Jon Garrad deposited Fluff Ain’t Rules: absence, presence and haunting in RPG design on Humanities Commons 3 years, 8 months ago
Fluff means fiction, framing and flavour; it’s the material around a game’s actual rules, that illustrates and indicates but has no substantive impact on how the game is played.
Rules are crunch. They are – particularly if you’re a serious player or a traditional ludologist – the important bit.
“If your game doesn’t blend the two, it says one of two things: either you’re not efficiently using your words, or your game isn’t really about what it says it’s about.”
— Olivia Hill
“Fluff” is often an absent presence within game design. It’s clearly important to the aesthetic experience of playing the game, and the context – narrative or otherwise – that provides play with impetus, but it too often exists at some point of discretion from the actual rules that reify the game’s intended or desired themes, affective experience and outcome.
This paper offers a hauntological perspective on RPG rules – how the developers’ claims about a game’s fictive and cultural context are frequently a spectre, missed and yearned after but not fully secured by the (relatively) concrete reality of its rules. What is not reified by a game’s rules does not exist within the game – and what is reified by a game’s rules is often not what the game claims itself to be.