Such a harsh, bright line drawn between the poles on this; I’m not surprised it’s triggered a lot of talk this morning. Is it because we judge each other and ourselves on the correctness of our engagement with the activity? Like, you’re a fake gamer if your practices include X or Y? That’s disturbingly close to sectarian talk for my comfort.
I do think it’s a huge indiegamer cliche to worship the text of the rules. The Rules As Written. The RAW. Is worship too strong a word? I don’t think it is. Failure to follow RAW is an easy go-to when folks talk about not having fun with a game. And yet nobody seems to be asking okay but why did they fail to follow RAW? And yes, oh yes, you get a lot of “because that’s not how an RPG works” or “I couldn’t see the point of it.”
Most players and GMs are, IMO, not skilled designers or analysts. They’re not good at seeing the gears working. They don’t really understand why a game works the way it does. And yet any experienced GM is very much an expedient and frequent designer in practice. We come up with solutions because we feel that gap, that missing tooth where you expect or need or feel comfort when there’s a rule in place. It’s completely normal and expected that we’d have go-to tools in our kit.
The place where I think the indie cult of RAW gets it wrong is not seeing the rules text in a larger context. What are the themes of the game? What’s the designer’s intent? What do your players like and dislike about playing? How are my own strengths and weaknesses filtering my understanding of the RAW?
The other end of the spectrum is no picnic either: the designer is dead, there is no intent but the GM’s intent, the RAW is there to be ignored at your pleasure, it’s your game. All that stuff is just as absolutist.
There’s gotta be a more functional place.
My actual answer: discovering that “roll the dice or say yes” doesn’t work in PbtA, and in fact is antithetical to the system. You don’t get to ignore move triggers; there is no MC authority to do so. And wowowow that realization went bone-deep into how the games run. Lots of advancement relies on moves being made. The snowballing of moves relies entirely on moves happening whether you want them or not. The entire feeling of momentum through the session means you absolutely, positively must ignore that (otherwise super-healthy and functional) urge to just say yes to things. To anything.
This happened more recently than I’d like to admit. First go through Sagas of the Icelanders I think. The details are hazy but the realization was powerful.
Anyway, a thing I wanted to share here at the end: I’ve been cultivating this approach to gaming which is to remain as agnostic and open as possible to what I think the game is going to do. I try very, very hard to just set aside expectations and let the game do whatever it’s going to do. And then observe it dispassionately, trying to empathize as closely as possible to each player’s reaction as it happens.
I don’t know that it makes for more fun/rewarding games but this approach has greatly improved my understanding of games. More often than not, that means understanding that the game isn’t designed to deliver an experience we find fun or rewarding. Following the RAW is no guarantee of a good time.