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[Theory] The "incoherent" debate.

Levi

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#1
For a long time, I've been snarking at the idea of games being "incoherent".

At present, I'm less sure about the idea being deserving of snark - and I can even point to why.

Vincent Baker said:
Let's say you have three guys, all of whom love pigs. One loves to eat them, one loves to race them against one another for prizes in the annual Pigathon, one loves to name them and pet them and scratch their chins. They don't know each other, but then they find one another in a chatroom or something and establish that they all "love pig." They get together on a Friday evening to all love pigs together, and the first one says to the other two, "hey, so here's my favorite recipe, what's yours?"

That's a group with an incoherent creative agenda.
Now, the two big questions:

Is "incoherent" meant as a negative judgement? I think the answer to that is yes.

Do many of the games - and here I mean actual at-the-table-games, not books -as-written - labelled with it deserve that label? I think the answer to that one is no.

(As a side note: I think that as jargon goes, Forge terms are remarkably terrible for common use. I also think that the people that already use them have no real and compelling reason to change them. There's no percentage in it for them.)

Your thoughts?
 

Rip van Mason

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#2
My thought- groups can be incoherant. Games, not so much. Games labelled as "incoherant" tend to instead be broad and their breadth poorly contextualised. Sometimes even ambiguos or multifauceted. But all you need is someone who can show you where to stand so you can see the game a cohesive whole. There'll probably be a valid dozen places in any such game. And gamers, we can be a fickle bunch, that breadth lets us jump around between conceptual spaces without abandoning our plots or characters or intrigue or +5 swords.

I mean, a game that talks about deep plots but has detailed room for combat? You got to love the options- a deep political game where advancement revolves around detailed combat, a game all about combat where you fight as champions for politicians, a game where you spend six months killing things than then get promoted to a political post. And thats just some simple stuff.

So is it meant as a negative judgement? Yeah. Theorists like monofocus and clarity, same way labratory scientists and enginners don't get on, and architects and plumbers have their tiffs. And some gamers prefer that clarity of agenda and purpose to boot.

Do they deserve the label? Many don't, and the critic just hasn't seen the way it was meant to fit together properly. Some do, and it isn't a negative thing. Some see appeal in a little mess in the kitchen but have enough else going for them that you cherry-pick your favourite bits and move. Some do, and are really hurt for it, falling from a pedastal of excellance and landing in the mediocre basket. The label is applied so damn often, generic judgements are hard to male.

As a final metaphor, some people spend thousands of a tailored suit and still look like a shmuck and some guys are sexy as hell in a one-size-fits all shirt that matches their eyes. Taste, style and grace are funny like that.
 
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Jesse

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#3
I agree. I think game design which encourages incoherent play is pretty bad. I think play which is itself incoherent is even worse.

7th Sea is a game whose design encourages incoherent play. However, my personal group's play is very coherent and (mostly thanks to the Forge) I know how to recognize rules and reward system that facilitate my group's creative agenda. So, I simply trimed and tweaked the 7th Sea rules to match (mostly trimmed). However, the fact that I had to do so, seems odd when I can use Dogs in the Vineyard out of the box.

I also agree that anyone who is having consistently rewarding play (and not deluding themselves about it) is indeed playing in a coherent fashion regardless of the game they are using. However, I do ask that such groups go back and take a hard look at the text of the game they are playing. Are they really doing what the text actually SAYS to do or are they doing what they think (or selectively emphasize/de-emphasize) what the text says? Is there play coherent DESPITE the game they are playing? And if so, can you imagine design techniques that would actively add fuel to the play experience, rather than the play experience happening around current design?

Jesse
 

Levi

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#4
Jesse said:
(and not deluding themselves about it)
Let's not go too far down that road.

Consider, if you will, that many people that get slammed with "Your play doesn't sound fun." are often bad at self expression, or may be getting a large chunk of fun from things that aren't directly part of play.

If Bob gets his kicks from trying out new character builds and testing them in action, or writing character journals, drawing maps, or some other feature not directly based in the actual playhe may or may not care about the same qualities in play at all.

Bob could very well be having a great time, with no self-delusions at all, in the midst of what he himself considers basically crappy gameplay.
 

Tigerbunny

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#5
I think there's two cases where a published game might deserve the "incoherent" label.

(1) Mechanically, it's got a bunch of rules for pig-eating, but the flavor text, examples of play, and general tone of the text is all about the joy of pet pigs. This is the kind of "incoherent" that 1st Ed. Vampire gets called on.

(2) The pig-eating, pig-keeping, pet pig, and pig racing rules are all in there, somewhere, jumbled together. There's just no clear sense of how to take this box of parts and make a game about whatever your pig fetish is, so you end up muddling along weeding out rules and making up new ones until you get something that suits your group's goals. That's the AD&D2 kind of incoherent.

Note that if your group wants to play a game where you raise adorable pet pigs, race them, and eat the losers, an Incoherent(2) game can be just the thing you want. You'll still have to go through the tuning process, but everything you want is in there somewhere.

Note also that if your group enjoys the process of bending, breaking, tuning, and otherwise mutilating a game until it's something uniquely yours, you may strongly prefer Incoherent games of both types.
 
#6
The problem with the question is that it's based on whether you think GNS is valid or not. If, for example, you'd tried to understand Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism and still fail yet are not a total moran and have the SAT scores to prove it, then it is reasonable to conclude, at least as far as your own perspective, that GNS is not based on any meaningful division in play and thus incoherency is a non issue.

So, it is strongly based on that.
 

NPC Brown Cow

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#7
Levi Kornelsen said:
Now, the two big questions:

Is "incoherent" meant as a negative judgement? I think the answer to that is yes.

Do many of the games - and here I mean actual at-the-table-games, not books -as-written - labelled with it deserve that label? I think the answer to that one is no.

Your thoughts?
It could be taken as a negative judgement or it be taken as a simple statement, as that example is defiantly an incoherent group. Incoherent in that they are not there for the same experience.


I would say that there are "games / aka groups" that are incoherent. I'm in one.
 

Levi

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#8
Jack Spencer Jr said:
The problem with the question is that it's based on whether you think GNS is valid or not.
Not necessarily.

It's based on whether or not you think the concept of a group having some kind of unifying fun, of whatever kind, is valid.

The unifying fun need not be grouped or viewed in the fashion of GNS, GDS, or whatever else, though obviously most folks that use the term do group things that way.
 

Jesse

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#9
NPC Brown Cow said:
It could be taken as a negative judgement or it be taken as a simple statement, as that example is defiantly an incoherent group. Incoherent in that they are not there for the same experience.


I would say that there are "games / aka groups" that are incoherent. I'm in one.
Well, let me ask you this. Think of some of the moments in your game that you would consider the "payoff" moment for you. The moments in the game that make you think, "YES! This is why I play this game!" Now think of all the elements of play that led up to and allowed that payoff moment to happen.

Do the other members of your group socially recognize and participate in producing those elements? Do you do the same for them and their "payoff" moments?

That's what's meant by coherece: socially recognized and mutually reinforced fun. It takes two to tango.

Jesse
 
#10
Levi Kornelsen said:
Not necessarily.

It's based on whether or not you think the concept of a group having some kind of unifying fun, of whatever kind, is valid.

The unifying fun need not be grouped or viewed in the fashion of GNS, GDS, or whatever else, though obviously most folks that use the term do group things that way.
Interestingly, that thought did occur to me shortly after. Might I suggest the term incompatable instead, though. It means basically what we mean here and it lacks the connotation of mumbling.
 
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