Role-Playing Games: The State of Knowledge

By Marinka Copier, Michael Hitchens, Mirjam Eldhari, Anders Drachen, Markus Montola. Jakkoo Strenros.

A lot of wrangling about definitions of roleplaying games (digital or not), and also a lot of non-digital things – which while interesting, I’d expected a lot more digital items at a digital conference, making it a little disappointed.

Michael Hitchens

If we are going to talk about role-playing games we need to know what they are. If you can’t identify the subject of your analysis you’ve got a pretty sloppy analysis.

They are abnormal limit cases. Think quantum

In almost every game you can roleplay. You can role play in Tetris if pushed! There are lots of definitions of role playing games. How do you tell the difference between Deus Ex and all other first person shooters? Broad definitions?

Part of it is the problems of technology. The “simulation of life”, does it mean The Sims is a roleplaying game?

Mirjam Eldhari

Role play is seldom supported in MMORPG’s – there are not role play as we usually mean in these worlds. They are perfectly happy playing in their own way. What can we learn from traditional roleplaying for MMO’s?

One way to make them more interesting would be more complex and more interesting player characters, closer to a players real identity – most players do play as themselves, or an alternate reality close to themselves.

It is what they can do which means how they behave. Opening more options up for this will help too.

Academically made MMO – Pataphysic Institute – with things like emotional combat system, personality rait based characters, player-created bosses – manifestations of own traumas and epiphanies.

How players feel affects what they can do and what happens to them – what kind of bosses or monsters there are, and what abilities they have to use against them.

Strange description of neurosis, guilt and depression and fighting a grandmother. Could interestingly just take the mental punishment.

Anders Drachen

Interactive storytelling is emerging as a new game type. Tabletop games already do this – with GM’s and players. Want to embody GM’s in a digital way. Humans are really annoying to work with – how do they operate? Mapping the process is very hard.

GM’s do a lot of different things – to do with the story, rules and flow, as well as the virtual world and NPC’s. Also importantly they manage the social environment.

The GM’s set a waypoint-based story framework – but these can be changed, and there is a near-infinite amount of possibilities.

GM’s keep the game going but players have a say. GM’s keep players within the framework too. There is also a fictional contract for players to readily accept that there is a framework and operate within it.

Markus Montola

Preconception of games being games are fun, games are safe. 3 examples of freeform and table top games:

Fatmandown. Fattest male player plays the fat man, and everyone else plays his friends. Based around fat in his life. So, eg; the diet club the fat man gets abused. So every offence is directed at the fattest man.

There is bleed – bleeding between the player and character personalities. Defies the safety of play that the character is different to the player.

Under my Skin: Who do you love? – choosing a close character to your own personality is interesting.

Gang Rape – Harsh and serious game, violent and upsetting. Not intended to make anyone feel happy. To feel the emotion of the characters, rules such as looking the victim in the eye and talking slowly. Must do the rape in a relateable setting too – ie; not a space station. There is no physical content but imagining things.

Anxiety by players getting through the game – finding a third player before you start for instance. There is intimacy and bond, but it is a horrible experience. Kind of team building gang rape.

It isn’t fun – no one thought so, but was an intense experience, and no regrets in participating.

These 3 examples are not fun, not safe but are recreational. There are other horror games – gang rape gets pretty close to the feelings of the characters of course.

Jaakko Stenros

On documenting role-playing games, specifically LARP’s. It disappears once it has finished – it means they are seldom documented. Economically so insignificant, perceived as youth culture, subculture, as low culture.

Nordic Larp documentation was rasied three, four years ago – need to describe when you document. Example of Carolus Rex, Totem, Rudeskov, etc.

4 different types of reports to create – player reports, critiques, research, designer descriptions. Not many of these though. Experience is different for every player has a different view of it. There are a lof of terms brought up for the different mechanics of the game.

Some are highly significant – 1943 set in Russia with the secret police KGB, telling some history – and are now being documented more.


(On the preservation of roleplaying)

Jaakkoo – Even bad photographs are better then nothing for the game recording since there is no actual game to preserve.

Anders – If you can capture the experience of the game, since it is in the users mind is hard (filming alters how the players react!). Maybe in the future world have downloading from the brain 🙂

(On what roleplaying means)

Michael – A game isn’t a roleplaying game if there are arbitrary rules or things to stop me going off the edge of the map. If a a player has the choice of going and doing anything it is roleplaying even if they choose not to. Offline roleplaying is more easily defined this way.

Audience – Perhaps different forms of roleplaying game in different media channels.

Audience – What channels have mechanic and physical challenges to think about.

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