... now with 35% more arrogance!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Naive vs. Self-Aware

The commentary on the previous post went immediately off-base, so I guess I need to explain the thought more. I'm thinking about the distinction between role-playing games that are designed to be naive, dealing directly with events and actions in the fictional world,  and those that are designed from a self-aware viewpoint, aware of the history of RPG design and current market trends. The first role-playing games might be simple or thorough, but almost all the rules were about making stuff happen in the fictional world. As time went on, game designers started worrying about how the players relate to each other or to the player experience. Will each player have an equal time in the spotlight? Is the player role-playing their character properly, or just playing the character as a pawn? Is save vs. poison fair? What safeguards can we add to keep the GM from exercising too much power? What about the plot? How do you guarantee that a prepped scene actually occurs?

And so on. All of these questions lead to rules changes or additions that relate to a more detached or "meta" level. You wind up with niche protection, story protection, experience based on story awards and "good role-playing", fate points that give rerolls, ironic detachment from subject matter that seems childish or potentially offensive, and much more. I'm not saying these are wrong; I'm just pointing out the distinction between these two approaches, and asking: how important is this distinction when labeling a game "old school" or "new school"?


  1. My first reaction is to think that this breakdown isn't all that useful. It brings to mind Jeff Rients' tri-fold model of retro/stupid/pretentious. Which is to say, it doesn't explain anything and it is quickly reduced to absurdity.

    In a recent Old School vs. New School video, the grog said, ""We've changed it from dying is rare to succeeding is a given." On the text adventure scene, Infocom games had no problem dealing death and even being unfair. The homebrew games of the nineties avoided that like the plague. So maybe there's something to this.

  2. "I'm not saying these are wrong..."

    Okay, then I'll be the first to say it. They're wrong! :-)

    I think you've come up with a useful dividing line here with naive vs. meta. It may not ruffle as many feathers as saying old vs. new school, since there are so many exceptions. (We can all think of recently published games that nicely spur immersive play... and, on the other side of it, I'll bet one can find quibblings about all the meta issues back into the single-digit issues of Dragon magazine!)

    Anyway, this distinction certainly helps clarify to me why so much of the "new school" bothers me so much. As a GM, I'd have no trouble reminding players bickering about the meta stuff to get their butts re-immersed into the setting, and fast! :-)