Continuing the discussion from last time, I do think the “plotiness” axis is an interesting tool, but creating axes is where things get really fun. Some axes are more interesting than others, so how do we know which opposing conceptual concepts would make good pairs? Here are some guidelines I go by.
Vague concepts give vague answers
It is easy to find concepts from life at large: Action/drama or conservative/liberal, for example. These can sometimes tell you things you don’t know about the games you’re looking at. But when you use big, vague concepts, the games rarely say anything interesting about the concepts you’re using. That backwards influence is awesome, because it creates opportunities for greater understanding about the topic which then makes more sense out of all those games. It’s like a giant understanding feedback loop.
So instead, I prefer using concepts which come from gaming itself. Conflict/task resolution. Dungeon-crawl/new world exploration. Choosing something tied to games directly creates opportunities to learn about how those concepts work in the world at large.
Pick even match-ups
As an example, a pair that seems like it might work is general-purpose games versus genre-specific games. I don’t think it does, though, for this reason: there are too many kinds of genre-specific games and they operate differently enough that they don’t share much similarity betwixt each other. Most a/not a pairs run into this problem. For example, systems with character death/ones without, or heroic/non-heroic games.
This technique works best when the pairing chosen has examples all along the line and the games at each point of the line seem related to each other in ways other than just the axis they’re on.
Use examples to give you a starting point
Imagining new ways to think about RPGs is hard, and there are lots of people doing a lot of thinking all the time about RPGs. I find that one way to learn interesting new things without having to do as much work is to look at a single game and think about things it does well. From there, I have a set of things I can use as end points of a new axes of discussion.
This can work the other way – finding things you don’t like about a system – but I’m not a fan of that mode of discussion. In critical analysis, I find that talking about great things sparks the imagination and leads to new ideas. Concentrating on things that don’t work only leads one to other things that don’t work.
As always, if you’ve played around with these ideas, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.