On the definition of “Storygame” and the problems of theory

Patrick Stuart spells out on his blog what he thinks when he hears “storygame”. And I am like “No! You speak ill of sacred things!”. And I nerdrage, throwing nerd-audience luxury goods out of my basement window. Or, at least, I kind of twist up inside like I’ve got a tapeworm or something.

I find this experience very informative, and issue thoughts, below.

Rage about theory can be rage about lumping

I think my nerd-not-quite-rage is that Patrick, someone I respect and think to a degree I understand, is lumping together things that I like (e.g. PBtA games, Burning Wheel, some GMless stuff) with things that I hate (railroaded “Trad” games, where the GM tells a story and you sort of act along).

I think many people who get angry online about theory are angry that a distinction that makes a big difference to their enjoyment is being obscured.

“Storygame” is an ill-understood term, used to mean a thousand things

But I suspect it’s better than “narrative game”. When I see “storygame”, I have some confidence in what the user means. When I see the text “narrative game”, I read it as <due to water damage some words are illegible> and start my detective work from there.

Tho in this case I would have been wrong about “storygame”, too.

I use “storygame” mostly to indicated shared narrative control

A bit like this:

narrative pre-plotted

Note ā€” In “Some Storygames”, there is pre-plotted list of scenes, or similar heavy structure… but it’s known to all players at the outset. In “Trad”, by comparison, the plot is the GM’s secret.

What individual real people think about specific games and concepts and words is much more worthy of our attention than abstract theory

I’d much rather read one passionate post like Patrick’s than a dozen that try to be clinical and distant and to state broadly-applicable theory. Very few people are good theorists. Good theory, good abstract models, are extremely hard to create. They’re also hard to explain (until a decade-plus of teachers have found digestible versions). Both creating and teaching them requires hard work and diligence of a kind that most people won’t do for free.

In contrast, many people can write vividly and accurately about their own experiences, especially if they don’t try too hard to make them neat and polite and sane. It is fun and rewarding and like having a mind-shit. And such accounts capture a little of the chaos of the world, and we need to know about that. Theory, though it can be useful, promotes delusions that we understand more than we do.

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