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Author Topic: What is Illusionism?  (Read 17742 times)
Walt Freitag
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« Reply #15 on: March 17, 2002, 12:14:42 PM »

Quote from: Le Joueur

Again, how many times do I have to write that I am not in any form conflating all illusions with Illusionism?  Have I not said that only the illusions used for deceipt are Illusionism?

This has been my point from the begining.  We are agreeing here.  Can you point out the point where you came to mistaken belief that I indicated all illusion was Illusionism, so I can correct it?


I think we are agreeing here. The problem appears to be that I was discussing a point about the use of illusion in RPGs, not the definition of "Illusionism." Nothing I said about illusion in my previous posts in this thread was intended to imply anything about the definition of "Illusionism." That's why I didn't use the word. Yet you take me to task in each of eight separate paragraphs for misunderstanding your definition of "Illusionism." What gives? To misuse a word don't I have to, um, actually use the word?

When you interpret all discussion about illusion as discussion about the definition of "Illusionism," then it would seem to promote the belief that you regard all use of illusion as "Illusionism." But I did not say that.

The issue I was addressing is your response to the brief point I made a few posts ago:

Quote

Quote
I think Metal has good points. To generalize: the main purpose of all the illusions in my illusionary practices is not to deceive players into thinking something is true; it's to avoid unnecessarily reminding them that it isn't. That's a big difference.

I am highly dubious about trying to find any difference between not "unnecessarily reminding" and 'deceiving.'  Unless you explain it more, these two practices sound completely identical except in the former you are deceiving yourself as well.

If there were no difference in RPGs between "not unnecessarily reminding" and "deceiving," then all illusion (except illusion that does unnecessarily call attention to itself, which is hard to imagine as illusion at all) in RPGs would have to be deceptive in intent. I don't believe this. From what you've said, it doesn't sound like you believe it either. So what did you mean? In other words, under what circumstances do you perceive "not unnecessarily reminding" as equivalent to "deceiving?" Under what circumstances am I "deceiving myself" when I make what appears to be an obvious general distinction between the two?

Let me take a guess. All illusion, to be effective, must be designed to avoid reminding of the truth it's trying to conceal. Some illusion is also truly deceptive, designed to convince of an untruth. The deceptive category is a subset of the not-remind category. If a given illusion is deceptive in nature, then it is also intended not to remind, but it would be wrong to characterize a truly deceptive illusion as merely avoiding reminding of the truth. Is that what you meant?

If so, your response quoted above was extremely confusing because I was not specifically talking about truly deceptive illusions; I was talking about "the illusions in my illusionary [RPG] practices." That those are not generally intended to be deceptive was my whole point.

- Walt
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #16 on: March 17, 2002, 06:51:39 PM »

Quote from: wfreitag
The problem appears to be that I was discussing a point about the use of illusion in RPGs, not the definition of "Illusionism."

Okay, I'll make this simple.

What place does this have in a thread called "What is Illusionism?"

Fang Langford
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #17 on: March 17, 2002, 10:48:20 PM »

Metal Fatigue had a valid question, which I seconded. That question, paraphrased, is: since the proposed definition of illusion is exclusive to a fairly rare class of situations, is there, or is there a need for, a term for the far more common applications of non-deceptive illusion (a terribly misleading term, that) that can substantially affect modes of play?

That doesn't seem so off-topic to me, but as I feel more than a little unwelcome here, I'll leave your thread in peace.

- Walt
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: March 18, 2002, 06:24:05 AM »

Actually, Walt, I hope you remain with the discussion.

I'd like to remind everyone that valid points are not to be dismissed, and that sarcasm is completely inappropriate. Both Metal Fatigue and Walt are participating in this thread in good faith, and I hope they continue to do so.

Fang: you do not have the authority to question others' participation in a given thread, or most importantly to deem their input on or off topic, except in your own forum. That task falls to me. If you think someone is being off-topic, then bring it to my attention by private mail.

Having reviewed the topic over all the posts, I think that some work on Illusionism is necessary. However, I also think that people are being way, way too committed to whatever they thought the term must be referring to. Everyone has raised excellent points about various events or styles of play - but they are not talking about the same things. Getting to that common ground should be the point of the thread, not clinging to one's turf and defending it against all comers.

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #19 on: March 18, 2002, 06:54:12 AM »

Okay.  First of all, nothing I have posted here was intended sarcasm; it may have read as such, this is hard to make a difference when I won't use smilies.

Second, I did not mean to questions anyone's presence in this thread; that is clearly out of bounds, I never thought to go there.  I never meant to imply that anything was off topic, in fact the converse.  When I say, "what place..." that's what I really mean.  As in, 'can you help me understand how what you are saying answers the question posed in the title of the thread.'  (Admittedly, it came off harsh, and for that I apologize; you may have noticed my weekend posts require more apologies.)

My assumption all along has been that everything was on topic.  That's why I have misinterpreted all non-Illusionism illusion comments as connected by the implication that all illusion is Illusionism.  (My poorly formed request was to clarify how a discussion of non-Illusionism illusions relate to the question, "What is Illusionism?")

Let me fix an example of how the miscommunication seems to be running:
    Thread title: "What is Illusionism?"

    Me: "Here is what I believe is Illusionism."

    Others: "But such and so about illusions"

    Me: "Illusions aren't Illusionism."

    Others: "This and that about illusions, no mention of Illusionism"

    Me: "Can you help me understand how this 'no mention of Illusionism' illusion stuff relates to the question posed in the title of the thread?"[/list:u]There is no intended "unwelcome," just a bit of confusion.  I had to assume that somehow the discussion of illusion was in
some way a response to the initial question; I responded as such (very poorly I might add with my apologies).

(And for the record, Walt's guess is correct, as far as illusion goes, but I'm not talking about illusion in general, hence the confusion.)

Fang Langford
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #20 on: March 18, 2002, 08:08:26 AM »

Thanks, Fang.

I hope everyone can see that the goal really is discussion, and that any frustration is arising because people need to be heard, and aren't getting the responses that indicate that they are. Apparently the topic is touching people in a way that brings up this particular need.

I'm not surprised about this. Illusionism (in the broadest sense) is a source of great emotional stress among role-players, in my experience - not because it's inherently functional or dysfunctional, but because, like railroading, it's completely dependent on the social contract involved. So given all the stressful histories we've been through, individually, and that those histories include both making illusion work and rejecting it as undesirable (depending on who's talking) ... well, again, people need to be heard.

So maybe, although I acknowledge to Fang that it's not really the question that opened this thread, it's necessary to have more of a "town meeting" or "slam" about Illusionist play, in which a person can be heard and his or her points added to the mix, for a while. Then once everyone is assured that all voices really have been heard, then we can get to work about the topic and say things like "That's not what I was asking" without a lot of tug-of-war happening.

What do you think?

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #21 on: March 18, 2002, 09:38:30 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
those histories include both making illusion work and rejecting it as undesirable (depending on who's talking)...well, again, people need to be heard.

So maybe, although I acknowledge to Fang that it's not really the question that opened this thread, it's necessary to have more of a "town meeting" or "slam" about Illusionist play, in which a person can be heard and his or her points added to the mix, for a while. Then once everyone is assured that all voices really have been heard, then we can get to work about the topic and say things like "That's not what I was asking" without a lot of tug-of-war happening.

What do you think?

I think that's probably the best direction to take this from here on.

What we basically have happening stems from a question by Seth: "So, Fang, tell me this: if I'm not an Illusionist GM, what am I?"  This put me in the hot seat and things definitely got hot.  It didn't seem to work to say that I didn't have enough information and it didn't help that the word 'lying' had been put back in my mouth by the quote from Mithras (I don't see it necessarily as such any longer).

Ultimately the answer to, "if I'm not an Illusionist GM, what am I? And don't tell me I'm a Vanilla Narrativist," would be "Fnorcie?"  I, myself, originally asked if there was anything left after those two, curious as I was.

So 'what I think' is "in the realm of gamemaster controlled story-intent, you've got Illusionism, 'vanilla Narrativism,' and what?"  I don't know; has anyone got any ideas?  (Remember, I an using the short definition of Illusionism given back at the beginning of this thread.)

Fang Langford
(Who swears off diagnosis in a thread meant to collect everyone's interpretation of the diagnostic criteria.)
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #22 on: March 21, 2002, 08:38:48 AM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
Let me fix an example of how the miscommunication seems to be running:
    Thread title: "What is Illusionism?"

    Me: "Here is what I believe is Illusionism."

    Others: "But such and so about illusions"

    Me: "Illusions aren't Illusionism."

    Others: "This and that about illusions, no mention of Illusionism"

    Me: "Can you help me understand how this 'no mention of Illusionism' illusion stuff relates to the question posed in the title of the thread?"[/list:u]


Fang is absolutely right about that. I apologize for my contribution to the ongoing confusion.

So while I think illusion has a lot more interesting facets to discuss, I can take that up later under clearer terms. Meanwhile, here are my thoughts about the definition of Illusionism.

Since illusion is such a broad topic, I would hesitate to allocate a broadly derived term like "Illusionism" to such a specific part of it. Nonetheless, there is a need for a term for the situation the GNS essay describes and names "Illusionism." Let’s assume that the term will remain "Illusionism" despite my relatively minor objection to it. Then the question is, what about its definition?

The GNS essay initially describes Illusionism not in terms of its effect on story participation, but in terms of its effect on the players’ decision making. The paragaph introducing the term appears to me to define Illusionism as "the GM dominates the characters’ major decisions." The following paragraph points out that as a result, the play does not "is not and never can be story creation on the part of all participants."

So I don’t believe it’s necessary to define "Illusionism" solely by one (and only one) of the consequences of this practice, the resulting lack of story participation. I’d prefer to define it by the practice itself, which is the GM dominating the characters’ major decisions. My main reason for this preference, besides that appearing to be Ron’s original intent, is that lack of story participation is a problem only insofar as the participants have Narrativist goals, but nonconsensual constraints on the players’ ability to decide what choices their characters make are a potential problem in any GNS mode of play.

I offer the following definition:

Illusionism: Any practice used by a gamemaster during play, without the consent of the players, that constrains the players’ ability to control the player-characters’ major decisions.

I could see changing "without the consent of" to "without the knowledge of" to emphasize the illusion in Illusionism, but I think focusing on consent makes it clearer that Illusionism is a social contract issue. (Once knowledge is well established, continued participation in the game without demanding change or leaving eventually implies consent, so I suppose that in either wording, the Illusionism dissipates once the illusion is blown.)

I could also see changing "Any gamemaster practice" to "any gamemaster metagame practice" to make it clear that legitimate in-game occurrences that happen to block character options do not require the players’ individual consent to avoid a case of "Illusionism." Since the social contract usually allows (or requires) a gamemaster to adjudicate the state of the world, implying consent, this would be a misconception, but I can see how it might arise. On the other hand, would adding the "metagame" qualifier limit the definition too much? I don’t think so but I might just not have come up with the counterexamples yet. A GM who changes the state of the world ex post facto just for the purpose of negating a player-character decision clearly is using the metagame.

Under this definition, Illusionism has the following qualities:

… is practiced by gamemasters.
… occurs during Actual Play.
… applies to any GNS mode of play; however, a practice that is Illusionism in one mode or system might well occur with consent in a different mode or system.
… can be deceitful or nondeceitful.

The first two points establish that while a system or module might contain the impetus for Illusionism, the system or module itself cannot be considered Illusionism. Only the actual GM during actual play can practice Illusionism.

I've substituted "deceitful" for "deceptive" because in the context of illusions, "deceptive" is often just a synonym for "effective." While the difference is subtle, if I were to read that "Marvo the Magnificant is a deceptive magician" I would interpret that as meaning he executes his tricks well, but substitute "deceitful" in the description and I would get the impression that he misrepresents his show in his advertising or writes bad checks or something. Just the nuance we need here.

The deceitfulness angle requires us to distinguish between degrees of nonconsent. For a definition of deceitful Illusionism, replace "used without the consent of the players" with "used despite prior agreement to the contrary."

One interesting question to consider here is, in practical terms, how and how much does this definition differ from Fang's? First, by what illusion-based means other than constraining the player-characters' major decsions can a GM prevent the players from participating in story creation? (Those means would be illusionism under Fang's definition, but not under mine.) Second, when is nonconsensual constraint of player-character free will an issue for reasons other than a resulting lack of story participation by players? (Those situations would be Illusionism under my definition, but not under Fang's.) The answer to these questions might reveal which definition is preferable, depending on how much those other means and/or those other situations appear to fit into the general idea of Illusionism as imagined so far.

- Walt
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #23 on: March 21, 2002, 11:00:30 AM »

Interesting. At the risk of being off topic, when I read Walt's description of the Magic Kingdom analogy, this is exactly what comes into my mind when I think Illusionism. It very much has to do with a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the players. Very much the Magician analogy.

I think that previous arguments may have caused that meaning to be lost, or something, but it's very much exactly what I always meant. I'm sorry if it was any confusion caused by my own inability to describa a particular phenomenon that has clouded this issue. I not sure where Fang's description comes from, or it's particular use (note, I would call it a subset of Illusionism), but he definitely has his own concrete definition worked out. If it's that important to Fang that Illusionism means what he has defined it, then great, lets all call it that. It bewilders me, but that's probably my problem. Illusionism was a term created on the fly that seeed to fit something particular, but maybe it doesn't.

However, I'm going to need a term for what I am (and apparently Walt, and others are). Fnorncie just doesn't seem to fit. In order to fill the gap and to come up with a term that makes perfect sense, I propose that what Walt described as Illusionism be called from now on Freitagism in honor of his quite accurate and precise description of the style of play that I've been trying to elucidate. Thank you Walt.

Mike "Frietagist" Holmes
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #24 on: March 21, 2002, 04:05:46 PM »

Quote from: wfreitag
I offer the following definition:
    Illusionism: Any practice used by a gamemaster during play, without the consent of the players, that constrains the players' ability to control the player-characters' major decisions.[/list:u]

By gosh, you do post well.  No sarcasm, this was great!  Man, you really took the conversation I started and ran with it.  And I like where you're going!  I mean it.  You captured what I was groping for.  You saw through the "the consequences of this practice" part and right to the heart of the issue.  All that seems to be left is the spit and polish (and maybe a new coat of paint) and I think we've got not only a serviceable description, but a solid functional one.  (Wow, I still can't get over what you've done; it's fabulous.)

I'm with you on, "I could see changing 'without the consent of' to 'without the knowledge of' to emphasize the illusion in Illusionism, but I think focusing on consent makes it clearer."  I quite agree.

When you say, "I could also see changing 'Any gamemaster practice' to 'any gamemaster metagame practice' to make it clear that legitimate in-game occurrences that happen to block character options do not require the players' individual consent to avoid a case of 'Illusionism,'" I'd have to say I'm on the 'put it in' side.  I'll tell you why; without the 'metagame' addition, your description might also apply to things I don't think you mean to include in Illusionism.  Like the ebb and flow of 'rules application;' for example: for the last half an hour, the gamemaster allowed us to pick the lock of any door we wanted, now all of a sudden he's making us check for every one and we're failing.  It can be harsh, but the way this gets handled has the unintentional (or sometimes intentional) effect of 'constraining' a player's control of things.  If you put in the 'metagame,' these kinds of things seem to fall away.

I'd have to say that the part "the players' ability to control the player-characters' major decisions," rings a little (not that this is what it is saying) repetitive and I'm afraid it may be there just to satisfy something I was preaching about (oooh, yeah; I get to preaching altogether too often.)  Are you sure it's control of the "characters' major decisions" or controlling the effects of those "major decisions?"  I mean, is the gamemaster constraining what I (as a player) choose or what I have to choose from?  I realize I failed to get at exactly this issue because I was waayyy too focused on "the belief that they have been the cause of a story" thing.

What are we talking about here?  Is it being clouded by the apparent separation a player's decisions and those of their character?  I kinda think the thing we are both trying to get at is the practical result of limiting the character's affect on the game (especially by 'metagame' reference).  How to put it though?  I'm inclined to throw out the secondary layer differentiating between a player's decisions and the character's.  Does that have any change on the meaning of the description?

With the swap to 'effects' that'd be something like: '...that constrains the players' ability to affect...' but affect what?  Ordinarily I say '...the game,' but I'm not so sure that fits a synthesized definition here.  Perhaps '...play;' then it would come out as (eliminating a couple of redundancies), 'Any metagame practice used by a gamemaster, without the consent of the players, that constrains their ability to affect play.'  I'm not sure, how does that sound now?

Anyway, on the issues of 'without the consent of' to 'without the knowledge of,' I'd have to say that either choice is problematic, largely because of the title of this practice not because of either wording.  This is what I was thinking with the 'new coat of paint' thing; as I indirectly suggested earlier, there is an inherent problem with using the word 'Illusionist.'  There's just a coolness factor that cannot be denied.  Add to that, the implication of deceit (as you pointed out so well), not to mention the natural misidentification of all illusions as Illusionism, and I think the problem lie in the word not the choice of description.

Because of everything I'd like the concept to cover, I want it to read just as you put it.  I was clouded in my thinking before by the whole deceitfulness issue implied by the name.  So I guess, if it's to remain Illusionism then it'd have to be 'Any metagame practice used by a gamemaster, without the knowledge of the players, that constrains their ability to affect play.'  If it's going to be Freitagism, it'd be 'Any metagame practice used by a gamemaster, without the consent of the players, that constrains their ability to affect play' (which I'd prefer for the utility of the definition).  (Are you okay with the name throwing?)

When I read the whole thing back though, I begin to wonder if some implication of 'unfairness' might be necessary.  I mean aren't rules themselves 'a metagame constraint on the ability of a player to affect play?'  I dunno, I still think there's something in there that I'm groping for and just not getting my 'hands' on.  Perhaps all my changes aren't working, what do you think?

Fang Langford

p. s. I think you're right to add in more than just a lack of story participation, call that just a holdover of Narrativism versus Illusionism in my badly flawed description.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #25 on: March 21, 2002, 04:06:50 PM »

Quote from: wfreitag
I offer the following definition:
    Illusionism: Any practice used by a gamemaster during play, without the consent of the players, that constrains the players' ability to control the player-characters' major decisions.[/list:u]

By gosh, you do post well.  No sarcasm, this was great!  Man, you really took the conversation I started and ran with it.  And I like where you're going!  I mean it.  You captured what I was groping for.  You saw through the "the consequences of this practice" part and right to the heart of the issue.  All that seems to be left is the spit and polish (and maybe a new coat of paint) and I think we've got not only a serviceable description, but a solid functional one.  (Wow, I still can't get over what you've done; it's fabulous.)

I'm with you on, "I could see changing 'without the consent of' to 'without the knowledge of' to emphasize the illusion in Illusionism, but I think focusing on consent makes it clearer."  I quite agree.

When you say, "I could also see changing 'Any gamemaster practice' to 'any gamemaster metagame practice' to make it clear that legitimate in-game occurrences that happen to block character options do not require the players' individual consent to avoid a case of 'Illusionism,'" I'd have to say I'm on the 'put it in' side.  I'll tell you why; without the 'metagame' addition, your description might also apply to things I don't think you mean to include in Illusionism.  Like the ebb and flow of 'rules application;' for example: for the last half an hour, the gamemaster allowed us to pick the lock of any door we wanted, now all of a sudden he's making us check for every one and we're failing.  It can be harsh, but the way this gets handled has the unintentional (or sometimes intentional) effect of 'constraining' a player's control of things.  If you put in the 'metagame,' these kinds of things seem to fall away.

I'd have to say that the part "the players' ability to control the player-characters' major decisions," rings a little (not that this is what it is saying) repetitive and I'm afraid it may be there just to satisfy something I was preaching about (oooh, yeah; I get to preaching altogether too often.)  Are you sure it's control of the "characters' major decisions" or controlling the effects of those "major decisions?"  I mean, is the gamemaster constraining what I (as a player) choose or what I have to choose from?  I realize I failed to get at exactly this issue because I was waayyy too focused on "the belief that they have been the cause of a story" thing.

What are we talking about here?  Is it being clouded by the apparent separation a player's decisions and those of their character?  I kinda think the thing we are both trying to get at is the practical result of limiting the character's affect on the game (especially by 'metagame' reference).  How to put it though?  I'm inclined to throw out the secondary layer differentiating between a player's decisions and the character's.  Does that have any change on the meaning of the description?

With the swap to 'effects' that'd be something like: '...that constrains the players' ability to affect...' but affect what?  Ordinarily I say '...the game,' but I'm not so sure that fits a synthesized definition here.  Perhaps '...play;' then it would come out as (eliminating a couple of redundancies), 'Any metagame practice used by a gamemaster, without the consent of the players, that constrains their ability to affect play.'  I'm not sure, how does that sound now?

Anyway, on the issues of 'without the consent of' to 'without the knowledge of,' I'd have to say that either choice is problematic, largely because of the title of this practice not because of either wording.  This is what I was thinking with the 'new coat of paint' thing; as I indirectly suggested earlier, there is an inherent problem with using the word 'Illusionist.'  There's just a coolness factor that cannot be denied.  Add to that, the implication of deceit (as you pointed out so well), not to mention the natural misidentification of all illusions as Illusionism, and I think the problem lie in the word not the choice of description.

Because of everything I'd like the concept to cover, I want it to read just as you put it.  I was clouded in my thinking before by the whole deceitfulness issue implied by the name.  So I guess, if it's to remain Illusionism then it'd have to be 'Any metagame practice used by a gamemaster, without the knowledge of the players, that constrains their ability to affect play.'  If it's going to be Freitagism, it'd be 'Any metagame practice used by a gamemaster, without the consent of the players, that constrains their ability to affect play' (which I'd prefer for the utility of the definition).  (Are you okay with the name throwing?)

When I read the whole thing back though, I begin to wonder if some implication of 'unfairness' might be necessary.  I mean aren't rules themselves 'a metagame constraint on the ability of a player to affect play?'  I dunno, I still think there's something in there that I'm groping for and just not getting my 'hands' on.  Perhaps all my changes aren't working, what do you think?

Fang Langford

p. s. I think you're right to add in more than just a lack of story participation, call that just a holdover of Narrativism versus Illusionism in my badly flawed description.
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #26 on: March 21, 2002, 06:08:30 PM »

(Quoting to answer questions, not to pick.)

Quote
Are you sure it's control of the "characters' major decisions" or controlling the effects of those "major decisions?" I mean, is the gamemaster constraining what I (as a player) choose or what I have to choose from?


To answer the second question first, it's either one. Constraining what the player has to choose from is more subtle and probably more effective Illusionism. It's also pretty common. "You can accept the leggy dame's case, or you can sit in your office and wonder how you're going to pay the rent. The choice is completely up to you." (Okay, that's not subtle. But it could be.)

As for the first question, the very idea of players having control over the effects of player-characters' decisions is a highly Narrativist concept. Players expecting gamistic or simulationistic decision-making on the GM's part certainly do not expect to have control over the effects of those decisions. (Nor do they really expect the gamemaster to have control over them either; that's what rules and/or dice and/or tables are for.)

I'm happier focusing on control over the decisions themselves, though that is tricky in other ways. The most egregious and common cases of GM domination of the player-characters (though not necessarily the most common Illusionistic cases) involve a GM saying things like "No, your character won't do that." It does get tricky when the GM expresses that control as failure in the attempt rather than as refusal to allow the attempt (that is, refusal to allow the character to decide to make the attempt) or even as success followed by arbitrary punishment. I was hoping we could interpret those cases as equivalent to not allowing the character to make the decision, which the GM misrepresents as in-game failure of the attempt to act upon the decision or as an in-game consequence of that decision (that's the illusion). But the only thing that can really distinguish this from normal messy real-world play is the GM's intent and that sense of fairness you talked about.

Of course, there are Narrativistic systems in which the GM or other players do get to constrain the character's decisions in certain circumstances. But those methods are overt and therefore consensual.

Quote
This is what I was thinking with the 'new coat of paint' thing; as I indirectly suggested earlier, there is an inherent problem with using the word 'Illusionist.' There's just a coolness factor that cannot be denied. Add to that, the implication of deceit (as you pointed out so well), not to mention the natural misidentification of all illusions as Illusionism, and I think the problem lie in the word not the choice of description.


Yes, I have a theory about that which I'll get into after the "gear shifting" below. My opinion is that this concept is a useful one, I wish it were a different term and that "Illusionism" meant something else entirely, but I'm not going to get upset about it either way.

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So I guess, if it's to remain Illusionism then it'd have to be 'Any metagame practice used by a gamemaster, without the knowledge of the players, that constrains their ability to affect play.' If it's going to be Freitagism, it'd be 'Any metagame practice used by a gamemaster, without the consent of the players, that constrains their ability to affect play' (which I'd prefer for the utility of the definition). (Are you okay with the name throwing?)


For the moment, "Freitagism" is in play (not seriously, I hope; it's hard to spell, for one thing) for the "something else entirely" that I wish Illusionism meant, so let's leave it out of this concept for now to avoid more confusion. Also, I think you accidentally enumerated the same definition for both terms there. Oops, sorry, my oversight. I see the knowledge vs. consent variation now. I don't have a strong preference because I regard the two wordings as conceptually equivalent in practice.  -- comment inserted in edit

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When I read the whole thing back though, I begin to wonder if some implication of 'unfairness' might be necessary. I mean aren't rules themselves 'a metagame constraint on the ability of a player to affect play?' I dunno, I still think there's something in there that I'm groping for and just not getting my 'hands' on. Perhaps all my changes aren't working, what do you think?


This is complicated. Perhaps we need some case study examples to give this theorizing some grounding. "Fairness" is a dangerously loaded term, and it's only two syllables. (I have a theory that words in this field get harder to define the fewer syllables they have. No one ever has trouble with the six-syllable "verisimilitude." A great word. Always clear. At the opposite extreme we have "game." Pure dynamite. "Fair" likewise. :) ) You're right that the rules are a metagame constraint on a player, and there are many others. But most of them are consensual. Even things like forced player-character-group unity despite differences is usually (though not always) a consensual constraint.


Shifting gears now... *clank* *grind* damn clutch

... to respond to Mike.

Illusionism has descended into villany, possibly beyond redemption. Oh sure, people go out of their way to call it "not necessarily dysfunctional." But then they turn around and mention things like players being "victims of Illusionism." So it's pretty clear it's not a favorable, or even a neutral, term.

Here’s what happened as it looks to me: when Paul Elliott started the thread on GO in which he called himself a (thirteenth level) "illusionist" he described a particular style of gamemastering:
 
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I prepare the bare bones of a dramatic plot and we start gaming. If the players start screwing around and avoiding my plot I don't often indulge them and create an entire new plot on the fly. I twist, I deceive, I back-track and lie - I create the illusion that what they're doing is all part of the plot, and *wrap the plot around them*. All referee's do it. They have to. (Elliott)


When Ron responded to the post, he took up the "illusionist" label and equated it with a style that he had once practiced:

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I was a great illusionist too, once upon a time. I could slip those wiley players a pre-planned plot so smoothly they never felt it. Or if they did, they liked it and went along because they accepted that plot was "mine" whereas tactics and details were "theirs." (Edwards)


Ron took Paul’s "Illusionism" to mean the use of illusion to foist a pre-planned plot on players. From there it went downhill, ultimately appearing in the GNS essay as "the GM dominates the characters’ significant actions" and hence giving the players no participation in story creation, occurring as the result of simulationist drift in an incoherent so-called "storytelling" game system.

Looking back at those old threads, it appears to me that Paul’s original description was badly expressed and therefore may have been misinterpreted. It’s not at all clear that Paul’s method dominated the player-character’s decisions, or even involved a pre-planned plot. Sure, he doesn’t "create an entire new plot on the fly," but there’s a lot of gray space between that and not allowing the plot to be affected by characters’ decisions. All that "twisting" and "backtracking," and the fact that only the "bare bones" of a plot exist at the outset strongly suggests that the plot was being, at the very least, heavily modified on the fly. Paul’s comments in later posts on the thread also point in that direction.

Regardless, the final descent in Illusionism’s plunge into infamy was the recently developed and unfortunately unchallenged assertion on the Intuitive Continuity thread that it doesn’t matter whether or not the story is pre-planned by the GM or invented by the GM retroactively on the fly based on the player-characters’ decisions, because in both cases the story is coming from the GM alone and the players are not participating in it. This equivalence is valid only if it’s assumed that controlling the main characters’ decisions does not amount to participation in the story creation. I tried to think of an appropriate adjective for this assumption. After rejecting some that could make me some enemies here real fast, I've settled on "wrong."

Most of us happy Vanilla Narrativist Intuitive Continuitist Whatchamacallitist types, including Mike, Christopher Kubasik, me, and several others who have weighed in, appear to generally admit the following:

-- That this class of techniques is not for everyone, and is probably not a wise corrective measure to prescribe for a GM who’s having trouble with basic GNS coherency issues.
-- That as gamemasters we have more focus on Narrativistic decision-making than the players do.
-- That consequently, it appears appropriate to characterize the practice within the GNS model as "Vanilla Narrativism"
-- That the gamemaster is doing most of the work when it comes to creating the Story; contributing most of the narrative "art," if you will.
-- The gamemaster does, indeed, "control the story."

But it’s invalid to leap from "the GM controls the story" to "the story comes entirely from the gamemaster." Controlling does not imply unilaterally creating. Making a main character's decisions may not be sufficient story participation for the average chocolate Narrativists’ taste, but story participation it is.

Furthermore, the key illusion is not that the players have more participation in the story than they actually do, nor is it that they have less control over their characters’ choices than they think they do. The players participate in creating the story by deciding their characters’ choices, which is exactly how they think they’re participating in creating the story. The main illusion operates at an entirely different level, a Simulationist level. The illusion is that the setting and situation have more objectivity than they actually have.

So the class of techniques we’ve been discussing is actually excluded from the proposed defintions (mine and Fang’s) of Illusionism on several different counts. Interestingly, these definitions probably exclude Paul Elliott’s style as well (its hard to tell for sure), so he may have been mistaken when he posted, "I am a 13th level illusionist!" (Unless we rewind Illusionism to square one and start over, giving the GM-dominated-decision no-story-participation player-victimizing incoherent-simulationist-drift problem its own term.)

As for the question of, "well, what are we, then?" most of what many of us do seems to be covered by Ron’s description of Intuitive Continuity. Not the one in the GNS essay, but the one he included in a post on the GO Illusionist thread:

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Intuitive Continuity (from UnderWorld, although there are many other examples): the GM throws a whole ton of little X's at the players, WITHOUT deciding how those are related to the bigger issues at hand (the sketchy Z, in the GM's mind). Depending on whom the players are interested in, whom they tell what, and what they do, the GM now beefs up those elements into conflicts and hassles ("Situation") - perhaps even changing his Big X [sic] into something else, or modifying it greatly. Essentially, the players have almost wholly defined X, definitely defined Y, and probably refined Z immensely, strictly through their own actions and responses to the bucket of raw material presented by the GM. (Edwards)


The one thing that’s missing is, why do we tend to identify this and similar practices with twisting, deceiving, backtracking, and lying? With putting one over on the players, even when they know we’re doing it? With, in short, getting away with something? Why the coolness factor that Fang mentioned? Why do we identify with the "Illusionist" label even after it’s been dragged through the mud?

I think it comes from the initial thrill years ago of having secretly (at first, at least) escaped from the gamist and simulationist assumptions of early role playing gaming, of having found ways to "massively cheat" and get away with it and be a better GM at the same time. My guess is that not one of us learned it from another GM or from a book; we each figured it out for ourselves, during a time when every new metaplot-heavy system and intricately detailed setting sourcebook was telling us the answer lay in exactly the opposite direction. It’s a hard self-image to put by, even in a milieu where we look more olde garde than avant:

I dunno sonny, that newfangled relationship map narra-vision stuff seems a little fishy to me. You mean to say you now let the dang players cheat too? Ain’t that takin’ things a bit too far?

Perhaps the "what are we?" question should be taken back to the Intuitive Continuity thread, where we could look into what aspects of this technique are not covered by the basic concept of Intuitive Continuity (and the also key question of how to turn Intuitive Continuity into an ism. Continuism? Continuitism? Intuitivicontinuitiagism?)

- Walt
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #27 on: March 22, 2002, 09:09:30 AM »

Once again, Walt, excellent analysis. I apollogise in advance for the line by line dissection, but it's getting hard to follow in any other way.

[quote="wfreitag]Illusionism has descended into villany, possibly beyond redemption. Oh sure, people go out of their way to call it "not necessarily dysfunctional." But then they turn around and mention things like players being "victims of Illusionism." So it's pretty clear it's not a favorable, or even a neutral, term.
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I personally have always supported it, and never denigrated it or claimed that anyone was a victim. I also apparently had a different definition of the term. I have never claimed that Illusionism cannot be abused, but that makes it no different than any otherr methodology, IMO.

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Ron took Paul’s "Illusionism" to mean the use of illusion to foist a pre-planned plot on players. From there it went downhill, ultimately appearing in the GNS essay as "the GM dominates the characters’ significant actions" and hence giving the players no participation in story creation, occurring as the result of simulationist drift in an incoherent so-called "storytelling" game system.

Yes, Paul's agenda is to make GM domination seem a bad thing. Always has been as he is a huge proponent of Narrativism and, most importantly Protagonism, both of which are destroyed (by his definitions) by a lack of player participation in a very active sense.

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All that "twisting" and "backtracking," and the fact that only the "bare bones" of a plot exist at the outset strongly suggests that the plot was being, at the very least, heavily modified on the fly. Paul’s comments in later posts on the thread also point in that direction.

Yes, it has never been my assertion that Illusionism took away all player control. Just that it gave the GM hidden control.

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Regardless, the final descent in Illusionism’s plunge into infamy was the recently developed and unfortunately unchallenged assertion on the Intuitive Continuity thread that it doesn’t matter whether or not the story is pre-planned by the GM or invented by the GM retroactively on the fly based on the player-characters’ decisions, because in both cases the story is coming from the GM alone and the players are not participating in it. This equivalence is valid only if it’s assumed that controlling the main characters’ decisions does not amount to participation in the story creation. I tried to think of an appropriate adjective for this assumption. After rejecting some that could make me some enemies here real fast, I've settled on "wrong."

Yes, this is a main point of disagreement. And I'm not sure how to settle it. Even Ron's opinion at this point will probably be contentious. But it has always been my understanding of Narrativism that "controlling the main characters’ decisions does not amount to participation in the story creation" is absolutely correct. This is one of the things that confuses people most about the definition of Narrativism (and potentially makes Narrativism so narrow as to be less useful than it could be). Narrativism refers to player decisions in game. They must be making some decision that satisfies their need to create story. And that story created must be the literary sort that is referred to in the definition of Narrativism, specifically not a "series of events" that look like a story. So, if a player is aware that they are not actually creating the story with their choices, then this need is not being fulfilled, and it is not Narrativism, but Simulationism.

This is the argument that has been used before. If I've made a mistake in it, then somebody please correct me. Many people don't like this definition of Narrativism. It implies to them (incorrectly) that since they don't like "creating" story as defined in Narrativism, that they are not "story oriented" or "not interested in story". Which is not true. According to this definition, players who prefer Simulationism simply prioritize versimilitude over story creation (for whatever reason "Simulationists" have for wanting to do this).

But that seems to me to be exactly what is being described in these players behavior. They make decisions for the character, and they let the GM handle the story. Well, that's Simulationism. Illusionism, then to me was (I say "was" because I feel that I am not going to win the debate on the new definition, which is why I decided to try and relabel it above), a style of play in which the GM used methods that would give the player a simultaneous (illusory) feel of having control over the story, while still actually employing his comfortable Simulationist decision making techniques.

This is important because there are players who really want these things ("the Impossible Thing" is to acheive this state in a non-illusory fashion). And it describes exactly what I strive for as a GM, and I feel many other GMs as well. It contrasts well to something like "Vanilla Simulationism" which doesn't give a hoot about story, or "Vanilla Narrativism" where the characters are actually empowered to create story.

Is that any clearer? I feel I am risking being redundant, and fear that I may just not be stating my case well enough to be understood.

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Most of us happy Vanilla Narrativist Intuitive Continuitist Whatchamacallitist types, including Mike, Christopher Kubasik, me, and several others who have weighed in, appear to generally admit the following:

-- That this class of techniques is not for everyone, and is probably not a wise corrective measure to prescribe for a GM who’s having trouble with basic GNS coherency issues.

Well, of course. I have always said its a lot of work (possibly an advanced technique) and should have no appeal to players who like Narrativism given my definition.

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-- That as gamemasters we have more focus on Narrativistic decision-making than the players do.

?? Yes, of course the GM is playing Narrativist in creating the story. The players are getting (hopefully) both sensations, but using Simulationist decision making.

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But it’s invalid to leap from "the GM controls the story" to "the story comes entirely from the gamemaster." Controlling does not imply unilaterally creating. Making a main character's decisions may not be sufficient story participation for the average chocolate Narrativists’ taste, but story participation it is.

I'll go you one further. Its generally accepted that players change their stance constantly, and thus shift from Simulationism to Vanilla Narrativism all the time. Still, that does not change the goal of what I referred to as Illusionism (a GM technique), that being to give players using Simulationist techniques the Illusion of story control. "GM Controling a story" is enough of a criteria to make the resulting experience feel Simulationist to the players. Unless the GM uses Illusion to counter that feeling.

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Furthermore, the key illusion is not that the players have more participation in the story than they actually do, nor is it that they have less control over their characters’ choices than they think they do. The players participate in creating the story by deciding their characters’ choices, which is exactly how they think they’re participating in creating the story. The main illusion operates at an entirely different level, a Simulationist level. The illusion is that the setting and situation have more objectivity than they actually have.

That's just one more Illusionist technique. They'e one and the same, really. Essentially, at any point in Illusionism, the player is not sure which is real, his control, or the "reality" of the Setting and Situation. In the confusion he can feel that both exist.

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So the class of techniques we’ve been discussing is actually excluded from the proposed defintions (mine and Fang’s) of Illusionism on several different counts. Interestingly, these definitions probably exclude Paul Elliott’s style as well (its hard to tell for sure), so he may have been mistaken when he posted, "I am a 13th level illusionist!" (Unless we rewind Illusionism to square one and start over, giving the GM-dominated-decision no-story-participation player-victimizing incoherent-simulationist-drift problem its own term.)

Not making Paul's definiotion mean Illusionism makes the whole thing seem a bit absurd to me. It seems to me that he was defining exactly the sort of activity that I've been talking about, and not at all in a dysfunctional way. If others want to paint it dysfunctional because of their own experiences or biases, I cannot stop them. But it doesn't change what it is to me. Sorry.

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As for the question of, "well, what are we, then?" most of what many of us do seems to be covered by Ron’s description of Intuitive Continuity.

I would say that IntCon is just one Illusionist tool. The Illusion in question being that all the Xs have that permenance of setting and Sitiuation a priori when in fact they do not. There are other illusionist tools that do not fit under IntCon, however. Also, if IntCon is done openly and with the help of the players (which can and does happen) then it is no longer Illusionism, and probably falls into Narrativism, possibly Simullationism
depending on specifics. So they are not equvalent at all, IMO.

[/quote]
The one thing that’s missing is, why do we tend to identify this and similar practices with twisting, deceiving, backtracking, and lying? With putting one over on the players, even when they know we’re doing it? With, in short, getting away with something? Why the coolness factor that Fang mentioned? Why do we identify with the "Illusionist" label even after it’s been dragged through the mud?
[/quote]
Not only do I not do this, but I'm not sure what you are refering to other than people in this thread trying to cast Illusionism in that light. Again, if that's what people want it to be, then fine. What I describe as Illusionism is hopefully something more akin to the Magician analogy where the players desire to obtain that moment of SOD, and the GM graciously provides.

I hope that sheds more light than heat.
Mike
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #28 on: March 22, 2002, 09:25:17 AM »

Yes, Paul's agenda is to make GM domination seem a bad thing. Always has been as he is a huge proponent of Narrativism and, most importantly Protagonism, both of which are destroyed (by his definitions) by a lack of player participation in a very active sense.

Hey, I resemble that accusation! But Walt's talking about Paul Elliott.

Paul
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« Reply #29 on: March 22, 2002, 09:44:09 AM »

Hello,

Excuse me, gentlemen and whoever else.

Illusionist is not a derogatory or pejorative term. It's a mode of play. Paul didn't treat it as such (to the contrary), and I didn't respond to it as such. My essay presents it with respect, and in fact, the re-write presents it in a better context (ie not as part of the Incoherence section).

Walt, if you are perceiving others to treat Illusionist play as a negative thing, it's because they personally do not like it. Paul Czege is entitled to dislike Illusionism and talk about how to avoid it; he is not entitled to criticize others for liking it and talking about how to enhance it. Both modes of discussion are perfectly all right.

Taking either of those spins on the topic as definitional is flatly incorrect.

I am still putting together my big-picture thoughts on Illusionist play, and part of it includes acknowledging that my take on it, right there in Paul Elliot's original thread on GO, went off the beam. But maybe not entirely off the beam, so we'll see what people think, later.

One key point: no matter what, the term from now on must go back to Paul Elliot's original description - retroactive story-fitting, by the GM, based on non-story-creating actions by the players.

That puts us in a Terminology discussion. Either Paul Elliot's description is the only meaning of Illusionism, and I must rename the front-loaded-story method; or the term Illusionism may apply to either of the two methods, and they become sub-sets. I have plenty to say about this, but I also think the authority regarding this issue is Paul Elliott.

Best,
Ron

P.S. I used surnames to make sure we knew which Paul we're talking about.
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