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Archive => GNS Model Discussion => Topic started by: Simon Marks on April 01, 2005, 04:15:46 AM

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Simon Marks on April 01, 2005, 04:15:46 AM
Simon here, long time lurker, first time poster.

I am posting in regards to a question I have regarding *how* you play, as opposed to *why* you play - so technically part of the 'social contract'?

(Again, apologies if this is covered elswhere - but I can't find it)

Essentially, from what I have seen (mostly in discussions on the Pagga wbsite here (http://Http:// is that when people play in an attempt to explore their Creative Agenda, they do so in very different ways in relation to the other participants.

From what I can tell, it seems to be a split Co-operative/Competitive, with the balance point being Selfish.

In this, it is the way that the Players interact with the other Players.

(Not sure I'm making myself clear - oh well)

Is this something already covered here, or could it bear further inspection.

Kind Regards

Simon Marks

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Alan on April 01, 2005, 06:27:52 AM
Hey Simon,

Welcome to your first post!

Can you elaborate more?  I don't understand.  Isn't all game play for personal pleasure, and hence "selfish"?  

BTW an individual does not have a single Creative Agenda for all their roleplaying.  It's not like personality type.  CA is formed by the play environment the players choose to play in.  A player may follow one CA in one game and another in a different game.  Players can have a CA they enjoy most and often seek out, sometimes conflicting with the CA of the environment, but can still be able to play and enjoy other CAs.

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Simon Marks on April 01, 2005, 06:50:35 AM
I am aware that a player has more than one Agenda, however (from my understanding) the CA is the term for 'why' the player is playing at that point in time.

Ok, so, a better explanation then.

What I mean by Co-operative/Competitive (and why it's not all selfish) is easy enough to explain in first priciples.

In any activity (be it Roleplay to making cakes), your view of the other participants can be viewed as either allies or rivals.

If you view them as Allies, then you work together for a 'common goal'. As such, this common goal may be rooted *in* the activity (to make the best cakes) or external to the activity (to have fun).

If you view them as Rivals, then you work in opposition to each other - either (again) rooted *in* the activity (to make a better cake than them) or external (to win a prize?)

The midpoint is Selfish - your activity is without consideration of the other participants (I will make the best cake I can, others are making cakes too but thats irrelevent to me)

So, how is this important in RP and LRP?

It occurs that possibly one of the cause of dysfunctional play is different modes of play - time for an Actual Play example.

AD&D (2nd ed) some 12 years ago. Myself and some friends (in full Gamist Glory) playing Dragon Mountain.

Towards the end, we faced a Dragon. With mighty skill and Luck we defeated the dragon, losing 2/3rds of our party and suffering mighty damage.

We sat down, caught out breath.

Joe then says. "I cast cone of cold on the party"

The rest of us where stunned - and all of us died.

Joe's mage loaded up on items and treasure and left.

Afterwards we complained that this was ... well mean. Joe countered with "But thats what my character would do" - namely try and get as much treasure as possible. It was a low point of the game.

Now, from my own looking at this incedent it occurs to me that what happend here is that me (and most of the others) were working in a co-operative sense towards our heavily Gamist agenda - challenges presented by the Scenario that we as a team would defeat.

Joe, on the other hand, did not see it like that. The point was to be the best out of all of us.

Now, (again from my point of view) I think this is what Ron identified as 'Hardcore' Gamism - but I think that (certainly from a UK LRP point of view) the Co-op/Comp split is prevelent everywhere.

Make more sense?

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Alan on April 01, 2005, 07:08:57 AM
Hi Simon,

I think Creative Agenda isn't so much why a player is playing as what they are aiming to experience.  Goal rather than motive.

Your idea of allies, rivals and "selfish" is interesting, but I think it can only be used in well defined subdivisions of play.  For example, two players may compete to get the XP for a dragon, but on another level they are allies in getting to that point, and also in supporting the game rules that get them there.  A great deal of role-playing depends on cooperation - without which it wouldn't exist.  I suppose this is why actual rivalry between players over out of game issues can tear a social contract apart.  

How do you think ally, rival, and selfish approaches are important to role-playing?

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: TonyLB on April 01, 2005, 07:13:44 AM
Simon:  It makes sense.  I disagree with your conflation of competition with agenda-discord.  This is a good thing!  Now we have a cool topic for discussion!

To my mind, cooperation and competition are completely distinct from the question of whether everyone has the same agenda.  

For instance, your example of Joe the backstabber seems (to me, tell me if I'm reading it wrong) to be largely rooted in the way he sidestepped challenge.  Casting Cone of Cold on the party does not prove anything about how well he is able to address a fair and clear challenge... unless one accepts that "Picking the right time to betray" is a challenge inherent in the game, which I gather most of you didn't accept.  It's the same as saying "Hey man, it's a challenge to whine loudly and stridently enough that the DM gives me magic items to shut me up."  It is, no doubt, a challenge but in most gaming groups it is not the type of challenge the rest of the players are interested in rising to.

By comparison:  I play a professed villain (Vanessa Faust) in my wednesday night game.  Lizard-men were coming to destroy the time-travel station where she (and the heroes) work in an uneasy alliance.  One of the other players had their character (Minerva) do a great job of shutting down the lizard plans.  Minerva ended up weakened and exhausted.  Vanessa took this moment to hijack enough time-travel equipment to start her own organization, then she stepped up and said "I rather like the idea of destroying the station.  And I think you're too weak to stop me.  What do you say to that?"  Minerva's player ended up spending... oh, ludicrous amounts of his resources in order to deal with this second threat.  The station was finally saved, but it was very much a pyrrhic victory.

That's competitive (hoo boy was it competitive!) but within the scope of an agenda where everyone is embracing challenge as a means to prove themselves and explore their characters.  I didn't say "Hah!  I win before you have a chance to react!"  I said "Come on, you big sissy... get up and fight!  Show me what you're made of!"

Do you think that would have pleased you and your group more?

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Kat Miller on April 01, 2005, 08:30:25 AM

Are you saying that the conflict was that you and the others were playing co-operatively and Joe was playing competitively?  Or was Joe playing selfishly?

It seems like Joe knew very well that he was playing against the social contract of your game as evident by the "just playing my character" remark.

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Kat Miller on April 01, 2005, 08:31:00 AM

Are you saying that the conflict was that you and the others were playing co-operatively and Joe was playing competitively?  Or was Joe playing selfishly?

It seems like Joe knew very well that he was playing against the social contract of your game as evident by the "just playing my character" remark.

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 01, 2005, 08:36:23 AM
This is Minerva's player speaking up to say: Tony hammered me in that game. And it was a good, good thing. It was indeed a phyrric victory in terms of in-game resources, but it gave me a huge opportunity to define my character: "Yes, even though she's creepy and isolated, she will sacrifice herself to save her frien... well, people she doesn't particularly like, actually." If no adversary had been there, she wouldn't have had the opportunity to sacrifice.

So here's the tricky Big Picture point:

Competition and cooperation are not opposites of each other.

Imagine two sports teams playing. Say they're professionals, so they're not in it "for love of the game": Each would be happy to ride over the other. Unalloyed competition, right? But if the game is too one-sided, the fans will get bored and won't buy as many tickets to the next game -- which means it's in each team's interest for the other to put up a decent fight -- which means they're cooperating.

Two businesses in the same market, selling the same product to the same pool of customers; let's even stipulate that neither has any division or affiliate doing business with the other guy (though that happens a lot in modern business). Unalloyed competition, right? Well, except they're both advertising to increase the number of people who consume their kind of product. Maybe Miller ad about how great Miller Lite is and how lousy Coors is makes you thirsty -- and you drink Coors, and you're not about to stop because of one ad -- so you go out and buy a six-pack of Coors you wouldn't have bought otherwise. Cooperation.

Two countries at war. Bombers flattening cities, tanks rumbling across the landscape, infantrymen bleeding out in the mud, women and children screaming in the rubble. Okay, this has got to be unalloyed competition, right? Well, from the standpoint of the generals and defense contractors in each country, the bigger the fight the enemy puts up, the bigger their budgets and the more authority and the more political credibility they get. (See the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for an example of the hardliners on each side effectively cooperating against a peace process that would undermine them politically). And conversely, for the poor grunts on each side, there's no percentage in following orders and being aggressive in patrolling, sniping, etc.; instead it's better to leave the enemy alone so he leaves you alone. (This phenomenon produced "quiet sectors" in both World Wars). Country A's general is thus to some degree competing with Country A's soldiers -- "Over the top, boys! "Uh, sorry, can't, out of ammo, yeah, that's it" -- and cooperating with Country B's general -- "If he keeps advancing, we're doomed! Increase my budget!"

Conversely, take two siblings in the same family. They love each other. They're cooperating, right? Well, maybe not when it comes to who gets the first hug from mom, or to who gets praised first by dad.

Yes, you did trigger a general philosophical rant. But the connection to your question is real: In any human relationship, both parties are simultaneously cooperating and competing, to some degree. So you can't divide people into ally / rival / neutral and expect it to predict all their behaviour.

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 01, 2005, 08:43:44 AM

From my Gamism essay:

The competition boogeyman
Competition is best understood as a productive add-on to Gamist play. Such play is fundamentally cooperative, but may include competition. That's not a contradiction: I'm using exactly the same logic as might be found at the poker and basketball games. You can't compete, socially, without an agreed-upon venue. If the cooperation's details are acceptable to everyone, then the competition within it can be quite fierce.

Role-playing texts never get this straight. For them, it's always either competition or cooperation, one-other, push-pull, and often nonsensical. The following is from Fantasy Earth, Basic Rules (1994, Zody Games, author is Michael S. Zody):

... while board games and wargames have winners and losers, role-playing games do not. Rather than being competitive, role-playing games are cooperative. The players all work together and win and lose as a team.

I consider the above text to be inherently contradictory. Versions of it can be found in quite a few role-playing games, especially those with fantasy settings and a fairly high risk of character death.


Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 01, 2005, 08:48:41 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards, quoting himself,
Competition is best understood as a productive add-on to Gamist play.

How about competition in the service of Narrativist purposes? I'm thinking the Minerva vs. Vanessa incident Tony and I are describing might fit in that category, with two characters having radically different takes on the Premise of "What's worth your loyalty?" (Vanessa: Nobody but yourself; Minerva: Even people you don't really like) and competing vigorously over which will prevail.

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 01, 2005, 08:51:10 AM

This thread is becoming ridiculous. What's the topic, again?

Sydney, what about "what about" it? Your question makes no sense. Start a new thread if you really want to re-hash the absolutely bog-simple issue of whether fictional characters in competition means jack shit about the Creative Agenda at hand (it doesn't).

Simon, I have one suggestion for you: please post about your play-experiences in Actual Play. Questions like the stuff you're asking are essentially meaningless outside of that context.


Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 01, 2005, 09:21:23 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Sydney, what about "what about" it?

Beg pardon: I wrote about "fictional characters in competition" (Minerva and Vanessa) when of course only the real humans were competing (me and Tony) about what statement would be made.

In any case, I interpret your answer as implying, "Yes, you can have productive competition between players in service of any creative agenda, get a grip." I just got confused because the passage you quoted specifically talked about competition and Gamism, but I take it that's a historical accident of what context you happened to be discussing this issue in, and you'd make the same assertions about Narrativism.

Now, if I'm utterly misreading you, correct me with mighty smackings. Otherwise I've gotten everything I want out of this thread.

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 01, 2005, 09:32:58 AM
Hi Sydney,

Nah, you're on track now. Sorry I was grumpy.

Simon, this is your thread, and I think we've made a hideous mess of it. Please feel free to clarify the topic for me and anyone else, and again, I do urge you to post in Actual Play.


Title: Modes of Play
Post by: M. J. Young on April 01, 2005, 10:13:27 PM
Simon, your reported experience brings back to my mind tales of a D&D group I knew second-hand. They were always chaotic evil. They always went on incredibly lucrative ventures, and came back with large hauls of treasure.

And in every case exactly one player character managed to get home with the loot. The rest died on the road home. It was said that the closer you got to home, the fewer people there were and the less sleep anyone got. Close your eyes and you've just been cut out of your share of the treasure, permanently.

That was the way they played. They had realized that their characters really didn't trust each other for good reason, and they played it to the hilt.

If players are not on the same page regarding what the objectives are and how they are achieved, of course you have dysfunctional play. That includes if everyone is playing gamist, but one of them decides that it would be good for his character to double-cross everyone else and go home alone with the loot. If that was not within the game expectations of the other players, that's dysfunctional. It's certainly not dysfunctional if everyone was aware that an evil character would think in those terms, and betrayal was understood to be a possibility of the scenario from the outset. That, though, doesn't make it selfish. It merely means that the pursuit of having a fun game includes reaching a point at which the player characters start trying to kill each other off. I know that those players came to respect and congratulate whoever managed to get home alive, because they knew that it was part of the expectation of play. Someone was going to prove he had outdone everyone else by being the last man standing this time. Next time, though, he was going to be the early target of several players who found it to their advantage to cooperate long enough to eliminate him before turning on each other. In a sense, that made the game more fun for them, because that's what they expected.

But a functional role playing game involves agreement on agendum, in the sense that everyone has the same sense of what would be "more fun". If one guy thinks that being the last man standing would be fun but no one else is thinking that way, that's a conflict. Group agendum doesn't exist coherently if it is not agreed.

Does that clarify anything? Or have I kept myself awake to the point that I'm typing incoherently?

--M. J. Young

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Walt Freitag on April 02, 2005, 07:51:37 AM
To add to what M. J. said about Simon's experience, I think a more complete picture would be obtained if we were to look at the "reward side" of the equation. Specificially, what rewards -- both in terms of in-game future benefits and social rewards from the other players -- did Joe expect to garner from his actions? What rewards did the other players feel Joe deserved from those same actions? What rewards did Joe actually come away with -- that is, whose expectations were on the mark?

I'll speculate about a few possibilities, but I hope that Simon can fill in the actual details if he's interested in pursuing this angle. Many groups would treat the events Simon describes as more or less equivalent to a total party kill. Joe's mage goes off into the sunset with his ill(?)-gotten gains (possibly to return as a guest NPC in the future) and all the players including Joe create new characters. This minimizes Joe's social rewards, a sort of "Ha, you got us. Very clever. Now can we get back to the real business at hand please?" statement.

On the other hand, I've played with some GMs who would let much greater rewards stand -- for either of two reasons. One is because they admire Joe's actions and want to encourage other players to emulate them creating a paranoid back-stabbing atmosphere. The other is, very strangely, because they feel compelled by "the rules" to do so. These are the guys who would allow Joe to keep playing the mage character with all the loot and levels obtained from the previous play, make the other players create new characters at low level, and then expect those characters to join up with Joe's mage for further adventures! That maximizes Joe's rewards to the nth degree -- and with a coherent hardcore gamist Creative Agenda in place, the other players might be completely cool with that.

The key point here is that there are other, usually more incisive, ways to interrogate Creative Agenda than "how do we play?" or "why do we play?" Many here at the Forge find it more revealing to focus on "what types of actions in play do we reward?"

Along similar lines, I personally like to characterize Creative Agenda as "what do I expect the other participants to provide to me through their play?"

- Walt

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: contracycle on April 04, 2005, 01:17:41 AM
Quote from: Simon Marks

Afterwards we complained that this was ... well mean. Joe countered with "But thats what my character would do" - namely try and get as much treasure as possible. It was a low point of the game.

OK.  I think your breakdown of all people into allies in the endeavour, or rivals in the endeavour, are hindering more than tbney areb helping.  This is an abstraction too far; in the first place there are "innocent bystanders" who may be uninvolved.  In a more complex manner, you might have "the buffoon" whose help is counter-productive, or "the saboteur" whose assistance is actively dishonest.

So the point here is that when encountering such behaviour, its important to establish whether or not it might be occurring "innocently", based on a misapprehension of the purpose of the event.  Dividing people up into camps of the "selfish" and the "cooperative" seems too much like moralising for my comfort.

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Simon Marks on April 04, 2005, 04:09:50 AM
Apologies all, firstly I tend to be off the Net over the weekends (and so shouldn't have posted on a Friday...) and secondly I have failed to explain myself clearly.

The issue isn't about 'competition' between players as a bad thing, in fact I am not suggesting that any of the mode of play is a bad thing in and of itself.

Let me try again...

Let me say that first off I have no 'hard theories' about this, just some observations which I feel are relevent to RPG theories.

I think that I have made a mistake, and, after reviewing my thoughts and experiances I think that, in fact, what I am looking at is Unselfish and Selfish behavior within the Social Contract with regards to the SIS.

Basically, it's this. "Should you take into account the enjoyment of the other players in your own play" and "What relevence does this have in game design"

A game like Buffy, with it's metagame drama points seems to be very much of the opinion that all players must work together to create an enjoyable game for all. It has mechanics designed to allow everyone to participate. Playing it with 'Selfish motives' (ignoring the prejoritive connetations if that is possible) would involve you not spending Drama Points to make the game more enjoyable for others - only yourself. Suddently they become a resource.

However, in hard 'Simulationist/Immersionist' LRP it is normal (within some parts of the UK) to attempt to totally disregard 'will this be fun' and only go for 'what would happen?'

I feel that a lot of dysfunctional play is when the two style mix.

If you assume that everyone involved has the aim of 'making an enjoyable game' - then when someone does something that makes the game less enjoyable (for you) because 'thats what would happen' it is surprising and upsetting.

If, on the other hand you assume that everyone is 'trying to have as much fun as possible', then when the rest of the group prevent you from doing something that is fun that the system allows you to do 'because they don't want you too'  then that seems to be almost bullying.

I hope this makes more sense.


Also, I will try to an post 'Actual Play' example... I am sorry if I have posted in the wrong place at the wrong time!

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: TonyLB on April 04, 2005, 05:53:07 AM
Man yeah, I really do want to read some of your Actual Play.  It's genuinely hard for me to get a read on what you're saying without knowing the actual-play agenda that you pursue.  While I wait for that, though, I have a ton of questions and thoughts that you raised.  I'll try to be concise.

Broadly defined, Unselfish play is impossible.  By which I mean that once you include the possibility that helping other people can be how you have your fun (and therefore can be Selfish) the category of Unselfish play vanishes.  Everybody is doing what they're doing because they prioritize things in their own way.  Do you agree, disagree, need clarification?  On what level are you phrasing your discussion of selfish/unselfish?

I'm not sure this is where you're aiming, but I see Unselfish and Selfish play being very real distinctions at the level of social presentation, in two ways.  First, many (perhaps all) people perceive their own priorities only dimly.  So a lot of people believe that they are acting in a completely self-sacrificing manner, because they haven't figured out what agenda they're actually pursuing.  
Jenny is a very bad tactician.  Every time she gets into an in-game conflict (no matter how minor) with other players she invariably gets thrashed.  It is, therefore, greatly to her advantage for such conflicts not to happen.  But she doesn't realize that.  What she thinks is that in-character conflict is invariably bad... for everyone, for the game, etc.  She becoms a rabid peace-maker.  She'll sacrifice any in-game consideration, in order to avoid a conflict.  She considers this the height of selfless behavior... from the outside we can see that it is nothing of the sort.  It's a reasonable response to her lack of tactical skill.

Second, apparent selflessness alters the balance of credibility and authority.  For many people, achieving greater credibility and authority is an important step in achieving their agenda.  For some people, gaining credibility and authority is the agenda.  You see where this is going, right?
Don:  That's it!  Ed's character has pissed mine off for the last time.  My character draws his gun and shoots.
Jenny:  My character leaps into the path of the bullet.  She falls to her knees, bleeding profusely.  "No... we must... be friends..." she gasps.
Don:  Dammit Jenny!  Stop being an idiot.  Okay, now that your character is out of the way I shoot at him again.
Jenny:  Don, how can you say that?  My character is bleeding there in front of you.
Don:  Not my fault.  I still want to have this fight.
Jenny:  Well that's just totally selfish!  Here I am, trying to make a better game for everybody, and you're just trying to ruin it.
Don:  Ain't gonna ruin it for anybody.  We're just gonna shoot each other up.  That's half the fun.
Jenny:  Oh, sure, have your fun.  I work and I slave to keep things on track, and to help the story, but you go ahead... have your fun.  I'll just sit here while my character bleeds to death.  I hope you're happy.

I hope it's clear why I would have some troubles putting your last post into my framework of thought on this matter (i.e. the above).  You put "making an enjoyable game" in direct opposition to "doing what I want," and I just don't see that they're opposing qualities.  If you work to make the game enjoyable, it's because that's what you want to do.  I'm missing something about what you're saying.  I could really use a further clarification of your position, because I get the feeling that you're on to something that could really help me add nuance to my own ideas.

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Simon Marks on April 04, 2005, 07:48:54 AM
I'm not sure what I'm aiming at either - I fear I am groping in the dark for meaning and simply throwing it out to other people is guiding me towards being able to express what I mean.


Actual Play example is really tricky, as this feeling is based on a lot of different examples, none of which on their own seem to point this out explicitly.
But I have faith I will find one.

Actually, I have a possible example, but it is LRP specific as in LRP I think this problem is quite common... would that be too far out of context for this board?

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: TonyLB on April 04, 2005, 07:59:56 AM
I've seen LRP Actual Play threads before, so I think you're fine.  Uncommon?  Yes.  Off-topic?  Don't think so.

Did you agree with my earlier offering that wholly selfless play is impossible?

Title: Modes of Play
Post by: Simon Marks on April 14, 2005, 08:00:40 AM
I am still struggling with this whole issue.

I think that I can only sum it up by saying "We have a duty to not stop the other people playing" that is, we are to avoid making the game "Not fun"

I can best link it back to Games that bascially you have a duty to 'play the game' you are playing.

That is, if you are playing Chess - play chess!

But without expressing the issue (What are we playing here anyway) clearly I can't even discuss this rationally.

Without us knowing what the point is (In chess it is to win via a competition), then how can we agree to play the same game.

Is the point of RPG's to create, explore and experiance the situation?
If so, then surely we have a duty to ensure that we do not prevent the other participants from doing so.

This make any more sense?