Continuing with the theme I began yesterday, let me be more explicit about the wrong thinking that occurs in Ron Edwards' proposed "Big Model." Within the context of what Edwards means to do, I don't have issue with it. Where he discusses the 'structure' of the game in terms of the social contract, exploration, setting and so on, he accomplishes exactly what he sets out to accomplish - describing, generally, the relationships between different parts of the game. However, this is almost totally useless if your purpose is to actually design a world..
Suppose we should set down to design a phone, and the entirety of our design scheme does nothing more than describe what the phone does, or how people will interact with the phone, or the general value of the phone within people's lives. We've been very sure to describe how often the phone can be used, what all the buttons are for and so on, in order to convey the usefulness of the phone, and how the phone will affect the relationships people have.
Have we designed a phone? Absolutely not. We have followed through ONLY on the marketing of the phone. We haven't actually engineered the phone. Nor have we discussed, for one moment, what others will have to do in order to engineer a phone of their own. This, the reader is expected to know already.
But who does know? In 40 years of publication of role-playing manuals, where is the manual that does not discuss what your world does, or how your world needs to interact with your players, but actually tells you the components your world needs to contain?
Here is what we see. A young player, wanting to be a DM, decides to 'make a world.' Getting out a pencil, and paper of some kind - often graph paper, because inherently we understand distance is going to matter in the campaign - our player draws a little town, with eight or nine little squares meant to represent buildings. What follows is a road, a stream going past the town, a little bridge over the stream, another town next to a coast line, a forest filling up an empty space to the north of the road, a ring of mountains beyond the forest, a few islands spotted in the ocean, some labels here and there describing the forest as "Kettle Woods" or the road as "The Moneychanger's Pike" and so on. Our player spends two or three days, fitting in a few other things, making the map very neat and pretty, and when its all finished, it is a fine map. Our player stares at it, and imagines all the places, and is proud of the work.
Then our player takes the map and starts the campaign, and bleh ... nothing. It's a fine map, but after the five minutes it takes to explain the name of the road and the reason it's called that, and the other features besides, our player discovers that the work done hasn't made a world, it has made a travel poster.
We are not concerned with the 'structure' between the party's social contract and the party's exploration of the world, those are marketing concerns. What we want is the underlying structure that actually creates the world! Once the party has put boots on the ground, we want to start regulating their actions, defining a functional relationship that defines the social hierarchy of the world, who can be approached, what will that approach accomplish - not in generalized terms, but in the exact terms of when the party speaks to the bartender in this town, this is all the bartender is able to tell them. Exactly the same principle as the apps that exist on the phone. The phone can only do this, and this, and this. If you want the phone to do something else, you will need to build this app.
We argue endlessly about the apps - armor, weapons, amount of treasure, alignment, movement, limitations of interactive role-playing, weather, spell use and so on. And no one, not Edwards or any other writer wants to wade into those arguments and say it is this and not that. Yet what needs to be realized by the adjudicator of the game is that a decision has to be made on all these things ... as well as on the question, why does the town exist in terms of what it enables the party to do. Is it a functional place where things can be bought, or is it a delicate arrangement which, if messed with, will produce two hundred citizens with pitch-forks and violence. That has to be decided, and preferably before the party sets foot there. It isn't just the rules, it is all the elements, or components if you will, of every stone and blade of grass that exists in the actual structure of the world.
True enough, you don't want to map every blade of grass ... but you DO have to decide, absolutely and with certainty, how the blades of grass function in your world.
Take the phone from your pocket and just think about this a moment. Here is one of the most ubiquitous objects in our worlds right now, and it is quite new. There are hundreds, even thousands of versions of this little thing you're holding, but this specific phone has specific rules about its nature. Every single aspect of the phone has gone through diligent testing, from the weight of it to is dimensions, to the way the back panel unclips and clips back in to allow you access to the battery. You're not holding a drawing in your hand, you're holding a real object.
If you make a map of your world, and think that is your world, you have to understand that your world is only a piece of paper with coloring on it. You haven't made a world. And if you think your world is in your imagination, then you have even less. You haven't made anything at all. Until you start producing the kind of hard substances that fit and click together like your phone, and transform your voice into electrical processes, you're only pretending to have created a world. Structure is the synthesis of your thoughts and designs, the part where you make everything you can conceive of real ... real enough that someone else can pick up your world, just like you've picked up someone else's synthesized designs for a phone, and apply it.
It's nice to have a marketing perspective of what your world will do. But that's not enough. The real work begins when you settle in to lay down in stone the processes by which your world will do those things.