RPG theory & game design online

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I just came across Mendel Schmiedekamp’s blog, RPG Theory Review, dedicated to the discussion and exploration of rpg theory.  It’s full of mentally chewy goodness about rpgs, theory, game design and more.  Unfortunately he’s been on hiatus a while and is just this year bringing the site back to life with a new focus on long cycle developments rather than transient ripples in gaming issues.  Not much activity there yet. but if you have an interest in what’s under the hood in good gaming, I encourage you to go take and look and participate if you’d like.

I’m also on the prowl for other sophisticated game theory and design sites, as opposed to the topical and abundant fan-chat natterings that go on everywhere.  Late in 2009 I plan to run an immersive online “storygame” (thanks to Mark Keavney for the term[1]) based on one of my works in progress. This will include interactive game play for story readers as well – which is to say, this is a story that you not only read, but that you participate in as you read. And what you learn and experience as you go through the story is influenced by your interaction choices along the way.

This brings me close to the exciting realm of ARG:  alternate reality gaming, as it’s called, and apparently people are even writing white papers on it now.  We have the tech platforms now to make this a really fun and unusual way to experience story and adventure. I’m looking forward to my experiment. I’ll be posting more about that in the months to come.

For now though, I just want to put a shout out:  do you know of other RPG or game design theory sites worth reading?  What do you think? I’m already a low-level member over at IGDA, and have some regular haunts in the blogosphere, but the place is so damn large, ya know… 

Suggestions welcome. Please post about them in the comments.


1.  Check out Mark’s City of If site.  It’s a great read. (You can also find some content there by me; I wrote the first third of “The Archer’s Quest” for him.)  His definition of storygaming is that the readers make decisions about how the major plot points of a story go, and the story is then taken in that direction by the narrator.  It is a (far) more interactive version of the old “choose your own path” D&D adventure books. 

My use of the term, though, is somewhat different:  I am using it to describe something that reads like a story but feels like a game, with an as-yet-to-be-determined degree of reader influence on outcomes.  But more about that in the future.

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I don’t want to overload you, but there are several communities you may want to visit and participate in:

Story Games

The Forge

Cultures of Play

I Would Knife Fight A Man

Several of these have sub-forums that are only visible to members, so you should register on them all.

A collection of blogs where RPG theory is regularly discussed is http://planet-sg.ogrecave.com/

There are also quite a few podcasts that cover RPG theory, including:

Theory From the Closet

Sons of Kryos

Narrative Control

Brilliant Gameologists

Atomic Array

And if all that’s not enough to get you started, there’s also the vast Jeepform community’s online presence. See the Nordic Scene blog: http://www.nordicscene.org/ and read the yearly academic paper anthologies published in conjunction with the Knutepunkt conferences: http://www.solmukohta.org/pmwiki.php/Book/Book

Before you do any of this esoteric research though, I *strongly* encourage you to play a selection of tabletop roleplaying games from across the spectrum. Dungeons & Dragons, Vampire: the Requiem, Dogs In The Vineyard, Spirit of the Century, In A Wicked Age, Dirty Secrets, My Life With Master and whatever else interests you. There is no substitute for broad-ranging actual play; the experience will give you a frame of reference to best absorb and make use of all the game design theory references available.


Thanks for the urls. My spam filter thought this was spam; took me a while to realize you’d posted this.

>> I *strongly* encourage you to play a selection of tabletop roleplaying games from across the spectrum…There is no substitute for broad-ranging actual play<< Sorry if my post gave you the impression I'm coming from a newbie space. If you look elsewhere on this site (Passions | Gaming), you'll see I've been gaming since 1978, primarily as a GM, and am a professional rpg designer and publisher since 1987. Bibliography links on that page too. I have more games from the last 30 years, played and dissected, than I can find closet space for (moved 'em to storage, actually), so I'm probably a little farther up that gaming exposure curve than the average gamer. 😉 That said, what I am looking for is the more rarified air of serious, high-level, even academic game theory. I'm looking for models of interaction and game metastructures that are the underpinning (or the superstructure) of rewarding dynamics in all manner of rpg-style games. Some of this I've seen at The Forge; more of it I'm getting from IGDA SIGs, the International Journal of Role-Playing, and other professional and academic sources. That's the sort of thing I had in mind when I referred to searching out "sophisticated" game theory and design sites. That's a great list of urls nonethless. I'm familiar with many of those places, and will be revisiting them and checking out the new ones in the coming months. Thanks for the pointers!

The Alexandrian occasionally has interesting posts about game theory, such as node-based scenario design:
But you already know that since I’ve mentioned it on your G+ Worldbuilding community.

There are some interesting articles about RPG game design here
but the most recent one was written in 2004.

As are these articles about the Three-Fold-Model

Thanks for the links and additional info, Winchell. I need to make a more orderly study of this stuff and it helps to marshal the resources. 🙂

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