So Ben Lehman is poking fun at Rich Forest's tongue-in-cheek definition of a roleplaying game which is, simply "A game that resembles D&D." Which is all very funny and ha-ha. It has been dubbed (by Nir Shiffer) the Forest Criterion, which unfortunately means that I am almost incapable of identifying roleplaying games, having had nearly zero experience with D&D. Them's, apparently, the breaks.

More seriously, I've never quite understood why we have such trouble defining a term which is self-definitive. A roleplaying game is... get this... a game where we play roles. It's like word games, which are games where you play with words, or math games where you play with math, or real estate games where you play with real estate.

Identifying whether or not something is a roleplaying game pretty much comes down to two yes-or-no questions. First, is it a game? Second, do the players play roles? If both answers are yes, then it's a roleplaying game. If you only net one "yes" between the two, well then, it's either a different kind of game or a roleplaying experience-thingy. But you have to have both elements in order for it to be a roleplaying game.

Dungeons&Dragons - it's a game, there are roles that you play. Yes, it is a roleplaying game.
Dogs in the Vineyard - it's a game, there are roles you can play. Yes, it is a roleplaying game.
Once Upon A Time - it's a game, but you do not play roles. It is, in fact, a card game.
Sensitivity Training At Work - it's not a game, but you do play roles. It is, in fact, a roleplaying experience-thingy.
A Ripe Banana - it is neither a game, nor does it have roles to play. It is, in fact, a fruit.

I mean, seriously, this isn't moon-language, is it? Roleplaying game -- a game in which you play roles. What's the difficulty?

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Heya, That's how I've


That's how I've always defined it. /shrug :)



Well, then you come down to

Well, then you come down to definitions of what a "game" is.

A psychologist would have one view:

A mathematician would have another:

An economist would have another definition:

The word's a slippery one.

And don't get me started on "role"... and how one 'plays' it...

Trust me, Vax, I know how

Trust me, Vax, I know how labile any term is, and I'm not arguing that there isn't some broad latitude to the meaning of each word in the definition. It's one of the benefits of working in English. But my point still stands -- "a game where you play roles" is, well, pretty definitive.

Pretty much my

Pretty much my criterion.

The short & more common reason we see this- some folks like to play word games.

The longer & specialized case reason we see this- some folks are having Not Fun, and have to significantly change up the definition of "playing a role" and "game" to justify how they're spending their time.

As is often the case when

As is often the case when this definition is presented, I suggest that it's less than useful. Sure, I'll buy that a roleplaying game is a game in which you play roles, but now you're going to have to get rigorous: what do you mean by "game", "play", and "role" here?

It is not my intention to be pedantic. As you say above, those terms have a lot of latitude for meaning. I mean, in some conceptions of "role" you could say that being a player is a valid role. That is, playing black in chess could be a "role", and chess is a game people play, but I don't think you really think that chess is a roleplaying game.

Take a look at your sensitivity training example above... Some people consider the idea of "social games" (in the sense of maneuvering for social dominance) to be more than a metaphor. Yet, as you say, you don't consider that a game.

The problem with saying that roleplaying games simply are games where people play roles, is that you often get disagreement (or agreement) with your point based on unstated disagreements of what your defining terms mean. Maybe someone disagrees with your definition because they think you mean what they mean about the fuzzy words. Someone might say "playing roles is not enough, you dummy, because 'black' is a role in chess, and chess isn't a roleplaying game". By the same token someone might say "That's a good definition, because all 'games' use dice".

I guess I just don't see your definition as presented as at all illuminating. Of course, if you defined your three components, then you'd have a dang interesting discussion on your hands. As it is, all I can really say is, "Well, that's nice, I wonder what he means when he says that..."


If you decide to 'game' your

If you decide to 'game' your sensitivity training at work, then hell yeah, it becomes a roleplaying game.

If you decide to get into your role as 'black' in chess, then yeah, it becomes a roleplaying game.

The definition is based on the activity, not the intent of the activity sponsors (training) or the product (chess).

Hell, sex is a roleplaying game if you want it to be.

The problem though, as I see

The problem though, as I see it, is that the activity can be the same, but the view of the observers different, and under your definition the activity can be different. If I say, that "black is a role in chess", not (and this is important) that I'm doing something different than you are, but I simply have (or am simply using) a broader (or whatever) understanding of what "role" means.

That is to say, we may have precisely the same external and internal reactions to what's going on except that I'm applying a label to things that you aren't applying.

I'm basically totally okay with the definition being based on the activity, but I'm totally not okay with the definition being based on subjective viewpoint. Does that make sense?


Heh, Ugh. People and


Ugh. People and words. Guys we could go round and round as long as we wanted. What are words? I mean really, how can anyone purely communicate to another person? There are so many meanings out there for every word that ever was. I mean, what does the word 'mean' mean? So seriously, all these nifty semantic arguments you are presenting get no one anywhere. They're just a bunch of BS. You can endlessly question the definition and application of words. But it adds exactly zip to a conversation. In fact, it's called pissing on one. And it's the sort of thing other people on their sites won't allow. Instead pissing, you could back Josh up with examples of what he's talking about in unusual situations. Or, you could demonstrait an instance where you don't have a role nor are you really playing a game, yet that things is in fact a roleplaying game. But arguing about the definition of words someone uses in their article is just utter crap.

Don't reply to this message. It will only get things further off track. If you have an issue with what I said, send me a private email or PM. I will not be back to check any replies.



Joshua said "It has been

Joshua said "It has been dubbed (by Ben) the Forest Criterion..." when it was actually Nir Shiffer who coined the term here.

Living in Sweden myself, where people were brought up on games of the basic roleplaying variety rather than D&D, the criterion won't get much use from me, though. Few people here have any first hand experience of D&D.

I'm for an all-inclusive use of the term "role-playing game", but I know there are many people who want to somehow make that mean just their own part of the pie.

Fixed, Jonas. Thomas, I

Fixed, Jonas.

Thomas, I get what you're getting at, but I don't think that you're getting at something worthwhile. All games as social phenomena, and as such, they're going to have squishy definitions. I wouldn't consider most of gambling to be games, myself, but many others do. But I think we'd be lots clearer if we said "that's not a game" or "that's not roleplaying" rather than "that's not a roleplaying game." Ya dig?

Joshua, Ah, cool. If I'm


Ah, cool. If I'm understanding your goal here, what you're doing is shifting the discussion (which is cool and valid) from "this is/isn't a roleplaying game" to "this is/isn't a game and it is/isn't roleplaying". You're basically saying, "roleplaying game" is way, way more fuzzy than either 'roleplaying' or 'game' (and those are both pretty fuzzy), so let's talk about the less fuzzy things". Am I reading you right?


Yeah -- precision is a

Yeah -- precision is a bugaboo of mine, so getting rid of imprecision is my eternal crusade.

Eh, it's just a variation on

Eh, it's just a variation on the "is art/is not" argument. Some people try to define roleplaying games because they want to delegitimize certain activities--push them outside the sphere of discussion. Others try to define roleplaying games because its a useful way of emphasizing that certain assumptions don't apply universally. Over at the Forge they talk about Simulationist, Narrativist, and Gamist games, which roughly accomplishes the second goal. So does (sometimes) the distinction between"roleplaying games" and "storytelling games", but different people get their back up over each distinction because they perceive (with some justification) echoes of early efforts to delegitimize.

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