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I often see some people in the table top RPG claim that RPGs are inherently social. As such, the claim is used to invalidate the existence of solitaire rpg'ing, computer RPGs as "real rpgs", etc.

I have been unable to find the evidence that backs this claim that RPGs must exclusively be social, and often the evidence presented tends to beg the question. For example, "RPGs are social because you can't have a shared imagined space if you play by yourself." This begs the question of why you need a shared imagined space in the first place, since a shared imagined space is already implied by the 2+ person claim.

So, the claim is that RPG'ing MUST happen with other people involved. What is usually listed as evidence directly backing this claim? Failing that, what are the usual reasoned arguments behind this, and the evidence listed as backing those arguments?

For example, a reasoned argument with some evidence behind it would not be a definition of roleplaying games themselves, but an official dictionary definition of its components that specifies those components require more than one person be engaged in them would be fine.

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closed as unclear what you're asking by okeefe, Erik Schmidt, wraith808, MrJinPengyou, mxyzplk Jul 29 at 2:55

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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@user15299 The problem is that the definition of "RPG" is merely conventional, meaning that it means only what people say it means as a matter of convention and general agreement. There's no evidence you can find that's separate from people's opinions on what the word "should" mean and include. There might be reasoned arguments, but they can't be logical and based on external evidence, they would necessarily be persuasion-based arguments based on sense and feeling. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 28 at 17:52
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Let me see if I can clarify. I'm not really looking for discussion. What I'm looking for is perhaps best described as a listing of evidence (if there is any), or at least a list of common reasoned arguments that are supported by evidence of some sort. Those things should at least be trying support the claim that RPGing must involve other people without being tautological in this manner: "RPGing must involve other people because a shared imagined space has to exist" or "RPGing must involve other people because you can't have a social contract without other people". Hope that helps! –  user15299 Jul 28 at 18:03
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This is sounding more and more like a request to compile a list of stuff, which is a type of question that works poorly enough in the Stack Exchange system that they're deemed automatically off-topic as a category. I don't see a way to make this not a list question, either. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 28 at 19:07
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So what about this question isn't answered by rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/792/… - there are solo RPGs. You're asking us to refute "something unclear someone said somewhere on the internet." –  mxyzplk Jul 28 at 22:18
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I will note that since this may end up on meta, Christianity.SE had to clamp down on "I hear someone says" questions in favor of specific denomination doctrinal statements, because "rebutting something someone said" (often uncited) is totally pointless and you have to answer them all with @AceCalhoon's answer below. –  mxyzplk Jul 28 at 22:52

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

No one can actually point you to evidence, or reasoned argument for this, because it doesn't actually exist. The argument is made on assumptions, assertions, and shifting goalposts, often with a fair amount of the "No True Scotsman" argument thrown in.

But! What might be more useful is to go over some of the reasons people think this way, so that you can at least disambiguate what's going on when that argument presents itself.

Games where fiction affects play vs. not

First, it's important to note there is a key difference in defining something as an "RPG" because it:

The last one is pretty much the one thing tabletop RPGs have completely different than any other kind of game in existence, and as such, represents a unique medium of play. This makes it useful to recognize it is different than others for both design and experience, but that doesn't mean other types of games are bad or lesser games.

A lot of people are using this definition when they say other games "aren't real RPGs" even though they may not be able to articulate it as such.

What this means for Solo Games

Well, when you use that definition, a lot of solo games do not count - boardgames, "Choose Your Own Adventures", videogames, and even the solo random generated dungeon crawl typically doesn't count because there's no real rules to help a player to navigate which/how fictional events/choices should apply beyond the hard mechanical rules.

A core idea to multiplayer tabletop RPGs is this idea of "how does the group decide how the fiction influence play outcomes?" which is pretty much the idea of the Lumpley-Care Principle by Vincent Baker & Emily Care Boss. In multiplayer, it's really about figuring out who can say what and have authority to make it "real" as far as the game outcomes are concerned.

For solo play, on the other hand, there's just you. There has to be compelling procedures or concepts as a core part of play to make it more interesting than either:

"I win because I want to win, therefore I win." or,

"I don't win yet, until I want to win, then I win because I want to win."

(or lose because you want to lose, etc.)

In other words, there needs to be more creative pressure to make solo play something other than just the equivalent of daydreaming.

A few years back, there was a push for solo games by several designers and I know some came out of it, though the only one which I'm familiar with is Ben Lehman's Beloved. This game focuses on making an intense premise set up to force you to wrestle your own brain, intensely, as the point of play. Until I had seen this game, I also fell into the camp of "I haven't seen it, therefore it can't be done".

All in All

The arguments behind "you cannot have a solo rpg" boil down to either poor communication about what the game medium is you're talking about, or, simply the fact that most people haven't seen a 1 player tabletop rpg and just assume it is impossible.

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Best answer so far. –  Keoma Jul 29 at 2:53

This is ultimately a word game. The trouble you will always run into is that no one is "in charge" of the phrase "Role Playing Game," and therefore people can define it however they want.

The people you are talking to define a Role Playing Game something like this:

  • Governed by rules.

  • Has roleplaying.

  • Involves interaction between multiple players.

By this definition, solo RPGs fundamentally can't exist. You can create something that's solo, a game, and involves roleplaying, but it's not a Role Playing Game, because it doesn't fit the definition.

Sound arbitrary? It is! Welcome to language. There's nothing to stop someone from saying that an RPG requires social interaction, just as there's nothing stopping someone from saying that an RPG requires advancement, or dice, or anything else.

At the end of the day, your best bet is to not dwell too long on the words people use. Someone on the Internet saying that a Solo RPG isn't an RPG doesn't change the fact that the thing you're playing is fun.

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Postscript: Why this is a hard question

Ultimately the hard part of this problem is that the answer varies depending on who we're talking about. It's not enough to just say "some people don't consider solo RPGs to be RPGs." We need to know which people, which RPGs, and why they exclude them.

Consider the video game Diablo. This site says it's not an RPG, because it's a computer game. But a BioWare fan-site may say that it's not an RPG because it doesn't have dialog-trees. Both of us are saying that Diablo isn't an RPG, but for entirely different reasons. We would each present entirely different evidence to support our definitions, and each side's evidence would be entirely meaningless to the other.

Meanwhile, Diablo will still happily market itself as an RPG.

With that said, there are two primary ways that a definition comes about:

  • Kinship -- How alike is this RPG to others the community has seen before? Does the community feel the differences between this new thing and the original archetypes are substantial, or mostly superficial?

  • Purpose -- Can the new thing replace an old RPG? Or is it an entirely new experience? Do I use it at the same times and places? With the same sorts of people? To trigger the same emotions?

Note that both of these are pretty vague. They may, or may not, exclude solo-play RPGs. The history of the speaker and the purpose of the word use will determine whether or not solo-play RPGs fit.

Postscript 2: What evidence looks like

For the sake of completeness, here are two examples of cases where solo RPGs should be excluded from the term "role playing game." These aren't meant as proof that solo RPGs should be banned from the term for everyone, always. Just cases where it is likely that they should be excluded for a particular conversation.

  • "I'm looking for something new to do with my Saturday nights. Can someone recommend an RPG?"

    If I ask this, and you recommend a solo RPG, I might perhaps respond that they're not really an RPG [for the purposes of this discussion].

    You can point to any definition you like, but in this case my purpose in asking is clearly to find something to do with my friends. A solo RPG doesn't satisfy the needs of the word in this context, and would therefore be excluded.

    To use an example from your question, for the purposes of this example, "a shared imagined space" is crucial because I'm looking for something that brings me and other people together.

  • "I just played this neat thing called D&D for the first time! The hacking, the slashing, the DM's clever plots, my friends talking in funny voices! Let's talk about games like that!"

    In this case, it is likely that a solo RPG is simply too far removed from the type of experiences the person is talking about. It is fair for them to say that it doesn't sound anything like the kind of experience they wanted to talk about.

Again, the context of the claim determines what evidence for or against it matters. Give us a concrete example of who's asking, and we can tell you more. But in general, the answer is vague and unsatisfying.

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It's not a question of someone being wrong on the internet. It's a question of wanting to find out if there is actually a strong case for the claim. If there is, then I think it might implications for the activity we call solo rpging and how we think about it or even approach it. :) –  user15299 Jul 28 at 16:52
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@user15299 There is no single, official definition of the phrase "Role Playing Game." Therefore there can be no "evidence" of the type you are looking for (one way or the other). –  AceCalhoon Jul 28 at 17:12
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You should ask about whatever problem you're really trying to solve instead of this "prove to me" question - this answer is really the only legit one the way it currently stands. –  mxyzplk Jul 28 at 18:49
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@acecalhoon true, but it is normally considered an expert on the english language. –  GMNoob Jul 28 at 19:22
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@GMNoob The problem is that the phrase as we understand it is too specialized for OED to have much chance at it. For example, their definition breaks down for the sentence "In recent years, Call of Duty has begun to add RPG elements..." The word is simply too fractured at this time. –  AceCalhoon Jul 28 at 19:34

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