On RPG Theory: Q, A reprieve

Since there are no Q terms, a short note.

During research I found discussions I took part in on rpg.advocacy, the old newsgroup, back in 1995 or thereabouts. I've been a proponent of the theory of RPG for a long time. I considered majoring in communication for the sole purpose of doing research into RPG play. They are an interesting and unique subset of human interaction that deserves further study.

So you could say I've been a proponent of the Forge, since as communities go, it's been the only theory focused place I've found yet.

But upon research, and a closer look, this stuff is a nightmare. I haven't finished my analysis yet, and I'm sure there is stuff to be salvaged from it, but this is not the way theory should be, not the way science should be, not the way research should be.

I'm sure Ron is a decent guy - someone who cares, and has put in hundreds of hours attempting to deconstruct and examine what role-playing is. Someone who set to this task with a purpose and actual physical results, including a game. He is a person who does things, and the value of that cannot be overstated.

But. . .

My honest assessment and opinion is the theory is written by a narcissist who's angry that other people are having fun in a way he disapproves of, and uses intellectualization and word obfuscation to create a situation where he can never be proven wrong. He doesn't use the scientific method, and in fact, seems to have a fairly explicit agenda.

  • I believe this because no clear, concise, quantitative definitions are given in the essays for many of his terms.

  • I believe this because his basic thesis is that the players of the most popular and successful role-playing game of all time are not having fun in spite of self-reports of enjoyment.

  • I believe this because no definitive examples are ever made regarding his assertions.(i.e. That the Storyteller Rules-set(tm) does not facilitate the examination of a moral or ethical question concerning human interaction)

This does not mean that Ron Edwards hasn't contributed greatly by starting the discussion. This does not mean this isn't a first step towards an actual discussion and knowledge base of what's going on in a role playing game. I still believe it's best for any game designer to be familiar with the work.

I know my opinion above is a strong statement, but it is how I characterize Ron Edward's writing when I read it. I get the sense that I'm listening to someone who's mad and isn't able or willing to put into words why they feel the way they do.

If this is our best resource for theory, I think we need to do better.

The good news is, I think we are. Between the forums, the Forge, blogs, and various other entities around on the web I think the games I'm playing now are better designed and more fun then the ones I played as a younger man. There are some drawbacks (massive duplication of effort) but those are being addressed also.

Thanks for reading. Happy 4/20.


  1. It honestly doesn't help that his theories are wielded - I might go so far as to say brandished - with uncritical fervour by many who read them and are tricked by his pseudoacademic style into thinking that this is the Right Way. I know I've done it, like a fool, and it wasn't until quite recently that I read Edwards with my higher functions turned back on and started to see the holes.

  2. Thanks for commenting.

    This post was actually hard to write, because, you know it's very hard to say something like this about someone in our hobby - it's a very negative outlook, and that's not a way I want to be.


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