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AboutOn Roleplaying Games

Objective of Play

Thus far we’ve identified a number of activities that take place in roleplaying games, all of which are not unique to roleplaying itself, but that when used together in play give us a clearer picture of what a roleplaying game is:

  • Players adopt the roles of characters, who can take action in a fictional reality (“the fiction”);
  • Play is conducted as a structured conversation;
  • Characters can make meaningful choices in the fiction, and;
  • Game mechanics model the action characters take in the fiction.

But another aspect of roleplaying games that often confuses the uninitiated is that there is not a clear objective to the game.

Yet it is called a roleplaying game, and we expect games to have clear objectives.

The "Game" Part of Roleplaying Games

If we are having a conversation, why are we having it? What is the ultimate goal of the conversation?

We know Lonnie has an objective as a character in our Tiger King RPG (get the clues from the trailer), but what is Sandra’s objective as a player? What is the GM’s objective as a mediator? Can it be said there is even an objective at all?

Most games have a zero-sum objective: win at the expense of your opponents losing. Or maybe the win condition can be shared, because the game is cooperative and players are not competing against each other. Whatever the case, the expectation in any game is that there is some form of competition, there are rules, and there is particular outcome desired for the players. If there is no such desired outcome in a roleplaying game, why is it called a game at all?

The objective of play is another aspect of the roleplaying game that distinguishes it from other games. Every roleplaying game expresses that objective in different terms: in simulationist play, the objective of play is exploration of the fiction. In storytelling play, the objective of play is to collaboratively narrate a story through the fiction.

But I would argue that both of these “objectives” are merely expressions of a broader, more general objective at the heart of any roleplaying game: narrative fulfillment of character action, which I'd like to explore at length in the next section...

Are you sure?