Last post I got a good comment. I'm going to try to defend myself. First, I need to say that I specified "rule sets" rather than "gameplay" for a reason:
"Gameplay" has a bad connotation. "Gameplay" means "sitting in front of the TV twiddling your controller" or "rolling dice". A rule set can give you that kind of game play, but it doesn't have to. With that in mind, we'll continue:
That's patently not true. You may not like that style of gameplay (not knowing you, I can't say either way), but the fact remains that the gameplay is extremely dense. It lets you micromanage statistics and weigh variables and buy efficiently... this is especially true in JRPGs, where there is the added gameplay of synergizing your party.
The reason people like to rag on JRPG play is because it hasn't really changed in the past decade. That's doesn't mean it's bad or shallow. Actually, it means the opposite. It means it's deep enough to still appeal ten years after it plateaued.
Ahhhh, this is a really good counter-example, because it covers what I was going to post on next.
Social gameplay is still gameplay, and is definitely caused and fostered by the rule set. The way the game is designed in tiny, silly chunks is ideal for making people enjoy themselves en masse.
I've designed lots of games like that. It's not that they have "poor" gameplay or "shallow" gameplay, it's that their rule set is designed to make most of the gameplay meta, or more accurately, tangentally meta.
Gonna hit that at the end of the essay.
I think you're shortchanging play mechanics. You seem to be saying that play mechanics cannot be based around story, socializing, or world design. That would be an unfortunate shock, since literally all my play mechanics are based around those. It's extremely rare that my gameplay is actually about playing the game itself.
But that doesn't change the fact that the rule set is what enables that kind of fun in that kind of way. Simply saying "it's the socializing that's fun" is ignoring the fact that the socializing is caused by the rule set.
Ah, but they wouldn't have the same appeal. There are no popular RPGs whose story/characters/pacing would make a movie that would still be popular five years from now. Socializing without the minigames doesn't have the same stability or reliable enjoyment (hence drinking games). Riven wouldn't be enjoyable to wander around because it wouldn't be couched in "solve to proceed".
The rule set for all of these games - and every other game - manipulates how the character moves through the game. It makes the character stop and look at the coolest parts of Riven. It makes the party revolve at a fun and moderated rate. It gives the RPG plots and characters their value by associating them with gameplay changes and time expenditure. All of these things grow out of the rule set.
I hope this expains my position: rule sets are the primary factor in a game.