September 17, 2007

I haven’t been able to drum up a concrete definition of flags, but the gist is that flags tell you what a player is interested in encountering during a game.  They are often (always?) tied to characters.

In this thread over on SG, a number of types of flags are suggested.  I liked these three.

  • Fixed: This aspect of the character is not intended to change.  The player isn’t interested in a conflict about this character aspect.
  • Gradual: This aspect can change, but is not intended to change right away.  It can be introduced, but the player prefers that it is not forced.
  • Sudden: This aspect can change, and is intended to be a focus for conflict at some point.  The player doesn’t mind if this is brought into the story rapidly.

I’d suggest a fourth.

  • Urgent: This aspect is a flashpoint for change, and is intended to be an immediate focus for conflict.  The player wants this brought into the story immediately or as soon as possible.

This bleeds over into the realm of technology when I suggest that a method of character creation that encouraged players to categorize their background information into these bins would be very informative for a GM, and hopefully help them introduce the kinds of conflicts that the players are looking for.

Making Choice Theory Mesh With Views/Controls/Constraints

September 14, 2007

So I’ve talking to Mendel Schmiedekamp about whether or not and how notions of choice and action can augment or benefit from his concepts of views, controls, and constraints (more info, [1], [2].)  I’m at the point now where I feel like I have reasonable notion of how such a theoretical framework might be constructed, but I’m not sure the two of us are quite on the same page.  I’m going to record how I’m thinking about it now here, and leave it subject to change later if something new pops up.  Nonetheless, I hope this explanation of my thinking will be useful as it stands.

Briefly, content is the actual occurrences of play.  Player A says X, Player B rolls some dice, the GM scratches his nose.  A view is a description of what content a player is paying attention to.  Controls are the internal forces that lead a player to take particular actions, such as change views, or contribute to the content in certain ways.  So, content is external to the player, and consists of observable phenomena.  Views and controls are internal to the player (which makes them partially observable, insofar as they are self-reportable.)

In a discussion of what the Fundamental Act of roleplaying is, I suggested “choice.”  (This is in contrast to two other options: “the process by which we agree on what happens in the fiction” and “socializing.”  It’s not really crucial to the subsequent theory whether or not choice is the most fundamental.)  Thinking down the choice path lead to these two definitions:

 Choice – The result of the individual, internal process of reducing a potentially infinite field of possibilities to a single possibility
Action – Making a chosen possibility into an actuality

So, can we use these ideas together to describe the process by which players contribute to a game?  I think we can.  Let’s start with content.  A player perceives content through their view, which reduces the sum total of contributions to the game down to those that a player is paying attention to.  This perceived information activates controls, which serve to eliminate possible actions based on a player’s goals for the situation.  Once the player settles on one possibility, they take action, contributing back to the content of the game.  Patterns will arise in the content, which Mendel calls constraints.  (It’s important to note that you can’t really talk about constraints in general, it’s necessary to discuss an actual instance of play.)

 So, what does all this let us do?

  • Talk about play on the level of a single player.
  • Talk about what kinds of information will be satisfying to perceive through a view (Mendel’s theory is information of intermediate complexity, which seems intuitively reasonable.)
  • Talk about what sorts of choices are available to a player.
  • Talk about what sorts of choices are satisfying to a player.
  • Talk about factors involved in individual decision making (i.e. controls.)

I think there’s more territory than that to explore, if, for example, we can connect this to goals, sockets, and payoffs.  It seems plausible that such a connection can be made, and I’m toying around with it a bit.


September 6, 2007

Views came up on the Knife Fight, and so I’m pondering them. Some search-fu turns up this description over on Story Games.

A theory about sockets

September 3, 2007

I was thinking about sockets this weekend, and somehow I arrived at this:

Sockets relate goals to payoff.

In other words, once you know what your payoff is, each socket you find important gives you a way to connect to it.  A goal is then the desired state of the socket that best achieves your payoff.  Each socket will have one or more goals associated with it.  I haven’t yet seen how true that is in the general sense, but it works pretty well for describing me.  If it doesn’t make sense yet, I’ll show you how it works for describing me in the next post.

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.

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.