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07 April 2008 @ 12:13 pm
Social-Play Model: Social Contract vs. Play  
Bruce asked me about my Social-Play Model:
This may be my lack of familiarity with TBM but I was wondering if you might elaborate on your division between Social Contract and Play, more specifically on the fact that Procedures, System, Techniques and IIEE sit outside Play in your model. I think I can kind of see what you're getting at but am myself inclined to think of these as elements of play. Any thoughts?

These things create play but are not play themselves. Here's an analogy.

Take, for the sake of example, a cook. I'm not much of a cook myself, so I'm gonna stick to what I know: barbecue. Okay? So a bunch of people want to come together and grill some steaks, and eat them. They're the players in the analogy. The play is the act of cooking and eating the steaks. All the social contract stuff in the model? That's the tools by which cooking and eating get done: the agreement to meet at my house on Saturday at noon, my bad-ass cast iron charcoal grill, the charcoal and lighter fluid, the tongs and spatula, and the steaks themselves. It's tempting to want to categorize the steaks in the cooking and eating category, but they're not. They're the material, not the act.

Now let's go back to my Social-Play Model. When you role-play, a bunch of players agree to get together, use some set of rules, apply those rules as specific techniques, and talk and stuff. All that stuff is Social Contract in the model, because it's the means of play, not play itself.

To use another analogy -- this one a bit specialized -- take object-oriented programming. In such languages you have classes, which are generalized collections of methods and data, and you have objects, which are specific instantiations of classes. For example, the RolePlayingGame class might be your representation of all games you have on your bookshelf, but when you look at a specific game on your shelf (via the code) then you need to get a particular object. In the Social-Play Model, play is the specific instantiation of a social contract.

Bruce said almost exactly the same thing in his own article, RPG Theory Journey: back to basics (January 23, 2008):
I’m going to start with a statement that I made in a post I wrote a few months back which basically theorised that the constituent elements of roleplay were Players (the participants), the Game (the system of play) and Story (the product of play).

We're saying the same thing. My Players are Bruce's Players. My Play is Bruce's Story (we're using the two terms to mean exactly the same thing: the product of play). My Social Contract is Bruce's Game. The system of play in my model includes the Social Contract because that's how play really happens.
Guytundra_no_caps on April 7th, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC)
I don't know what you do to your URLs, but they never display correctly.
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 7th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
I fixed them. I know what I do to them: I use Semagic and forget to change it from "image" to "link." ;)
Guytundra_no_caps on April 7th, 2008 04:38 pm (UTC)
That makes sense, heh.
the_tall_man on April 7th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
"When you role-play, a bunch of players agree to get together, use some set of rules, apply those rules as specific techniques, and talk and stuff."

Not all techniques come out of agreed rules; not all players use the same set of techniques.

The idea that a group shares a completely singular system is just as idealised, not-true, and important to use anyway, as the idea that they share a single imagined vision of the fiction.

Just a nitpick.

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 7th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
It's a fine nitpick, especially considering I agree with you and didn't mean to imply that the only techniques a group uses are those that come out of the rules. I think (hope) my other posts on my model are clearer on that point.

I have had a post percolating in my head for a week or so, concerning your last point: that even the procedures box can be thought about as Personal Procedures vs. Idealized Procedures vs. Procedures In Play.
the_tall_man on April 7th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
Not to worry.

Of course we talk like there's a singular system. Because idealising one helps us get closer to having one, so long we're aware that we don't, quite.

Just like of course we talk about having a single idealised fiction, for the same reason.

Most of the time, talking that way is simply the natural default, and talking about the "cloud" where it gets fuzzy is best left off to one side. So when you (or I, or anyone) does that, I usually don't even notice.

I noticed and nitpicked here only because it's exactly the kind of thing you're picking at yourself.
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 8th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
You're right. Of course, everything gets synchronized at one point (Resolution/IIEE) but even that step doesn't guarantee that everyone's on the same page. It's just a place for people to arbitrate procedure and check their mental model against everyone else's and discover and resolve differences.
(Anonymous) on April 7th, 2008 11:16 pm (UTC)
Hi again Adam

Thanks for the response and for taking the time to check out my blog.

Pursing this a little further, in the hopes that you will indulge me, I'm still interested in certain differences I perceive in our models and am wondering if they are significant or inconsequential. You seem to feel they are pretty much the same, so maybe it's the latter.

From your analogies I understand that you are viewing Procedures, System, Techniques and IIEE as the tools of play and implemetation of specific instances of these as play itself. Which makes a lot of sense to me.

In my own model, though I have acknowledged the existence of 'External Influences', I have basically split roleplay into the execution of game play (Process - previously Game) and the fiction being created in the minds of the players (Fantasy - previously Story)

This does bear much similarity to your model but seems to me to have the divisions rotated slightly so that the sub-elements are grouped somewhat differently e.g. my Fantasy/Story is specifically the Personal Fiction of the Players (I guess also incorporating the Idealized Fiction - though we seem to agree on the fact that the latter doesn't actually exist). Also in my model Ephemera would be part of the Process (Game) I think.

It's hard to say whether these differences are at all significant and, with work rather impinging on my free time at the moment, I haven't had a lot of opportunity to think about it. However at the risk of writing a half-cocked reply I wanted to respond and see if you had any additional comments.


-- Bruce (leagueofimaginaryheroes.wordpress.com)
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 8th, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
Fantasy, Fiction, SIS
I'm happy to indulge you. I have strong opinions about this stuff, but I don't assume I have it all right. Let's discuss our ideas and learn from each other. I have a lot to say so I'll break it into a bunch of different topic threads.

I think both our terms, "Fantasy" and "Fiction," are inferior to The Big Model's term, "Shared Imaginary Space" (SIS). SIS is a great term because it includes a spot for where play contacts system and stores state of play. That's why I am leaning towards "State of Play" in newer versions of my model. Fiction is still there, but State of Play has a special meaning. I think of State of Play as the RAM of Play.

I realize I'm not explaining this well. Let me try a different way. The state of play necessarily includes more than just fictional elements. It has to maintain state of procedural stuff. It includes stuff like, "You rolled a natural 20!" and "the wizard we met is at least 5th level because he cast fireball." That stuff is not part of the fiction, per se, but is definitely part of the game state, the non-diegetic information about play.

So is your Fantasy the same as my Personal Fiction? Probably, but only if your Fantasy includes non-diegetic game state. I have done a disservice to my model by grouping diegetic and non-diegetic stuff into a category called "Fiction," but my model really requires a slot for out-of-game state.

Does your Fantasy category include non-diegetic material?
(Anonymous) on April 8th, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Fantasy, Fiction, SIS
Cool. I agree, much can be learned from discussion and understanding other people's perspectives. Seeing things in different ways often illuminates aspects we would otherwise have missed.

To answer your question my Fantasy category is specifically the diegetic elements of play and my Process category is the non-diegetic elements.

In the context of my model I'd see the "State of Play" at any given moment to be each individual's perception of all three elements; the Fantasy (i.e. their personal diegesis), the Process (i.e. the non-diegetic procedural stuff that you've mentioned) and the other Players (social context).

If I may be so bold, I think you're right that 'State of Play is a better term for what you're describing. 'Fiction' is misleading because it suggests you're only considering the diegetic part.

As for SIS, it's certainly an appealing term, but from a personal perspective I'm somewhat reluctant to use it since much of my own theorising is based upon game play being about creating similarities in the players' Personal Fictions and drawing them together to create the appearance of shared fantasy. So I'm kind of wary of it as a term. That's merely my preference though.

-- bruce (leagueofimaginaryheroes.wordpress.com)
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 8th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
Core differences in our models
I haven't had the chance to read as much of your articles as I like. I catch up on blogs at work between builds and 1) I have been too busy at work and 2) apparently the company firewall restricts access to WordPress sites these days (but only second-level URLs -- weird).

What I have seen though is great! I have a few of my own nitpicks, though.

I'm not sure what your circle diagram represents. Is it a sort of Venn diagram, showing set inclusion (thus Fantasy is a subset of Process, and Process is a subset of Player)? I don't think you mean this and I have a hard time understanding how it could be so if you do mean this.

Is it a layer diagram in which Player is a donut, not a circle, and it touches External Influences and Process, but not Fantasy? I can't imagine you mean that, either -- are not the Fantasies inside the minds of the Players, and thus in direct contact? And wouldn't a linear diagram serve the points-of-contact illustration better: External Influences <--> Players <--> Process <--> Fantasy? Your arrows imply means of interaction, so I'm not sure what circle boundaries represent.

Your External Influences seem far less important in your model than its equivalent (Social Contract) does in mine. In my model, Social Contract is the entire context for play. Play cannot occur without it. Social Contract includes all these external factors but none of them enter play without Arbitration (to use your own term; it's IIEE/Resolution in my model).

We agree that the Idealized Fiction doesn't exist, but I think it's a very important part of any model of role-play, since it simplifies discussion. Also, I think that most players believe it exists until pressed on the point. There's some fundamental agreement among players to pretend such a thing exists, and when expectation clashes because of differences in personal fictions, players usually quickly arbitrate back to common ground so as not to spoil the illusion.

Ephemera are an artifact of the process of play, not the process itself, which is why I've included them as Play and not Procedure/Social Contract. Ephemera are the moment-to-moment instances of play created by the process. If pushed, I might say that Play is made of Ephemera, but I might regret saying that. I need more time to think about it.

Our models are very similar, but we keep bumping into a fundamental difference. Maybe it's easily resolved; I don't know. But I think you see "play" as "the process of playing" and I see "play" as "the result of the process of playing." You could relabel my big three boxes as People, Process, and Results and not be too far from my meaning. To me, the process of playing isn't play; it's Procedure in my model, and it's a necessary component for the production of play, but Procedure isn't play itself. Put another way, Play is a noun, not a verb. In my model, "to play" really means "to make play."

Because, to me, the result of play -- the Fiction or the Play State -- is the thing we care about when we role-play. The procedure that we used to get there is means, not the goal.
(Anonymous) on April 8th, 2008 11:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Core differences in our models
Thanks again for checking out my blog. I appreciate your kind words and fully understand your being busy with work. I myself have been buried under work for the last month or so and am ony just about crawling out the other side now. Hopefully I'll soon have some time to continue my own theorising and to check out more of your blog also.

Your 'nitpicks' are most welcome. I figure if aspects of my model don't stand up to scrutiny then they could do with some revision.

And Hmmm... perhaps that's the case from the outset, since I'm not sure I have a satisfactory answer to your queries about what my circle diagram represents. As much as anything it has been a convenient way of illustrating the elements I've come up with. It is showing Fantasy at the heart of game play, being produced by the Players via the game Process. Aside from that any conclusions that may be drawn from the diagram are somewhat limited.

As for the lack of importance I've attached to Social Contract I guess in my model I'm considering the implementation of Social Contract to be part of the Process, but I'll have to think about this some more to see if I'm giving it adequate attention.

Having seen your diagram and had this discussion I'm now thinking that there's quite a lot of different things hidden unside the 'Process' category in my model. I'm not sure this is useful. It needs further consideration.

You've hit the nail on the head when you say that the main difference in our thinking seems to be that I am considering "play" as "the process of playing" and you are considering "play" as "the result of the process of playing." My model considers Fantasy to be the main result of play (Process), but I recognise that isn't the whole story - there are process and social consequences also.

Thanks to your patient explanation of things I think I'm pretty clear on how your model hangs together now and I have to say I'm liking it. Hats off to you. It makes a lot of sense to me. If I have any minor nitpicks they are with the diagram rather than your model. I still find some of the divisions confusing. For example, Personal Fiction is surely a Result i.e. an aspect of Play (using your definition of Play as a noun), yet in the diagram it sits under People because (I presume) it exists in the players' minds. I can see why you've done this but initially it confused me somewhat.

As I've just realised it's 00:30am here and I've got to be up for work in the morning I'm going to have to sign out. I'll try and comment on any bits I've missed out on tomorrow.

Thanks again


-- Bruce (leagueofimaginaryheroes.wordpress.com)

(Anonymous) on April 9th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Core differences in our models
OK ... on the subject of Social Contract ... Maybe you can help me understand this a little better. I think one of our differences is from the fact that I see Social Contract as things like the players; 'agreeing to play', 'agreeing where to play', 'agreeing what to play', 'agreeing to play by the rules' etc but this merely facilitates play it doesn't mean that play as a whole is a subset of Social Contract. But that's not how you see it is it?

(Anonymous) on April 9th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Core differences in our models
oops... you probably would have guessed that was me but I forgot to sign it

-- Bruce (leagueofimaginaryheroes.wordpress.com)
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Core differences in our models
You're right. I see Social Contract as something a lot bigger. It's the entire context of play. It's a concept from The Big Model.

As I see it, all of the procedure of play comes down to resolution / arbitration about what goes into the fantasy space, right? Everything.

If you look at my model and see that IIEE/Resolution box as the focal point of the whole model, then start looking at layers around it, you start to realize they're all expressions of Resolution at different levels. The game mechanics or rules are all details about the resolution procedure or fuel for it. The larger system the players use is an expression of the rules plus their own interpretations and additions. The bigger box around all that is social contract. It's not just agreements outside of the system. It is the system.

Do you see it differently?
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 8th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)
Social-Play Model: a computer analogy
One way to look at my model is as a computer.

You have users (Players), and a computer (Social Contract). The computer takes inputs (Goals of Play) from the users through various channels (Techniques) and then performs an action on it. This action changes the state of its memory (State of Play) a few bits at a time (Ephemera) and is output to the users along various output devices, each of which might change the output a little; thus, each user gets a slightly different result (Personal Fiction).
(Anonymous) on April 9th, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Social-Play Model: a computer analogy
The computer analogy is a useful one I think. In similar fashion I've also referred to roleplay as an 'imagination engine'. Certainly looking at the inputs, outputs and processes/procedures executing within the analagous computer/machine can be quite productive.

One aspect of your analogy that leaps out at me is the statement "The computer takes inputs (Goals of Play) from the users". My own experience would suggest that this is an ideal and rarely the case in practice. Or at least, I have found player personal goals to be quite hard to pin down.

Also, even assuming my own goals are apparent to me, it isn't always clear what action I need to take in-game to achieve them.

Are your experiences different to this?

-- Bruce (leagueofimaginaryheroes.wordpress.com)
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Social-Play Model: a computer analogy
Even if the player's goals aren't apparent to him, they are there. It's more like the Goals of Play are the IO devices. A keyboard sends different signals than a mouse or joystick. They are filters for the player's intent.

The work of filtering happens in the player. The end result is communication to other players via the social contract.
Wonder Woman: Charlotte and Frederikcrankygirlie on April 9th, 2008 12:27 am (UTC)
Hey, there. I saw a comment you made in evilhat's journal and I like your game design and theory posts, so I thought I'd add you and say hello.
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 9th, 2008 12:36 am (UTC)
Hihi! Welcome! I friended you back.