46 thoughts on “When isn’t roleplaying a conversation? This is a sincere question.

  1. I dislike “what’s the real definition of x” debates, too – having said that, I think once the game has enough non-verbal communication of state changes (e.g. a combination of maps, miniatures, cards, procedures that can be carried out without speaking) then you’re leaving conversation land. In the same sense, you might be chatting while fishing with a friend, but it’s misleading to say that fishing is a conversation.

  2. < ![CDATA[I dislike "what's the real definition of x" debates, too - having said that, I think once the game has enough non-verbal communication of state changes (e.g. a combination of maps, miniatures, cards, procedures that can be carried out without speaking) then you're leaving conversation land. In the same sense, you might be chatting while fishing with a friend, but it's misleading to say that fishing is a conversation.]]>

  3. If you/one can read charitably: in my mind, there’s a certain minimal parity threshold required for a conversation to take place. We both have things of approximately equal weight, standing, credibility, whatever to say.

    I like the idea as presented in PbtA games because it is structurally a conversation: players have moves, and the GM has moves. The GM asks “what do you do” explicitly after every move, but the players implicitly ask the GM what they’re going to do after their moves as well.

    Compare to traditional play. That’s call-and-response. Here’s a problem, and here’s our solution. Okay here is the next problem, and here’s the next solution.

    So, you know, I’m not seeing parity in weight or credibility there. You can say things like “The fiction should matter” and that should give the players more weight, but if it’s not structural then it exists at the whim of social contract. Maybe that’s enough. Sometimes it isn’t.

  4. < ![CDATA[If you/one can read charitably: in my mind, there's a certain minimal parity threshold required for a conversation to take place. We both have things of approximately equal weight, standing, credibility, whatever to say.
    I like the idea as presented in PbtA games because it is structurally a conversation: players have moves, and the GM has moves. The GM asks “what do you do” explicitly after every move, but the players implicitly ask the GM what they’re going to do after their moves as well.
    Compare to traditional play. That’s call-and-response. Here’s a problem, and here’s our solution. Okay here is the next problem, and here’s the next solution.
    So, you know, I’m not seeing parity in weight or credibility there. You can say things like “The fiction should matter” and that should give the players more weight, but if it’s not structural then it exists at the whim of social contract. Maybe that’s enough. Sometimes it isn’t.]]>

  5. I would respectfully disagree with you, Michael Prescott. The comparison of fishing with roleplaying isn’t an accurate one. If we were comparing fishing and gaming, sure, perhaps. The introduction of maps, miniatures, cards etc introduce aspects of the ‘game’ portion of RPGs. However, playing a role is all about communication, verbal or otherwise.
    Would any of this change anything if we were to sit down around a table with some dice and paper? Not likely…
    But I suppose that might depend on what type of gamer you are.
    Which I suppose is why you have the discussions of gamer vs roleplayer.
    All this is just defining of terms. Let’s just play. 😉

  6. < ![CDATA[I would respectfully disagree with you, Michael Prescott. The comparison of fishing with roleplaying isn't an accurate one. If we were comparing fishing and gaming, sure, perhaps. The introduction of maps, miniatures, cards etc introduce aspects of the 'game' portion of RPGs. However, playing a role is all about communication, verbal or otherwise. Would any of this change anything if we were to sit down around a table with some dice and paper? Not likely... But I suppose that might depend on what type of gamer you are. Which I suppose is why you have the discussions of gamer vs roleplayer. All this is just defining of terms. Let's just play. ;)]]>

  7. Paul Beakley That take on it hadn’t occurred to me, that ‘verbal’ ≠ ‘conversation’. Makes sense. To your point, I’ve heard of an graybeard GM that runs massive tables with tons of players, and who is by all accounts very engaging, but does it in a very call-and-response way (to hear it described, I’ve never seen play like it). “Petryn, what are you doing about that last orc?” and so on.

  8. < ![CDATA[Paul Beakley That take on it hadn't occurred to me, that 'verbal' ≠ 'conversation'. Makes sense. To your point, I've heard of an graybeard GM that runs massive tables with tons of players, and who is by all accounts very engaging, but does it in a very call-and-response way (to hear it described, I've never seen play like it). "Petryn, what are you doing about that last orc?" and so on.]]>

  9. Apparently this will mark me as an enemy of the state or something, but the definition of conversation at m-w.com is:

    a (1) : oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas (2) : an instance of such exchange : talk
    b : an informal discussion of an issue by representatives of governments, institutions, or groups
    c : an exchange similar to conversation

    This definition talks about oral exchange, but extends it to cover other things (two people communicating with American Sign Language are clearly having a conversation — that’s verbal but not oral). Furthermore, nonverbal communication is part of spoken conversations all the time, e.g. when people point to things instead of using words. To me, the obvious operative part of the definition is the “exchange of ideas”. (The fact that the “similar to conversation” element is in that definition makes it hard to figure out when one has gone from literal to metaphorical — are chess players having a conversation with each other in the language of chess moves? Sure, why not?).

    So, to answer the question: it’s when your roleplaying is not communicated to any other entity, i.e. almost never in a roleplaying game.

  10. < ![CDATA[Apparently this will mark me as an enemy of the state or something, but the definition of conversation at m-w.com is:
    a (1) : oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas (2) : an instance of such exchange : talk

    b : an informal discussion of an issue by representatives of governments, institutions, or groups
    c : an exchange similar to conversation
    This definition talks about oral exchange, but extends it to cover other things (two people communicating with American Sign Language are clearly having a conversation — that’s verbal but not oral). Furthermore, nonverbal communication is part of spoken conversations all the time, e.g. when people point to things instead of using words. To me, the obvious operative part of the definition is the “exchange of ideas”. (The fact that the “similar to conversation” element is in that definition makes it hard to figure out when one has gone from literal to metaphorical — are chess players having a conversation with each other in the language of chess moves? Sure, why not?).
    So, to answer the question: it’s when your roleplaying is not communicated to any other entity, i.e. almost never in a roleplaying game.]]>

  11. So, the answer to your question may be in single-player games. However, with a background in theater, I would argue that the enjoyment of those games would be to communicate to yourself the ability to portray such a role.

  12. < ![CDATA[So, the answer to your question may be in single-player games. However, with a background in theater, I would argue that the enjoyment of those games would be to communicate to yourself the ability to portray such a role.]]>

  13. Michael Prescott I like the fishing comparison, and it reminds me of some commentary on D&D 4e* I read back in the day. Namely, the idea that the shared imagined space matters so little in 4e that everything you need to know about, say, a combat is contained on the battlemat; the larger conversation about the fiction is largely irrelevant. Given access to a set of status counters, it’s probably possible to play through a 4e combat without even speaking, much less having a conversation, in the peer-to-peer sense Paul Beakley defines above.

    Now, I realize that I am conflating the idea of the SIS and “roleplaying is a conversation”, but it seems to me the two are inextricably linked. The SIS (i.e. “the fiction”) is what the conversation is about, as I understand it. Otherwise, you are chatting with your friends while you fish.

    And keep in mind here the presence of minis, counters, maps, etc.don’t themselves signify anything about whether “conversation” is happening. It depends on how they are used.

    * Not to pick on 4e, but it was the example that came to mind.

  14. < ![CDATA[Michael Prescott I like the fishing comparison, and it reminds me of some commentary on D&D 4e* I read back in the day. Namely, the idea that the shared imagined space matters so little in 4e that everything you need to know about, say, a combat is contained on the battlemat; the larger conversation about the fiction is largely irrelevant. Given access to a set of status counters, it's probably possible to play through a 4e combat without even speaking, much less having a conversation, in the peer-to-peer sense Paul Beakley defines above. Now, I realize that I am conflating the idea of the SIS and "roleplaying is a conversation", but it seems to me the two are inextricably linked. The SIS (i.e. "the fiction") is what the conversation is about, as I understand it. Otherwise, you are chatting with your friends while you fish. And keep in mind here the presence of minis, counters, maps, etc.don't themselves signify anything about whether "conversation" is happening. It depends on how they are used. * Not to pick on 4e, but it was the example that came to mind.]]>

  15. Aaron Griffin This is where things get fuzzy for me, because the “Q&A”/”call-and-response” mode seems a lot like a conversation to me, though I do see that there’s not quite the peer-to-peer relationship that Paul talks about. However, the dictionary definition Dan Maruschak posits above seems maybe too broad to me… yet maybe not.

    Originally, I agreed with Dan; all roleplaying is a conversation, because it involves communication about the shared fiction; if I can position fictionally (“My ranger moves to higher ground”), then we must having a conversation. But then Paul offered a counterpoint, which had me questioning my assumptions.

  16. < ![CDATA[Aaron Griffin This is where things get fuzzy for me, because the "Q&A"/"call-and-response" mode seems a lot like a conversation to me, though I do see that there's not quite the peer-to-peer relationship that Paul talks about. However, the dictionary definition Dan Maruschak posits above seems maybe too broad to me... yet maybe not. Originally, I agreed with Dan; all roleplaying is a conversation, because it involves communication about the shared fiction; if I can position fictionally ("My ranger moves to higher ground"), then we must having a conversation. But then Paul offered a counterpoint, which had me questioning my assumptions.]]>

  17. Mark Delsing that sounds a lot like the splitting hairs Paul Beakley was worried about. Like, sure, we can say that a “conversation” is anything with a sender of information and a receiver of information. But that’s not really the meat of the issue here.

    The way I see it, PbtA-parlance “conversation” is a reaction to traditional gaming which doesn’t always follow the “conversation” mode. Trying to tease out what definition of conversation DOESN’T fit this isn’t a fun exercise to me. I simply interpret it as “don’t game as if you’re a professor giving a lecture who accepts periodic answers to their questions”.

  18. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing that sounds a lot like the splitting hairs Paul Beakley was worried about. Like, sure, we can say that a "conversation" is anything with a sender of information and a receiver of information. But that's not really the meat of the issue here. The way I see it, PbtA-parlance "conversation" is a reaction to traditional gaming which doesn't always follow the "conversation" mode. Trying to tease out what definition of conversation DOESN'T fit this isn't a fun exercise to me. I simply interpret it as "don't game as if you're a professor giving a lecture who accepts periodic answers to their questions".]]>

  19. Now, I realize that I am conflating the idea of the SIS and “roleplaying is a conversation”, but it seems to me the two are inextricably linked.

    They don’t seem inextricable to me. To my mind there’s no need to weigh “conversation” down with weird extra meaning in order to pull of some kind of analytical bankshot. Whether or not something is a conversation says zero about whether it’s good or bad, useful or useless, interesting or boring, etc. “Roleplying is a conversation” is phrased like some kind of profound statement that seems like it ought to be saying something important so there’s a temptation to fill that void with some interesting or meaningful content, but it really isn’t saying very much. I recommend just letting “conversation” mean what it means to everyone in ordinary everyday speech, and if you want to talk about roleplaying specific ideas use words that don’t require excessive bending to make them fit.

  20. < ![CDATA[Now, I realize that I am conflating the idea of the SIS and “roleplaying is a conversation”, but it seems to me the two are inextricably linked.
    They don’t seem inextricable to me. To my mind there’s no need to weigh “conversation” down with weird extra meaning in order to pull of some kind of analytical bankshot. Whether or not something is a conversation says zero about whether it’s good or bad, useful or useless, interesting or boring, etc. “Roleplying is a conversation” is phrased like some kind of profound statement that seems like it ought to be saying something important so there’s a temptation to fill that void with some interesting or meaningful content, but it really isn’t saying very much. I recommend just letting “conversation” mean what it means to everyone in ordinary everyday speech, and if you want to talk about roleplaying specific ideas use words that don’t require excessive bending to make them fit.]]>

  21. Aaron Griffin Interesting! See, I had thought the opposite; that PbtA was a codification of what Vincent Baker saw as the core act of roleplaying, not a reaction to it or an attempt to “fix” things — at least, not beyond codification as a fix in itself, i.e., “Why are we not stating this openly? Why are we just hoping people will figure it out?”

    But maybe he can enlighten us on his intent.

  22. < ![CDATA[Aaron Griffin Interesting! See, I had thought the opposite; that PbtA was a codification of what Vincent Baker saw as the core act of roleplaying, not a reaction to it or an attempt to “fix” things — at least, not beyond codification as a fix in itself, i.e., “Why are we not stating this openly? Why are we just hoping people will figure it out?”
    But maybe he can enlighten us on his intent.]]>

  23. Dan Maruschak I guess I do see “roleplaying is a conversation” as a profound statement, hence my wanting to investigate its nuance.

    And if we’re not having a conversation about the fiction, what are we having a conversation about?

  24. < ![CDATA[Dan Maruschak I guess I do see "roleplaying is a conversation" as a profound statement, hence my wanting to investigate its nuance. And if we're not having a conversation about the fiction, what are we having a conversation about?]]>

  25. Yeah, no, not profound, no fixing, I’m just observing. Basically all of the tabletop roleplaying I’ve ever seen has consisted of people having conversations with each other.

    The conclusion I draw is that a tabletop rpg’s system is a system for changing or leading or manipulating people’s conversations. “The purpose of an rpg’s rules is to get you and your friends to say interesting things,” as we used to have it.

  26. < ![CDATA[Yeah, no, not profound, no fixing, I'm just observing. Basically all of the tabletop roleplaying I've ever seen has consisted of people having conversations with each other. The conclusion I draw is that a tabletop rpg's system is a system for changing or leading or manipulating people's conversations. "The purpose of an rpg's rules is to get you and your friends to say interesting things," as we used to have it.]]>