The forge is not working at the moment, so I thought I’d pop this here in the meantime. It was addressed to a guy called Andre at the forge, but I’ll make it a generic general address post here.
I’d like to offer a second opinion that’s very different. I would say not only to keep seeing text and behaviour (called ‘system’) as the same, but also strongly advise against seperating the notions. Weve a long history with board and card games where text and behaviour/system are identical. Where they aren’t, it’s either called cheating, or the technical phrase for it is ‘a fuck up’! 🙂 I’ll give three examples, the first a non gamey one, because this extends well beyond gaming as it applys to alot of self correction.
1. I was watching a competative cooking competition on TV (blame my woman for that), and they had footage of one of the contestants slowly but surely spooning the entire contents of a jar of mustard and putting it into the mix. They cut to an after interview and she said she genuinely thought the recipe asked for an entire jar, when the recipe asked for a teaspoons worth (or some much smaller and fixed amount).
Now, if an observer of her were to say she is inventing a new recipe, or that she was inventing a system in doing that, that observer is incorrect and is actually colouring the result. It’s actually the observer who is inventing a new recipe, if they ‘see’ a recipe being invented. It’s the observer who is inventing a system if they ‘see’ a system. She isn’t inventing anything – this is a fuck up. Not a recipe, not a system.
2. Way back, playing the underground RPG, my friend Dan got it into his head that you can do as many attacks as you want, but you just take a penalty to hit on each one. He genuinely thought this was part of the ‘recipe’ so to speak and was doing this in play.
If an observer of were to say he or the group is inventing a system there, that observer is incorrect and is actually colouring the result. It’s the observer who is inventing a system if they ‘see’ a system. There’s no system here as much as when someone has an epileptic fit, they are not inventing a system to their bodies movements, they simply spasm.
3. A more recent game, rifts perchance. Chris and Dan were adding two points of megadamage from the fencing skill, when he attacked with his MD vibroblade. Now I was looking at them wondering if they just fucked up, because it only gives 2 extra normal damage. But I ended up asking and Chris (GM at the time) said, in a quietened voice (I wonder about that?), that nah, were making it that fencing gives 2 extra MD when using an MD melee weapon.
In this case it is a system, but I will argue that having told me this, I now have a text in my head on the fencing matter, the exact same text Dan and Chris have in their heads. Basically again text and behaviour (we all add the +2 megadamage) are identical, as it has been for thousands of years of boardgames and cardgames where they use written text. And where a discrepancy between text and behaviour emerges, it’s either called cheating or a fuck up. There is no middle ground – that is the self corrective method: that there is no middle ground. Trying to draw a distinction between text and behaviour is attempting to make a middle ground, which by it’s nature throws the self correction out of the window (and the real issue: doesn’t replace it with any other type of self correction).
Alot of talk from me. What I’d say is to look for where your GM is damn sure he’s following some sort of rule, but textually he isn’t (his behaviour does not match any text present and/or any text he claims to be following). In those particular cases, you have identified an absence of system. What can actually be present isn’t anything a human invented, in the same way as a human can have an epileptic fit, yet not have invented the actions of that fit.
It’s a frightening notion to internalise for people who have gone to these experiences for years and years. A bit like trying to suggest to a guy with $2k of whitewolf books on his shelf there might be something wrong with his investment.
Looking at this question
[quote]I suppose I’m really just trying to wrap my head around the idea that the game and the text are two separate things. In other words: What is the “game,” really? It’s not the text, but it’s also not totally independent of the text.[/quote]
I think it’s a question of what is AND WHAT IS NOT the “game”.
There has to be some method of rejecting certain behaviours as not being “game”, else any old thing seeps in and is treated with dignified respect as ‘game’. The traditional method, used by board and card gamers for centuries, is for behaviour to match the text – which is the very reason (above) I’m warning against trying to seperate text and behaviour from each other, as doing so is chucking out the only corrective method present and the actual terrible part, not replacing it with another corrective method.
1. Do you see yourself as your own authority on what is, for yourself, a ‘game’ and what behaviours have ceased to be, for yourself, a ‘game’? If so it’s simple, you yourself decide how you determine what is a game and what isn’t. You might like to draw on boardgame culture for how you measure it, since that way your using a method that matches hundreds of thousands of people and has that benefit (mostly people outside ‘gamer’ culture though, sadly). But maybe you’ll decide some other method for yourself.
2. If you don’t see yourself as the authority on the matter, who do you see as the/an authority?
3. Or do you see the answer as physically existant, like the distance between two cities is not something an individual is an authority to decide for themselves, they instead physically measure it?
I hope these questions don’t seem far out – I’m asking them because instead of pretending to be an authority who will tell you what is what, I’m punting the role of authority on to you, and asking as your own authority for yourself, what have or do you decide on these questions? I’m not going to say there are any wrong answers on the matter (except to take authority for oneself and treat it as also having authority over other peoples choices on these questions).