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Author Topic: Pseudo-familial relationships on the relationship map  (Read 4338 times)
GreatWolf
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« on: February 26, 2002, 04:51:33 PM »

I'm posting this in a different thread than the recent relationship map thread because it represents a slight tangent, and besides, the other thread is getting too long.  :-)

Whilst lurking on the relationship map thread, I was (of course) thinking and evaluating arguments.  In particular, I was comparing my own experience of both RPGs and stories in general with the claims being made.  Then a lightbulb went off.

Without arguing one way or the other about Ron's claims about the relationship map, I think that the definition of relationships can be expanded just a tad, which may very well clear up a lot of the issues flying around.  Or not.  This expansion was brought to a flash point by Ron's comments about Aliens.

Now, Aliens is one of my favorite movies for a number of reasons.  One of them, though, is the relationship between Ripley and Newt.  Ripley comes along on a military expedition as a civilian observer.  She has no formal military training.  She is facing her deepest fear.  But, in the end, because of Newt, she ends up entering the deepest recesses of the Alien hive, facing even the Queen herself, because of her maternal love for the child.

Note what I said:  maternal love.  This is even pointed up at the end of the movie, after Ripley climbs out of the airlock and seals it.  Newt runs over to her and whimpers, "Mommy!"

Leaving aside all the other ramifications of this within the movie (like the fact that the last battle is two mothers fighting over their young), I think that it is pretty clear that a pseudo-familial relationship is established.  We care about Newt not merely because she is a distressed child (although that is certainly true), but also because she is Ripley's "adopted daughter", who is filling the place of her actual biological daughter, who is now dead.

On a relationship map, this would warrant a line, I think.

By merely allowing "family" to include pseudo-familial relationships, we solve a lot of the objections that we are finding to relationship maps.  The basic principle remains the same, though.  These relationships mean more to us because they are framed and evoked in the context of family.  Newt isn't Ripley's biological daughter, but their relationship is mother-daughter.  To take a classic example, consider the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot.  The Arthur-Lancelot relationship is one of brothers, not merely liege lord and vassal.  If it were not, there would be no tragedy.  All three know that at least one of them must be deeply hurt if their situation ever resolves.  Arthur loves Guinevere, but at the same time he also loves Lancelot, his "brother".  Without the pseudo-familial relationship, a lot of the pathos and angst of the situation vanishes.

To use an actual play situation, this is precisely what happened in my last Unknown Armies chronicle.  The characters gradually drew closer together into a pseudo-family unit.  No sex or biology bound them, but their ties were the ties of family.  (One of the characters, who was looking for a family, saw this explicitly.)

So, perhaps if you are trying a relationship map and you don't want biological family relationships, perhaps a pseudo-familial relationship will do the trick.  It's exactly the same thing, but without the biology.

I'll be curious to see what people think about this.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2002, 06:07:05 PM »

The classic psuedo-familial relationship map would be members of the Mafia, ala not JUST the Sopranos (Tony, Junior, Camilla, etc.) but also the people who are (effectively) part of "The Family."
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2002, 10:43:34 PM »

Alleigance and ideology promoted from the outer circle to the inner?  Acting *like* blood/sex, but NOT blood/sex?  Sure, that works for me.  Certainly, Ripley/Newt is as strong a statement about "bonding" between non-blood relatives as it is about "real" mother/daugter relations (though this seems a subtle distinction, one I'm not sure has meaning in Ron's approach).   Raven's last post in that other thread is somewhat along these lines, with (by my reading) an added ideolgical thrust that such things (alliegance, ideology, etc.) are, in fact, manifestations of blood and sex by other means.  I mean to make no value judgement of that ideolgical addition (for the record, I'm pretty sure I'm predisposed to agree with it in some form), but merely to acknowledge it as an addition that is by no means inherent in Ron's theory, or any other one that  folks have put forth.
 
So perhaps the question becomes . . . should the label on that Ripley-Newt link be "Burgeoning (non-sexual) Love" (or a number of other psuedo-blood/sex possibilities), with interesting stress brought to bear upon it by that unavoidable human mothering connection, or should it be labeled "Mother/Daughter", with interesting stress brought to bear upon it by the fact that they AREN'T, really, and that Ripley has "lost" her real daughter?

My first thought is that it depends on the story you want to tell, and in particualr for a Nar RPG upon the Premise the participants have bought into.  That seems an important element of Nar RPGs that might pull away from the "fundamental" nature of true blood/sex in other stories - in a mature, shared-creation Nar group, folks have bought into a Premise.  They've put in work to understand what the story is going to be "about", have aligned their characters with that, and are ready to explore the Premise.  In a "normal" story, this is less true (although you can get some of the same effect from "genre conventions" and the like), and thus maybe (obviously, I'm philosophizing on a shaky ground here) the need to rely on the center-circle elements is greater.

My second thought is that, once you've taken it this far and have all the elements SOMEWHERE, it really doesn't matter.  The argument in the other thread is mostly about details of what to put where and what deserves a kind of "primacy" and what doesn't, and it really just doesn't matter.

In short - a promising line of thought, but we've got a fuzziness in where something *like* blood/sex is or isn't actually blood/sex.  When does "psuedo" thing cease to be meaningful apart from the thing it is a "psuedo" of?

At least, that's how it looks to me,

Gordon
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2002, 10:49:26 PM »

My extremely radical theory about RPGs and human behavior (and note that I am not a biologist - just a game designer) is that a "pseudo" relationship can only reach fruition in the unnatural absence of a real relationship.

Newt is Ripley's daughter because Ripley's daughter is dead. Ripley is Newt's mother because her parents are dead. Even with the Arthur example above - Arthur and Lancelot are brothers because Arthur didn't grow up with his real family, and the person he thought was his brother was a duplicitious git. (I may have this wrong. I'm not a real authority on Arthurian legend, either - this is just how I remember it.)

Also, I may be full of horseshit on this one, but I don't think so.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2002, 11:41:45 PM »

Clinton,

The personality of Arthur's brother (Kay/Kai, see http://camelot.celtic-twilight.com/infopedia/k/kay.htm if you want some info) varies in the various versions.  But I think your point is an excellent one - the lack (or at least complication) of the "real" is an important "stressor" of a "pseudo" - Arthur was NOT told of his "real" familial nature while growing up, and that DOES add . . . weight? . . . to the comradeship of Lancelot and his psuedo-family of the Round Table.

I'm not smelling horseshit over here,

Gordon
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2002, 06:06:37 AM »

Hi folks,

The best principle to keep in mind regarding Seth's (excellent) inquiry/point is this:

We are discussing behaviors, not outcomes.

That means that, to use the Aliens example, Ripley is behaving as a mom and that means something to all us, watching her. [That "something," by the way, is not some "need for mommy" in a classic-psych sense, but is much more straightforward.] Since she shows no rejection of a genuine offspring in behaving as a mom to Newt, there's no contradiction or dissonance in the picture.

This is also why many of us can enjoy a gay romantic comedy (e.g. the movie Jeffrey) regardless of sexual orientation - we know what attraction, deception, uncertainty, and hope are like in reference to romantic partnering, and the behaviors matter to us.

Now, this is all nuanced by the following (which is why all stories are not alike):
- "real" inner-circle relationships do carry weight of their own regardless of content, whereas the outer-circle relationships (and substituted versions of inner-circle ones) tend to rely more on specific context and content
- outer-circle relationships often utilize the language of inner-circle ones for reinforcement purposes
- everyone recognizes the need to jettison or disconnect a wholly dysfunctional relationship at any of the four categories

Anyway, again, Seth, that's a great starter post and I hope this one makes some sense.

Best,
Ron
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2002, 09:18:30 AM »

I'm with you, Ron.  You've stated my point well.  Very frequently, even in non-biological relationships, we see an intensity that is normally seen and described in familial terms.  "He was like a father to me."  "We're closer than brothers."  And so on.  Even if the familial terms are not used, often the concept is floating around.

I also agree that the default biological relationship has automatic kick to it, due to the emotional connections that are there (or ought to be).  Being abandoned by a friend is bad.  Being abandoned by your father is worse, because that is a violation of that close relationship that ought to be there.  That is why Little Fears can be so powerful, as it can be used to touch these basic relationships and violate them.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: February 27, 2002, 09:28:29 AM »

Hi Seth,

(Enthusiastically) And that is why Little Fears has a very powerful Narrativist kick even with minimal attention being paid to deliberate Author stance - you tend to see Author stance even when the player is being "into his character," expressed only in terms of specific decisions and specific role-playing nuances (rather than "Now I shall do this as an Author"), much more easily than for other games.

Best,
Ron
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GreatWolf
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designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2002, 09:50:43 AM »

Well, I tend to run Little Fears with a light hand, since I have players who would not want to deal with the heaviness of a full-blown True Horror chronicle.  So my LF games are usually standard horror romps trying to scare my players.

However, I did see this behavior in the Unknown Armies game that I referenced.  Although the focus of play was character exploration, I saw the subtle use of Author stance as well because of the pseudo-familial relationship with the infant that the PCs were protecting.

Actually, I may have to write up an Actual Play post about that chronicle....

[edited to include .sig and avoid getting emails.]
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
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