2009-06-08 : Restating: Fictional Causes and Realization

Since at last I've graduated to obviousness (thanks, Josh), let me restate. Here's Frank T again:

...I'm saying that one should invest in the SIS, and specifically, in Situation, moment-by-moment. Who's there, what's going on, what does it look like, sound like, feel like? In my experience, if you have a game system that works perfectly well without investing much in the SIS, people may tend to rush the story and their imagination of the actual in-game situation gets rather blurry. Such games still sound great in a write-up but to me, they're leaving a bad taste, like reading a good book way too fast.

And here's me in agreement: if you have a game whose rules don't adequately depend upon fictional causes, it's easy and easier to let the game's fictional details fall away.

"Adequately" can mean both quantity and quality. If you have a game whose rules don't often enough depend upon fictional causes, yes; if you have a game whose rules don't significantly enough depend upon fictional causes, too.

Some of you got what I was saying the first time I said it. I hope that everybody gets what I'm saying now! Tomorrow: significantly enough and real-world effects.

1. On 2009-06-08, Guy Shalev said:

What about the other side, when the SIS works well enough, people will stop using mechanics?

Again with the subjective and ever-shifting definition of "Well enough".

And I really liked the previous post, though the big one to me about SC rules is Burning Empires's Psychology Die.


2. On 2009-06-08, Christian Griffen said:

So, usually Frank is my brain twin, but I've got to add a caveat here.  Neglecting the SIS is never good, but there are plenty of stories that manage without a whole bunch of sensory details.

I'm in some ways exposed to the other end of the spectrum, too, which obviously colors my impression.  Many times in chat games, people will write post after post about the environment, what their characters look and sound and move like, the smells in the air, and all that jazz, showing off their fancy description skills and attention to detail.  And I'm sitting there thinking, "Get to the fucking point already!"  For many people I've played with, it's like all being there and little things happening. So, fine, let's make sure we have a good sense of what the place is like and what the characters are experiencing, but for fuck's sake, don't do it to the point where I feel like I'm reading the nonfiction work of a detail-obsessed travel writer.

I'm just saying: sometimes a quick glance at the SIS details is fine with me, as long as we're paying attention to the characters and moving the story forward.  It doesn't have to mean reading a book too fast, it can be reading a book that's not a pages-of-description love fest but a modern minimalist character story.


3. On 2009-06-08, Vincent said:

Guy: Here's what I've said about people stopping using mechanics: 2009-04-27 : Dice & Cloud: a Symmetry

I have lots to say about "adequately," but yes. Scratch a line in the dirt for the water to run down, but there's no telling WHAT real people are going to do.


4. On 2009-06-08, Vincent said:

Christian: That's close cousin to Callan's ongoing problem with these posts - and it's one of the problems in the first place that started the whole Forge fashion in game design. No doubt.

My problem isn't with sparse description, at all. It's with roleplaying where the events aren't concrete.

Like, we're playing a stakes-setting game from 2006 that was never actually published that I'm just making up. I say, "okay, what's at stake is, do you lose your temper and burn down the orphanage? I'm rolling my Provocative, you roll your Calm... I win! Bye bye orphanage!" And you say, "actually I'm going to bring in my 'cucumbery' trait, which is listed under Calm, for a reroll... Dang, you still win. You've provoked me into losing my temper, I burn down the orphanage."

...All with no reference to what my character does to provoke yours, or what. Things happen - orphanages burn - but it's just like Frank says. Sounds good in writeup, leaves a bad taste in play.

Lest anyone think I'm advocating a return to long purple soliloquies and nothing that happens. I'm not. Yikes, no, a world of not.


5. On 2009-06-08, Christian Griffen said:

Right, right.  Complete agreement here.


6. On 2009-06-09, Guy Shalev said:

Christian, I've actually come to a realization the other day on why freeform chats, or even not entirely freeform chats are so much about the descriptions and the small stuff, which results in a soap-opera mode of play: They often lack the ability of actually bringing forth concrete and real change. To put it in Vincent's words, they can't burn the building, they can't do XYZ, so they're left with talking a lot about things that are small.
Perhaps the relevance to us is clear - the players (including GM) need to have a real ability to affect events, if you want them to truly do things.

Vincent, I hope I'm not overly pimping myself, but I'm going to link to myself some. I really agree with what Frank said, regarding "Such games still sound great in a write-up but to me, they're leaving a bad taste, like reading a good book way too fast.", especially the "in a write-up". There's the point where we have "Stories later", as the story is constructed after play, as I think we always construct story after an activity. Just like humans are pattern creating engines, they are also story creating engines (see Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen's The Science of Discworld 2, and the concept of "Narrativium").

It doesn't matter whether a story is created now or not, but we fabricate something later, and I sometimes fear that as we move to "AP Report" bennies instead of "Theory" bennies, that we've again made a slight mistake, forgetting that it's the AP that matters, not the report of it. And thus we can also create games, and play them in a way that it's the report that's designed to shine, rather than the game. My post from yesterday about mechanics potentially robbing the emotional impact from games addresses this, and seems like a close cousin to your reply to Christian.


7. On 2009-06-09, valamir said:

Forgive me for a moment for offering some of my own musings on a slightly broader topic.

I'm a big fan of the SIS, the Shared Imagined Space.  But I'm also a big believer that the SIS is just the tip of the ice berg. In my view 80+% of every RPG ever played by anyone actually occurs in the Unshared Imagined Space of each individual player.

When the GM describes a street that your characters are walking down and you pass a couple walking their dog...those scant details are all that enter the SIS.  Each and every person at the table will have a different idea of what that street looks like in the real time movie playing in their head.  Everyone will assemble that street from a hodge podge of street scene imagery picked up from our personal travel and movie watching experience.  If no further details are given for the couple some of us will see an older couple, some a younger, some a same sex couple in our own personal mind theater.

Here's my belief.  No matter how much concrete detail the GM gives; no matter how many minutes are dedicated to the sights and sounds and smells of that street; no matter how much time is spent on what the couple is wearing and the breed of the dog...the majority of all of the interesting details...the details that bring that scene alive are ALWAYS going to be created and exist solely and uniquely in each player's mind.

This leads me to the following two conclusions:

First, which I've expressed before:  Because of this two completely well intended, non belligerent, non dickish players WILL—ALWAYS—have two completely different movies playing in their heads.  It is inevitable that if they play long enough they will reach a point where something each of them cares about quite a bit as to its importance to their personal enjoyment of the experience of play is different in a non compatable way in their respective movies.  When that point occurs, having no other recourse than resolving the differene on the purely social level is dangerous and has the great potential of causing disappointment and disengagement.  This potential is greatly lessened by the existance of rules (that I've taken to calling social conduct rules) designed to smooth over such patches without needing social wrangling to do so.

Second, and more directly relevant to this topic:  In my view no matter how many details you add, no matter how much fiction you ground the mechanics in, no matter how much you require "fictional causes"...most of the movie (by a vast majority) is still going to exist only in the individual unshared imaginary space.

Vincent, your burning down the orphanage example bothers me not one whit.  Because all of those details which you presume are missing...are not missing...AT ALL.  They all exist as fully developed as they need to to make the movie hold together in my own head.  They don't need to be shared to exist.  They don't need to enter the SIS officially for me to enjoy them.  They ONLY need to enter the SIS at such point in time when a specific detail matters later.

So as long as the game design is a) clear about setting forth the details that will matter later, and b) provides a mechanism for nailing down those details as they are needed, there's nothing missing.  There's no enjoyment missing.  My movie might look different than your movie...but so what.  My movie will ALWAYS look different than your movie, no matter how much leading with the fiction you're doing.

So yeah...I hear ya, I get ya...but a big part of me is shrugging.  Why do these fictional causes need to be spoken into the SIS to matter?  They don't for me.  And since there will never be or has been a time when all of the interesting details are ever spoken into the SIS...they don't really for anyone.

This whole train of thought strikes me as a unecessarily big to-do wrangling about how many details have to be spoken aloud vs. purely imagined for enjoyment to happen.  And clearly that's just a continuum of preference...not a fundamental binary difference in design or play culture.  You might prefer to have more of the fictional causes spoken into the SIS first.  I might be perfectly comfortable leaving more of the fictional causes to exist only in my own head until such time as they are needed.  This is a thing...but I can't see how it's a THING.


8. On 2009-06-09, Vincent said:

Excellent! Good.

It's a thing because the fashions in indie rpg design right now don't offer good solutions to game designers trying to develop games at this end of the spectrum.

For the past year, I've been having conversations with my designer friends that go like this:

"I've noticed that when people play my game, the fiction is pretty, like, low-cal. It's too summary, it's not really realized. Sometimes that's fine and sometimes they've been unhappy with it, but either way I've noticed it. So ... I want the fiction to be more rich. I think I need to add more fictional effects to my fundamentally real-world cause, real-world effect rules, wouldn't you say, Vincent?"

My answer is: "I wouldn't say that, no. I'd say that people's investment in the fiction will gravitate to the fiction's value, so I'd say you need to make the fiction more valuable. I think you need to add more fictional causes to your fundamental rules, so that they treat the game's fiction as the basis of play, not an appendix to play."

So, the impulse to design - I want to design a game that works a different way - precedes the whole conversation. If you don't feel that impulse, of COURSE the conversation's going to seem unnecessary to you.


9. On 2009-06-09, Arturo G. said:

Valamir said: "Vincent, your burning down the orphanage example bothers me not one whit. Because all of those details which you presume are missing...are not missing...AT ALL. They all exist as fully developed as they need to to make the movie hold together in my own head. They don't need to be shared to exist. They don't need to enter the SIS officially for me to enjoy them. They ONLY need to enter the SIS at such point in time when a specific detail matters later."

But I think that's exactly the point. Some people may build interesting details on their heads, but others not. Or at least, not so detailed. Mainly because in many cases the details don't seem to have a real impact on the consequences, or in what matters later. When this happens, the feeling of "unrealized" fiction may appear.

But if some details have an impact on the rules, they matter. Thus, people introduce more of them on the SIS, share them, everyone enjoys them, they have an impact, and everyone have the feeling that the fiction is more rich and consequential.


10. On 2009-06-09, valamir said:

I guess what I'm saying is that your designer friends' observation is not necessarily true.  Its not that the fiction isn't being realized; it is...its just being realized inside the players' heads rather than realized out in the SIS.  IMO the majority of all fiction in all games is primarily realized inside the players' heads.

To the extent that your game looks low cal game maybe that means the ratio of fictional realization is 90% inside the players' heads and 10% in the SIS.  In a "high cal - lead with the fiction" game maybe its 80% inside the players' heads and 20% in the SIS.

No point in quibbling over the precision of the percentages, my point is that it will never ever ever be 20% just in your head and 80% in the SIS.  Even movies don't achieve that level of shared imagining.

So we're not talking about a spectrum between two extremes.  What we're really talking about is a spectrum that lies between "Really Far Right" and "Really Really Far Right"...because just "Sort of Far Right" is all but impossible to achieve, and "Somewhat Left" is out of the question entirely.


11. On 2009-06-09, Vincent said:

> I guess what I'm saying is that your designer friends' observation is not necessarily true.


Or, sure. Whatever.

I've heard it enough from players, and seen it enough first-hand, and come to understand some of the underlying mechanisms, and found personal satisfaction in reapproaching my own game design work - I'm going to proceed as though it's true.


12. On 2009-06-09, Guy Shalev said:

Ralph, regarding Arturo's quote of you, this is part of what I'm arguing about in my link above.

It feels deus ex machina if suddenly an orphanage burns and I'm supposed to fill it with value at the last moment. Imagine a movie where you've been watching it for 2 hours, then 5 minutes before the end you suddenly get told that there's a long-lost love for the protagonist and they're in danger...

... I'd say, "So what? You didn't make me care for them as a viewer."
Likewise, it's possible that you fill the SIS on your own, and it's true that no one can pour meaning and value into something but yourself, but it can be helped, such as by giving you more occasions to grow attached and/or pour value into something.

The SIS can be modified and reinforced, even if it's 20% at a time tops, it can add up, and 30% is a lot more than 20%, and if some bit IS shared, then it has value, that's part of what Flags do - they cut on the separation in knowing what someone sees as valuable, because they tell you.


13. On 2009-06-09, Moreno R. said:

Ralph, what you describe, in my experience happen only AFTER the SIS is established as something worth imagining in detail.

Humans are very efficent creatures: we don't waste efforts without some sort of reward. So, even people who love imagining things don' imagine stories and SISs about a game of Risiko, or Monopoly, because there is no point, no reward. But we still can "role-plsy" (act) the various moves of the games, because THAT is fun ("I will crush your troops in Asia, general Green. Hear my tank rolls and weep!"), even with no SIS whatsoever.

When a game work even without buinding a detailed SIS, people will not imagine a detailed SIS, because they don't need to. At least, is what I do when I play: I don't imagine things for myself, in a sort f dreamy "otherworld" where I live in that moment. I imagine what I need for the game.


14. On 2009-06-09, Jay Loomis said:

One of the things that I've struggled with in games with my group is the issue of scale. So many indie games are written in a way that leads to conflicts having a large scale (do you burn the orphanage down?). The SIS for our group tends to not be enriched because making conflicts more granular just doesn't work well in a lot of rules (and/or because the rule book doesn't give us proper instruction about how to make it work).
For some groups, I'm sure that they just free narrate the details underlying the larger conflict, but that doesn't work for us.
It seems to me that more detail and more concrete rightward-pointing arrows will come into play (for my group anyway) if conflict rules scale well to different levels of detail.


15. On 2009-06-09, Valamir said:

Moreno:  Seriously?

I must just be wierd then.  There's plenty of times when I'll be reading a novel and I'll just lower the book for 10 minutes and replay entire scenes and chapters in my mind's eye complete with all the details that I wanted to see but the author left out.

I can't imagine not doing that constantly in an RPG.  I mean...a reward...for imagining fictional details?  I can't even parse that in a way that makes sense.  What more reward do you need for imagining fiction...then the joy of imagining fiction...if that's not something that you're going to do...why roleplay at all?  Why not just play a MMORPG or watch a movie?

Strange.  If we're gaming and you say "and then the orphanage burns down" and then we move on to the aftermath...I'm going to see the whole thing in my head anyway.  I'm going to see the flames licking the paint off the walls.  I'm going to see the wooden head board of the bed turning to char.  I'm going to see the little girl trying to climb out the window unable to hold on to the bedsheet rope without dropping her teddy bear.  I'm going to see the teddy bear fall to the ground with a faint wisp of smoke from where its paw got singed.  You mean, you're not going to see all that without someone needing to speak it first?  Really?  I can't imagine how roleplaying can be the least bit enjoyable if you aren't seeing all of those details without needing them to be spelled out for you explicitly.

Is that really what this whole topic boils down to?  Rules based training wheels for using your own imagination?  Is the issue really that just because the game rules don't FORCE you to imagine the scene...people don't mind boggles...


16. On 2009-06-09, Alex F said:

I'd like to add my tuppence on why this matters to me. I believe games that don't encourage diffusion of the head-stuff into the shared fiction do carry an associated risk of misunderstandings that can be insidious because they stay hidden and get invested in, rather than negotiated at an early opportunity.

To take the orphanage example, let's say it was my character that provoked yours into burning the orphanage. We never establish how, but you imagine - possibly backfilling in after the scene, as play is continuing on - that the encounter turned on the suspicion that the guys running it were exploitative in some way, and I was pushing you to act up and protect innocence the only way you could. Twisted, but kind of noble, fitting with your sense of your character. You might even play through the next few scenes with that kind of sense in your head, colouring your play in non-explicit ways.

The next scene we're in together, my character applauds yours for ridding this enemy land of another source of young soldiers. You see, this is what was edging around in my head and making sense as we went forward, colouring my play and giving me a sense of what the session was about.

What now? Possibly, we're a bit screwed. One of us needs to mentally reverse and erase what we've been doing, thinking and crafting. I may find it difficult to now justify the ways in which we've been behaving in the intermediate scenes, or you may be unprepared to accept that your character would have acted on that motivation.

Of course, different assumptions can be joined to create a new, unexpected thing: in the moment, that's the lifeblood of social gaming. But when these disconnects drag, and gather steam, they can lead to really unfulfilling moments.

Where this underdefinition is a standard feature of a game, players are encouraged to shy away from building on the richer (and hidden)parts of the story - as it can lead to conflict on the social level - and being less inclined to build on it, can become less involved in it altogether, preferring to deal with the surface "just the facts ma'm" plot events that are made explicit and so uncontroversial. So, Ralph, beyond your point about ratios, I wonder whether the total level of fictional content may be lower in the 90/10 case vs the 80/20.


17. On 2009-06-09, Vincent said:

Ralph: Of course that's not what it boils down to.

It boils down to, in your terms, "how can we design games that get to 20% shared imagination, instead of settling for 10%?"

If your answer's "why bother," that's fine with me; I encourage you to not bother if you don't wanna.


18. On 2009-06-09, Valamir said:

Vincent, "why bother" is definitely not my answer.

Here's what's gotten under my skin:

When you started this train of thought it was all "Sometimes when you play these sorts of story games the fiction can feel a little weak, so here's some techniques inspired by older gaming tradition that can help deliver the fiction differently"

That was fantastic.  I'm totally down with that.  You may recall in some Story-Games threads from a ways back that I was the guy saying "yes, GM fiat is an underexplored design technique that should be developed further".  I think the text to AW is the best explanation of this family of techniques I've ever read.

I do think your assumption that nothing can ever go wrong in using these techniques unless players are being dicks or baby's as long as the GM has been properly instructed in their role is more wishful thinking than sensible conclusion, but the techniques themselves are sound.  I'd say they're more at risk for failure than you've allowed for, but beyond that, I love how your developing them.

But somewhere along the way that starting place morphed and changed into something ugly.  "Sometimes when you play these sorts of story games the fiction can feel a little weak" became "story games produce crappy fiction."  To the point that now you're on podcasts distancing yourself from the very notion of story games, creating new definitions of what a story game is so you can say your games aren't and then going on to disparage those kinds of designs and the kind of fiction they produce.

Somewhere along the way "here's some techniques that deliver fiction differently" became "here's what you have to do if you want your fiction to not suck"

For the record In a Wicked Age is by far and away the best designed game you've done.  The fact that it allows you to spend some time "above your characters" is a Good Thing.  Its not the same Good Thing as the Good Thing you're doing with Apocalypse World...but its also not a weakness of that game.

The tunnel vision you've brought to this topic that allows you to not see the pitfalls of this method of developing fiction and causes you to disparage other methods of developing fiction...yeah...that's bugging the hell out of me.


19. On 2009-06-09, Vincent said:

Ralph: "I do think your assumption that nothing can ever go wrong in using these techniques unless players are being dicks or baby's as long as the GM has been properly instructed in their role..."

You're misreading me. You've been saying this, but I have no idea where you got it.

I think that orchestrating these kinds of rules - making sure that they CAN go well, let alone WILL go well - is a hard design challenge. You have to be absolutely disciplined about the GM's job and the players' jobs and the rules' jobs and how they all interact. You have to eliminate conflicts of interest, internal to the GM and between the GM and the players both. It's not a matter of just slapping rules together now any more than it ever was.


20. On 2009-06-09, Vincent said:

As to disparaging games, I've been careful to talk as much as I can about my own games, not others'. When my own games haven't served, I've talked about games I know well, like, and understand.

This is the only disparaging thing I've said: 2009-04-27 : Dice & Cloud: a Symmetry. You may not agree with that post, and I may not be right in it, but I stand by it as honest observations.

I don't have any specific criticisms of any games but my own. Of my own, I have criticisms, not disparagement.


21. On 2009-06-09, Christopher Kubsik said:


I can't address concerns about Vincent distancing other games (or not)... I have not context for that.

I did want to say that I don't think anyone needs rewards for imagining anything.

The issue at hand—from my view, if not anyone else's—is a problem with not sharing in the Shared Imagined Space.  When I slip out of games, in situations like those Vincent has described—it's because a player is making "things" happen, rules are being used, and it's like sitting at a movie where the camera angels are so sloppy and ill-chosen that I have no idea what is going on... and I check out.

While this might be my delight alone, its the social act of making things up together that brings me to an RPG table.  Just like a writer or film maker is responsible for communicating details to the audience, so I enjoy when Players lay out the narrative details to enrich the experience of the other Players who are, at that moment, audience members.

In fact, in my view, its less of creating something "shared" than gifts given back and forth between the players.  "Here's a narrative detail."  "And here's one for you."  And so on.  Bonus Dice in Sorcerer and Fan Mail in PtA are ways of saying "Thank you," to people for the creative gifts.  That's why I prefer them to other mechanics I've encountered that say, "If you do this then your PC gets that."  I'm much more interested in what everyone at the table is handing to each other.


22. On 2009-06-09, Christian Griffen said:

In some ways, it also seems like a "show, don't tell" kind of thing.  "My character persuades yours" is exposition; but the meat of a story is in actual scenes.  And if we're going to have those, we need to show the "how" of it all.

So sometimes, players (me included) can slip too much into exposition mode, if the game doesn't remind them to play things out.


23. On 2009-06-09, Callan said:

Hi Ralph,

I think the discussions kind of gone another way, but I wanted to get back to some previous stuff. Do you think 'loading up' personal imaginations prior to the orphanage roll, helps give the impression of more depth to the event, atleast from a personal imagination standpoint? Like a whole bunch of prior events - the more events, the more loaded up the personal imagination will be? More wood added to the imaginative fire? And as it is, there isn't alot of imaginative 'wood' to burn, just in that roll currently. That difference in 'wood' might be the issue, or atleast an issue in relation to this thread?


24. On 2009-06-09, valamir said:

Sorry Vincent, I was abit off today, don't mean to start a spat.  But I heard the interview you did with Rob.  You were pretty clear cut in your response.  He asked "don't you think there's a danger" and you answered "why on Earth would there be"...I believe you also went on to refer to gamers who'd have a problem with a GM enforcing his vision over theirs as "babies" although I'd have to relisten to get the exact quote.  And yes, while you were very careful to intentionally only refer to your own games in that pod cast I certainly came away with the sense that you were condemning an entire class of games.


25. On 2009-06-10, Vincent said:

Oh dude. Rob was like, "don't you think there's a danger inherent in having rules that refer materially to the fiction?" And I was like, pff. No. That's like, don't you think that there's a danger inherent in having no GM? Or don't you think that there's a danger inherent in having dice? Or don't you think there's a danger inherent in having only three players at the table?

There's a danger that you'll design your game poorly. Any given technique or category of techniques might appear in any given poorly-designed game. The techniques don't carry danger around with them.

And I wasn't talking about gamers who'd have a problem with the GM enforcing his vision over theirs, I was talking about people who had signed up to play a game with a referee having a problem abiding by a referee's LEGIT calls. Babies, yes: if they weren't going to abide by the referee's LEGIT calls, they shouldn't be playing a game where the referee makes calls.

Specifically: a referee's LEGIT calls. I'm not talking about an asshole here, I'm talking about someone fulfilling his agreed-upon responsibility to the group, to the group's benefit, instead of sacrificing his own integrity and the group's benefit to one single player's personal self-interests. If that player throws a snit, then yes, that player oughta grow the hell up.


26. On 2009-06-10, Vincent said:

I did take a crack at the term "story games." That was unkind of me, but (a) it was about faddishness and conservatism in game design and status-fixation in the scene, not about any particular game, and (b) Rob knew I would and provoked me. (Also (c), my dear internet spectators, I don't intend to say any more about that online, so don't ask. Ralph only, if you really gotta know, email me.)


27. On 2009-06-10, Weeks said:

I'm a player who has experienced this thin-fiction phenomenon that Vincent is talking about.  I don't really grok why it happens.  And I'm not fully convinced that left-pointing arrows is the Thing to save me (but maybe!).  But I like a whole hell of a lot that someone in a position to is trying to crack this nut.

Ralph, I sometimes replay and fill-in details as you described.  But sometimes the fiction seems like a schematic.  Event 1 -> Event 2 -> Event 3...rush, rush, rush.  Up there in comment 8 where Vincent talks about what his game-designer buddies are saying—that resonates powerfully with me.  I'm envious that you had no clue about it.  And it doesn't feel like it's a matter of adjusting the 10% shared over to 20% shared.  it feels like it's something qualitatively different about the experiences.

I can't even pin down why it happens.  IAWA delivered all-eight-cylinders play one session and thin-fiction play the next.  I've assumed it was mostly the fault of the players.  I'm hopeful that this drive to analyse and beat this particular kind of doldrum will help my groups improve our ratio of fantastic experiences.


28. On 2009-06-10, Callan said:

I think one thing that chokes up creativity is if it's treated as if your at fault if you are not creative.


29. On 2009-06-11, Marshall Burns said:

Regarding 80%/20%...

That's probably accurate-ish enough. But I, for one, ain't happy with it.

So, when I'm playing music with some friends, it starts with one guy playing a groove on one instrument. I listen, and I hear an idea in my head that fits with it. At this point, I could just sit their and listen while I imagine the groove in my head that grooves with my friend's groove. And I'd be fine. I'm getting my entertainment.

Not groovy. The other guys are missing out on what I'm hearing. Which is bad, because it's good and they should hear it.

What's worse is that, without me taking my idea out of my head and putting it into the Shared Acoustic Space, my friends can't groove off of my groove. I mean, my idea didn't come out of a vacuum; it spun off of another idea. Which could in turn spin off another idea for someone else. And that's the whole reason we do this TOGETHER rather than by ourselves.

So, roleplaying is just like that. And the Shared bits are what matters. Because it's not me, it's US.


30. On 2009-06-12, Callan said:

To me, that whole reason is a round about way of saying 'be creative now! That's what we came for, so do it now!". It COULD spin off an idea - were talking chance here. Which means that first guy could be playing and, because of chance, nothing comes to anyone.

And if no ones happy with just one guy playing, it puts even more pressure on being creative right now.

I don't think that expectation matches how creativity functions (the damn thing decides when it comes, in other words, not because you've decided to do X activity). If you take that as true, I think a better model of expectation is to enjoy the solo player, but hope for group interaction and appreciate it if it comes, but not to stipulate it as being what the activity IS about. If it doesn't happen, solo is still appreciated, rather than something people are unhappy with. If you don't take it as true that creativity comes essentially at random, well my further conclusion rests on it so it'd be a matter of question whether creativity can come on demand.

But that's why I talked about safety nets in the thread Franks quote comes from. For when the muse doesn't come and you fall off the rope.


31. On 2009-06-12, Joel said:

But it IS what the activity is about. It's definitional to roleplaying, as opposed to fiction writing or daydreaming. I think it's a red herring to talk about "being creative now!" as if you're demanding some quality of performance that must be maintained at all times. The point is to just DO something, even if it's not the most brilliant thing ever uttered, because that IS what we came to do. Sure, there's an on the spot aesthetic judgment that happens, where people respond emotionally to the input. But if you just don't give the input in the first place, you're not playing badly, you're simply not playing.

I think Graham's Play Unsafe concepts are key here—be boring, be obvious, etc. yes, we want what people say to be cool, but we don't want them to show off, or stretch for it. We want it to flow naturally from what seems to them the most straightforward and obvious input at the time. Which will generally be just fin, and occasionally be brilliant.


32. On 2009-06-12, Mark Woodhouse said:

Any group creative activity has to in some way get over that hump. Not being willing to be boring, trite, off-timing, whatever - not being willing to be judged - is poison to collaboration.

All performance is "be creative, now!"

I think that may be the biggest danger in the sort of disconnect from fictional cause that V's talking about. It makes everything very safe - we all just point to the dice and the numbers and the logic of system and say "that made me do it - if it sucked, don't blame me!" We can pretend we aren't judging each other's input.

But if we're really doing this group creative activity we claim we are, of course we're judging.


33. On 2009-06-13, Callan said:

Joel, to be honest your post reads like your saying "Try! Give it a go, even if we don't get it this time, keep trying for something creative!". And that's what I meant by hoping for creativity before (but I didn't write it very well - I meant encouragement). But there's a big difference between "Hey, lets try and even if we fail, because we tried it's roleplay" and "If there wasn't creativity, it wasn't roleplay at all!". I think your saying that trying is the key element, and I totally agree! Perhaps I'm a little sappy, but I think if people keep trying, they'll make it eventually to something. Thus trying is what's important to the activity, rather than what is produced straight away being the most important thing.


34. On 2009-06-19, Josh W said:

Ralf, sometimes I just want the game to pause while I contemplate that awesome thing, like you stepping out of the narrative and just inflating that fictional world out of your imagination. But while I'm doing that, what's that in a social context? Zip.
It's just me going coma for a sec while everyone waits for my turn. At that point I'd like to translate that cool thing I'm doing into something everyone can share, activating it as things people can work with, but not in such a way as it invalidates the original activity. Plus I'd like to hear what is in other people's heads, because sometimes I might prefer the thing they thought of.

Marshal, totally on your wavelength there. Mutual creation, with all that emergent surfable coolness of a good jam.

But there is another side too; say I do something that invalidates options in an important way in my head, I don't want the game to carry on like I didn't just destroy the bridge we were going to cross. Why? Because that is a part of my characters arc, and symbolises this or that, and looked pretty awesome and momentous in my head. I don't mind us finding another way after a little effort, but I want to shift the pacing just a little as a consequence. That's something many GMs normally try to avoid, the "moment of silence" diversion, but I prefer those GMs who respect it (most of the time) but resolve it un-momentously to those who use it's lack of mechanical traction to ride over it as if it didn't happen.

Callan, I think you're really right on that first bit. One lovely friend of mine got totally driven off rp'ing because my brother kept vetoing his stuff for predictability. It's true he was totally predictable, but I was happy to let him start predictable and move on to his own stuff as and when he learned what it was he liked. I'd like to rehabilitate him to eyes-closed creation without that thumbs up/down confidence-trash, so he can move on to the point where he can deal with more abrupt feedback.

I would say that I think you can get creative on demand, but it's hard; like a journalist, you have to find a new angle, a skew-eyed deterministic transformation of the current situation that no one else can follow, but likes the result. You basically need to meet my Grampa! But on the other hand repeating such a pattern won't challenge you, so there's more to be said.

Creativity is like research; you jump into the land of the unknown and see what you pull out. It has to fail sometimes, or it's not really pushing. In that sense you manage your risks, and mix your time between rockets and skyscrapers. One gets you high consistently, the other might get you higher!


35. On 2009-06-20, Marshall Burns said:

don't mind us finding another way after a little effort, but I want to shift the pacing just a little as a consequence.

DEFINITELY. I don't mind being creatively challenged at all. It's a good thing. Folks who aren't up to it are pansies.

I'm also inclined to say that folks who aren't up to "be creative NOW!" are pansies. It's not that hard. I know this from music. Gamers should all know it from Graham Walmsley.


36. On 2009-06-21, Callan said:

When you picked up a musical instrument you can now play, for the very first time, your teacher said to get creative now or your a pansie? That's how you started learning that instrument, Marshall?

It seems to go against most functional teaching and learning methods?


37. On 2009-06-21, Mark Woodhouse said:

Nope, but the first time I ever got up the nerve to play with other people was when the boring hard work of technicals, practice, and sore hands finally turned into fun. And you know what? I objectively pretty much sucked, and I'm sure a few of the people I played with noticed that. But getting that feedback was absolutely necessary to getting better at the creative part - and something I'd never learn from technicals.

Is playing an RPG practice, or performance, or is it something else - a social interaction with elements of both?
I think it's both - and I think it fails badly when it's one or the other.


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