Recently, that person was Ian Danskin, or as he is known on twitter, Ian Goddamn Crosby Lexicon Barnfire Danskin, the creator behind Innuendo Studios. Of things I have no interest in, Danskin's videos have covered the film The Handmaiden (NOT the Handmaid's Tale!), Sonic the Hedgehog, the video game the Walking Dead and, relevant to this post, Super Smash Bros. Nevertheless, I have watched every video, and learned from every video, because if you're smart, I will let you talk about stuff I hate. And I hate Smash Bros. But that isn't important.
Watch this video. Yes, ALL of it.
I want to start with this quote, from 4:48 into the video:
"Chris DeLeon has a series of articles and a degra-talk about the idea that sports and board games have rules ~ but video games have laws. That in soccer, you don't touch the ball with your hands because you've agreed not to, but in FIFA, you don't touch the ball with your hand because it's impossible."
Now, that is straight to the heart of it, and clearly Chris DeLeon has this wrapped. [side note: DeLeon previous residence was the Georgia Institute of Technology, the location of Ian Bogost, the brilliant fellow I consumed everything from last year; smart people talk to smart people]
But I want to add one more of my own:
RPGs have permits. In role-playing, you don't touch the ball with your hands because the DM doesn't let you.
Think about that a moment. Most people you will ever talk to will interpret that as, "It's the DM's world, and whatever the DM says, goes." And if we, dear reader, think that's what I'm arguing, we're probably the sort that believes a judge in a court of law can do whatever the fuck they want. Which is not true. There is a great deal of nuance in what a DM permits. If it is all arbitrary, because the DM thinks arbitrary is just fine, we're going to find ourselves playing a pretty shit game.
The attempt to argue that the DM should always say, "Yes," argues that the DM should be more permissive, more considerate of the player's position, more yielding to the player's expectations and innovation. If the player tries something really interesting ~ regardless of its practicality or sensibility, which are subjugated to the god of fun ~ then the DM ought to say, yes ... just as a legal judge is bound by laws that restrict the decisions that a judge can make.
I can agree with that. But the way it is proposed in practice is an exercise in flimflammery. Take the case of Matt Colville that I discussed last December, that I will update to the Stavanger adventure I have been discussing lately.
When I say, I'm not running a railroad, a great many readers will jump to the same conclusion to which Colville leaps. They think I'm saying, you don't have to hunt the wolf. You don't have to take the token from the shaman. You have a choice. And because you have a choice, it isn't a railroad.
This perspective is a huge steaming pile of utter bullshit. Because this is not how a world should operate AT ALL. Not remotely. Because the village of Stavanger ISN'T an adventure. It's a village.
Yesterday I got a message from an old reader, Carl, that I haven't heard from for a while. I thought he'd quit reading me. Carl somehow got it into his head that the subway boardgame image in that post was what I was going for in the last post and NO! No, no, no. A thousand times no.
This is the head-in-the-sand insistence of those dumbfucks who run the WOTC, who think that players arriving at the village sets the adventure in motion and, lo and behold, they can choose what they want to do, inside that adventure.
Let me pull you back to the smash brothers video, at 5:55:
"The thing about systems is there's what the system was meant to do, and then there's what the system can't stop you from doing. In Smash, an advanced technique like say, a shield drop, is put there by the designers ... but things like pivoting, wavedashing and D-sinking are not. These things were not designed; they were discovered as accidents of the system. And they often take phenomenal skill to execute reliably because it's something the game doesn't actively want you to do ... but they are just as integral to competitive play as the things designers put there on purpose."
The only reason your brain isn't shattered by that (and some, given just this much context, are right now reeling with the realization), is because it has never occurred to you, or to anyone, that this applies in exactly the same way to RPGs.
The designer creates the village of Stavanger, and the designer puts in the chief and the wolf and the shaman, but that's just the stuff that is going on in the village when the players happen to show up. The players don't have to do it, right ... but in a legitimate RPG, where the DM plays the actual GAME, and not the piece of sucky crap the company wants us to play, the players are entitled to do what the fuck they're able to do, because the rules don't stop you from becoming someone with their own agenda in this mix.
Suppose I am running in your version of this Stavanger village, and you've created this nice pat adventure for me, and I ask you, "How is the leader of the Sand clan determined?"
And you as DM say, "Um, uh, it's hereditary." To which I answer, "This is a goddamn primitive culture, one that doesn't even owe any allegiance to a king, because this is Norway in 892, and you're going to tell me that the clan is led by whomever is born to the job? Bullshit. I'm a member of the Sand Clan. I have the same rights as any other person in the clan. You tell me that Yelana is the clan mother. Who is running these people? I want to know my path to making myself the leader of my own clan."
And now, the DM's adventure has ceased to be what's happening here. Because I'm in charge, NOT the DM ... just at the great players of Super Smash Bros. are the Five Gods, NOT the game designers.
This is what you, as DM, have got to get into your head. YOU are not the player. You are the designer. And if the player wants to turn that design on its head, in a way you didn't think of, but kicking your pat adventure into the garbage can and starting one of their own, then buckle up, baby ... you're going for a goddamn ride. Because now it is your job to design your game to LET the player challenge the leadership in the Sand Clan, in a way that preserves the game, and lets Pivoting happen, so the player can enjoy a little competitive play on a high level.
Don't tell me that your players don't know how, because no one knew how to wavedash or D-sink once upon a time ... but they learned, because no one could stop them. And let's not forget the words, phenomenal skill. Yeah, you're damned right, it wasn't easy. But they still learned how to do it, didn't they?
But they haven't in role-playing, because DMs the world over and the fuck-fuddled company did. not. let. them. Because RPGs think we're giving players a choice by letting them play Falcon, Sheik or Marth ... but Red Yoshi? No. No, we're not going to let anyone play Red Yoshi.
We've got to realize here ... Super Smash Bros., for all it's excitement, is an incredibly limited intellectual game, with an incredibly limited set of possibilities, compared to role-playing games. The number of potential Red Yoshis in existence in a D&D game is literally infinite.
If you're a DM, used to playing the company way, that ought to scare the shit out of you. And it ought to shame you. It ought to stick in your craw as you realize, fuck, what have you been doing with your game?
I'll bet ... I'll just bet ... there are more than a few of you who will say in your heads, "Fuck you Alexis." And quite a few who will try to argue, "But I like my game ..."
Uh huh. Sure you do.
You're not even ready for Smash Bros. yet.