Jun 10, 2009

Qualia - Or why you have the RIGHT to dream about stepping on up to play in the story now.

Continuing down the well worn path, we can see the glimmer in the distance that must be the vaunted "salient point." It is as elusive as ever, so I will try and reframe my dithering in the context I was trying to communicate.

I was attempting to shine a light on how intricately intertwined game design was with not only playstyle, but the community as a whole. Instead, I got hung up on design theory, and chased that darned red-herring halfway across the ocean. The answer was right here under my nose the entire time.

You are doing it wrong. My game IS better than your game. Your game sucks.

That's right. You read my english correctly. I don't care what edition you are playing. I don't care what system you are using. I don't give two shits about you optimal build, OR your STR 8 fighter "for the RP Lulz". I simply do not care. In fact, You are an idiot for even TRYING to do it any other way than I do. Don't argue - I'm not listening, and will only mock you for daring to waste my time with your obvious stupidity.

I am absolutely right.
For the absolutely wrong reasons.
Or maybe the other way around.
Allow me to explain.

First off, my main goal of writing the last two posts was to attempt to demonstrate that most of the labels and schools and other silliness, are simply human nature. An excellent example of this is the big, abusive step-parent of GNS Theory - The Big Model. The big model is the entire framework used by Ron Edwards to unify the whole RPG design model. Love it or hate it, this appears to be the only model anyone seems to even care about. There are others, but having never heard of them, their influence is irrelevant to me - simply restatement of the same recycled words and concepts. I am not going to bore you for 1200 words or so recapping it, that's what the link is for. Instead, I will utterly destroy the entire modern theory of gaming using one wikipedia link.


In short, Qualia is the term used to explain subjective experiences, i.e. the reality of your experience as perceived by you - and only you. This is why men are from mars, and women from venus. This little term is the sawdust in the mortar that renders all edition wars and schools completely moot and devoid of anything but the part with monkeys banging on their chests for a mates or bananas.

The mere existence of Qualia is the reason why there is more than one RPG on the market. It's the reason we have to listen to overly loud gangster rap music in traffic. It is the reason why your wife's ex-husband thinks you are insane.

I pose to you, that this makes all game comparisons in any way moot. This is why even your favorite reviewer is never 100% right. This is why you liked battlefield earth on the big screen. This is why you gave up on lost. This is why Firefly got cancelled.


In gaming, Qualia works a little like this: As avid RPG players, most of us have a lot of experience playing D&D, as well as many other systems and various editions of said systems. Yet we all have distinctly different tastes, based on our subjective experiences we had while playing them. This includes WHO, WHERE, WHEN - hell, it includes what cartoon you used to watch back in the day.

I mention this, because we see here the ludicrous nature of the edition wars. Two sides that cannot be wrong, opposed by sides that cannot be right, arguing and debating the relative merits or a SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Notice the Caps there, please.

For those who would scoff, I direct you to the english language. (And a big shout out to Merriam-Webster!)

1: of, relating to, or constituting a subject: as aobsolete : of, relating to, or characteristic of one that is a subject especially in lack of freedom of action or in submissiveness b: being or relating to a grammatical subject ; especially : nominative
2: of or relating to the essential being of that which has substance, qualities, attributes, or relations
3 a: characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind : phenomenal.
b: relating to or being experience or knowledge as conditioned by personal mental characteristics or states
4 a: (1): peculiar to a particular individual : personal
(2): modified or affected by personal views, experience, or background.
b: Arising from conditions within the brain or sense organs and not directly caused by external stimuli.
c: arising out of or identified by means of one's perception of one's own states and processes.

1 a: direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge
b: the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation.
2 a: practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity.
b: the length of such participation.
3 a: the conscious events that make up an individual life.
b: the events that make up the conscious past of a community or nation or humankind generally.
4: something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through.
5: the act or process of directly perceiving events or reality.

Read it and choke. No really, can anyone defend the practice of arguing subjective experiences and "feelings"? Anyone? Please comment - I am all ears : )

I submit to you, dear readers, that this is why the edition wars, schoolism, and GNS theory is nothing more than a steaming pile of dragon dung. I don't LIKE playing older editions. You don't like playing in newer ones. That's fine. There doesn't need to be a debate. We CAN agree to disagree - as opposed to the endless posturing and accusations we see - why? - because neither side has the same subjective experiences.

What you call "old school sandbox style" gaming, I see as a swingy, overblown, snoozefest. What I see as a WHAM-POW action movie done right with dragons, you see as a box full of crap studded with ritalyn. This will not change simply because you point out another broken mechanic, any more than you will suddenly wake up and realize that with Gnomes back as player races - you can play it for reals this time!!

It IS alright to leave it at that. We do not HAVE to agree. In fact, it is impossible for the aforementioned reasons to have even a reasonable discussion on the topic - there can be no winners...so it just keeps going on...and on....and on...and on...

What edition / style wars are:
Don't DM like me? You suck.
Don't play like me? You suck.
Don't like edition ___? You Suck
Don't agree with me? You suck.

What they should be:
Gaming is fun
Play how you want.
What's THAT game like?
I'll try it out.


Mad Brew said...

If you're looking for decent theory, shit-can the Edwards and 3 fold stuff. The first alternative I recommend you look at is the Layers of Design Theory by Brian Gleichman.

I don't hold it as gospel, but it's a step in the right direction (or at least away from Edwardian).

Nikolas said...

interestingly, accepting Qualia means accepting that there will always be a small niche of players you will be able to play with.

the more popular the view, the more players, but the more individualistic the view the less players.

You want to have fun but you need others to have more fun (4 other players In My Qualia). Thankfully there is game theory to rationalize and optimize your pay-offs.

satyre said...

Damn, another good article.

MyQualia sounds like a Web 2.0 startup... you can find subjective experiences that meet your consensus. Just search by handy tags to find the gaming experience you're looking for!

You know there's a corollary here - the 'It's just a game...' argument that I may employ against those who jump up and down about the merits of editions or styles of play.

Rob said...

Wall said: that's pretty much it exactly. There's no sense trying to persuade someone that their favorite game sucks.

I think, though, that there is *some* benefit in an actual dialogue over schools and whatnot. You don't see that benefit through a lot of posturing and ballyhoo aimed at people who have already formed their opinions (as is usually the case in the Edition Wars), but in talking someone into trying something they've never done before. Most folks I've gamed with have only ever played 3.X and 4e D&D, and operate under a lot of misconceptions about other systems. By discussing how old-school games, or GURPS or White Wolf or whatever differ from the norm, many times you can dispel some of those misconceptions and drum up some interest. You just don't do it by telling them the games they like suck. (Attention-grabbing and ironic blog posts aside. :P)

It's vital for niche communities to communicate all this stuff to the mainstream, despite the occasional flamewar. Otherwise they're just cutting the phone lines to the rest of the universe, and that can only lead to a dying subculture.

Tigerbunny said...

Hmmmm.... I suppose you might be onto something, if only because I think qualia are bunk (I'm a Daniel Dennett fan) and that may explain why I can't see eye to eye with you on this topic.

I think that there are identifiable, repeatable, meaningful patterns underlying the rhetoric of "play style", differing tastes, etc. etc. Of course, this being the internet, the rhetoric is magnified beyond all reason and makes it basically impossible to talk about those meaningful groupings and characteristics in any useful way without some yahoo jumping in to turn it into UR GAME SUXX0RZ!!!11!

For example, the mere mention of Evil Ron seems to summon those more interested in waging the GNS-Jihad than discussing whatever the post might really be about.

Anonymous said...

So, Donny, are you saying that people can like different ways of playing? If yes, why sure, that has been a well-established fact in most rpg discourse I've participated in for years. I don't recall any old school folk saying that those who enjoy 4e, say, are doing something wrong. They might say why they don't enjoy it or why they do enjoy the gaming they participate in, but that is not the same thing as claiming others are doing something wrong.

If this is what you are saying, why all the thunder and noise? Accepted wisdom, I say.

Donny_the_DM said...

Good morning folks :)

In researching this piece, I was struck by the presence of all of the walls we as a community have erected! I thought marines at chow time were bad!

We got old school walls, new school walls, game edition walls, Genre walls, System walls, wall walls :)

The mere presence of Qualia as a phenomenon of subjective reality really does make them all moot. Does a wall lose it's importance if nobody WANTS to climb over it?

Has it served it's purpose if it keeps the good out with the bad?

Food for thought. But in the meantime, we must consider what new people in the hobby see when they try to find "their" game.

In that regard, we are rapidly becoming our own worst enemy, as a simple stroll around the block will tell anyone that 4E is for kids and retards, 3E is for anal munchkins, 2E is for cavemen, and anything before is only played by fat graybeards.

Would you WANT to be lumped in with any of those groups?

Me either, I'd just go play WoW, or buy a football.

Thanks for stopping by everyone!

Donny_the_DM said...

@Thanuir - Not exactly. I am saying that all the thunder and lightning (edition wars, GNS arguments, schoolism) is all meaningless, as each indivuidual already IS playing their own game.

Nobody else can ever play the same game as another, even if they are sitting next to each other. Therefore, all arguments are on the merits of subjective subject matter that cannot be effectively argued as nobody else is ever going to see it exactly the same way :)

If we rounded up every single "old schooler" on RPGBloggers, and put them in a room together, the result would be chaos. There isn't even a consensus of what exactly "old school" is.

There is no spoon :)

Anonymous said...

I see where you are coming from, but also think that you are missing the potential perks of talking about different ways of playing.

I can play an old school game and have fun. I can play dirty hippy Forge games and enjoy myself, though in a different way.

I have not yet tried 4e, mostly because I have not had the chance as the game is far from popular in the circles I traverse (as are all editions of D&D, for that matter), but I probably could enjoy it to some degree, as a board game with acting, if in no other way.

All of this possible because I collect ways of enjoying different kinds of gaming. I know how I should approach old school gaming, for example, and hence I can enjoy it.

That is what all the schoolism gives me. Direct, tangible benefits. GNS likewise, though I have little respect in it as an accurate model of play. Actually, the schoolism does not in and of itself give the benefit but rather the people who describe how they play and why it is fun. Other people, for some peculiar reason of their own, just take such explanations as attacks. That I don't understand.

Andreas Davour said...

This was seriously funny.