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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.
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 :)