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09 April 2008 @ 11:59 am
Understanding System  
Posted without comment. (Updated picture.)

yeloson on April 9th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC)

1. I think a major portion of a game's ease of play depends on how well it works at getting players to overlap those understandings. (which may or may not be actually what the designer had in mind, but still...)

2. The other part, is that if players' understandings are based in what they imagine ALL roleplaying to be like, and -those- don't overlap, expect trouble. "The Gamer Hurdle" as I call it.
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 9th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
1. I've updated the picture a bit to show that overlap and some possibilities.

2. Yeah, absolutely, but if they're having fun doing what they do, that's fine.
the_tall_man on April 9th, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
I love this picture.

Okay, not the colors. But the actual picture itself.

I might add little other-color boxes for "this is Player X's perceived fun" and change the red box to "this is the fun the text supports".

But that would make the thing confusing, rather than pointed.
Guytundra_no_caps on April 9th, 2008 10:36 pm (UTC)
I also suggest using more differentiated and not as pale colours.
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 05:52 pm (UTC)
Wow. Those colors really pop on my flat screen. I'll ramp up the intensity and repost.
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
Yeah, really, I meant, "Hey, among all these players, that red box shows where people are actually having fun. The rest, not so much. Player A isn't having fun at all, but he probably would if he played the game as the designer intended (or, if you prefer, if he played the game the same way his friends do).

Also, the fun box can be moved anywhere on the diagram and still be "true" (but show another situation). For example, put the box over Player A's ellipse and it shows that Player A figured out how to have fun by playing totally different than either his friends or the designer.
Alexander Williamszamiel on April 9th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC)
I have an obvious objection:

Player A’s using the rules differently from Authorial Intent may be just as fun (and in some/many cases more fun) than the maximized overlap with Authorial Intent.

In fact, I’ll be the Lone Heretic here and say I don’t think Authorial Intent should be on this graph at all, because it has nothing to do with what fun is. Nothing, nada, zip, zilch. The author is not in my play group. The only forces at play in having the play be fun are the areas of overlap between the members of the play group’s understanding and use of the rules … and even those can swerve pretty hard from one another as long as a bare margin of overlap occurs.

Short Example: If my group’s playing D&D but have turned Hit Points into a non-item, roleplaying out physical damage based on narrative principles and success margins but added in the idea of Social Points which we’ve decided should be worn down by various arguments and tactics in a mirror of the combat system, that’s a huge swerve from Authorial Intent. But if we’re having an absolute blast, it’s fun. And not described by the above chart.

Edited at 2008-04-09 11:50 pm (UTC)
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 07:24 pm (UTC)
Sure, Player A could be having fun, but on that diagram, he isn't. The lower diagram doesn't represent some truism (play how the designer intends or you won't have fun!).

If you want, reach into my Visio drawing and slide the fun box to the right so that it overlaps only the right half of Player A's experience to show an alternative scenario where only Player A is having fun, even though Players B and C are playing more as the designer intended.

Better to be the lone heretic than the hare lunatic!

Authorial Intent does matter to the fun. That's why some games suck and other games don't suck. Sure, even games that suck will have some fans, but the rest of the fans will still think the game sucks. Why? Because the author wrote the game a certain way.

See my recent post, Designing Fun with Rules, that addresses Authorial Intent in a clear way (he says with hope).

The author is not in your play group, but he has written the rules you're using (or not using). His intent has an influence on your play, like it or not.

In your short example, you've basically said, "My 'fun' box is bigger than the one you show in the diagram. It extends outside the designer's expectations. We play in that zone outside the designer's expectations and it's fun there."

Okay. Sure. Just draw a different diagram for your situation. My diagram isn't everyone's play -- just one possible configuration.
Alexander Williamszamiel on April 10th, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)

This is why we post diagrams with commentary, so we can avoid having our actions interpreted as espousing One True Wayism, which one receives quite enough of from the fanatic Forgies, thank-you-very-much.

I will take some issue here, though:

The author is not in your play group, but he has written the rules you’re using (or not using). His intent has an influence on your play, like it or not.

His acts have. His intent, not so much. There’s been more than once where I’ve read an author in an online forum or speaking at a Con about what his intent with a game design was and that in no way matched up to what I and people I know got out of a game as written. Sometimes surprisingly differently, in fact. We take it as an emergent rule-set from which events emerge, they take it as a model (which doesn’t actually model the targeted thing, but I digress).

Yes, some games suck. But I doubt, in my heart of hearts, that such was the authors intent. It’s a terrible word to describe “the mechanics and setting as written.” No one intends to bite the bag in their game design.

(The above is not entirely true as I’m currently writing a game that involves a pool called the Scrote, but I’m strange.)

Edited at 2008-04-10 07:52 pm (UTC)
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 08:25 pm (UTC)
This is why when we post comments in people's blogs, we don't jump to conclusions about what they're trying to communicate. ;) Don't blame me for your false interpretation of One True Wayism in my post. Moving on...

I don't know why you're hammering Authorial Intent. It really wasn't on this diagram at all. All the picture shows is the Designer's understanding of his own rules text and how it may or may not match up with the player's understanding of the same rules text.

But let me address your comment. I think it's splitting hairs to separate the designer's intent from the designer's act (of writing). I think Authorial Intent is less useful than Authorial Understanding, in any case. I intend Verge to play a certain way but I haven't figured out how to do it yet; I understand Verge to play a different way, but it's not yet a publishable thing. When I publish it, my intent may still differ from my understanding of it, but my understanding should at least provide fun reliably.

I don't think designers intend to suck, but they may be under deadline pressures or just not care enough to ensure they don't suck. They may publish games they understand to suck but not intend them to suck.
Alexander Williamszamiel on April 10th, 2008 09:14 pm (UTC)

Mainly I keep hammering on Authorial Intent (or even Understanding, frankly) because it really is hugely orthagonal to the presence of fun in play. Honest, completely unrelated. What is not unrelated are the Rules — but they constitute an entity in and of themselves after publication and the author is no longer in the picture.

As much as it would satisfy my authorial hubris to say that what I understood and what I wanted make a difference to how and if people have fun with my Rules, it just ain’t so. The mindspace that I was in, my intentions, my understanding of my own machine is completely immaterial to whether folks get good play out of it. The real question is whether the Rules as received by the players facilitate their fun. If you want to maximize that liklihood and speed it to occurance, you have to forget the author (even if that author is yourself) and write something that looks at the players first.

The difference between, say, FATAL and GURPS is that FATAL is all about the author and his intent and GURPS is about writing for the group to have fun with it. And I say that as someone who doesn’t even like GURPS!

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 10:32 pm (UTC)
Yes, but the process of game design is all about translating intent into rules and communicating intent to players so they can play the same game you play.

You are hammering this point about how intent doesn't matter to play, and I agree. Intent matters to design, and design matters to play. That's the point I'm making here.

Here's an (absurd) example of how my design intent fucks up your fun: I write a game called Hahaha. It is 32 pages long and contains only the words "ha ha ha ha" repeated the entire length of the document. I somehow manage to get you to pay $32 for it. My intent was to rip you off for $32 and to make sure you have a lousy time. Now, you're gonna have a really hard time having fun playing that game in any meaningful way. Tell me that my intent has no bearing on your fun.
Alexander Williamszamiel on April 10th, 2008 11:56 pm (UTC)

Tell me that my intent has no bearing on your fun.

It is certainly within the realm of possibility that I “get” the joke, find it hillarious, and start showing it to my friends with whom I get a big, snortin’ chortle. That’s totally not your intention as stated, but your intention doesn’t end up impacting our fun. It’s orthagonal.

marcochacon on April 10th, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)
I'll chime in with the expansion of the "fun" box to include the whole thing (potentially).

I'm going to go somewhere else too: what is "setting." A lot of people play JAGS Wonderland without the JAGS part. They use our setting which includes ... rules for magic based on setting. It's got a magic-setting more than a magic-system (yes, there are mechanics--but understanding what you can do is based on setting).

Anyway: if they're doing it in FATE, are they using "rules"--because they're using an awful lot of content from us--just not specific mechanics--and if they translate, say, the Twists, then they are using "some rules" but not, again mechanics. How does that fall?

This is one reason I like the Gamma World formulation where the players (esp. the GM in the GW book) complete the game). It makes every session its own game (yes, that's a problem)--but it also challenges ideas about "authorial intent" (hey! The GM is an author!! Who knew!? ;) ) and what a complete system is.

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)
See my latest post. My little diagram was just meant to show one possible configuration of overlapping fun, player understanding/use, and designer expectation/use. So you could have a big ol' "fun" box around it all, but I can't imagine it includes the version of JAGS where Vin Diesel comes to your house and sticks a fork in your eye. So there are limits to the "fun" box, is my point.
Alexander Williamszamiel on April 10th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)

If someone came up with the Vin Diesel Edition JAGS mechanic earnestly in a drive to add fun to their games, maybe it is fun for them and their play group! They could all be regenerators, or all already blind and get to grope Vin on the way. Who are we to judge their fun?

Other people do things for fun every day that I can’t imagine being fun. That doesn’t keep them from having fun.

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
I'm not judging anyone's fun here.

If people are having fun doing X, then they draw their fun box over X. I'm saying that when the box is here and the designer's expectations are there and the actual rules are this other place, then certain things happen.

It's when the rules don't work without Vin Diesel stabbing you in the eye, and that isn't fun for you, that sucks.
 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
Are you saying that Setting can limit what players can do? I doubt anyone will argue with that. It's like playing Dogs in the Vineyard and trying to find the rule that says you can't have a laser gun. It's in the setting, not in the mechanics.

Are you saying that Rules include Setting, not just mechanics? I doubt anyone will argue with that, either.

In my diagram, I use "System (Actual Text)" to mean the whole freaking book, whatever it includes. Mechanics, sample characters, play advice, microfiction, whatever. It's all System cuz it's all in the book (or books). System is "play procedure as represented by the product."

Fudge and Fate also ask the GM to complete the game. There's something cool about that, if done right. Fate does a great job because it's sorta a cookbook of recipes that are already known to work.
marcochacon on April 10th, 2008 07:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Setting
I'm just saying that variation on the "rules" can be said semantically to incorporate more than the "mechanics" if you want to (and define it that way in the book). If I play DitV set in Star Wars, using town creation as per the book, but the Jedi do, in fact, have light-sabers, am I playing DitV or not.

It's a philosophical question about how you interpret the various ways of changing game-rules and what qualifies as playing a specific game. I was just wondering what you thought about that or if you'd thought about it.

 Adam Drayadamdray on April 10th, 2008 08:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Setting
Ah, cool. It's a political question more than a philosophical one, isn't it? I mean, who cares? Are you having fun?

If you manhandle Dogs in the Vineyard to play "Carebears in the Briar Patch," it isn't Dogs-as-written but it might be Dogs-in-spirit, but who is to judge? Who "owns" the "spirit of" a game? It's a political problem.

Philosophically, I think each person gets to make that decision for themselves. Vincent might say, "Yeah, your Carebears game is Dogs-in-spirit," but I -- a player in that very session -- might go, "No, we didn't really even judge anyone, so I can't see how it even resembled Dogs. All we did was use the attributes and traits and dice system but there weren't really rules for escalation that had any teeth. I mean, 'I escalate to kisses!' doesn't really mean anything!"

So, yeah, I've thought about it and decided it was either semantics, politics, or unanswerable philosophy.