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31 March 2008 @ 05:59 pm
I have been thinking more about elements of my Social-Play Model, especially the IIEE pieces of it, and doing a little reading. I found Victor Gijsbers' old post, Shared Imagined Space, Shared Text (April 2005) to be very enlightening. I know next to nothing about Derrida, structuralism, semiotics, and the like, so I tread on thin ice here, but ahead I go. [Edit: semiotics, not symbiotics, duh; and none of that shows up here anyway; also, I should have read the thread all the way through because Victor says a lot of this.]

IIEE needs a better name. In my model, I'm going to call it Resolution. It's the process of resolving what real people say into stuff in the fiction. The thing I call "the fiction" is more complicated than all that implies. So is resolution. Additionally, they mean a little more than their standard textbook or even typical-gamer-jargon meanings, but I haven't found better terms. These are closest to how other gamers use them, I think.


The Idealized Fiction (sometimes just, "the fiction," with the word "the" implying the one that everyone shares) is the perfect and unrealized form of the state of play as intended by the people who created it. This is more or less synonymous with The Big Model's "Exploration" or "Shared Imaginary Space" and contains Setting, Character, Situation, and Color, and as realized as a game state (and not procedures for play), System. (That you get 1d6 hit points per level is Technique-System. That your rogue has 14 hit points max and -3 hit points right now is Fiction-System. I need different words for these!)

The Personal Fiction is each person's filtered and interpreted realization of the state of play.

The State of Play is set of values relevant to the game committed to memory and agreed upon by the players. The state of play is a subset of the idealized fiction because it is incomplete due to different players' understanding of what occurred. The state of play is a superset of any player's personal fiction for the same reason.

Resolution is the set of steps players follow to put stuff into play. It is more specific than Social-Play's "system" (the formal rules) or "procedure" (all the rules, even if unwritten) and more akin to IIEE plus DFK. IIEE is the process of 4 steps (intent, initiation, execution, effect) that every addition to the play state must follow. DFK is drama/fortune/karma, a way of categorizing flavors of IIEE. All Techniques invoke Resolution; otherwise, they are not Techniques.


Here's how a role-playing game works. Each player does this at the same time that every other player does it. Every play group works out a Procedure to synchronize these steps (and hopefully the System provides one to eliminate clashes).

  1. Prioritization: You formulate goals of play and prioritize them (often not consciously).

  2. Visualization: You imagine your Personal Fiction.

  3. Planning: You consider Techniques (elements of System or Procedure) that allow you to further your goals.

  4. Intent: You "record" your intent to use a Technique. In every RPG I have ever read, this almost always involves communication with other players, but this is not a requirement.

  5. Initiation: You start to use a Technique to further your goals.

  6. Execution: You apply the Technique. You figure out what change will actually occur in the Idealized Fiction.

  7. Effect: You change the Idealized Fiction. In a virtual sense, the change is copied to the State of Play.

  8. Translation: You interpret the change into your own Personal Fiction. Each other player interprets the change into his or her Personal Fiction.

  9. Judgment: Unconsciously, you measure the change against your goals of play. This elicits an emotional response. Achieving goals of play is fun. Not achieving goals is boring, frustrating, or not fun.
  10. Cycle: Go back to step 1.

Yes, this takes the IIEE right from Forge terminology and explodes the hell out of the first step, Intent, and the last step, Effect. I think it is necessary to unpack Intent and Effect to really understand the interactions between players, social contract, and play. I have not changed the meaning of the IIEE steps much, I hope.

This cycle is repeated at breakneck speed by each player pretty much at all times they are engaged with the game. Sitting and doing nothing can be a Technique to communicate to the other players (though it's not always an effective one), and doing nothing may or may not communicate a change to the fiction through Resolution. For example, if the GM says, "Who opens the door?" then sitting and doing nothing probably means that your character is not opening the door. You communicated a choice through silence. Your choice was processed through Resolution and accepted into the fiction, and into everyone else's personal fiction, perhaps without anyone else saying anything (though the GM might go, "Okay, so no one opens the door... do you want to rest here?" to firm it up).

With this cycle repeating so quickly, a good game provides tools (rules for Resolution) that 1) synchronize players so they don't stomp all over each other's input and 2) reduce translation mistakes between the Idealized Fiction and Personal Fictions. The IIEE steps in the middle do that.

Disagreements in Resolution

Here's a fictional example of play where something goes wrong between the players, analyzed through my model:

Bob, a D&D player says, "I kick in the door!" and rolls d20. "A 20!" The DM doesn't even look down at the table and says, "The door sounds like a dull gong and you hurt your foot. *rolling* Take 2 points of damage." The other players go, "OW!" "That sucks." "I told you not to kick it in!" and so on. What just happened?

Each player followed the Resolution steps, perhaps in a totally asynchronous way, until Bob yelled, "I kick in the door!" That Intent synchronized everyone within the Resolution chain.

Before that even happened, though, Bob's goals were to level up his Fighter so he could get more hit points and that cool new feat, so he kick some more hobgoblin ass. He visualized the room he was in, the door that was there (he imagined a little wooden door) and how the DM said it was locked already, and imagined there were good things on the other side of it. He considered how he could get through it. He knew his character didn't have any lockpicking skills and he'd been allowed to roll a Strength check to kick in the door before. A few times while the other players talked about their plans, Bob even said, "I'm gonna kick in the door" and even "I kick the damned thing down," but no one took him seriously. Laura told him not to do it but Bob ignored her. So he officially declares his Intent to kick it in ("I kick in the door!") and also strengthened his intent by rolling a d20 so people couldn't ignore him. When the die hit the table, he initiated the use of the Strength-check Technique. But Bob's DM ignored the die roll for some reason and told him that the Technique didn't work (not in so many words though) by assigning him some damage. Bob imagined his character smashing into the solid, apparently metal, door and getting hurt, and he also recorded the hit point loss on his character sheet. Bob was then thinking to himself, "Okay, well that didn't work. In fact, that sucked." He gets into an argument with the DM as a result, cuz, should he still get a roll, even if it's just at a higher difficulty, and besides, he rolled a natural 20!

The DM had a different experience. His goals were to challenge the players and show them a good time, challenge them a bit, and maybe spook them out a bit with a special encounter later. He imagined the room that he'd already described: the small, dark, stone chamber with its low ceilings and the locked, iron door opposite the passageway the party had come down. He had hinted to them it was iron, but only Laura caught that. He listened quietly as the players discussed their plans. Bob kept saying he was gonna kick in the door but the DM ignored it for now because the players didn't seem to agree that was the plan. Then Bob really did it. But the DM decided that an iron door just couldn't be kicked in like that, no way, no how. He decided on the fly that it'd cause 1d4 damage, rolled the die (and no one else but Bob seemed to mind), and told Bob he took 2 points of damage. He described the gonging of the door and how the hobgoblins hiding on the other side of it would be alerted to the party's presence. This made the DM smile. Then Bob started arguing, which was not fun.

Things break down there -- and I'm not saying it's "ohmygod the game is ruined!" breaking down -- because of a couple things.

First, Bob's personal fiction doesn't match the DM's personal fiction in a crucial way: he doesn't know the door is iron. Laura knows it, because she's noticed a pattern that the DM suggested throughout play. When Bob starts planning, he plans based on the wrong information.

Second, the IIEE steps are not carefully delineated by the players. Bob has declared Intent but the DM isn't giving him the nod to go to Initiation. Bob gets frustrated and ups the ante and makes some assumptions about the Technique: he goes right to Initiation himself. The DM and other players could have said, "No, Bob, you don't kick in the door -- Hold up" at that point and stopped Bob before Initiation began. But then the DM accepts Bob's Initiation but changes the Intent! Bob's intent wasn't just to kick in the door; it was to kick in the door using a certain Strength-check technique. The DM ignored that and decided the technique didn't apply here, and just assigned Bob's character some damage.


Here's another fictional example:

Laura's playing a wizard. Bob is playing a fighter.

DM: "So, across the room, you see a little makeshift cradle, and in it is a baby hobgoblin."
Bob: "I kill it!"
Laura: "No you don't! We should save it. It will die without care."
Bob: "That's the point. I'll help it along. If it's gonna die anyway, I might as well get the XP."
Laura: "My wizard will stop you."
Bob: Rolling a d20. "No, I kill it."
DM: "You need a 12."
Bob: Rolling a d8. "8 points plus my bonuses. 12 total. Is it dead?"
DM: "Very."
Bob: "Sweet!"
Laura: Fumes in her chair.

So why is Laura mad? The DM is ignoring her input. The DM interpreted Bob's d20 roll as a done deal, letting it bypass Laura's intent that her wizard would move to stop Bob's fighter from killing the hobgoblette.

But contrast that with this very similar example:

Laura's playing a wizard. Bob is playing a fighter.

DM: "So, across the room, you see a little makeshift cradle, and in it is a baby hobgoblin."
Bob: "I kill it!"
Laura: "No you don't! We should save it. It will die without care."
Bob: "That's the point. I'll help it along. If it's gonna die anyway, I might as well get the XP."
Laura: "My wizard will stop you."
Bob: Rolling a d20. "No, I kill it."
DM: "No, roll initiative. Laura, you too."
Bob: Rerolling. "Uh, 15."
Laura: "19."
DM: "Laura, what do you do? Bob's fighter is headed toward the baby with his longsword."
Laura: "I cast sleep on him."
DM: "Make a Will save, Bob."
Bob: Grumbling, rolls. "3. I guess that fails."
DM: "Yeah, Forthan the Bold falls asleep."
Laura: *beaming* "I rescue the baby and take it somewhere safe."
Bob: Fumes in his chair.

So why is Bob mad? The DM is not ignoring his input. In fact, he's running the game according to the rules. Is Bob just being a baby because he isn't getting his way in the fiction? Perhaps, but I think it's probably deeper. It's a Creative Agenda clash, in Big Model terms, but it doesn't have to be a Creative Agenda thing. Bob wants to play to win, and Laura wants to play to make a point about human existence. In the wrong situation, this becomes a point of contention for the two players.

Bob isn't (or at least wasn't) interested in winning against Laura! In his mind, the shared goals of the players at the table were to work together to kill monsters, take their stuff, level up, and make their characters better equipped to go kill bigger monsters. That was never Laura's goal. Her interests lay in proving that humanity was better than the monsters they fought. Sure, a bunch of evil hobgoblins had to die to preserve the peace and safety of her family back home, but killing innocent babies -- even hobgoblin babies -- was as monstrous as the enemy they fought.

In Bob's mind, Laura is playing the game wrong. Her action will not earn the party any XP. It's a pointless action, he thinks, and needless drama. In Laura's mind, Bob is playing the game wrong. He's failing to do anything meaningful and is just killing anything that moves. It's mindless and pointless. In the DM's mind, Bob and Laura are both playing the game right -- so far. The DM feels that they are both acting faithfully to their characters. Laura's character is a sweet, kind-hearted wizard and Bob's character is a pretty ruthless fighter. As long as they're both in character, there's no need to interfere, right? Why is this isn't just settled in-character instead of between players? Why the drama at the table?

Creative Agenda and Synergy

The goals of play these three players have are goals at a larger scale than a single point in the game. They're not "how you decide what to do this time" but how you play the game. I'm tempted to search for a new term for this: Personal Creative Agenda. Without reinforcement from the other players, a Personal Creative Agenda is a lesson in frustration.

More technically, A Personal Creative Agenda is the set of filters you use to prioritize your moment-to-moment goals for play. Maybe you don't have a consistent set of filters. Maybe you enjoy doing all kinds of things, and you jump around, playing to win at times, playing "in character" other times. Whatever your priority is at a given point, you are always prioritizing something, otherwise you couldn't make decisions ("Do I kill the baby orc or let it live? On one hand, I want the XP. On the other hand, my character might not do that. Oh, what to do!?").

The Big Model identifies three, maybe four, of these prioritization mechanisms, and it calls them Creative Agendas (CA). I can't quite tell what the current thinking is among Big Model folks: whether CA is the personal variety or the shared variety. It seems to change from article to article, post to post, and writer to writer. I discuss the three CAs in my recent post, GNS: saying it my way. In my Social-Play Model, Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism are three types of Personal Creative Agenda. "I am just here to be with my friends" is not a Creative Agenda because it doesn't say how the player prioritizes goals for play and how the player makes decisions about what to change in the fiction. Laura and Bob clearly are not guided primarily by "I am just here to be with my friends," or else they wouldn't be beaming and fuming, respectively, at the end of that encounter.

When reinforcement of a PCA occurs among players, it becomes a Shared Creative Agenda. It is difficult for people to reinforce a PCA different than their own. For example, Bob can go along with Laura's "save the baby to make a point about humanity" goals (as part of a Narrativist PCA), but to do so would mean to deprioritize his own "kill the baby to earn XP" goals (as part of a Gamist PCA). The reinforcement usually favors one agenda over all others.

Synergy occurs when the entire play group has a Shared Creative Agenda. Bob's input produces an output that makes Laura and the DM happy. Laura's input produces an output that makes Bob and the DM happy. The DM's input produces an output that makes Laura and Bob happy. At every step of play, everyone gets to satisfies their larger scale goals (Personal Creative Agenda). At every step of play, each player's personal fiction grows closer to the future fiction that they'd like to see. Without that synergy, Laura moves her personal fiction closer to her preferred future fiction at the expense of moving Bob's personal fiction further from his preferred future fiction.

Yes, a play group can work this out without having a Shared Creative Agenda and have loads of fun. Probably, though, most play groups have a Simulationist SCA already -- most or all of the players are on-board with it and might toss in things that look like Narrativism or Gamism but they're just Techniques, and when the hard decisions come down, they filter them through a Simulationist eye.

Groups that don't have a Shared Creative Agenda must at the very least "time-share" their Personal Creative Agendas. This doesn't have to be dissatisfying at all, but it does mean that no one gets what they want all of the time.
buddha_davisbuddha_davis on April 1st, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)

Do you mind if I point some guys on a forum (www.thereisnoscreen.com) I frequent over here? This is cool stuff!

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 1st, 2008 05:25 pm (UTC)
Point away. Realize that it's mostly stuff other people have said, though maybe without the cool pictures. I just found a 2 year old Forge post where Ralph Mazza says pretty much everything I'm saying.

Still, if my version of things helps people understand where I'm coming from (and where a lot of Forge twunts are coming from), then only good can come of it.
buddha_davisbuddha_davis on April 1st, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but it's good to review it occasionally, and to look back at it and see how soemone else phrases it. Sometimes that's what it takes for it to click for you! For example, I love your GNS post... man, that made it really clear to me!

marcochacon on April 7th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
So okay, this is good. I'm reading along and going "yeah, yeah--okay. Yeah, I agree with that."

It's all reasonably well presented.

Where I want to call attention to stuff I think is interesting.
1. Your blog's black background makes it painful for me to read your posts anywhere but *my* friend's list--and replying is hard too. Hard on my eyes.

2. (the real content) I believe that CA's are problematic here (and always have) because they create what I think is an illussion of underlying structure where it's not that simple. I.e. the fact that Bob and Laura argue about killing the hobgoblin (in the functional 3rd example) does not, to me, indicate a fundamental issue with how RPGs are done right--but rather the garden variety thing that happens when the group picks Italian food again and I stew.

It isn't that I have a Sushi-ist CA and it's being denied--it's that I didn't get what I wanted. I'm not convinced the context of the game is what's key here.

Now: because of our history the above probably reads as a complete rejection of what you said. It's not. I actually agree with everything you said and in the CA paradigm, even an expanded one that is not "according-to-Hoyle CA's" that you reference, it is, I think reasonable.

But reasonable doesn't always mean correct. I question the basic suggestions of the model that created the term--and I think this post is an example of how they shape thinking along their lines.

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 8th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
Should be much more readable now, right? I was due for a color change anyway.

I think the restaurant analogy breaks down when you really start to apply things. When your group chooses to go to Mama Lucia's for the tenth time in a row, it's not like choosing to play D&D for the tenth time in a row. At Mama Lucia's, you can't order sushi -- ever. At Edo Mae, you can't order gnocci al salsiccia either. But in your D&D game, you can do your thing and your friends can do their thing, too.

You can't even use a smorgasbord or buffet analogy because you're not sharing food. Each of you gets his own plate. You can fill yours with salmon maki from the sushi bar and your friends can pile the lasagna onto their plates. You watch them eat, but you don't derive your eating enjoyment from their eating; you enjoy eating your sushi.

See how the analogy to role-playing breaks down? In an RPG, you have to assimilate each other's input into your own fun, or ignore it.

Maybe a better analogy is the band. You show up with your tuba and say, "cool, a band! let's play some polka!" but your friends want to play country western. You're all, "No polka? How about you play country western and I'll intersperse my tuba oompapa-oompapa -- it's in 6/8, of course -- among the sublime steel guitar and crooning vocals. What? Your song is in 4/4 with a steady country-rock beat?"

I think, for some combinations of music types, you can come up with some pretty fun and workable bands. Rap and rock, sure. Rock and swing? Probably. But it's harder, right? And you want some kind of game plan for making it work.
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 8th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
My point in all that was that I don't just think it's a social thing ("you selfish fuckers, we always get Italian and never order sushi!"). I think it's earlier than that: you have certain preferences (Sim vs. Narr, polka vs. country) and certain skills (bricolage vs. scene framing, tuba vs. slide guitar). Someone is bound to get frustrated.

Maybe a group who have played together for years manage to create the polka-country fusion band that surprises music critics. Hey, Smashing Pumpkins does great things with a violin, and Cake fuses weird funky and jazzy influences with rock and adds a dash of swing brass flare, and John McCrea (lead singer) almost raps his music rather than singing it...
marcochacon on April 8th, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC)
I don't know--when my friends don't do what I want them to it's annoying even without all that input-feedback-loop stuff. The fact is that I can get annoyed when they choose a restaurant I don't like and don't assimilate my requests same as if they're not doing what I want in an RPG.

What I'm saying is this: I don't believe there's any reason to believe that what's going on in the hypothetical is CA related. Sure: it could be happening as you say it--but it could be any number of other things. The CA world-view obscures what I think is far more likely (Bob is just pissed off that he's not getting his way than that he has a paradigm of the game that Laura is violating and that's the foundation of the issue).

I'm not sure where that leaves things: do I reject CA's as possible categorizations of games? No--not really. I think Deep and Awesome, Gamey, and Shallow would be both clearer terms and more honest for the majority of the dialog.

I do not take as a matter of faith that these categories have any true unifying themes. I don't believe that the categories of music are any more relevant here than the CA's--but clearly those CA distinctions work for some people.

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 8th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
What's this pissed off stuff though? Mostly, I'm just talking about people being bored or less than enthused. I've had a very small number of games ever get to "pissed off," and we were hormonal teenagers.

I've experienced countless games where I didn't get the fun I was expecting out of the game, and in almost every case I can attribute it to the kind of thing we'd call a CA clash.

I mean, yeah, I wasn't getting my way, and I played and had a reasonable time of it, but it didn't compare to those games where everyone at the table knew what they'd be getting out of the game, and the play delivered it. Those games rocked.

And I think that's all people mean by talking about CA, isn't it?

If the distinctions between categories don't work for you, I can only shrug. Categorization schemes often fail to account for everyone and GNS is probably just another one of those schemes. But it's useful for a lot of people, including me.
marcochacon on April 8th, 2008 09:56 pm (UTC)
Re: the pissed-off stuff: I read Bob as being pissed off.

Re: What people mean by talking about CA.

I mean, yeah, I wasn't getting my way, and I played and had a reasonable time of it, but it didn't compare to those games where everyone at the table knew what they'd be getting out of the game, and the play delivered it. Those games rocked.

I can sign to this. It doesn't have any GNS-jargon in it.

I don't believe that's 'what people mean when they talk about CA'--or, rather, after the closure of the theory boards on The Forge, something fundamental changed in (most) of the GNS dialog which brought it closer to what you mean--but still not there.

Basically, if you can say what you say without any jargon whatsoever, I'll likely agree (note: I think that there can be productive creative tension produced by either sudden shifts in the dynamic of the game or by having players who don't do the group-think thing with you--but that's neither here nor there).

But if you start talking CA, I think it brings in a bunch of toxic baggage when you start looking at what those words try to mean that you don't need and don't help.

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 9th, 2008 01:22 pm (UTC)
And I'm saying I don't read most people as being pissed off when games go sour. Just bored or less than enthused.

I also don't believe you when you say you'll agree if I talk without any jargon whatsoever. I think you mean Forge jargon. If we talk for more than a few paragraphs in any detail about game theory, we're either gonna be using someone else's jargon or making up our own. The topic is just too complicated to discuss without jargon.

Hell, I spent two or three comment-posts hashing out with Bruce that he and I meant something different when we said "play."
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 8th, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
I'm reading what you said a little closer, and see this: "the fact that Bob and Laura argue about killing the hobgoblin (in the functional 3rd example) does not, to me, indicate a fundamental issue with how RPGs are done right."

I latched onto the stuff that came after that (Italian food again) and missed the "fundamental issue with how RPGs are done right" stuff.

I get you. I think you're saying that an RPG ruleset is just fine if it doesn't pick a narrowly-defined CA and jackhammer on just that one CA's techniques and what-not. I suspect you mean that fun is no more reliably guaranteed by a CA-focused game than by a CA-agnostic game. By CA-focused, I mean full of structure and techniques to support and encourage (or reward) playing that CA. By CA-agnostic, I mean full of structure and techniques that support all kinds of stuff, but containing little or nothing to encourage one CA over another (it probably rewards something though, but it might reward more than one CA or no discernible CA). Do I read you right?

My experience leads me to disagree. I've had the most fun playing CA-focused games the way they were meant to be played. I've had very disappointing play when trying to make a CA-focused game do something different (notably, making D&D 3E do Narrativism over long-term play, but also making Cyberpunk 2013 and 2020 do Narrativism, and also watching other players try to make Dogs in the Vineyard into a Sim game). I've had a series of disappointments when trying to make CA-agnostic games (like D&D 2E) do Narrativism but maybe I need to try out other games like JAGS. Gonna be at GenCon this year?
marcochacon on April 8th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
I'd love to do Gen Con one of these years! We'll see. If I had the truly rocking Archetypes books done in time (Ha!) I might be likely :)

joepub on May 23rd, 2008 09:02 pm (UTC)
So, it seems to me that:
*Idealized Fiction is the image on the cover of the game book: a swashbuckling pirate and a bionic ape fight a purple-clad necromancer on a chasm of doom.

*Everyone's Personalized Fiction prioritizes different elements of the Idealized Fiction, in a way that puts the particular emphasis in competition with the Idealized Fiction: The swashbucker represents old-school nostalgia, and so he needs to get the coup de grace on the necromancer, wtih the bionic ape being a tragic sidekick.

So, Personalized Fictions represent a tug-o-war over the direction the Idealized Fiction will get moved. A Personalized Fiction will by dynamic, where an Idealized Fiction will be static.

If people's Personalized Fictions are opposed and people advocate them somewhat equally within Resolution, then the Idealized Fiction will be more or less maintained. It's when all but one person at the table (the GM) look at the image on the cover and imagine slaughtering that Necromancer no problem that the drama and the "punch" of the Idealized Fiction. Because it's being pulled too far in one (albeit wide) direction.

And, seperately, I see that:
* Personalized Fiction reflects how the player imagines the scene moving forward and the details being fleshed out, whereas

* State of Play reflects what is established and understood to be true already.

And if I'm right in assuming that differentiation between the two, it seems like Personalized Fiction is something that's never established. Idealized Fiction is the light, Personalized Fiction is the light at the end of the tunnel (just ahead!), and State of Play is the tunnel itself. And the light is always within view and very close, but you're never *quite there*, always moving through the tunnel toward it.

Maybe I'm way off base here. Just something that came to mind as I read.