Roleplaying Philosophy Series:
- RPP-000: RPG Theory Bibliography
- RPP-099: Mad Brew’s Gaming Philosophy
- RPP-100: Defining Game
- RPP-101: Defining Roleplaying Games
- RPP-310: Roleplaying Promotes Wellbeing
- RPP-399: 10 Reasons to Play Games at the Table
- RPP-401: RPG Community
- RPP-450: Roleplaying is a Pastime
- RPP-499: Gamer Elitism
There has been a recent surge of interest in the study of Roleplaying Games as an academic subject. I have also seen quite a few questions arise that are rooted in defining quintessential elements of Roleplaying Games. For the faithful zealots that follow the Labs (are there any?), it is well established that I have a great interest in the theory behind my beloved hobby.
This entry in the Roleplaying Philosophy series is a bibliography of sources I have come across during my research. I do not claim to agree with any of the mentioned resources, nor do I even vouch that they have well constructed arguments or accurate observations. However, for the seriously interested, I recommend reading as much prior study as possible. To know where we are going we should probably know where we have been.
New Blood: The IJRP
One of the recent publications that have graced several blogs of note is the International Journal of Role-Playing, which was released on December 30th of 2008. The IJRP is definitely distinguishing itself by offering collegiate level essays. The aim and scope as defined by the IJRP follows:
The aim of The International Journal of Role-Playing is to act as a hybrid knowledge network, and bring together the varied interests in role-playing and the associated knowledge networks, e.g. academic research, the games and creative industries, the arts and the strong role-playing communities.
Another journal style approach can be seen with Push: New Thinking about Roleplaying. I was hesitant to even read it at first because it looked like it was heavily influenced by Ron Edwards‘ GNS model. Still, it provides some food for thought and is probably one of the better things to be spawned from that cesspool.
And there are also the Oracle Essays from RPG.net. These are the surviving copies of some of the original essays written on the subject that appeared in now defunct magazines. You can find a handful of articles written by Robin Laws, Greg Costikyan, and Chris Pramas there.
Then of course, there is the infamous The Forge. Though not a publication, and currently closed to new threads and comments, the archive of the RPG Theory, GNS Model, and Game Design forums are still there to read. These forums are strongly influenced by Ron Edward’s System Does Matter, Gamist-Narrativist-Simulationist, and Big Model theories.
Nordic Meeting Points
The annual Knutepunkt conference, first held in 1997, is the bastion of Scandinavian (Nordic) Live Action Roleplay. Event hosting alternates between the nations of Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. Every year since 2003 (along with a booklet in 2001) Knutepunkt/Solmukohta releases a collection of essays presented at the convention.
The Scandinavian stuff is focused primarily on LARP (which is far difference from American style LARPs), but I think many of the ideas can be applied at the table where theatrics and roleplay are concerned. If you would like to read more on LARP, I suggest looking through the Journal of Interactive Drama and these university papers: LARP Environments as Information Systems and MIT’s Tensions in LARP.
Spinning Theory on the Web
Though it is found in the lonely corners of the web, there is much RPG Theory that exist right here on the internet, sneaking around in hypertext. Of course, there are my articles right here at the Labs on Roleplaying Philosophy. Brian Gleichman from Whitehall ParaIndustries, while a new-comer to the blogosphere, is an old hat in the realm of RPG Theory and has many excellent posts on the subject.
Wikipedia has a short entry on RPG Theory, too bad it doesn’t link to full treatises on the theories it mentions. Perhaps the final resting place of the Threefold Theory and much of the early, flame ridden, debates about theory is the Google Group for Rec.Games.FRP.Advocacy. There are probably a few gems of theory in there if you can stomach searching through all the junk.
There are a few websites that collect some of the homeless theory out there. John Kim’s website has various collections of older material and links to offsite resources (though many are now broken). RPGStudies.net has an excellent bibliography of publications, dissertations, essays, and case studies for research.
With various overlapping genres, there is no doubt that theory will apply across different categories. GameStudies.org, a computer game research journal, published a paper on pen & paper RPGs and rules while this essay looks at connecting ritual acts with roleplaying. The Daedalus Project has nice collection of works focusing on the psychology of MMORPGs. The Questing GM even looked at how RPGs could be an academic study, and it is interesting to see how RPGs can actually require a strong foundation in the liberal arts.
There are a number of books that explore heavier subjects surrounding RPGs, and it would take a month of proper researching to find any worth looking at, but I am going to present the few I have encountered, sans description. A warning, many of these books focus on video games, but I think we can still take a lot from their approach and even from what they have to say:
- Role-Playing Masteryby E. Gary Gygax
- Master of the Gameby E. Gary Gygax
- Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to RPGs by Lawrence Schick
- Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media by Harrigon & Wardrip-Fruin
- Shared Fantasy: RPGs as Social Worlds by Gary Fine
- The Fantasy RPG: A New Performing Art by Daniel Mackay
- Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games & Narratives by Jeff Howard
- Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster
- Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals< by Salen & Zimmerman
- The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology by Salen & Zimmerman
- Gaming As Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity & Experience in Fantasy Games by Williams, Hendricks, & Winkler
- Warlocks and Warpdrive: Contemporary Fantasy Entertainments With Interactive & Virtual Environments by Kurt Lancaster
- Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture by T. L. Taylor
- MMORPGs: The People, the Addiction & the Playing Experience by Richard Kelly
I think my future research will include a trip to the alma mater to look through the university’s database of journals and periodicals. But until I can set aside some time to sit in the library, Google has a new search engine called Google Scholar that might be of use. Sometime in the near future I want to compile this into a downloadable document that just lists the links and names of the resources.
If you have some interesting theory floating around on your blog or know some that I missed, please place it in a comment!