread - is to go and play an RPG - may I suggest Blizzard's Diablo 2 (for a good reason) - and really STUDY what it is the game ENABLES YOU - THE PLAYER - TO DO - NOT what happens TO YOU - because it doesn't matter - only that which you can DO. Then figure out what it is that it allows you to DO that makes that game SPECIAL AS a game - what it is that makes that game an RPG - and not an adventure game.

This is what I've been doing for over the past decade - and is why I'm now able to separate out all of the behaviour in a game, very quickly and easily. This is why I can tell you that the term RPG in relation to computer games is not being used in a consistent manner FOR games AS games.

I've been trying to tell you why...

Jon Ze
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| "You're tone is downright hostile and confrontational..."

I'd have to second that. I clicked through to your blog Darren, and the response you made to the first comment began with a *sigh*. Seriously?

I appreciate and understand what you're trying to accomplish here. I would agree that it's a necessary discussion. What I don't understand is your holier-than-thou attitude.

I honestly believe that your life's work would progress with so much more efficiency if you worked with and learned from the community surrounding you. All you're doing here is throwing up walls, keeping people out.

Darren Tomlyn
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All my blog posts are meant to read IN ORDER. I say that at the very beginning of each post, with a link to the contents. If people are not willing to read them as such, and therefore make statements that are meaningless within such context, that my blog posts - (even the one he replied to) - have already covered, (agian, it didn't like like he actually read the post at all anyway) - then of course I'll get despondent.

If you're not willing to judge my replies in the context of both the post I'm replying to, AND the original post itself, then you're just as bad... And therefore deserve no more of my time or attention either.

If everyone says and believes that red is blue, without changing how the words are actually used to back that statement and belief up - would you go blindly along and believe them, accepting such a thing?

Because that is the nature of the problems we have. Arguments can only ever go so far if one side of the argument doesn't make any sense, but isn't recognised.

Story (1) + Tell(ing) (2) = Storytelling (3) != story

(Equivalents of tell include account (in this context - as an application of behaviour), recite, narrate etc. within all dictionaries/encyclopedias).