Friday, 10 October 2014
Yes, Please Refuse to Define the OSR!
So back when I posted "If We Don't Define the OSR, Ron Edwards Will", I had a string of people, mostly hostile ultra-orthodox OSR types either distrusting my motives (seriously? when the alternative is Ron Fucking Edwards?!) or just having a level of grandpa-simpson-like refusal to want to have to accept any sort of threatening new idea, who said "oh yeah, well then what do you define it as, smartass?"
So yesterday I went ahead and defined it.
This was followed by a string of people (interestingly, many of which were the very SAME people who just two days back were defying and challenging me to give my definition "if I'm so smart", etc.) on blog entries and on G+ uttering denunciations of HOW DARE I try to define the undefinable OSR?! The OSR, they now suddenly insist, is "undefinable", it is like the Matrix (I shit you not, one fucking idiot made a 'meme' with Morpheus in it, and actually LITERALLY said "no one can be told what the OSR is..."), or Love, or Your First Orgasm, or eating croissants under the Eiffel Tower at sunrise in Paris, it is this thing that can never be truly, correctly or accurately defined and must only be experienced!
I was accused of trying to "glorify" myself by daring to offer up a definition, as though I was daring to see the face of Gygax Almighty himself. And of course some of the more well-known blogging literati of the OSR made their snide reeking-of-superiority fake-frustration posts about how they're "Above it all" and certainly can't be bothered to define the OSR nor should they be expected to, nor can anyone do so.
Now, I'm going to ignore the fact that most of the people already HAVE been defining the OSR. They've done it in all their various posts over the years. They do it any time they talk about the OSR; they just aren't EXPLICITLY defining it. They're not saying "The OSR is x", but whenever they bring up the OSR they are in some way or another engaging in unspoken definitions of it. So what they want is to get to have their cake and eat it to. Refuse the define the OSR, and you're left in a situation where its the mob of whoever can rouse the troops that gets to decide if something is or isn't OSR, and they can change those definitions to their liking. They can conveniently use one "unwritten definition" of OSR at one moment, and then if someone calls them out on something, deny that this was ever the definition at all. They can say "Game X is not OSR", but never have to justify why, and turn around and ignore the unspoken reasons later on if it suits them.
When some of the people above have said things like:
"(the OSR is) anchored on classic DnD and on an interest in similar old school games"
"(the OSR) is grounded in classic D&D"
"(Torchbearer and Dungeon World) are not classic D&D (and thus outside the OSR)"
They are defining the OSR in all but name! And the very fact that we can look at games like Torchbearer or Dungeon World and say "yeah, those are NOT OSR", means that not only is there such a thing as a definition, but anyone who isn't willing to just say "ANY game at all can be OSR" is making use of a definition!
So while acting above it all, these OSR-literati are making attempts at "defining" OSR just as much as I am, only refusing to be open about it.
The only thing that does in an immediate sense is immunize them from having their definitions questioned, because if you don't stand up to make a definition openly, you can always later disclaim specific parts of what you've been inherently working with as a definition.
In a long-term sense, though? It means that the absence of a hard and fast definition means that someone else can step in and insist that THEY have the true definition, and then use that to make sure it's what they want it to be. That's what Ron Edwards was trying to do, and making up a definition that would allow Storygames to call themselves OSR and that would give all the credit for anything good about the OSR to go to the Forge.
But it's now what I've done instead, creating a much more sane definition to oppose his:
OSR: a design philosophy of creating systems, settings and adventures that fit within the boundaries of old-school mechanics and concepts; that is, either directly utilizing features that were in existence in the period before the advent of 2nd edition AD&D; or features that, in spite of not having historically existed at that time, could have existed in that period without the addition of material or design concepts that are clearly the product of subsequent ideas or later theories.
There. Defined. And by having had the balls to actually define it, unless someone else dares to come along and define a better version, it will end up being, in the long-term, what people accept as the standard.
You want to keep pretending you're aloof from such concerns and not contribute your own competing definition? That's fine by me; it just means that by refusing to codify what you think the definition ought to be, you end up surrendering the definition to be what I have openly and explicitly defined it as.
Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia