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Why jargon matters 
11th-May-2007 07:03 pm
chiang 2
Ref somewhere around here: http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=2977&page=3

I'm in a rush, though, so you might start some pages back. Though seriously, if you haven't already read that thread, this post probably isn't for you.

Okay, first of all, Fred gives exactly what I think are best practices.

Second, people keep talking about jargon being obscure and arcane; it's more than that, it's actually used (in the case of Forge jargon certainly) to paper over muddled thinking and/or to hide lack of intellectual consensus (and thus a basis for real communication) behind social consensus (which is just tribal solidarity).

Oh, third, discussion of games needs a critical vocabulary. Frankly this business about Forge jargon being the province of designers is a bunch of nonsense. It gets used as a critical vocabulary, not one I particularly like, but it's false to claim otherwise. So the retreat to "just for designers" really is elitist; if people really believed it, they wouldn't use it for critique. So the claim is just a way of cutting off meta-criticism of the ideology behind the jargon.
Comments 
12th-May-2007 05:37 pm (UTC)
Regarding the last -- In computer games there is a a fuzzy line between professional designers, people who program and modify (like immortals and programmers on MUDs), and pure users. However, in tabletop RPGs, the line is nearly non-existant. I'd say at least a quarter of GMs have one or more personal systems. Whether these are called "homebrew" or "small press" or "indie" is mainly a function of its layout rather than its design. But even those who don't have their own system will create variants of existing games -- shifting around mechanics, setting, character options, and so forth. They just don't create rulebooks for commercial publication.
13th-May-2007 12:38 am (UTC)
That's true. And moreover, even if you don't alter rules or design a homebrew, the practice of GMing and playing games inevitably calls for a critical vocabulary of methods, techniques, and even goals.

Now in some ways Forge lingo is good for this because it serves as a template for the advice in certain games. I'm thinking of Sorcerer and The Mountain Witch especially. Not because I think either of these games is a paragon of clarity, but because the use of Forge terms is at least grounded in their application within a specific text.

The problem in those cases (mainly TMW; I don't recall Sorcerer as well) is really that (a) I still don't think the terms are explained very well--so they impede comprehension rather than aiding it; (b) the terms are explained in a way that implies they're drawn from some outside authority with universal application, instead of focusing on making them as clear and useful as possible for this one game; (c) because they're presented in the context of the rules rather than as "designer's notes" or "players' notes", there's an impression of a kind of nervousness on the part of the author, to make sure that the game is "played right" even in non-mechanical areas. Players are then left wondering (I'm left wondering) what contribution, exactly, I'm supposed to provide outside of the stuff that's explicitly called for by the rules. But that's probably a bit of a distraction.

The point is that, certainly for "toolbox games" like BRP, where the rules don't provide a thematic or mechanistic overall framework for play, the eternal questions are going to pop up: "What do the characters want to do?", "How do we handle death?", "Do we want 'PC Glow'", "Are we creating a party or a bunch of separate individuals", etc. Configuring the campaign to meet varying tastes requires analysis and communication.

For "ready to play out of the box games", the need is less strong (assuming designers can actually convey the procedures clearly without referring to poorly-elucidated jargon). But it's certainly still there when it comes to talking about games and expressing what you like.
13th-May-2007 05:01 am (UTC)
it's actually used (in the case of Forge jargon certainly) to paper over muddled thinking and/or to hide lack of intellectual consensus (and thus a basis for real communication) behind social consensus (which is just tribal solidarity).

I've been thinking about this and I should clarify: I don't think it's purely "tribal solidarity" in the primitive gang sense where people have each other's backs just because they're friends. I believe there really is something substantial in terms of shared tastes or similar experiences. So the jargon certainly appeals to people with similar tastes or outlooks; however, it fails to express those tastes in a coherent fashion, let alone offer a rigorous and unbiased framework for general gaming discussion.

By "unbiased" I mean a framework which allows discussion of the relationship between the "material trace" (expression) and the "esthetic dimension" (reception) of both game texts & game play instead of embedding theoretical prejudices. (Cf. clehrich, Design and Theory.)
13th-May-2007 06:09 pm (UTC)
RPGs and their close cousins are just plain shot through with specialized vocab. Is it any shock then that people used to those kinds of games would then create even more specialized vocab?

I mean, Elliot, you're a long-time hex'n'chip guy, right? If I talk about Z.O.C. or Igo-Hugo, chances are pretty good you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Hell even "hex'n'chip" is a jargon term.

I don't think the jargon issue is _intended_ to be obscuring. It's more like a simple natural and unintended progression of what long-time gamers are already used to in gaming contexts.
15th-May-2007 03:24 pm (UTC)
Well, first of all, I never heard "hex'n'chip" until you used it; I took it as a humorous perspective on board wargames from the perspective of a minis dude.

More important, I want to reemphasize that obscure vocabulary in itself is only a small part of the problem. Even the fact that the vocabulary is often confusing due to appropriation of terms from other fields and other theories, with subtly altered and often counter-sensical definitions--something which Balbinus often points out--is relatively minor except that it contributes to a far bigger problem.

Again the real harm is that the words often don't communicate anything--as Madeline illustrates below--because the people using them don't really have a common understanding of their meaning. Repeatedly, discussions of taste are buried under arguments over semantics while theoretical disagreements are dismissed on the grounds that people just don't understand what the theory says. For that matter individuals use the vocabulary to make assertions which would be false or self-contradictory, under any stable set of definitions.

I don't think the jargon was originally constructed to be obscure. However, I think the jargon is often used to control discussion and to neutralize criticism of the underlying theory, by tangling it up in semantic arguments. Further, the jargon is filled with motivated terms that predetermine debate: there are concepts and opinions which have been literally defined out of existence.

Among the most troubling terms I've touched on here in my LJ and elsewhere: narrativism, simulationism, conflict resolution, system, social contract.
15th-May-2007 06:34 pm (UTC)
Heh. I guess "hex'n'chip" in this case is a good example, then, of wonky jargon. It was just plain in common use among gamers I know so I assumed widespread understanding. Whoops.

Personally, I'm trying very hard at de-jargonizing some personal work right now. Hell, I'm just shooting for eliminating most words with more than 3 syllables.
13th-May-2007 10:25 pm (UTC)
Word. I went to Story Games for the first time in months on Friday, and that was one of two threads I read there that lead to literal facepalms. The other? Clinton R. Nixon posts about how games that can only be played one way are brittle. Four guys post nine or so messages to say "yeah, that makes sense" and then Clinton's back with "You guys are already getting the term wrong." Gott in himmel, if not even the people in your miniscule subculture understand the terms you create, then you oughtta just forget about creating terms.

Your bit here:
Second, people keep talking about jargon being obscure and arcane; it's more than that, it's actually used (in the case of Forge jargon certainly) to paper over muddled thinking and/or to hide lack of intellectual consensus (and thus a basis for real communication) behind social consensus (which is just tribal solidarity).
Compares nicely to this fourth message in the thread,
I've been lurking at the Forge since it was 'Punk RPGs', or whatever. I've read all of Edwards' seminal articles (several times). I've run a pretty successful DitV campaign, and have been designing and playtesting my own story game for about two years. But only last week, when I stumbled upon the Wikipedia article on The Big Model, did I gain a semi-complete understanding of the various Forge concepts. (I think.)
The guy still isn't sure! And yet, later in the thread, timfire is saying that Forge jagon totally means actual specific stuff, and the reason people don't understand Forge jargon is that they just can't grasp the concepts. Pompous tribal jackass.
15th-May-2007 07:33 am (UTC)
The only way any term can gain wide acceptance and clear definition is by being used. That is the nature of language. Of course the first time around everybody is going to get the term wrong!

The way things seems right now, a lot more time is spent attacking GNS "jargon" than actually being used, in critique, analysis, or as a tool for design. This is terrible because a)by not using the terms, they stay in a fuzzy state of indefinition, and b)time spent attacking GNS "jargon" is time not spent criticizing, analyzing, designing or playing games.

At any time, anyone could propose a new terminology, which may overcome the perceived problems of the actual terminology. Mindless bashing is not going to advance the subject.
15th-May-2007 07:45 am (UTC)
Read Fred's posts on the subject in the thread.

If you feel that the people attacking Forge jargon are wasting more time than the people attempting to use it, that's of course your prerogative. Forge people have been quoted as wandering for years in the dark about their own jargon. Defending the tribal solidarity with accusations of mindless bashing is not advancing the subject.

Anyway, Elliot's a mensch, and I'm not going to get into this further on his journal.
15th-May-2007 08:09 am (UTC)
This is certainly not a matter of prerogatives. Although the fact that you need to remind me of mine kind of puzzles me. It's not that I feel people are waisting time attacking Forge "jargon": they do waste it.

I also don't see why you see me as defending "tribal solidarity" in my comment. Since you're not willing to expand on that, I'll have to remain in the dark about that. Just to make it clear, I'm not defending "tribal solidarity".

My point here is, rather than trying to pinpoint exactly why Forge jargon doesn't work the way it's intended, how could you (we) make it work or change it to make it work? How do you move from social consensus to intellectual consensus?

Bashing on the current jargon is just another form of "tribal solidarity", really. The only way to reach an intellectual consensus is through functional discourse. Calling anyone "Pompous tribal jackass" is really not here not there.
15th-May-2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
The only way any term can gain wide acceptance and clear definition is by being used. That is the nature of language. Of course the first time around everybody is going to get the term wrong!

This is in direct contradiction to the fact that (a) everyone defers to Ron Edwards's definitions (except that, in many cases, you literally don't know if you "understand" the definition until you've rapped with Ron), (b) Ron has declared his theory complete and closed down further discussion and critique of the theory per se.

Also, please don't be a dork. The "mindless bashing" label is a typical method of deflecting criticism of the dominant theory: you're simultaneously defending the theory by suggesting it's open to reform, and then insisting that critics approach it on bended knee.
15th-May-2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
Ok, I don't agree with you. As you obviously understand, you can't defer to a definition you don't understand. So you can't really defer to Edward's definitions because they are unclear.

What really troubles me is your statement that "Ron has declared his theory complete and closed down further discussion and critique of the theory per se". No theory is ever complete. That Ron says otherwise in unimportant in this matter.

What makes you think theory is not open to reform? Sure, you can't reform Edward's theory, since it's his theory, but you can reform theory by proposing new terminology and sharpening definitions of what's already here. Not only EBM, but of whatever you would think it's important. I'm not defending GNS. It certainly needs a complete makeover. The thing is anyone could do it. But no one does.

I mean, you might be right in saying that jargon is used to muddle intellectual misconceptions, but it's not really important. The "Cult of Edward" just will defend their jargon to death; the other faction will agree with you, but there will be no understanding, no further advancement on the communication process (which seems to be an important concern for you), and ultimately jargon will keep doing the things that trouble you about it.

Last, I'm not being a dork, at least, not for the reason you're describing. I'm not applying a label. I'm stating that a specific comment was mindless bashing. I also don't see how anything I said imply you need to approach it on bended knee.



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