2006-01-26 : A Public Service Announcement

You are not safe here.

The purpose of this blog is to judge people's fun. We begin by judging our own fun, but in doing so we will and always will judge others' fun too.

I hold standards of quality to be independent of individual tastes. Accordingly, everyone who participates here must do so with the understanding that the fun that suits their individual tastes might be called crappy, broken, lame, sucky, wimpy, stupid, or even pathological. You may feel free to defend your favorite fun if you're so moved, but you should do so in terms of its objective quality, without falling back upon "everyone likes what they like," "all tastes are equal," or "judging my fun makes you an elitist."

I expect each of you to have the self-understanding and emotional maturity to make your own decisions about your participation here, given this. My experience so far has overwhelmingly borne this out, and I expect this post to make the process only easier for us all.

1. On 2006-01-26, Troy_Costisick said:


I'll add my thoughts.

1.  There is not a one true way to have fun playing an RPG.

2.  Some ways are more fun than others.

3.  There are ways of playing RPGs that aren't fun.

4.  Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism can all be fun.

5.  The kind of game out there that will maximize your fun either does exist or can exist.

Is this your line of thinking, Vincent?




2. On 2006-01-26, Vincent said:

While that's all true, it's not really my line of thinking, no.

I'm more about:

If you feel like I'm saying that your favorite thing is actually pretty lame, probably I am saying that your favorite thing is actually pretty lame, but I expect you to respond constructively nonetheless. If you're participating here, you're taking that risk.

Crying "stop judging my fun" or any of its variants isn't responding constructively.


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VB go "no ifs."*
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3. On 2006-01-26, Vaxalon said:

What are the objective standards of quality of fun, then?

It's pretty hard to defend one's fun when I don't know what the standards are.


4. On 2006-01-26, Vincent said:

Not standards of fun, standards of quality.

The standards of quality for purposes of discussion on this blog are:

1) Play is thematic;
2) All participants participate meaningfully in the creation of theme.

More thematic play is higher quality than less thematic play. This explicitly includes - among other values for "more" - a broader range of themes across play is higher quality than a less broad range of themes across play.

Fuller participation is higher quality than less full participation.

These standards are not up for debate.


5. On 2006-01-26, Chris Goodwin said:

Ummm, yeah.

You can defend objective standards of quality, but fun?

If you're saying "That thing that you think is fun?  It's actually pretty lame," then you're judging the quality of the product, right?  Not the quality of the fun?  And you're expecting anyone defending it to defend the quality of the product?


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6. On 2006-01-26, John Kim said:

What are constructive responses, in your view?

I don't want you to stop expressing yourself, but I would want to argue in favor of that which I believe has inherent quality.  I believe in objective quality as well, but I suspect we have differences on what we think has objective quality.  It's notoriously difficult to argue objective quality in any creative field, however.  i.e. Does Frank Zappa have quality compared to Philip Glass?

Do you want people to express disagreement or argue your views here?  If so, how should people express them?


7. On 2006-01-26, Vincent said:

I DO NOT want people to argue that non-thematic or non-participatory play has objective quality; for purposes of discussion on this blog, they don't. (Obviously they do in the real world - that's fine, we can discuss that in the real world).

I DO want people to argue that (for instance) play according to a traditional distribution of power can be as (or more) participatory as play according to Dogs' distribution of power, if that's what they believe. I DO want people to argue that (for instance) immersive play can be as (or more) thematic as non-immersive play, if that's what they believe.

Have I answered your question, John? I have this feeling I may not have.


8. On 2006-01-26, Ninja Monkey J said:

Zappa has quality compared to Glass. They're both excellent musicians in their own realms, and sometimes those realms overlap. There's interesting discussion to be had there.

... but comparing them to Poison, well, there's just no comparison. All the baroque doodling and whiny lyrics about fucking groupies in the world won't get you things of the quality of Glass and Zappa (Glass is a superior composer, in my opinion, though Zappa's way funnier).

I can also say that, when someone is analyzing a piece of Glass' music, they will get more out of it than by analyzing something by Poison. There's more there, the passion is deeper, the thoughts higher, the outcome more beautiful. So the quality of the experience is better, longer lasting, and, dare I say... a higher quality of fun.

So rock on, V.


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RE go "bad demon makes me do this"*
MB go "Bad, bad demon."*
DZ go "Will nobody point out the obvious?"*
Matt S go "Dance, demon, dance"*
NinJ go "Yeah, I actually think "fun" is a red herring."*
DZ go "Thats such a dodge."*
TC go "Erg..."*
NinJ go "DZ"*

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9. On 2006-01-26, Brand Robins said:


Fair enough. I will comply.


10. On 2006-01-26, Ben Lehman said:

Got your back.



11. On 2006-01-26, Roger said:

I had to go review the definition of Theme (and also Premise) over in the Provisional Glossary.  I'm going to assume Vincent is using them as defined there; if that's not the case, I imagine he'll correct me.

One corollary of "a broader range of themes across play is higher quality than a less broad range of themes across play" seems to be "a broader range of premises is higher quality than a less broad range of premises across play."

Also, as far as I can tell, these standards of quality can only apply to actual instantiated events of play, rather than game systems.  It doesn't seem meaningful to say, for example, "Spawn of Fashan is a high-quality game because play is thematic", since there's no actual play there to judge one way or the other.

It may be fair to conclude that a game system is of high quality if it tends to produce high quality instances of play, but there are a few leaps of deduction there which have me a bit uneasy.

It also strikes me that the particular quality Vincent is referring to is, I believe, the quality of being a role-playing game.  If the quality is low enough, the activity ceases to meaningfully be a role-playing game at all.  That doesn't necessarily mean it isn't a kick-ass good time.


12. On 2006-01-26, Vincent said:

I'm extremely happy to answer questions like "what's thematic?" and "what's participation?" up in Ask a Frequent Question.

I also have a pretty solid personal take on "what's roleplaying?" if you'd like to ask me about that.


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13. On 2006-01-26, John Kim said:

That's pretty good—much more specific and clearer than the starting post to me at least.  I'd suggest you put it up top somewhere along with what you mean by both "participatory" and "thematic".  I've got "participatory", I think, but I'm not sure about the latter for games which don't explicitly set out to emulate literary theme.  Is being emotionally powerful sufficient?  Conversely, can something be thematic without being emotional powerful?

Also, just to be clear, presumably you're not safe either?  That is, do you want comments that disparage the quality of the things you like?  Not that I'm likely to talk about how Dogs players are brain-damaged or anything, but just trying to gauge the tone.  There's hard-hitting "Yes, hit me to show me where my blind spots and other foibles are, and generally how full of shit I am" versus "Help make the next generation of games".


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14. On 2006-01-26, Vaxalon said:

Vincent makes the rules.

Let me see if I understand, and perhaps amplify...

Participatory, and thematic, that's what makes a game good.

This puts the "We should..." line in a different light, entirely.

"We should all do *blank* because it makes the games we play in more participatory and/or more thematic" would be a statement that is in line with these game quality criteria.

To respond, "I don't think I would have fun doing *blank* for *reason*" may be true, but does not negate the original statement, and is probably useless to point out.

This isn't the place to argue that fun is more important than participation and theme.  Here, it isn't, by definition.  It's not a topic for argument.


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15. On 2006-01-26, Vincent said:

John, disparage the things I like in terms of their theme and participation, absolutely. "Dogs play sucks bald monkey ass! Its thematic power is nil and its players are brain-damaged simpletons if they think they're really participating" would be within bounds, for instance.

I don't promise to be dispassionate, but I'm not asking anybody else to be dispassionate either - just to keep their passion within bounds - so I figure that's okay.


16. On 2006-01-26, Sydney Freedberg said:

> What are the objective standards of quality of fun, then? It's pretty hard to defend one's fun when I don't know what the standards are.

"Objective"? "Defend"?

This is Vincent's blog, and Vincent's under no obligation to adhere to anything but his own entirely subjective standards. (Which I tend to agree with, and which may correspond to objective truth, but neither of those points is the issue). To the extent you* agree with his standards and statements, then you participate and benefit. To the extent those standards and statements upset or irritate you, there's not much point in "defending" yourself, only in quiet withdrawal possibly accompanied by a polite statement of dissent.

This isn't a public accomodation, or even an academic forum, it's more like visiting someone's else's place of worship: "Yes, I find your hymns moving, and the sermon today was insightful, but I really don't feel comfortable participating in your Sacred Day of Slaughtering the Goats. Go on without me, I'll see you next week."

* Not "you" = "Fred"; "you" = "one," "a person in general."


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VAX go "That's not how I read it."
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17. On 2006-01-26, Joshua Kronengold said:

Wait.  Vincent, are you saying that -no- criticsm is ok that doesn't use participation and theme as its only criteria.

Or that doesn't accept participation and theme as its highest criteria?

Or are you just saying "This is a Narrativist blog.  Don't preach Simulationism or Gamism here."

It seems to me that "That's a way to get more particpation and theme, but despite my RPG goals being particpation and theme, I wouldn't find it fun because.." is a reasonable statement, and sometimes a necessary one, or even an interesting one if that following "because" is interesting.


18. On 2006-01-26, Vincent said:

Joshua: Nah, that's not what I'm saying. "I wouldn't find that fun" is a whole different issue, not addressed by this PSA.


19. On 2006-01-26, Roger said:

>The purpose of this blog is to judge people's fun.

Are there any particular entries or threads that would be good examples of this?  To the best of my recollection, and upon a quick overview, I don't really find anything that leaps out at me as JUDGMENT.


20. On 2006-01-27, Vincent said:

Here are a few off the top of my head:
Still More Character Ownership
Hurt and Abandonment
A Seriously Social Issue

If you scroll back through the index of entries, especially looking at Thematic Play and Social Issues, you'll find 'em. Just because I'm relatively polite doesn't mean I'm not judging.

That's me and my posts - but this PSA is also to warn everyone that Ron Edwards' calling gamers brain-damaged is within bounds, and complaining that he's being elitist isn't. Of course he's judging. That's what we do here.


21. On 2006-01-28, John Kim said:

Wait.  Isn't calling him elitist also judging?  I mean, I happen to think he's full of shit on that one.  What am I allowed to say to that effect?


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22. On 2006-01-30, Menchi said:

This is pretty much going to be my only post here.

It seems to me that you have set yourself a pointless goal. Because you are not objectively seeking to understand fun at all. You have set up your hypothesis and structure in such a way that you can only succeed in agreeing with what you have already stated.

You are not going to make any epiphanies that will help others enjoy their games, you are only going to achieve describing a very subjective description of how to get more thematic play out of a game - if anything - and in doing so only be able to continue supporting your theory while failing to ever consider reality.

That's a poor form of analysis.

Now if you were more honest you'd say "I find thematic play fun, so I have dedicated this blog to developing ideas and exploring techniques that will build on that."

Nothing wrong with that - but to assume that your style of play has a higher quality or a more objective quality is a pointless exercise. Because you have deliberately limited yourself and thus prevented yourself from actually learning anything.


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Chris of "I'm interested in collaborative thematic play. I'm interested in any and every way to get it; I'm interested in doing g

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SLB go "This is starting to remind me of why I stopped reading the Forge."*
JAK go "This is why I will never leave The Forge"*
XP go "Some"*

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23. On 2006-01-30, Troy_Costisick said:


This is in response to John's Marginalia just above.  Just my 2 cents on it.

I really don't think Ron was being derogatory when he said, "Brain Damaged."  He's just saying that game companies have screwed people out of potential fun and functional play.  Screwed them so bad, in fact, that they aren't even aware of it.  In other words, he's saying we've been wronged and he wants to help right it.  Calling him an elitist for doing that would make him scratch his head, I believe.

The kind of game Ron comes up with might not be the kind of game for me.  If that lessens his oppinion of me as a person (and I doubt it would btw) so what?  My life will go on, and I have never looked to him for validation.  And he wouldn't want me to!

I see what he and Vincent are saying.  I understand their points, and they might very well have a sound case.  Let's see some games that demonstrait this first then pass judgement.




24. On 2006-01-30, kat miller said:

This makes me sad.

I was there with the thread that started this.  Reading about playerless play, and I wasn't quite getting it.  But instead of Vincent and others showing what I wasn't getting, they were busy deffending attacks, some written in marginalia.  I don't read the Maginalia often so i missed the attack posts in the first read.  So there was some ACK! for me too when I read Vincents responce to marginalia.  But then I went back and re-read the thread carefully and I understood.

People were posting on this blog to tell Vincent his new design idea was bad and that a game supporting such an idea would be unfun for everybody because they don't like those kinds of games.  Only Vincent hadn't even gotten to game design.  He was still in idea exploration.

Instead of starting their own Blogs and writing essays on why player character ownership is essential to a fun game, some of us (and by us I mean guests of the blog) were judging Vincent over an idea.

So Vincent has to remind us that this space is where he explores ideas.  Then other readers who also didn't read or recognize the attacks in marginalia got ruffled, fearing that Vincents rebuff was for everybody-or non designers.

The rebuff was for the few who were pissing in the thread.  If you don't piss in the thread its not meant for you.  Thats all.

The orginal dangerous idea thread is not there so i can only paraphraze this but someone even had the balls to tell the game desinger that games the follow the game design he wants to explore aren't RPGs.

I'm a tinkerer mostly, I don't identify myself as a game designer, but I do know that if someone said that about elements of game design that I was concidering I'd be rather defensive and a little angry.

Vincent tries again to offer up his shiney new idea.

That leads to this latest public service announcement.
where does it all come from?

Look, I may not Agree with Ron Edwards Post about Gamers Being Brain Damaged, but he included himself in the "we" part of his statement.  He wasn't saying that gamerz suck.  He was commenting on the reaction to the idea of taking character ownership away.

I mean how come we can easily talk about no one owning setting?  The idea that everything in the setting is shared doesn't bother anyone.  But the idea that the character you play is also shared all the people you play with has made people react on emotional level rather than an analytical level.  That responce is what I believe Ron was Commenting on.  I must have read that comment 8 times so far.  My name is not in that Passage.
Ron is not saying that He is better than me, that his games are better than games I like.

What I think he is saying is that the games that we are currently writing are being carefully designed for people who have "issues" because of past bad play experience.

I think he is also saying that it's going to be cool to see what people who have no such isues will feel about these games, and what will they want to play or design?  I thought it was rather hopeful.

But he didn't say he was better than me.  HOWEVER in the Maginalia not one but three different people took the time to tell Ron they think his ideas make him an elitist.

Did they send him an email, having been personally affronted by what he said?  Did they quote the line that offended them to post it here were every one could read?  Nope.

And the funnyest thing, (its almost worth crying over)  They were Judging Ron and despite the whole "brain damaged" thing wasn't judging them - until after tehy called him an elitist.

Ofcourse as soon as we do that there in no more exploration or discussion.  How can you feel free to post here if your afraid that someone might be offended and call you names?

The danger is that this blog could end up being a place where Vincent gets a shiney new Idea and then doesn't post about it because he doesn't want to be told that its not an rpg idea or that its unfun because I only like old timey fun, or because in defending hiself he has to wade through a barrage of panick from lazy readers-
(note yes, thats a judgement.)

And that would be sad.


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25. On 2006-01-30, Vincent said:

John etc.:

Anyone who likes may feel free to hold Ron to the standards of theme and participation that are the standards for this blog, and that are the standards by which he judges gamers to be brain damaged.

Not welcome here:
"When it comes to theme and participation, gamers are brain damaged."
"It hurts when you call us brain damaged, you elitist bastard. Stop it! I used to respect you."

Welcome here:
"When it comes to theme and participation, gamers are brain damaged."
"If you think gamers are bad at theme and participation, you're an ignorant fuckwad who's obviously never seen gamers in action. Gamers RULE theme and participation."

Lord, I hope that's finally clear enough. It's not open for debate, but I am willing to explain myself.


26. On 2006-01-30, Vincent said:

Kat, for what it's worth, this isn't making me sad. The day-to-day details of this process are frustrating me, but the overall process isn't, even. I knew it was coming.

When Ron and Clinton closed the theory forums at the Forge, that shifted the burden of maintaining theory discussion as productive onto us, the bloggers. I knew that I was going to get my fair share of "step up, Vincent; are you a moderator or a mouse?" I've looked forward to finding out which it happens to be.

One thing that I do know about myself is that I can handle hate on a whole nother scale than this stuff.


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27. On 2006-01-30, Roger said:

> a broader range of themes across play is higher quality than a less broad range of themes across play.

Vincent, I'm not entirely sure I'm following what you mean to say by this.

It would appear that you're saying thematically generalized systems, like, say, GURPS, are higher quality than thematically specific systems, like, say, My Life With Master.

Is this really what you're saying?


28. On 2006-01-30, Vincent said:

Roger: No, not at all.

What if every movie were about loyalty? It would be better if some movies were about loyalty and some were about forgiveness, don't you think? Better still if some were about loyalty, some were about forgiveness, some were about responsibility, some were about love, some were about duty, some were about honor, some were about violence, some were about...

Expanding the thematic range of RPGs is good, that's what I'm saying.

(GURPS, by the way, probably hits its design goals, but in terms of both theme and participation it's not even a contender.)


29. On 2006-01-30, Brand Robins said:

Menchi (and others),

This isn't an open community, though it sometimes looks like one. It is Vincent's blog. It is about talking about the kinds of games he wants to play and design. And for that purpouse his definition of fun is the one that matters.

If Vincent were looking for all fun ever, or trying to design and play games to multiple different standards, then there would be a point in exploring "what fun is to different people and how we get to that fun." But he isn't. And now he has been very clear that he isn't, and why he isn't.

I said pretty much the same thing in the very first post on my own blog: "I will not be nice in this journal. I will make judgemental statements and say that things are "good" or "bad" gaming without qualifying them. By this I do mean "good for me and the kinds of games I want to play and design" and not "good for all games." I don't believe there is such a thing as good for all games, the very ideas is stupid. I do, however, believe there is a good for me, and that is what I am going to focus on. That is what I'm going to talk about, and I am not going to talk about other things."

I really think that the only reason we're seeing this much shock is because people thought of this place as an open forum for discussing ideas about all types of gaming they thought were good, and are now having to step back and relaize this actually is Vincent's blog and not speakers corner. That can be disapointing, I know, but it is also the way it is, take it or leave it.

There are still plenty of open forums out there were anyone can talk about their kinds of fun freely.


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30. On 2006-01-30, Roger said:

Ah.  So it's more of a ceteris paribus statement—"All other things being equal, a game which has a greater thematic range has higher quality than a game with a narrower thematic range."

Still, it's interesting to note that it seems (to me) that the general trend has been towards games with a tighter, narrower thematic focus, rather than the reverse.

Thanks (yet again) for the clarification.


31. On 2006-01-31, Vincent said:

Roger, no -

All things being equal, a theory that expands the thematic range of RPG design is better than a theory that does not expand it.

A bookshelf with ten tightly focused games on it, each with its own narrow but unique thematic range, is better than a bookshelf with one game with a broader (but less than tenfold broader) thematic range, and better than one with a hundred games on it sharing the same thematic range.

I don't see a trend toward narrower thematic focus - I see a trend toward thematic material at all. GURPS doesn't have a broad thematic range; it has nil thematic range.


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32. On 2006-01-31, Nobody Special said:

Please help me understand, why are games with less focused thematic range lower quality than games with focused theme? Doesn't a game without thematic focus give one the freedom to bring out any theme in play? It is analogous to play in which story emerges through player actions rather than being predetermined / railroaded, or isn't it?

I understand the difference between the thematic range of RPG design and the thematic range of an RPG but I don't understand how a single game, without reference to the whole of RPG design, must have a focused theme or be lower quality. Have I misstated the issue?


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33. On 2006-01-31, Tris said:

Would you rather use a handsaw to cut a branch off a tree, or a swiss army knife?

A professional waiter style corkscrew to open a bottle, or a swiss army knife?

A pair of scissors to cut shapes out of some cardboard, or a swiss army knife?

At least that's how I understand it.  The swiss army knife can do each of these things to some extent, but a more focussed tool does a better job.  So it's better to have a toolkit of ten different tools than it is to have either a really big multi-tool, or hundreds of different woodsaws.  That way you can choose the tool that lets you do what you want to do most effectively.


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34. On 2006-01-31, Victor Gijsbers said:

Is it really within bounds here to call someone an "ignorant fuckwad", or was that merely a colourful and over-the-top example?


35. On 2006-01-31, Vincent said:

Nobody Special: A broader thematic range is only one kind of "more thematic." A tight thematic focus is another kind of "more thematic." I don't prefer one to the other in individual game designs - once you start playing, every theme+participation game has a narrow thematic range.

That answers your question, I think?

Unless you really are asking why GURPS isn't thematically broad, in which case the answer is that GURPS isn't thematically a thing, broad narrow or otherwise.

Victor: It's within bounds to use whatever language you want, if you're backing it up with substance. It's extremely appropriate for each of us to choose our words to convey the tone and attitude we want to convey, and to be prepared for everyone else to respond to us based on the words we choose. That may include me telling you something like "good point but you gotta back way off on the 'ignorant fuckwad.'"

If you aren't backing it up with substance, it doesn't matter how polite or impolite you are, you're out of bounds.


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36. On 2006-02-14, Dantai said:

Here's my RPG Theory - it's all about the fun!
I see six distinctive flavours of fun in role-playing games and entertainments. Which are best? I don't know!

Fun fun fun in the sun sun sun.

It's wierd that Ron refers to 'brain-damage' I'd have thought a biologist wouldn't want to confuse physiological trauma and learned behaviours, still it gets people talking...


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37. On 2006-02-17, Green said:

I'm a bit confused here because it seems that although many have provided examples of games that have narrow thematic play, the alternative seems to be this vague "non-narrow thematic play" that seems to lump together all the games that are not DitV or PTA or Sorcerer and other Forge games.  Do you have examples of games that offer broad thematic play that are designed to have thematic play?

For instance, the game I'm working on (Dramatikos) has a mechanic for theme-based play which definitely has an impact on the way the game is played and how players are rewarded by the system.  However, Dramatikos has the players define the themes of their games.  So in your model of narrow and non-narrow thematic play, where would such games fall?


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38. On 2006-02-21, Vincent said:

Green: I endorse Em's and J's answers in marginalia. Primetime Adventures and Universalis are the broad thematic games I'm thinking of.

Does that answer your question or is there more to it?


39. On 2006-03-02, James V said:

>A bookshelf with ten tightly focused games on it, each with its own narrow but unique thematic range, is better than a bookshelf with one game with a broader (but less than tenfold broader) thematic range, and better than one with a hundred games on it sharing the same thematic range.<

I don't know if this is what you mean (pretty sure it's not), but this line made me remember the thought I had a few months back that a possible future of the hobby will be that the Internet will give people the means to help make or find games that will satisfy the goals of their particular group.

Essentially, a game for every group.


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40. On 2006-03-08, anon. said:

Vincent (plus the people who answered in Marginalia):

I think that about covers it.


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41. On 2006-07-12, Jaelra said:



42. On 2006-07-12, Vincent said:

Deleted it. Anything I can do for you?


43. On 2006-07-17, ffilz said:

I'm curious, every day, it seems like I see new spam. But it's all dated 7/1. How is that happening?


44. On 2006-07-17, Vincent said:

I don't know.

It sucks.


45. On 2006-07-17, NinJ said:

Just don't allow posts from 2006-07-01.

Temporary fix, to be sure, but it'll give some respite.


46. On 2007-12-13, Callan S. said:

Doesn't this miss the mark kinda, in terms of game design? Typically you get people playing some game which is totally unsupportive of their idea of fun, but they just keep going back to with some associative link between that game and fun.

I thought judging fun was to look at that link and say 'You know, that link might be completely bogus'.

I mean, sometimes people mix up their means of getting fun with what they actually find fun. Are we judging what they actually find fun, or the means they use (and often call those means 'fun' by mistake, imo).


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