RPG Taxonomy? RPG Tax onna you!
Recent posts by folks like Paul Beakley and Cam Banks have me thinking about how I use various terms extant in this hobby, and since this is what we do here, I figured I’d write about them. Again, this is how I think about things. Me and only me. There’s probably nothing earth-shattering here or particularly insightful. Honestly, these are probably totally asinine and unhelpful.
Also, be forewarned that lots of this is Forge-induced thinking, so prepare yourself.
First off, to me an “RPG” or “roleplaying game” is any game that has a shared imagined space.
Super-broad, I know, and I’m sure someone could probably name a game that, once I thought about, fits this definition but that I would maybe not call a role-playing game. Once Upon A Time has come up in other discussions, and it may fit that bill; I’ve never played it, so I can’t really offer informed commentary.
That said, you’ll notice that “assuming a role” isn’t germane to my definition, e.g., I totally think Microscope is an RPG. So is Fiasco. If there’s a SIS populated with characters we care about, then it’s an RPG by my definition.
An “indie” game is one that is creator-owned.
Now, I realize that there is a lot of baggage here, and sure, in common parlance “indie” also refers to a body of design assumptions and embedded procedures. So I’m typically willing to add those aspects as well, the primary one being that game implicitly or explicitly acknowledges that System Matters, and thus has a clear agenda supported by its rules.
*A “trad” game is a game that doesn’t do this. *
Or, at least, doesn’t care whether it does it or not. It also mostly likely hews to one of the Fundamental Trad Design Models™, i.e., the game is essentially a reworking of: D&D, Champions, or BRP. This means that it likely has a GM role, and that role has more authority than any others, and game fundamentally runs “top-down” no matter how much authority is doled out to non-GMs.
Mind you, there can be overlap between these two. Self-awareness and creator-ownership will push it one way or the other for me.
So, what about “Story Games”?
A “story game” is a game that is basically an “indie” game, but either: a) its designer, publisher, or its fanbase doesn’t want to call it that because of political or social reasons; or b) it uses techniques typically associated with “indie” games but is not creator-owned.
Seriously. “A” seems to be the fundamental reason I can see for the term’s existence, and “B” is my own addendum.
These are probably uninteresting definitions because they don’t really have a lot to do with design or actual play. I guess that’s not important to me because I think all of these terms generally originate with consumers of games and not producers. And too often when producers try and use them they are, IMO, totally wrong. (I once heard one publisher try to claim that HERO was “indie”, back when that term had caché.)