The Whys, Wheres, and Hows of Gaming Enjoyment

August 29, 2007

In this fantastic Sin Aesthetics post, Mo introduces some vocabulary that helps to define why we play, how we get it, and where we get it from.  I’ll paraphrase:

Socket (where) – a place that a player plugs into a game which serves as a conduit for the exchange of energy between the game and the player.  E.g. [character, system, setting, social, story] socket.

Payoff (why) – the reason why a player enjoys roleplaying at the highest level.  (There can be only one.)

Goals (how) – end-states of gaming that satisfy a desired payoff.

I’ll introduce one more:  Strategy – plan for how a goal is reached.  Duh!

 As close as I’ve been able to figure out, my payoff is “exploring psychologies other than my own.”  That makes character my primary socket and puts setting and story in a tossup for second and third.  I’m still trying to figure out what my goals and strategies for achieving that are exactly.

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GNS as Resolution Criteria

August 28, 2007

While GNS “creative agendas” are often used in the context of what players want from a game, or what type of play a game system supports, I think of them instead as modes of resolution.  When deciding what events will transpire, the GM could take any of the GNS modes into account.  In gamist resolution, the primary criteria for deciding how the story procedes is “What sets up interesting challenges for the party?”  In narrativist resolution, the primary criteria is “What makes a good/interesting/exciting/fun story?”  In simulationist resolution, the primary criteria is “What is most likely to happen within the game world in response to these events?”

This way of looking at GNS promotes a slightly different usage of the terms “gamist,” “narrativist,” and “simulationist.”  When viewed as a creative agenda, one might say “This player is gamist.”  But when viewed as criteria for choosing what events come next, the GM is the sole deciding party.  We might say “This player prefers gamist resolution,” but only the GM can actually be gamist.  Another interesting outcome of this shift is that the 3 modes are no longer mutually contradictory.  In theory, a particular choice of what happens next can satisfy what would really happen, what sets up interesting challenges, and what makes a good story.  Of course sometimes these priorities will clash, and that will necessitate that the three modes be prioritized according to what is most important to the group, but they can all coexist in the same turn of events.

The three resolution mode questions, when prioritized by the group, make an excellent piece of technology for the GM to improve a game.  By asking themself those three questions when deciding an outcome, the GM can more closely match the types of resolution that the players prefer, and frequently satisfy players with different preferences at the same time.

  • What is most likely to happen within the game world in response to these events?
  • What sets up interesting challenges for the party?
  • What makes a good/interesting/exciting/fun story?

Focusing in: How we play

August 28, 2007

Our group plays exclusively traditional style games.  Some recent games include L5R, d20 Iron Kingdoms, d20 Modern/Spycraft, and V:tM.  I’ll be focusing on this sort of arrangement.  While there are indie games out there that answer the question “How can we address problems associated with traditional rpgs?” in unique ways, I’m seeking to answer the same question within a traditional framework that will be useful to my gaming group, and hopefully other groups like ours.  In other words, “What techniques can we use to make the traditional rpg experience better?”, rather than “What other games can we play?”

 In terms of the questions I posed in the last post, our group divides authority according to the traditional GM/player dichotomy.  We discourage “active postmodernism” and director stance.  We’re not entirely agreed on what other stances are OK, but actor and author are the primary candidates.


Choice: The foundation

August 24, 2007

The essential attribute which differentiates roleplaying from reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to a story is that in roleplaying, there is no audience distinct from the creators or performers.  All participants are active in deciding the outcome of the story.  The action they take is choice.  There are two main questions that need to be answered about choice:

  • Who has the authority to make which choices? 
  • What information can be taken into account when making a choice?

Who has the authority to make which choices?  The traditional arrangement is to divide the choices between the players and a GM.  The players make choices related to the actions of their characters, while the GM makes the choices about everything external to the characters (the world.)  Other games run GMless, with greater player control over the game world.  Beyond that, what “stances” are acceptable?  Traditionally, each player controls one character which they identify with (like an actor) and whose actions they control.  Is it OK to transition from “actor stance” to “director stance” to make statements about how the world responds to your character actions?

What information can be taken into account when making a choice?  Is it ok to make a choice based on what the player knows, but the character doesn’t?  This is often called “meta-gaming,” and frowned upon by many groups.  (For the record, I call it “active postmodernism.”  It breaks the walls of the reality.  I want to reserve the term “meta-gaming” for something else, specifically what I’m doing right now: thinking/writing/talking about gaming.)  Is it ok to make a choice based on what the player wants, as opposed to the character?  This is a less touched upon issue, but I think generally more contentious.  Choosing to stay with the party as opposed to going off by yourself is sometimes justified on these grounds.  “It makes the game more fun, so you should stay with them.”  “But my character wouldn’t do that!”


A Definition of Roleplaying

August 23, 2007

Here’s a first attempt:

An activity in which multiple participants identify with characters in a shared imagined space and make choices about the outcomes of a series of events involving them.

 That still leaves room for various sorts of character identification (“stances” such as actor, author, director and so forth) while still specifying that roleplaying is, at the core, about roles.


The beginning: goals

August 23, 2007

I’ve spent a lot of time in the recent and not-too recent past talking with my gaming group about what makes a game enjoyable.  From our past experiences and personal preferences, we’ve started to put the pieces together and build tools for GMs and players to improve their games.  While it has often been challenging to bring about change, the small push of talking openly about what we want and expect from a game has brought us closer to a common vision for our gaming experience.  However, my interest in this endeavour tends to exceed the group norm by a substantial margin.  I’m starting this blog as an outlet for my thought process, which I’m told is often involved and lengthy.  Hopefully, once I’ve explored ideas here, I’ll be able to bring the conclusions back to my group in a concise and useful way.

 My goals are:

  • To create tools that enable specific and precise communication about gaming:  I believe that communication is the cornerstone of successful gaming.  It is crucial between GMs and players in defining what the shared imagined space contains.  (Shared imagined space is a great term.  Three words, each necessary and sufficient to convey meaning.  Don’t get me started on “creative agenda”…yet.)  It is also critical when offering or soliciting advice about gaming; without accurately knowing the purpose of the parties involved, it is impossible to find appropriate solutions.  Finally, this kind of communication is important to allowing gamers to actually *use* theory.  All of these often bog down due to miscommunication stemming from poorly crafted definitions, or failure to revise or subdivide in the case of counterexample.  I seek to craft definitions and organize ideas in such a way that clear meaning can be communicated between group members quickly and efficiently.
  • To craft a (Grand Unified) Practical Theory of Roleplaying:  This is the holy grail of roleplaying theory.  I’ll be questing after it in the tradition started by my (many) predecessors.  I’ll incorporate as much existing theory as makes sense to me, and fill in the gaps with my own ideas.  Of course, I’ll be starting piecemeal as I think of things, so we’ll hold off on “Grand Unified” for now. 🙂  It seems to me that a problem with roleplaying theory is that both the purpose and applications are often neglected.  Sure, it’s an interesting thought, but why do I need it, and what can I do with it?  I’ll be looking for ways to connect theory (my own and others) to applications, in order to create what I’ll call “technology.”  Technology might best be considered techniques for pursuing a particular goal.  Want to speed up the pace of your game, or build party cohesion?  There’s technology for that.