The Concept HurdleMay 19, 2008
Flipside to wargame logic being applied senselessly to roleplaying games, there’s also what I’m calling the concept hurdle- how much does a player have to dig into the fictional setting and concepts in order to be able to engage the game?
That is, do I have to read 200 pages about 20,000 years of fictional history, made up arcane concepts, and fiction bits to really “get” the game? Do I need to read 200 pages of real world history? Either way, it’s a lot of investment.
The way I see it, rpgs basically fall into 4 categories with regard to baseline concept- the High Concept game (which you have to know X things to “get” the game), the Genre game (you must be familiar with the genre), the Genreless game (As a group, you need to set up what everyone needs to know to help produce the necessary concepts and keep them in play), and the Situation game (“This is a game about this specific place and time and this situation”).
So far, in my experience the Genre game and the Situation game tend to work best for introducing new folks- it doesn’t require either learning about a fictional world to play with it, or having to negotiate it amongst the group.
Geek-wise, I get why High Concept is the most common. It’s fun to write setting stuff, it’s fun to make a world and have other people play in it. It’s fun to pour your weird sci-fi/fantasy/horror ideas into something other folks can appreciate without having to either write a story, draw a comic, or make a movie around it. It’s also fun to lose yourself in a setting and make your own stories within it. At the same time, this is a pretty high investment request to ask of people.
It’s also interesting because this highlights an important part of roleplaying- everyone playing is involved in the process of creating the fiction- the more value you put on adhering to the fictional vision, the more the players will have to put in to get on the same page. If you’re playing a videogame, all you really need to do is fight things, solve puzzles and do fetchquests- no videogame is built for you to break it’s conventions, they’re automatically enforced- you just play and the concepts are delivered to you.