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, , .) 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.