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Wednesday, 19 August 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: How Swine Control Language In RPG Debate and Other Subjects

Who Says Only Bad Things Come Out of  Theory Sites?

From a link someone had put up to a story-games site discussion, I found this little summary, from a guy named Rob Donoghue,  that does a great job of summing up the key rhetorical tactics of the Theory crowd, in other words, the dirty tricks that they bank on in order to try to control all conversation and avoid having to be challenged on the fact that all the foundations of their theories are shit:

The parts in Italics are Rob's, with my commentary added for flavour.

1. Referencing extensive, obscure source material and refusing discussion until that has been absorbed, thus creating a barrier of entry and elevating the status of the source material artificially.

i.e. The standard Ron Edwards tactic of "I could answer that question, but before I can, you don't know enough about theory, so you will have to read these four 75-page essays of mine; if you don't want to, then you're obviously not worth my time".

2.Using difficult to penetrate jargon, and dwelling on definitions rather than touching upon the point, thus deflecting legitimate questions.

Ie. talking about "storytivism" as though everyone accepts what it is, and then if someone criticizes "storytivism", you start arguing that they don't really understand the definition of "storytivism".

3. Establishing definitions and then declaring any discussion of the definitions to be inappropriate, because the definition is 'clear,' ignoring whether or not it is appropriate.

In other words, telling people that "Indie", or "story", or "broken" means whatever you want it to mean, and then complaining if someone tries to "shift" that definition, like by pointing out how technically RIFTS is an Indie game, or how most people believe stories aren't something that always have to address a specific theme in the form of a question about stakes, or other such bullshit.

4.Declaring that any argument about theory has "already been had" and, if pressed, referring back to that extensive, obscure source material, thus dodging legitimate questions perpetually.

Again, classic Forge.  To the point that they have now closed the theory forum, effectively declaring that the GNS theory as its stands is no longer debateable.  That's not theory, folks, that's dogma.

5. Lantern hanging, which is to say, framing the weakest part of your argument in the premise and establishing debate about a secondary point, forcing participants to either concede the premise or refuse to participate, which may or may not be desirable depending on the secondary point.

This is what theorists constantly do in other gaming fora, fora that aren't by their vary nature favorable to theorism by default.  They come in, and start making "[theory]" threads where they argue about some little detail within the theory spectrum, and in doing so already take as an absolute given all the rest of the flimsy theory foundations, forcing others to do so as well.  You can't argue about narrativism itself if the argument is about how narrativism would deal with Battlestar Galactica; at least not without being accused of derailing the conversation and being a troll.  See how it works? Before you know it, everyone is forced to frame all arguments from the basis that "GNS is right".

I'll finish with Rob's parting words, because they too are good:

My response to these tactics, and others like them, remains the same across politics, religion, gaming and many other fields. These are, in short, warning signs that the other party is not looking for debate, but rather is looking to spread the "good word".

In other words, Theory is cultlike, not a science.


(Originally Posted October 15, 2006)

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