The Definition of Story Game

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  • Who is having any actual confusion or stress about the term?
    Me?

  • edited August 2018
    In my experience on the internet, the people who feel strongly about the term "story game" are people who want to be able to classify a whole swath of games as undesirable.

    Most often, this takes the form of something like, "We play real RPGs here; no story games allowed!"

    (For whatever reason, these people will often write the term as "storygame", a single composite noun.)

    When you take a strong stance like this, it becomes important to be able to draw a clear line somewhere.

    As far as this forum is concerned, despite its name, it seems to me that the participants enjoy a variety of games (as seen by all the threads about D&D and OSR lately, for instance). We've got discussions of everything from old-school D&D to read games to LARPs and miniatures gaming.

    I doubt we'd be able to settle on any kind of definition we'd all agree on.

    For me, that's another argument in favour of using the term "story game" as an umbrella term for all games which deal with and create narrative.

    I have no interest in pushing that on anyone else, though - you can use whatever terms you like with me however you want, so long as you're clear about what you mean.

    Now I'm really curious how it is causing people stress or confusion! Speak up and be maybe we can think of ways to clear that up.
  • I think even people who don't feel strongly about the term "story game" would often like to be able to use it as shorthand for the kind of games they like. When I hear it in that context, I hear "not about combat & survival challenges" and then if they mean anything more specific, I hope they clarify. Sometimes one modifier will do the trick! "Dramatic story games" or "GMless story games" or some such is sometimes good enough.
  • edited August 2018
    I think even people who don't feel strongly about the term "story game" would often like to be able to use it as shorthand for the kind of games they like.
    [emphasis mine]

    Indeed! And this is more or less my point, too: I generally see people who have strong feelings on the topic trying to address a preference they have when it comes to games. This might be to qualify a group of games they enjoy playing, or to disqualify a group of games they don't enjoy.

    I agree very strongly with your suggestion to just add a little information - that will typically do the trick, in my experience as well (at the very worst, your audience might now be interested in asking a few follow-up questions to see what you mean, rather than assuming you're talking about their favourite/least favourite type of game). I recommend this approach to anyone who feels the need to use the term in any kind of "strict" fashion!
  • A few other quotes, for reference:

    1. Wikipedia's page on "indie roleplaying" has the following blurb about this forum, which I think is based on statements made by or even directly written by the people who run the forum (being deliberately vague here, since I don't know when this was done).
    Story Games is a discussion forum dedicated to role-playing games that focus on shared story creation. Many of the story games discussed on this site take their core from improv theater games (like in the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?), but are played around a table by describing what happens in the story, rather than by getting up and acting it out. A story game is a type of role-playing game experience with a lesser focus on "My Character" and a greater focus on "Our Story" (meaning the story that all the players at the table want to make).

    As an experience, most RPGs can be played "Story Games Style" with a little adjustment. As a game, some games are particularly created by their designers to aim for a meaningful 'Story Games' experience.

    A majority of the games discussed and created on Story Games are indie and/or small press games.
    2. A short blurb from the "Welcome to Story Games" topic on the forum (accessed August 28, 2018) addresses this briefly, as well:
    This is a discussion community for people talking about roleplaying games. It tends to center around smaller and indie games, but there's still good discussions to be had about larp and more mainstream games.
  • In my experience on the internet, the people who feel strongly about the term "story game" are people who want to be able to classify a whole swath of games as undesirable.

    Most often, this takes the form of something like, "We play real RPGs here; no story games allowed!"

    (For whatever reason, these people will often write the term as "storygame", a single composite noun.)

    When you take a strong stance like this, it becomes important to be able to draw a clear line somewhere.

    As far as this forum is concerned, despite its name, it seems to me that the participants enjoy a variety of games (as seen by all the threads about D&D and OSR lately, for instance). We've got discussions of everything from old-school D&D to read games to LARPs and miniatures gaming.

    I doubt we'd be able to settle on any kind of definition we'd all agree on.

    For me, that's another argument in favour of using the term "story game" as an umbrella term for all games which deal with and create narrative.

    I have no interest in pushing that on anyone else, though - you can use whatever terms you like with me however you want, so long as you're clear about what you mean.

    Now I'm really curious how it is causing people stress or confusion! Speak up and be maybe we can think of ways to clear that up.
    I am more interested in the scope of of definitions, than one people can agree upon (my experience with forums is it is pretty rare to see more than 2-3 people in a given thread agree on a particular gaming definition). My curiosity about the definition is to get a more accurate understanding of the label (or at least, one that is informed by a wider variety of opinion).
  • Makes sense to me!

    As far as I can see, we've covered most definitions and uses I've ever heard of in this thread.

    Has anyone heard other uses or definitions?

    Do you have a personal preferred usage, Brendan?
  • Over time, the term "story game" and "trad game" have become increasingly less useful to me.

    You generally use a term like that in certain cases:

    1. Talking about games.

    If you're talking to people who have only ever played D&D and WoD or whatever, then calling certain games "story games" doesn't actually impart new information to them.

    If you're talking to people who have played games like Apocalypse World and carry: a game about war and Fate, then "story game" as a term is probably too broad to be useful.

    If you're talking to people who have only ever played games like Apocalypse World and carry: a game about war and Fate, then calling certain games "trad games" doesn't actually impart new information to them.

    2. Pitching a game to friends.

    See above. It's more useful to tell them what the game is like, or compare it to other games they've played. "Bulldogs is like Traveller, but running on Fate Core."

    3. Tribality. Identity politics.

    Nuff said.
  • Good observations, Adam.
  • Makes sense to me!

    As far as I can see, we've covered most definitions and uses I've ever heard of in this thread.

    Has anyone heard other uses or definitions?

    Do you have a personal preferred usage, Brendan?
    Mainly I am just seeking to hear peoples understanding of these terms in their proponent's own words. I think my walking definitions of these things are pretty vague at this point. It is a bit like OSR or Traditional RPG, it can mean a lot of different things depending on what you are focusing on. What first leaps to mind when I hear Story Game, is Fiasco and games like that. I also sometimes think of it as a spectrum. But I see it used as well to apply to very story focused RPGs. I was curious what the lines here might be, especially since it seems like some folks view it as a kind of game, and others view it as something else (like a way of thinking about games).

    I do think it is true that there are a lot of other types of games being played here. I've noticed a lot more old school topics. I've always assumed this was because of the impact of a game like Dungeon World. But would you say that is the case?
  • My personal definition aligns with the previously-posited definition about players defining things outside of their characters for the purpose of making a good story together.

    I personally am a bit iffy on describing games like AW for instance as story games because of the fact that they explicitly aren't supposed to have that going on (John Harper's concept of the Line, etc.), but they're very solidly different from trad as well, because they incorporate some storygame-esque mechanics in the fact that they're not challenge-based and the mechanics are geared towards trying to make an interesting story. It being very much a story-after-the-fact though is very non-storygame, along with players in PbtA games lacking the power to declare things in the fiction that are unrelated to their character. They're very trad-adjacent in their structure.

    That being said, this whole definition thing isn't something I'm terribly passionate about, so if somebody wants to call AW a storygame, I really don't give a fuck. They can do what they want.

  • I do think it is true that there are a lot of other types of games being played here. I've noticed a lot more old school topics. I've always assumed this was because of the impact of a game like Dungeon World. But would you say that is the case?
    This forum, in my experience (10+ years) has always had some discussion of traditional games and old-school games. A good number of gamers and designers who were active on the Forge got excited about B/X D&D about ten years ago (maybe a little more, actually - but I don't remember specific dates), so there's always been a significant number of "story gamers" who were into OSR-style play, including major designers like Vincent Baker and Ben Lehman.

    For a long time, it seemed to me that those Forge characters were *responsible* for starting up the OSR movement, though I no longer think this is the case. (It's too widespread, and many of the people involved have been doing this for decades!) So it appears to be just a coincidence that many Forge personalities also independently discovered a love for old-school D&D around the same time the "OSR" appeared as a trend on the internet.

    As far as I can tell, there isn't a really strong connection between OSR fans and Dungeon World fans, although there are a few people who seem interested in both (like Johnstone Metzger and his Dungeon Planet books). Certainly the interest in OSR-style gaming among people "in story game circles" (I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek) predates Dungeon World, in any case.

    (For what it's worth, I'm a person who likes OSR-style gaming but has little interest in Dungeon World. And I'm hardly unique in that regard.)


  • (For what it's worth, I'm a person who likes OSR-style gaming but has little interest in Dungeon World. And I'm hardly unique in that regard.)
    Is there something particular about dungeon world that makes it not an ideal choice for you?
  • Lots of things. But let's discuss that elsewhere, I don't think it belongs in this thread.
  • Okay, I sent a PM.
  • I basically agree with Emma; My mental definition is very close to Ben's, and I don't really think of PbtA games as "story games" even though they are also not "trad RPGs". In my brain, I think they are "narrative games" or something, but I don't think I'd expect anyone at all to know what I meant if I said it.

    And yeah, if people want to use "story games" to include PbtA games, I don't really care, I'll just sortof mentally go "Well, good job on making that term useless." and move on. ;)
  • edited August 2018
    I think we already have a term for PbtA games. It's "PbtA games".

    As a subset of "RPGs", I wouldn't include those in "story games".
  • My opinion is that under the "story game" tag are classified the following two types of games.
    1) Games in which the rules provide guidance in generating (through the game procedures) a story according to the basic definition and best practices of narratology (independently from the authority of the players)
    2) Games in which a segregation of authorities through players allow them to have (for each single player) an higher control over the events generated in the fiction. (independently from the fact that you're not generating a "story" in the narratological sense)

    Games of (1) and (2) type do not necessarily exclude each other.
    Rob
  • Like, say, VtM (1), AW (2), and Fall of Magic (1-2) ?
  • Yes, something like that.
  • I think we already have a term for PbtA games. It's "PbtA games".
    It's true, but once again a failure at really conveying anything about them.

  • edited September 2018
    @Airk , agreed, it's a reference with no description, an insider-only label.

    I'm not sure the category has all that much meaning to outsiders anyway, though? I suspect that, to care about the differences between Dungeon World and D&D, if you don't already know those games, probably requires more detailed discussion than any label's going to cover.
  • @Airk , agreed, it's a reference with no description, an insider-only label.

    I'm not sure the category has all that much meaning to outsiders anyway, though? I suspect that, to care about the differences between Dungeon World and D&D, if you don't already know those games, probably requires more detailed discussion than any label's going to cover.
    Good thought, so what we're left with is:

    Amonng a group of people with similar ideas of what games they like to play are classified as a "story game" the term is useful (that's a "story game", "that's not a story game").

    Outside of that it seems like the term has little use other than to be exclusionary ("that's not an RPG, it's a story game" or "that's not a story game, it's an RPG") and shuts down conversation since the speaker isn't sharing WHY they don't like a particular game (or even group of games).

    Of all the games I have any familiarity with that folks apply their definition of story game to, they all sound like RPGs to me. They may be very different and not appealing to everyone who likes "RPGs" but there's no universally appealing "RPG".

    And with the name of this site and what is welcomed for discussion, it doesn't seem useful to try and apply "story games" to some specific subset of games (which almost certainly doesn't include D&D which is quite actively discussed here).

    Frank
  • My suspicion is that a lot of people who want to use the term "story games" to mean "some type of game that is not an RPG" are basically just looking to be exclusionary, AND are probably defining "RPG" as "a game in which the players only influence the world by way of their characters, ideally with associated mechanics because reasons." - i.e. basically the opposite of the Ben description of Story Games.

    Which, ironically, actually does more or less make a reasonably useful unified theory. Trouble is, most people don't use the terms like that.
  • Here is an article (in french) with a set representation. https://www.500nuancesdegeek.fr/jeux-de-limaginaire/
  • edited September 2018
    @DeReel very interesting link. I'll have a look. Thank you.
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