Should there be a Threefold?

A large number of people seem to object to the very existence of the Threefold. In forums where the regulars support the model, these objections are loud and strident, reoccurring at periodic intervals with only the names of the attackers changing.

Like most arguments, many of these are due to simple misunderstandings. Some are just the result of the natural trollish nature of the Internet.  And the remainder is due to the fact that the simple existence of a model, no matter how accurate or well explained, is a lightning rod almost certain to draw fire the minute a newcomer to the forum arrives. The reason for this is simple, any model attempts to classify and the first act of a newcomer is to find out how he fits in. When he attempts this with the Threefold, chances are excellent that he fails to find a fit for himself. He therefore launches an effort to make the regulars in the group recognize him.

Now the inability to apply the model may be due to a failure to understand it. Or it may actually be due to a fault in the model itself, a truly troublesome idea since a fault means that it is mischaracterizing an entire group of players. And lastly the problem may be due to the modelís very nature. Since nearly all threefolds highlight differences between extremes, it is very difficult to apply in real life. Few people exist at extremes and finding all three model elements in their games, many people react with a ďso what?Ē response followed by ďLetís flame these overbearing and self-important peopleĒ.

So a Threefold is doomed to draw fire. The only way to prevent it is to wall off newcomers and others who disagree with it, the very opposite of the original intent of letting people with differences talk. Even if this isnít done by specific act, it will occur in part as those not using the terms feel left out or ignored by those who do. So far in my experience, any group that has championed a threefold has been branded as elitist.

There are benefits.

With some people, the model does open up communication. For those that accept the concepts, it allows short hand statements covering rather complex subjects. It can focuses attention on why you do what you do in an rpg. And lastly it explains why other people make the choices that they do. Taken together, all this means the opening up of a greater range of discussion and interaction.

Do the benefits outweigh the problems?

Iím of a mixed mind as to the answer.

Most of those who have insisted on starting an unending attack on the Threefold are not those who I could deal with on any subject, so the exclusion of them isnít that bad of an idea and the Threefold certainly identifies them quickly. But on occasional it has started flamewars where none would likely to have naturally occurred. And then there is the matter that I don't agree with everything in any of the various versions have yet presented.

In the end, I wouldn't be upset to see it (in all its variations) disappear, however I certainly have no trouble using it in discussions with people who favor it. Perhaps that is its only real use, a window into the people who developed the specific model in question.

In any case, the final valuation of the concept must be left to each person. I have no doubt that it can be useful to specific groups, the only question is if one is willing to live with the heat that it will invariably bring down on them.



Update: 4-2006


The above was written before the 'death' of the newsgroup (for the last few years it has seen almost no activity) due in part to its Threefold, although other factors had a hand as well.


Given this hindsight I'm going to have to say that there is little positive gain from Threefold models. True enough, people that use them see benefits. But the drawbacks in my opinion far outweigh any gain.


Any Threefold model by natures raises the same issues, only in different ways. The same criticisms applied to the original r.g.f.a Threefold here and here can be applied to the later GNS, or any other model built upon this such a limited framework. The exact wording may be changed and the goals may differ, but that only alters the core issues slightly.


It's my opinion that a more useful construction for explaining playing styles can be found in Robin Laws' work that built upon and expanded Glenn Blacow's divisions of gaming. This model is not without fault, but in the end seems less prone to the worst offenses of Threefold models.




Threefold Debates