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Thread: Are They Really Games?

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    Question Are They Really Games?

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    What makes RPGs games? How are they not games? I'd like your opinion on the matter.

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    rpg's are games. in fact, they are likely to be one of the original games to humanity; right up there with sticks, stones, and scratchings. it is one of the first games that children spontaneously play on their own. they look around them, pick someone or something, and pretend to be it. or, they pick something up, and have it pretend to be or do something. either way, presto - role playing.

    children learn by emulating roles, ie: roleplaying.

    job trainees learn by emulating scenarios which they will face in the job, ie: roleplaying.

    job seekers get the job by emulating or displaying the characteristics they think the company is looking for, ie: roleplaying.

    people pretend to be what they think that their family, friends, lover, what-have-you want them to be, ie: roleplaying.

    other people reject pretending to be what they aren't and boldly act out how they think they are or ought to be, ie: roleplaying. (themselves, in this case.)

    some people want to take a break, or even completely escape from reality, and spend some time with, or retreat into, a world of mental construction, be it psychosis, insanity, gaming, wish fulfillment, or even fetish... so they set up scenarios where they can be what they want to be, or perhaps just try out something to see if they want to be that, ie: roleplaying.


    in essence, you are human because you roleplay.
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    RPGs are games in the grand sense of the word, in that they are imaginative and social play, which happen to lead to learning better interaction with others.

    In the more specific connotation of the word "game", RPGs still hold up as quite valid examples of games, the only somewhat dubious possible exceptions being that the GM-Player relationship is not a very fitting analog to two equal competing players or sides in true opposition to each other, and also in the "accepted wisdom" of games, there are no exact "winners", though I suppose if there is a "total party kill", everyone could be said to be "losers".

    Wikipedia (OxfordDictionaries.com)
    A form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.
    Dictionary.com
    An amusement or pastime
    A competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.


    TheFreeDictionary.com
    An activity providing entertainment or amusementA competitive activity or sport in which players contend with each other according to a set of rules

    An active interest or pursuit, especially one involving competitive engagement or adherence to rules


    Merriam-Webster.com
    A physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other

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    In a thread on Iron Tavern a commentator laid out what he found that define games. I added my responses where RPGs are concerned. His definitions were:


    • Games are entered willingly: (Yes)
    • Games have goals: (Not really)
    • Games have conflict: (Not really)
    • Games have rules: (Not always)
    • Games can be won and lost: (Not really)
    • Games are interactive: (Yes)
    • Games have challenge: (Not always)
    • Games can create their own internal value: (Yes)
    • Games engage players: (Yes)
    • Games are closed, formal systems: (Provisionally)

    You'll note that some of the definitions apply to RPGs, but not all. Since they don't all apply as far as I can see, RPGs aren't really games as people understand games.

    What is an RPG? Let's try a roleplaying guide. A guide showing a GM how to run an RPG, and players how to play an RPG. No need for goals, no need for balance, such things can be handled differently in a roleplaying guide, thus liberating GM and players.

    Patterson: I note the definitions you quoted refer to competition. Is competition always required in an RPG?
    Last edited by Alan Kellogg; 05-29-2013 at 01:23 PM.

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    I think that is probably the telling point and possibly the most important one. A hobby or entertainment without competition doesn't require rules because it is either a completely collaborative experience, such as acting, or simply "play", like freeform "making stuff up" - mutual storytelling.

    The only reason an activity requires rules is because it involves competition and/or challenge, and the outcome and fairness become important. Even in "soldier" or "cowboys and indians" completely imaginative play, it becomes competitive and the "I shot you"-"did not" issue arises, leading to usually an improv set of rules to make things equitable ("I'm safe if I'm touching this post").

    Competition doesn't necessarily mean conflict or violence or non-cooperation, however, and it shouldn't be seen as inherently bad, as this aspect of games teach valuable skills and ideas and interaction, and inspire useful or vital emotions or drives, which have much more important real-life counterparts. Competition, teaches how to mutually agree to share a set of values for a common goal, even if it means you may "lose" if you don't meet it (before or instead of your opponent), and especially in the case of RPGs, the GM is given a powerful responsibility - the other players are placing trust in his judgment and fairness and creativity and empathy for their enjoyment, and he understands that he must be fair and is not in direct full opposition to the players, but a coach of sorts, or trainer, challenging them to overcome obstacles, to rise above the mundane and become heroic and memorable, entertaining and exciting. This is competition to be sure, and the consequences can be harsh, depending on the game and GM, but the play itself is its own reward, besides the in-game mechanics for the characters themselves - the players get to see their own creations improve and gain in various aspects, and the GM gets to see his work enjoyed by others and how his moderating has helped shape and allowed players to bring their creations into active, dynamic realizations, and evolve.

    And that, in the real world, is what competition is - challenges and obstacles to be overcome, direct opposition by others, sometimes violently, sometimes in relationships or careers or simple play, that hones and strengthens those drives to push and succeed, that teaches people how to deal with success and failure, to think differently, approach problems, come up with solutions or ways to entirely sidestep large issues with cleverness - this allows people as individuals, and as a species, to also bring themselves into active, dynamic realizations of their own creation, and evolve.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jpatterson View Post
    I think that is probably the telling point and possibly the most important one. A hobby or entertainment without competition doesn't require rules because it is either a completely collaborative experience, such as acting, or simply "play", like freeform "making stuff up" - mutual storytelling.
    Spent some time thinking about this, only to discover that I can't cover everything in one reply. So I'm going to concern myself with the above this time around. That said, here goes:

    In Wikipedia the article on cooperative games mentions games where teams of players cooperate to best other teams, but it misses the existence of games where the players as a whole cooperate to secure a goal. One could call these collaborative games, in which the participants collaborate as they play. So an entertainment without competition can still call for rules, insofar as those rules describe what can be done in that entertainment. Much as the rules of a roleplaying guide (RPG) lay out what is allowable in the setting of the RPG.

    That is to say, an RPG is not a true freeform exercise of play, but one restricted by conditions that show what is allowed in play. In that it resembles a game, but it can't be called a game because the RPG is too expansive to fit into the definition of "game".

    For you see, games are limited in scope and potential. Games as a whole are bound in their arena, as opposed to an RPG which can range literally through worlds, or in some cases multiple realities. Thus RPGs resemble games, but cannot be called games in any real sense.

    More to come, I still have most of Mr. Patterson's comment to address.

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    Alan, I have to say that I disagree with you on most of your points...

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Kellogg View Post
    In a thread on Iron Tavern a commentator laid out what he found that define games. I added my responses where RPGs are concerned. His definitions were:


    • Games are entered willingly: (Yes)
    • Games have goals: (Not really) (Definitely!)
    • Games have conflict: (Not really) (Definitely!)
    • Games have rules: (Not always) (Definitely!)
    • Games can be won and lost: (Not really) (Definitely!)
    • Games are interactive: (Yes)
    • Games have challenge: (Not always) (Definitely!)
    • Games can create their own internal value: (Yes)
    • Games engage players: (Yes)
    • Games are closed, formal systems: (Provisionally)

    You'll note that some of the definitions apply to RPGs, but not all. Since they don't all apply as far as I can see, RPGs aren't really games as people understand games.

    How can you actually - with a straight face - answer the manner in which you did? EVERY session of playing an RPG has a goal - save the princess, slay the dragon, heck - it can even be to SURVIVE! Conflict?
    It's like saying that a book can be written without conflict. Kindly note that it doesn't say, "BATTLE," it says. "conflict." With no conflict, the PC's would emerge both victorious and unscathed from every suggested situation. "Your goal is to save the princess." "Okay, we do it." "Alright, that ends today's session." That's what "no conflict" means - nothing standing in the way of the PC's pursuing THEIR goals.
    What RPG has no rules? I've seen rules light, but NEVER a "no rules" RPG. Even cowboys and indians had rules... even if our finger-six-shooters had more bullets in them than John Wayne's pistols.
    Winning and losing is all about RPG's! I've always likened D&D to reality - you have goals and dreams - and if you attain them, you, "win," at life - and if you die early or fail to reach your goals, you, "lose" at life. Same with D&D. If you want your PC to grow up to be the bestest warrior in this dimension, and on day two he is eaten by a field mouse, you just "lost" that game.
    How can you say that not all RPG's have challenges? This is akin to conflict - and without challenge, you have the same situation as I described before... Monty Haul at it's worst.

    What is an RPG? Let's try a roleplaying guide. A guide showing a GM how to run an RPG, and players how to play an RPG. No need for goals, no need for balance, such things can be handled differently in a roleplaying guide, thus liberating GM and players.
    This is an RPG - not just reciting fairy tales. As nijineko very eloquently said, we have done this for as long as we have been around as a hint of a species - even lower orders of animals mimic others of their species and "role play." Without rules, we would all have personality conflicts with the GM and everyone would be claiming success with whatever scenario was presented. Outside of some flimsy examples, D&D has never had "rules" showing how to run an RPG or play the RPG - only for dealing with those pesky things like conflict and challenges - because we ALREADY KNOW how to role play. The rules are put in place to keep us all on a level (allegedly) playing field so the powerful personalities won't bulldoze over the weaker personalities in the group.

    Patterson: I note the definitions you quoted refer to competition. Is competition always required in an RPG?
    Yes - he did. Because, like he went on to say, without conflict, an "RPG" is nothing more than a scripted play where people portray what the GM sets before them, without input or feeling. And if players are but actors for a GM's play, they don't need to be there, they just need to buy the book when it comes out. Anyway, STILL, the play that they put on will still demonstrate and use conflict to tell the story.

    And what games have TEAMS of players that cooperate to "best other teams" but don't have conflict in them? Basketball? Sorry, pal, but the game is rife with conflict - and I'm not talking about flying elbows and hard picks. What is it when a defender waves his hands in front of your face to distract you from shooting the ball? That's CONFLICT!!

    You may be thinking too strategically about this. On a tactical level, the goals in an American football game are to make the pass, run the ball or even to make a first down. It doesn't always have to be the END goal (winning) to be a goal. Same with RPG's - it could be to help the druid find wild mistletoe to harvest at the full moon so she can cast a special spell later. It could be to get to the wizard and cast Cure Light Wounds on him so he doesn't die in this encounter. It can even be to sit in a tavern and listen for rumors for a new adventure for this session. Anything that stands in the way of successfully accomplishing these goals are conflicts and it is ALL about competition.

    Competition is not necessarily adversarial - the GM sets up conflicts to give a challenge, so you don't just walk in and slay the dragon on round one. We, as a species, appreciate what is earned more than what is given to us - and RPG's are no different. If I walk in and save the princess with no conflict, others will scream that it is "unfair" - to which I can respond, "What you call a lifelong challenge, I call Tuesday afternoon between 3:00 and 3:02 pm." In two weeks, I won't care a thing about the princess or my success.
    HOWEVER, if I work for weeks to get the necessary equipment and special materials, and make it through or around the minions that guard the prison, then defeat (either physically or intellectually) the BBEG, it becomes epic - because I had MANY opportunities to fail, but pulled the success out of the mouth of defeat. It will be remembered - and will be a story with which I can bore future parties for many years.

    Nope - I just don't agree with you - at all.

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    i'm not sure how rpgs can be said to not have competition.... as malrun mentioned, even if the storyteller and players are collaborating, the storyteller is committed to presenting challenges, conflict, and competition.

    one immediate example off the paw, a reoccurring villain in one campaign of mine is seriously motivating the players to track him down and finish him off. there is a serious competition going on between the party and this particular villain and his girlfriend.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jpatterson View Post
    The only reason an activity requires rules is because it involves competition and/or challenge, and the outcome and fairness become important. Even in "soldier" or "cowboys and indians" completely imaginative play, it becomes competitive and the "I shot you"-"did not" issue arises, leading to usually an improv set of rules to make things equitable ("I'm safe if I'm touching this post").
    Oh really? What about situations where participants need rules on what they can, or cannot do, in the activity? An activity doesn't need competition in order to need rules, sometimes all it needs are people who'll try anything unless they're told that this, and only this, is permissable.

    And do I really need to remind you that games, as games, have a restricted field? The options are limited. An RPG setting is an expansive field, making it possible for the players to go places and do things a game would not allow. And players raised with the "RPGs have to be balanced" paradigm will go pester that elderly demi-lich, because they will be convinced they have to have a chance, otherwise the session is unfair.

    I'll get to your third paragraph with my next comment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malruhn View Post
    Alan, I have to say that I disagree with you on most of your points...
    I noticed that. And I have to reply, same to you.

    Competition doesn't always involve conflict? Competition is about conflict. You are try to do better than your opponent, thus you are in conflict with him.

    RPGs always have goals? Wrong, sir. Any goal in an RPG session is either the work of the players, that of the GM, or a collaboration between players and GM. Even RPGs with a good vs. evil backstory have no goals, unless the players agree to accept a goal from the GM, or decide on goals of their own. The goals of an RPG are the same as the goals in life, something we agree to pursue so we don't die due to rotting angst and soul deadening depression. And note that the best sessions always involve goals the players agreed to pursue, whether the GM's or their own.
    Last edited by Alan Kellogg; 06-03-2013 at 09:38 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nijineko View Post
    i'm not sure how rpgs can be said to not have competition.... as malrun mentioned, even if the storyteller and players are collaborating, the storyteller is committed to presenting challenges, conflict, and competition.

    one immediate example off the paw, a reoccurring villain in one campaign of mine is seriously motivating the players to track him down and finish him off. there is a serious competition going on between the party and this particular villain and his girlfriend.
    To clarify, RPGs don't have competition between the players, any competition between players is something they came up with themselves. Competition with the roles played by the GM, that is another thing, and one could run sessions where the PCs and the NPCs cooperate to achieve a goal, while overcoming the challenges presented by the environment.

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    Alan, I think your topic and pursuing comments and argument are somewhat tenuous due to some of what you say being matters of terminology and semantics, essentially technicalities. Obviously the two words have SOME difference, or they wouldn't be different words; however, the interrelation and overlap of these two concepts are so dense that I am not sure one can truly divide one from the other in any practical way.


    From this site: http://www.differencebetween.com/dif...s-competition/, I'll post this excerpt:

    Conflict involves discord and disagreement whereas competition can take place without any clash or hard feelings. A competition indicates a contest where participants vie for the top spot whereas a conflict indicates a scuffle or a skirmish.
    Competition is a healthy process that encourages intelligence, innovation, and entrepreneurship whereas conflict crushes all such concepts.
    In real life, conflict is inevitable because all people are different from one another and different viewpoints lead to conflict.
    Organizing a competition to choose the best painter, singer, or a player encourages excellence among individuals as participants want to beat others to get top honors.
    Conflict and competition are two different types of social interaction that are, in addition to cooperation and accommodation.

    From these definitions, I would assert:

    Conflict is a matter of fundamental agreement on an issue, opinion or course of action to be taken. At its most basic definition, conflict is really more a state of being or of a situation, rather than an environment or ongoing process.

    Competition (and contest) is the actual process of resolving conflict, be it friendly rivalry to be the best, possibly while even participating in an event in a cooperative manner with others, while you are also competing against them to gain a secondary or alternate objective, such as a ball player being a member of the team but also qualifying for a recognition for excellence, such as MVP or other award.

    Also I'd like to rebut Alan's statement that "RPGs don't have competition between players". This is patently false. You may be referring to "the party" and not including the GM, but it is still a game, with a bunch of people all playing (though the GMs role is different) - that means ALL players are "players", even the GM. To attempt to classify the GM as some non-player entity is both directly in opposition to the very nature of RPGs and merely redistributing the "where" or "who" of competition, not making it null and void. Chess is a good example. It is very much both competition and conflict, as it is a two-player competition between two players, and there is one main objective - to defeat the other player. This causes contextual conflict, and that conflict "I will win, instead of my opponent" is resolved through competition of play turns.

    It is arguably possible to have Competition without direct or explicit Conflict, with the exception of opinions of the competitors: "I think I can win this, proving myself better than the others in this event"; this means there is no fundamental disagreement between all the competitors but the contest is held for goals of its own, a sort of transitory, temporary, even "artificial" conflict, a contest for its own sake, such as winning an amount of money. There may be no notable air or sense of disagreement between people until a contest is introduced, at which time they abstractly "come into conflict" with each other, regarding who will or should be seen as the victor of the competition, and will receive whatever the prize is.


    Competing does not necessarily mean a participant think he will, or even should win - he may compete for the activity itself, to be seen by others, to take a chance and do something fun and the winning may be a secondary or even only vaguely acknowledged goal. In these cases, it is the player's deeds that makes the competition a conflict - he is participating, therefore from a purely objective standpoint, by virtue of the person involving themself, the default value of "attempting to win" is assigned to the person, whether he actually IS or not, which puts him in implicit conflict with the others, in a physically manifested sense, even if not of deliberate resolve.


    On the other hand, can you have Conflict without Competition? In fact, like the very subtle nuances in the previous example, yes. Civilians caught in a warzone, or whose government is in military action against others, are "in conflict" with the opposing governments and militaries, being of the opinion the opposing forces should go away, but taking no direct steps to join in and resolve the conflict. In this way, that person is in conflict, or disagreement, with another, but is not in competition. He may even be in conflict with own government at the same time he supports it, for different reasons (I love our freedom/I hate our corruption, etc), and he may compete in some instances, trying to change things or "be the winner" in some way in the context of such a conflict.

    In "games" (sports or hobby or video), the very act of participating puts you in competition with the other players or a computer AI if applicable. You play and although the rules do not require you "try your hardest", the objective of a game is to accomplish whatever the winning conditions are, so you are competing against the opponent(s), whoever they are, and at whatever effort you choose to give.

    Also in "games", in the abstract sense of the definition, in any game you care to choose as an example, you are in conflict with the opponents, because you are endeavoring to accomplish a contextual goal and fulfill winning conditions, whatever those are, even if it is "don't die/get permanently imprisoned" in the case of an RPG, besides the more explicit "rescue the princess" plots - this is "in disagreement" with the GM or AI, or even random dice tables, whose are competing against you in a modified fashion of your own activity - providing you with sometimes very difficult challenge, and often the possibility of losing your character, which also falls under more conditions of both conflict and competition, a stake to be lost, even if it just the game itself.

    But the GM also is cooperating with you, in that he is not taking every opportunity to try to make you fail or "kill your character", and in fact often fudges rolls and provides you with clues when appropriate or as a result of things you do, to succeed, and rewards you for doing so, as a coach or trainer (again, that fluid value of "how much effort"). In this way, you are both NOT in conflict, because you both agree that you want the game to be fair for the players, that the GM is trusted to be fair and creative, and the players are trusted to be genuine in their ideas and attempts to play, and to abide by and work with the GM on his rulings and moderating. I don't believe there is a final true black-or-white answer to this initial topic, because the answer to "are RPGs really games" and "is competition required for a game" is "yes and no", depending on which aspect you are referring to, from one second to the next. RPGs are and aren't games because they are both competitive against the other players, and cooperative with the same players, and they involve conflict between the players, and they also don't involve conflict, because everyone agrees they want to play a game and for it to be fun and fair. Ultimately, the answer depends on what you expect out of a game and how you play it, as to what it delivers or how it qualifies.

    Last edited by jpatterson; 06-04-2013 at 04:24 AM.

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    well said.
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    It amazes me when someone will ask people about their opinion on something and then find it neccessary to then post replys to basically say the those opinions are wrong. If you didn't want responses that are opposite of your own opinions, then simply don't ask the question. It hasn't gotten there yet, but I will keep watching this thread and if it turns into a flame war/fighting match, I will remove it.
    "You go 50 feet and come to a Y."

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    I think the clue is in the name.

    Role-Playing Game.

    From the Wikipedia site (so it must be true! ) -

    "Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction. Games generally involve mental or physical stimulation, and often both. Many games help develop practical skills, serve as a form of exercise, or otherwise perform an educational, simulational, or psychological role."

    Sounds like a reasonable description of most role-playing games.

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