Monday, September 14, 2009

Versimilitude And Other Naughty Words

Versimilitude is a word that I find neither easy to spell, nor easy to say. Nor do I find it easy to read in other people's posts. So much so, I think it should be banned from the vocabulary of gamers everywhere.

Why? Because it has become misunderstood and fetishized among rank-and-file gamers to the point where it has lost its value in gamer discourse.

I say this because, while it is a perfectly useful term for game-designers to use and apply, its adoption and abuse by those people, like myself, who intend to play games, not design them, has reached noxious levels.

The standard definition of versimilitude is that which exhibits the appearance of truth or reality. Versimilitude, if properly understood, should be considered more the former (truth) than the latter (reality). That is, something can exhibit the appearance of truth, but may not reflect reality, and still have versimilitude.

The problem is that many gamers tend to focus on the "reality" portion of versimilitude, not understanding that games, by their very nature, are fractured images of reality. The point of games is to abstract reality. If I want to experience reality, I don't need a game for that, I simply walk out the front door. But games that are well constructed can both exhibit abstractness and versimilitude. A game does not have to mirror reality in order to exhibit versimilitude.

For example, Live Action Role Playing games ("LARPS") are among the most realistic role-playing games. What could be more realistic that actually "being" the character, rather than abstracting it to a set of attributes? I don't roll dice to see if I hit, I take a swing at you. I don't tell the DM what I say, I say it to the other LARPer.

That does not mean that a LARP has more versimilitude than, say, Tigris & Euphrates, which is a very abstract game.

A game can exhibit versimilitude, and be completely abstract. That abstract game can be said to have versimilitude if its game mechanics are internally coherent, and is tells "truth" about a particular facet of reality.

I also see versimilitude being fetishized by some gamers, using the term as a sort of "litmus test" for whether a game is worth playing. Risk is a game that, in my estimation, has a very low level of versimilitude. What truth is Risk trying to model? However, this would not prevent me from playing, and enjoying, that game.

Similarly, I see a few in the pro and anti 4e communities still arguing for and against 4e on the basis that it demonstrates, or fails to demonstrate, versimilitude. I'm not interested in injecting myself into that debate. Frankly, i'm not terribly interested if it does or doesn't. Role-playing games are very complicated models of reality, and I do not believe there will ever be an RPG rule-set that meets every gamers version of reality.

Are you enjoying the game you're playing? Then just play it. If there is a rule that fails to exhibit versimilitude, then change it. It's your table!

8 comments:

Timeshadows said...

"A game can exhibit versimilitude, and be completely abstract. That abstract game can be said to have versimilitude if its game mechanics are internally coherent, and is tells "truth" about a particular facet of reality." -- You

Examples, please.

ze bulette said...

"Role-playing games are very complicated models of reality, and I do not believe there will ever be an RPG rule-set that meets every gamers version of reality."

I would like to suggest that if there ever is, and if you then decide to play, you'll no longer know that you're playing. :-)

Tim Shorts said...

Oww, I read this post too early. It made my head hurt.

@ze bulette: ha, very true.

Calimacil said...

Verisimilitude or truthlikeness is a complex topics to describe games especially LARP. I think at the end you right, if you enjoy playing a game, just do it.

FYI- I just finishing reading the book "Play" from Stuart Brown, the author simply recommend to all of us to play because that help to shape our brain and open our imagination. I think that why we all love to play...

Christian

A Paladin In Citadel said...

@Timeshadows

Let me give you one to start with. Chess. It does not represent "reality" (cavalry do not really move up three squares, then over one) but it does represent "truth" (some military units are more powerful than others, the king's guard - the queen - is often the most powerful unit, when your C&C - then king - is lost, so is the war)

I'm happy to also opine on how Chess rules are internally consistent, but i'm curious to know your thoughts regarding this example.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

There should probably be a warning on my blog somewhere.

"Consult with your physician before consuming this blog, if you are pregnant or suffering from a heart condition. Do not take on a full stomach."

Timeshadows said...

I disagree that there is any intrinsic Truth to the rules of Chess.
There may be some transcendent occurring in the gaming it out, but not in the rules themselves. IMO.

If the complexity of the gameplay from a core simple number of rules governing the role and operation of iconic figures, is the measure of truth, then I would argue that Chess has been utterly dwarfed by the original (old school) Role Playing Game.

A methodology for truly infinite possibilities that most are crafted to model only a few distinct cases and considerations (Subterranea, Monsterdom, Bright Kindred, Overland Travel, Spells, Weapons and Gear, and the handful of of actual rules), in effect, limiting the infinite possibilities of each discrete individual figure.

I'm sorry what were we talking about?

Verisimilitude ain't no bad woid, ya hear? Wise-up.

;)

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Thanks for sharing that perspective! I hope I didn't imply that complexity and truth are the same thing. Often, the reverse is true. But I understand why versimilitude and "infinite possibilities" (ie. mirroring reality) get conflated.

My comments were initially prompted by cries of foul by some 4e critics, who feel that 4e is flawed since the "powers" system in 4e fails to demonstrate "versimilitude". I think their criticism is misplaced, since the enjoyment of that game (for those who play it) is unrelated to whether the 4e powers reflect truth or reality. I don't play 4e myself, but I think 4e is an interesting exercize in game design.

Versimilitude is not critical to my enjoyment of a game. It is an important consideration for you game designers, but not to simple folk like me, who just want to play a fun game!

Cheers!