RPGs as Language: Mechanical Drift

August 31, 2013

Over time words and even entire languages change their sounds. Mechanics as we use them, especially how we choose to use them, also drift over time, adjusting to a group’s or person’s preferences. And just like in phonological drift, some mechanics can be dropped, some merged (or synthesized into new procedures), and some changes produces a chain of subsequent changes.

Distinctions and their mental categories often shift consciously or unconsciously. A mechanic is a way of indicating a distinction, of judging a situation’s presence within a mental category. So a group can struggle to maintain distinct judgements after a mechanic’s application changes, either going back and forth on the change, or adjusting the other mechanics to accommodate the shift.

What can cause that shift in the first place varies. In some cases it can be an error or misremembering of a procedure which turns into a new mechanic. In other cases, it can be a fully intentional change. It frequently occurs as a result of the immediate recollections of the procedure being subsumed over their social and fictional applications so that other parts of their categories are forgotten. In essence we train ourselves to a new set of categories and distinctions, evolving constantly during the course of play.

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