One common hot-button topic in the RPG community are rules: specifically, how important they are to the overall "fun factor" of a given game. Should you follow every rule to the letter? Or should you just do whatever the hell you want?
What makes this discussion so tricky when it comes to RPGs is that the "big picture" end goal of an RPG is very ambigous. When you're playing just about any other game...basketball, for example...the rules define the game. If you're not dribbling the ball, you're not playing basketball. If you're not shooting at a basket, you're not playing basketball. Many games are defined by their rules.
It's natural, then, for people to believe that that mentality applies to RPGs, too. If you're not rolling dice to see if you successfully punched out a bad guy, you're not playing a role-playing game. If you're supposed to die when you lose all your hit points and you don't, you're not playing a role-playing game.
Where the confusion comes in, though, is that not everyone defines a role-playing game the same way. Some people describe role-playing games as "collaborative storytelling." These people likely wouldn't give a damn if you roll the dice or not, because what they care about isn't the game, it's the story. The rules of the game are merely the engine, or medium, for which that story is delivered. If the player or the game-master can't figure out if the story would be better served by punching the bad guy out or not, then they let the dice decide for them. To these people, that's what the rules are for.
RPGs have been and always will be a child of two worlds: stories and gaming. There are people on either extreme who will argue one way or the other. However, as with most things in life, the actual truth is a murky, hard-to-define spot in the middle.
What this means in relation to me in my games is that I try to honor that middle-spot, whenever I can. If I'm playing a game where the players and myself are more concerned with the story than the rules, then I'll throw out the rules in a heartbeat. On the other hand, if we're playing through an intense, tactical battle and everyone's having a great time trying to puzzle it out, then I'll stick close to the rules as written. It's that flexibility that's the thing.
What's this got to do with the title of this post? Well, I believe RPGs are an artform. And like any artform, both the artist and the patron of the art have different says about what constitutes that art. A painter can throw a bucket of paint on a blank canvas and call it art, and the exhibit-goers can either agree or disagree. A musician can compose a song using a rigid, pre-determined formula and it may be beautiful to some, and not even qualify as music to another. Part of what makes art "art" is that it's open to interpretation. The important thing is that people are talking. So it is with RPGs.
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