Thursday, October 11, 2012

Xbox Task List

Outside of games, I put a lot of time and effort into trying to stay organized.  I've tried various systems and tools, and I usually gravitate back to some variant on Getting Things Done, usually to good effect.  The main thing I've learned in this is that while specific tools (processes, software etc.) can be neat and fun in its own right, what's important is understanding what you want to do and why so that your system solves _your_ problems.

When I was younger, I thought of the idea of maintaing task lists or neatly labeled file folders as uselessly anal retentive.  Why exert the effort on such things when you could just be doing cool stuff instead? This was a pretty useful all purpose excuses to get out of a lot of responsibilities, but at the time I at least thought I was being sincere. And I probably was, but I was also being kind of stupid.

The purpose of a good system is not to do *instead* of the cool things, it's to *enable* the cool things.  It carves out space for thought, freedom and creativity by removing uncertainty, doubt, fear and all the other little obstacles that you may not notice but who are responsible for you getting to the end of the day and wondering why you didn't write, or play video games, or go out or whatever was important to you.[1]

Now, implicit in this is an idea that I think was best summed up by Merlin Mann as "You don't need to set a reminder to play your video games."  There are things in your life which you don't need to organize because they're what you really want to be doing - the purpose of setting up a system is to build a structure around those things so that you can get to them without worrying about all that other stuff.

This concept is directly contradictory to one of the major tenets of contemporary RPG design, where it is expected that rules drive towards your fun things, and that you will pick a game based on which rules do so most successfully.  I've never been terribly comfortable with that idea, but articulating why has always been a bit of a trick, and only today did I stop and compare it to putting "Play Xbox" on your todo list.  And the more I think about it, the more it holds up.

Partly because it's not so clear cut as good/bad.  There are times when I _will_ put "Play Xbox" or equivalents on my task list.  Not because I'm going to forget that I want to do it, but because some other factors (like a very busy day) make it useful to me to put in a reminder to take a break and prioritize myself form time to time. Game rules can certainly do that.[2]

And, in fact, rules can do a lot of useful things.  This should absolutely not be considered an argument against RPG rules in general.  But it is me wondering if having rules for the part of play you love is automatically the best use for rules.[3]

1 - I still fail this more often than I'd like.  But when I do, It's usually pretty easy to track back to the source.

2 - Though if they do it a lot, I wonder what else is going on in the game (either in the system or at the table) that keeps making people forget what they want to do.

3 - Yes, blah blah blah, fruitful void. I'm not talking about theory discussion. I'm talking about how games are designed, used and clung to.


  1. I can't say I really agree here. When I sit down to play X-Box, I am choosing games that specifically appeal to my play style - the Lego series, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Torchlight, etc. - and not just whatever happens to be popular or in the X-Box. I play things that give me the experience I want; why should RPGs be any different?

    1. Not really a contradiction, unless you have a hard time deciding what kind of game you're playing. Do you need a system in place to keep track of what game you're playing or want to be playing? Presumably not. You pick the game you want to play based on the moment - it's not something you stress about.

      The details of the video games is something of a red herring. it can jut as easily be anything you enjoy doing, something that you value for itself, not because you're _supposed_ to do it. Rules can absolutely drive you towards those things. You can write rules that mandate fun. But that seems rather belt and suspenders to my my mind.

  2. It's weird. This makes sense to me in the abstract. But it completely fails to explain why I love Marvel HRP so much. Where the rules are right exactly where the stuff I like to do in superhero games is, and where I love doing that stuff with the rules. And hey, you (among others) built that. <G&gt

    1. Also, not trying to be merely snarky! I am genuinely puzzled by this contradiction in my own reactions.

    2. No, it's a good question, and one I'm wrestling with, Rules do a lot of awesome things, and I don't wantot pretend otherwise.

      My current gut feel is that it's a question of using rules to thematically direct play vs resolve play. That is, I don't really need rules to drive me towards strongly relationship based play (because I'll go there on my own) but I _do_ want rules to be able to *handle* those situations well.

      Might not be a real distinction, but I think that's at least part of it.

    3. I think it's a very real distinction, Rob, and it sits right at the heart of a subset of the System Matters argument I wish I could nuke from orbit--that being the idea that a game's rules can somehow magically force you to re-prioritize your preferences and desires for play. The more likely response is, you'll just reject the rules as not being for you.

      I also think this distinction plays into one of your baseline objections with PTA--its "handling" of relationships and human interest stuff in play is literally the whole system.

  3. I'm rather glad to find I'm not the only one who schedules game-playing and slacking time. I do feel, considering the job/college/hobby/household complex that I wouldn't remember to do it otherwise.


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