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Last Call

November 1, 2010

The Forge is gearing up (down?) for closing up shop – reducing forums, and finally transitioning to archived only.

I’m only sad in that the last 2-3 years have seen the Forge drop down in quality of discussion – mostly due to the fact that there was a loss of the critical mass of posters who maintained the Forge discussion culture, which was the #1 reason behind the good work in game design and theory that happened.

It’s sad, because the lessons about the discussion structure and focus haven’t really been replicated in many places.

First and foremost, the attitude that the discussion is primarily goal oriented. Everything about the Forge really built on this idea – that a discussion was to serve a purpose, and if not that, close the thread. Each sub-forum had a specific goal, each thread worked best when the thread starter had a specific topic or question in mind.

In many ways, the attitude was more like “Ask.com” or “Ask Metafilter” – Q&A services rather than a classic forum.

Second, that discussion of play and behaviors had to be based in Actual Play – not dogmas, doctrines, or ideas espoused without observation in play – and, at the same time, the push for people to expand their exposure to play to see multiple styles of play.

Often enough, those two requirements set a lot of people into incoherent rage- that a thread wasn’t a place to ramble along and make friends, or, that you would be asked to actually talk about real events and not just fluffy ideas, and especially that an idea had to meet real life in some fashion to be worth the time to talk about. Discussion wasn’t for earning social cred.

The Forge used heavy moderation to achieve those two things, but what it created was a safe space for people to focus on analysis of play and design in a serious fashion.

What was born of that, was the ability to trust that when someone started a thread, that it was, in fact, a real request or idea, and not just a bullshit status game. You could respond in good faith, and the people who responded to you in good faith would do the same – that points would be addressed, that questions would be answered, that if you linked or referenced other games or media, that someone would at least consider that it might be worth checking out.

That is to say, the Forge worked because the culture fostered there was the people who came, were there to work, produced by cutting out a lot of the space and ways in which people use social internet media to do things OTHER than work.

The mass exodus of the last few years wasn’t a problem in the sense of a functional forum – the Forge never gauged its success on numbers, but rather in the loss of critical mass of folks to help transmit, model and enforce that goal oriented social structure. At some point, most posting was done by folks who never had experience of that, and you can see a lot of the current discussions mired in the same flailing or drifting you get on other forums.

It’s interesting to see the results of that exodus as well- a lot of folks left to other forums and online sites with the hopes of having a softer, nicer, scene for design.

Functionally, though, the lack of structure doesn’t produce the same results- where you see similar results… it’s a bunch of ex-Forgites informally applying the same discussion structure into a place that lacks it – and it especially shows where you see greater numbers of non-Forgies involved who don’t hold to those rules.

The final closure of the Forge will be a good thing when it comes, as it will be seen as a historical chapter, and not people pawing at the empty forums with other random people who also didn’t read the archives, hoping that answers will come magically by virtue of simply posting some words without the effort of research, considering and digesting ideas, and observing actual play.

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