PLAYER LEARNING TRUMPS CHARACTER LEARNING
Yup, here it is. This idea supercedes everything that has come before.
Bartle talks about the four LEARNING PHASES (the BARTLE LADDER): unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence. These are patterned: implicit, explicit, explicit, implicit. He also suggests that the most satisfying experience is achieved if the players’ progression through the ladder is linked to the four stages of IMMERSION (unimmersed, avatar, character, persona). Systems and controls should be in place so that the GM can keep the players’ progress through these stages relatively in synch.
Note: when it comes to learning, we’re talking about PLAYER LEARNING here, not character learning. Who cares if you have a character Bob: (Fight 20, Magic 10) move on to become Bob: (Fight 50, Magic 40). This is meaningless except in context of the system. The PLAYER is the one we should be designing the game for.
THE SKILLS BEHIND THE SKILLS
So, what we’re really trying to get at is designing the GAME at the PLAYER LEVEL, which is a deeper concept than the roleplaying game at the CHARACTER LEVEL, and is shrouded by it. The PLAYER-LEVEL GAME should allow players to progress through the learning phases, and let the GM link their progression to the immersion phases through the “Heroes’ Journey”, or a drama mechanic. To get the GAME EXPERIENCE I want, the apparent Roleplaying Game must be in service to this deeper player-oriented game.
In other words, we’ve been approaching this project from the wrong direction; we’ve been trying to build the ROLEPLAYING SYSTEM first, creating engines for it, and then trying to use that engine to satisfy myriad PLAYER TYPES, which is building from the top down.
We must approach it from the bottom up! We must find an engine that fulfills the duty of monitoring player-progression through learning and linking it to immersion, and then build a RPG toolbox on top of that.
For example, instead of building a combat engine with very limited ways of interacting with it (and is therefore appropriate really for only a few particular genres), we must define a general combat method which satisfies whatever stages of the Bartle Ladder and which the system is able to link to immersion, from which a diverse number of particular combat methods can be created to fit the genre in question.
The “Skills behind the Skills”? For players to be able to progress through Bartle’s ladder, they must perform learning about the RPG universe and/or it’s inhabitants, and act or interact (depending on which progression track they follow). Note, here: the Players must learn, not the characters. We must then ensure that there are facilities available to satisfy any player, regardless of their placement along the development track. We should probably design the system such that the players are kept pretty much in synch with each other as well as the system. We can take advantage of the cyclical structure I’d mentioned in my presentation. (e.g. character death may or may not occur? Maybe this would be too disruptive to the feeling of immersion)