Jim Henley articulated similar concerns a little while ago:
I promised Elliot I'd promote a developing comment-thread drift into the subect of reward systems to a top-level entry, but I don't have time to make it any better than I did in the comments. On one level, all I'm doing is saying "But the play is its own reward!" one more damn time, but I'm also trying to explain how I think that is necessarily the case."Reward" to me brings up the idea of "external motivation" -- "you do this and then you get that." "Be a good boy and you get a cookie." "Be a good employee and you might get a nice annual review and a raise."
If there's a formal reward system that gives me X, say, experience points, for doing Y, is the idea that I'll do Y so I can accrue my X? Because what is it about X that makes it worth having, necessarily? Chances are the function of X is to make me more effective yet at doing Y, right? (It has to do something.) So if I wouldn't be inclined to do Y in the first place, why would I do it just to get X so I can do Y even more? (Or even better.)
Take "classic" D&D. If I kill things and take their stuff, I get experience points. Which will make me better at killing things and taking their stuff. IF I want to kill things and take their stuff in the first place, I'm good. But if not, not. If I really want to kill things and take their stuff, why start me out bad at that, and only make me good later? This is probably related to why so many actual existing D&D campaigns start characters out at 3rd level or 8th level or whatever - the written reward cycle fails to match up with player desires.
Henley's post clearly articulates the absurdity of this... and the commenters agree and say that's not what "reward" means in context of Forge discussions. But I'm not sure what it does mean, and I'm not sure I will without reading a whole bunch of threads that I'm not gonna have time to read, about the concept of a "reward cycle."
And Jim didn't even find those threads that helpful:
Hi Mark: You might be right. I did read the "reward cycle" threads. I think it's an interesting term that is currently bound up in some circular definition (the it's what signals the end of an "instance of play" which is "enough play to figure out what the creative agenda is" etc). And the reward cycle threads did in fact seem to focus quite a bit of attention on reward mechanics too - hence the "what's the reward cycle for sim?" question segues into "most of the one's I've seen are actually negative, like punishments for 'bad roleplaying'" turn that one of them took.Perhaps the best commentary is from Neel, who brings up the Matrix Game, which has no explicit reward mechanics.... or does it? If you make an argument that seems "strong" to the referee, your stuff happens. That's the reward, right?
So I'd like to learn: what do you think would be a formal, intentional reward cycle that would be distinct from a formal, intentional reward mechanic?
I dunno. It is a puzzlement.