Episode 102: Gaming advice and the Conversation on Gaming

Hosts: Todd, Megan, Timo, Peter

What did we play: (09:15)
Timo: Kagematsu, Eminent Domain, Smallworld, Dixit, Defenders of the Realm, Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, Blood Bowl Team Manager
Megan: Kagematsu, Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, Glory to Rome, D&D Encounters, 1st Edition D&D, Carcassonne, Vegas Showdown
Todd: Ascension, Honeymoon in Arkham!
Peter: RuneAge, Blood Bowl Team Manager, War Machine, 1st ed D&D, Who would win, Eat poop you cat

Main topic: The Conversation on Gaming (17:30)
Timo read an interesting blog post about the nature of the conversation about gaming after the explosion of Independent games and brought the conversation to the table. As part of that conversation we end up talking about the whole blowup that happened surrounding the rise of Forge Game theory and “System Matters.” The conversation goes longer than usual, but we end up talking about the role of gaming advice and what character it takes.

Rants (01:13:50)
Megan: Don’t go to school.
Peter: Magic players ruined gaming.
Timo: What needs to happen to make people actually stand up.
Todd: Vegas is a hooker buried in the desert.

Other Links:
The Pizza Hut App
The Dalek App
My Life with Master
Apocalypse World
Old School Renaissance
Jean-Francois Lyotard: incredulity towards meta-narratives
2010 RPG Podcasting Survey
Ron Edwards
Dragon Magazine
Dungeon Magazine
Dungeon Masters Guide 2
Brilliant Gameologists
Goblin Comic

You have been listening to The Jank Cast, copyright 2011 under the creative commons license. You can find out more about us at jankcast.com. All the music in the show is from the song, “Jank is a Dork Word” written and recorded by Todd and is used with his permission. You can send comments and feedback to feedback@jankcast.com Again, we are sponsored by Chicagoland Games, and this is JOHNKELLY reminding you to support your local gaming store. Now

go out and roll some dice.

10 thoughts on “Episode 102: Gaming advice and the Conversation on Gaming

  1. There was a bit of irony in this episode that might have gone unnoticed.

    You had a (rather entertaining) discussion about apps and how someone carefully crafted an experience for the sole purpose of letting you order food online, then wondered why game advice has gone from “here’s how you be a good GM/player” to “here’s what game you should play”.

    The two things are intrinsically linked. It used to be that most computer advice was about how to make your PC do the things you wanted (back in the days when all computers were big, general-purpose machines that ran mostly business software). Now, it’s mostly “there’s an app for that.” It used to be that computers were big, complex machines that only experts could do anything useful on, and only eggheads were interested in mucking around with them. Now we all carry computers in our pockets and can map our locations, check email, and do social networking at the press of a button.

    What has changed in computers is the design aesthetic. It’s gone from “let’s build a general-purpose system that users can do anything with” to “here’s a great, really focused experience we want users to have.” The change in RPGs has been largely the same. The old experts and eggheads complain that the new iDevices, for example, are too limiting – but there’s still Linux and Android for the hackers to play with. Rifts is also still around. You get the point.

    The huge revolution here is that a finely-tailored – even highly limited – experience makes a thing way more accessible. Lots of people who would never do anything more than check their email and surf the web on a PC use their smartphones every day to do hundreds of complex tasks. Likewise, offering many tailored experiences in roleplaying means that people who find D&D or Rifts daunting or who just don’t like those games still have an opportunity to come into the hobby.

    And because it’s a relatively small hobby and most people still play D&D, helping people find the right game for them is incredibly helpful. It might even be the difference between a player taking up/staying in the hobby vs. leaving for good.

    There’s still a lot of room for advice on how to be a better roleplayer, both in and out of character. There are a lot of tips, tricks, and techniques that are out there in different communities and different gaming groups which could make other people’s games better. I recently discovered jeepform, and while I’m not really interested in freeform/LARP, a lot of the techniques they’ve developed would also work well in a story game. That’s just one example of how cross-pollenation between communities can be beneficial.

    The downside to the “there’s an app for that” approach to gaming is that there is the potential for the community to become fragmented. I, however, prefer to think of diversity as a strength rather than a weakness. Let’s continue to guide people to the right games, and also continue to share good ideas that will make us all better at this thing we spend so much time doing.

    Gah. Sorry that was so long.

  2. Not at all, it’s a very nuanced and appropriate response.

    I’m not 100% convinced of the comparison between what we call trad gaming and general use computers is accurate. Computers, especially early computers running on DOS or Unix machines, were explicitly designed to be used for a multitude of different functions. The intention was to just make a very complex and fast calculating machines: By perfecting the ability to do calculations fast and reliably we were able to make it do all sorts of magical things. This is because everything that is done on a computer can be broken down in to the same basic thing: The flow of electricity across a number of nodes as arranged by the patterning of logic gates. The introduction of smaller, more specific hardware was that we started biasing the machines towards certain types of calculations, let alone dropping some of the overall utility because it wasn’t being utilized. What you describe, the move from “something able to do everything” to “a bunch of things that all can do some stuff” was a move from actual general utility to beneficial specialization.

    The explosion of recent games is different. For one, the large “trad” games were not by initial design general purpose machines: They grew from a very specific set of rules intended to model tactical combat via the introduction of ad-hoc mechanisms (based on this interview from Theory From the Closet. These accumulated rulesets where then formalised and “improved” upon and presented as a coherent system over the years. Worse, they became foundational of “this is how gaming works” and most games that were developed for a very long time followed the same rationale. Given that these systems were being put to general use when they were not really general purpose engines, we saw the advent of house rules not as fine-tuning of a functioning interaction, but as a neccessary step to get a game to work. Along with this developed the cultural assumption that was just how RPG’s SHOULD work: That being a functional game (especially for those of us interested in storytelling) meant either overhauling the system to fit your specific group, or finding a way to minimize the impact of the system by minimizing it’s presence (“It was a great session, we didn’t roll a single die”).

    So for RPG’s I would argue that we weren’t moving from generally practical to particularily specialised. But that’s just my perspective. I also think it falls apart because there isn’t an analogue to “doing calculations fast and reliably” in gaming. There is no basic, abstract unit of work that all gaming can be easily translated in to. Game rules facilitate the having of fun, but they don’t actually have the fun for you.

  3. Interesting you say that, Timo, because I was kind of sold on the metaphor, actually.

    I should also say that someone else was just telling me about jeepform and it sounds amazing to me.

  4. Wow, I wasn’t expecting the shift to politics and media at the end in the rant section, but I like it. To Timo’s point, I would say that if there is any hope, it is in the new media and the internet. Cenk Uygur, for instance, is a free agent with no corporate ties and so can present the facts plainly on his Young Turks internet show (www.theyoungturks.com, naturally), and he still has literally over half a billion views now on his YouTube channel. By contrast, the mainstream media is constrained by corporate interests, the desire for more access, and the profit motive. Look at the Guardian, the british paper that often covers American stories better than the U.S. press does. The reason? They were created by a trust and are non-profit.

  5. I have to admit, I was sold on the metaphor as well. BTW congrats on your recent nuptials.

  6. I like the metaphor, too, even though it breaks down a bit as Timo says. Most users want something simple. Look how much effort goes into making console systems and games intuitive and easy to use. Even trad games are trying to streamline, with things like D&D Encounters and box sets that try to present a simpler, more focused experience.

    OTOH, not all indie games are simple apps. I’ve been playing Burning Wheel. Oy.

    One of the main reaction to the app in the cast seemed to be, “Why would anyone take the time to do/use this?” I admit, sometimes I look at certain “little” games and think the same thought.

  7. Here’s how “system matters”/”creative agenda” opens up the floor for real advice:

    1 – the system might not be right for you, and you might be better of changing it. Just because I’m suggesting changes, it’s not because I’m defensively trying to protect the game and put loads of blame on you. So you can listen!

    2 – not everyone plays for the same reasons, so you and your freind might be better off playing different games or two games each other’s way. But that is because there is better stuff you can do, a more intense, in depth and pure version of the stuff you like, here’s what it might look like, or some ways to get it…

    3 – gaming is damned complicated, and there are so many different ways people play. But because we are now comparing different people’s games instead of pretending they are the same, I can make more justified assumptions of audience, because you have self-selected on the basis of style of play, and similarities between the game systems you use. So you know when my advice is likely to have any appropriateness to your game.

    Also after reading the thread, I have an idea:

    We’ve got this stuff about players who want to play games where the gm manipulates his players. Or more specifically, manipulates his player characters. Players play some people who are fated to go a certain way, but doesn’t in any way act towards that. They just do their thing and see what happens.

    Has anyone anywhere designed this game? A game that like smallville, apocolypse world or fiasco, puts the rules where the meat is?

    Surely the meat of that game is in finding ways for the GM to naturally manipulate characters. While giving players total freedom to act in the world and react to it without having to consider what would make a good story arc?

    Surely you should stick the rules right there, about ways for the GM player to react to the other players and contain and redirect them towards your story goals!

    Random extra comments:

    Magic players only steal to feed their habbit, it’s not them, it’s the rare symbols, it’s the metagame.

    As a british person, people already gamble on games here, it’s just that it needs to get enough coverage that the bookies start posting odds, then your sorted. In fact I think some of them probably already are.

  8. …you know, that’s a pretty nifty idea. A game built around the DM as the hand of fate, dragging the characters to their eventual doom. Hrm. I seem to recall hearing something similar to this… Maybe Jennisodes? Yeah, I think “The Secret Fire” RPG guy mentioned something along these lines, though my understanding is that that is kind of a trad game thing.

  9. D&D is 36.8%, according to your survey.

    The game solicitation section isn’t a check box list, it’s a write in of your PREFERRED system.

    You’ll get no disagreement from me that the survey is a little less than ‘scientific’. The game distribution isn’t the point of the survey, by a lot, so it’s somewhat disingenuous to draw conclusions from that.

    There’s a huge bias in the data getting skewed: shows that promote it primarily have an bias toward indie games.

    We’re definitely open to suggestions on how to improve the survey process. In fact, every year before we run it, we solicit feedback and ask for people to promote it. If you’re actually interested in making it better, you could definitely help out. 😉

  10. … we’re not helpful people. I thought we made that clear already? Boo, I say boo!

    But I do like the podcast survey, it’s nice and shiny and make me feel special.

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