Story games to the people

19 September, 2009

In a recent very interesting interview, Luke Crane got to comment a bit on the term story games. Luke finds the term divisive in as much as roleplaying games and story games are essentially the same thing, and story games is mostly a marketing term. Why divisive? Because, says Luke, “it allows traditional roleplaying gamers to say ‘we’re not story gamers’ and story gamers to say ‘we’re not roleplaying gamers’. On either end of that spectrum it’s true, but in the middle most of us play both. Most of us play D&D and Dogs in the Vineyard.”
I think that’s very true, and I myself used to belong in that middle, but not anymore. I’m now firmly rooted at the story games end of that spectrum, but I don’t mind anyone not being that. The term story game makes sense to me.

Let’s face it, roleplaying games is a bad term. It means a thousand different things, and only if you are deeply rooted within gamer culture since red box D&D will you understand what I, Per, mean by it. So, I’m saying that using the term roleplaying game within the gamer community can make sense, sometimes with only little extra explanation, but not even that is certain. But outside, among normal people, you’re are immediately entering a minefield of misunderstandings that basically hinders you communicating what you mean by it. Making use of another term, like story game or even social storytelling, bypasses that initial wall of misunderstanding, and that has to be a good thing.

Why communicate with people outside the “gaming community”? Because if I can have fun and be creatively challenged and entertained by story games, so can they.

But, as Luke describes in the interview, the term story game is problematic as well. Luke says: “The idea of story in a roleplaying game is problematic as well, in that we are not sitting dow and telling a predetermined story, there’s not some set path that we’re following. […] This is something where story is the result of play.”

I agree completely, but I don’t agree that the story isn’t there until after the game. It’s being created, moment by moment, while playing, as a result of real people’s interaction with the game mechanics and each other.


  1. I think Luke misunderstands the term Story Game, possibly on purpose. Story Games is a larger category of games that encompasses roleplaying and other games. It’s meant to avoid the whole “that ain’t roleplaying” debate. Anyone who spends even a few minutes on Story Games can find that D&D is included in the term; it’s been discussed (mostly positively, I may add) just like Dogs or Capes.

  2. Christian, thanks for dropping by. You can take that up with Luke himself on the BW forums, here’s the thread about the podcast:

    I was merely using Luke’s points to continue my own thinking about how to bring story game to people outside the gaming community, especially those people who are already consuming fiction, ie. book readers, TV addicts and film goers.

  3. Christian, I think you’re right in how the term Story Games is used on that forum, but that doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with talking to other gamers at a convention or running games in your local community. There the term means, “Come try these games that are different from what you have played before.” I’m sure many would find that divisive, but if I said, “Come play roleplaying games,” and then pulled out a bunch of stuff that was completely different in format and configuration (distributed authority, no GM, etc) from what anyone expected, then I would be doing a disservice to the participants. Likewise, if I said, “Hey, come play roleplaying games. We can play any that you like, but I’ve got these new ones I want to try,” and then players showed up and decided to play D&D, then I would quit and never run an event open to the public again.

    I really think game designers need to stop hurting the communities that are trying to build around their games. It’s a weird pattern I’ve noticed over the last several years. Their desire to “avoid divisiveness” is greater than their desire to support people that are actively running their games and teaching other people how to play them at conventions. I don’t know if that’s what Luke Crane was on about in the interview because I haven’t listened to it yet, but I’ve seen it from other designers and it baffles me.

  4. Scott(?), I can’t say I’ve encountered that “avoiding divisiveness” tendency, but if you have examples that would be interesting. To me it almost looks like the opposite is happening right now with designers embracing old-school stuff (which I don’t really have an interest in, to be honest).

    That said, I’m sure there’s lots to debate within the gaming community – I’m trying not to go there, but instead looking at: how can I get my friends and colleagues interested in this shared experience we at the moment call story games.

  5. I was referring to what Luke Crane was doing in putting down the term “Story Games” as “avoiding divisiveness”. I consider Burning Empires, in particular, to be a Story Game and a sterling example of “Story Now!” play. My guess is that he wants to reach as many traditional RPGers as possible, so he doesn’t like his stuff being called Story Games.

    I don’t want to dig through the SG forum for other examples, but about a year ago I was planning to run my first Story Games Lounge at a convention and I went there looking for advice on how to sell the idea of Story Games to people. I got a lot of push back, much from people there who have published games, that it was basically wrong to talk about Story Games as a whole. That was a rather bizarre and unexpected response as I’m basically promoting their games or similar games and trying to get more people interested. I guess they don’t want that?

    I don’t see why different things can’t have different terms. Yes, lots of people play D&D and Dogs and BE. But what they are doing in those games is fundamentally different; even more so if they’re playing Polaris or Dirty Secrets. It seems like no matter how many times you say, “They aren’t better games, just different game,” people that want to still hear hate when they hear “Story Games”.

  6. Scott, I’ll try to dig out those posts on SG if possible, and have a look them. So, did you try to sell story games to non-gaming people – how did you approach it and did it work?

    EDIT: I think I found one of them

    Oh, my, I see we’re entering a world of pain here, so let’s not go there. I just need a yummy marketing term for the activity, to be able to introduce non-gamers to story jamming – actually, to story now as an activity. If “story games” is taboo for that, them Iet’s find another 🙂

  7. Anywhere other than that forum the term isn’t as taboo or controversial. I’m going to keep using it because I haven’t found a better term.

    I think I do a fair job of pitch what SGs are about. Generally I start with, “They’re more about ‘our story’ than ‘my character’.” Sometimes I’ll talk about distributed authority or the difference between task resolution and conflict resolution. I try to stick to things that directly affect play and steer away from ‘rules light’ and most of GNS; but lately I’ve been talking about Story Now and emphasizing that there is no pre-made scenario.

    Sometimes I get people interested. Sometimes people decide that Story Games aren’t for them. I really wish I could play a Story Game with everyone that asked as playing them is a whole lot more informative than talking about them.

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