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Author Topic: GNS Dialectic Progression  (Read 4697 times)
xenopulse
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« on: July 28, 2005, 01:15:21 PM »

Ron,

In reading the recent threads on the social level of CA, a thought occured to me that suddenly made things much more clear for me (but beware, I tend to think in Hegelian terms way too much). I would like to know what you think of it before I go down that path too far.

It seems to me, from the "we used to think of CA on an individual level, but we moved on to the group level" idea in this thread, that our understanding of GNS collectively as well as individually develops in a dialectic fashion, and that coherent CA play depends on the same kind of development.

My quick definition of a dialectic progression: unreflected undifferentiated whole -> differentiated but isolated parts -> reflected whole.

For players and groups on the path to coherent CA play, this would go like this: the group plays as a whole, but has never analyzed what they are doing nor what they really want out of it (they see their group as an unreflected undifferentiated whole). You could say they all play something together, but without self-awareness. Many groups remain at this point. Some, however, start to look at the individuals. What do they want, what satisfies them, what are their individual roles, etc. They might also look at the techniques and the system and all the other parts of their play. This analysis can break a group apart as they realize that they are not, at the moment, compatible or coherent. This analysis basically disects the group (and potentially every aspect of its play) into its parts. It does not actually change those parts yet--just the awareness of the players. The only way they can reach the final destination of playing with a coherent CA, then, is the third step: becoming a whole again, based on and conscious of their individual desires and roles through their decisions in play. This is a conscious group effort; it's playing with a purpose. Everybody needs to be on the same page, reinforcing each other's parts and contributions.

That's why coherent CA play ultimately comes out on the group-level over longer instances of play, while at the same time the smaller steps and instances (and our awareness of them) matter. That's why the whole group needs to play with a purpose to truly, reliably achieve a CA. (As a sidenote, in relation to "Theory ruins my mystical game fun," that's why people sometimes feel like they lost something when they reach step 2, because they are not aware of step 3 or how to get there.)

Does that sound about right, or have I gone off the deep end here?

I think this same progression works for how we come to understand the theory itself, but I don't want to reach that far yet.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2005, 08:23:10 AM »

Hello,

Whew - finally got around to replying to this one. It kept getting bumped back on the list of stuff to do.

All right, here are some comments more-or-less moving from big to little.

1. I think we'll have to distinguish a dialectic phenomenon from any/every instance of "change due to unexpected influence." You can find Synthesis in paint drying, if you aren't careful. I'm not sure that we really need to dress up the process with the Hegelian terminology, although if it helps you, that's great. Perhaps you can articulate the value added at this basic level.

2. I also think that the role of Thesis is getting overvalued in your estimation. For example, I do not think many role-playing groups who play uncritically are well described as:

Quote
... the group plays as a whole, but has never analyzed what they are doing nor what they really want out of it (they see their group as an unreflected undifferentiated whole). You could say they all play something together, but without self-awareness. Many groups remain at this point.

... unless the phrase "they see their group as an unreflected undifferentiated whole" is recognized as a mask for "the group is operating dysfunctionally." These are strong words and I expect will prompt the usual cries about just having fun, or just want to socialize anyway, and all that stuff.

In other words, there is typically no Thesis. There is a bunch of noise, schwah, blah ... Zilchplay at best, opportunities for ego-trips and game-playing in the bad sense at worst, lots of daydreaming and planning about what might happen that will be fun some day, occasional fragments and glimmers of satisfaction, and a priority set on "keeping the group going." Usually one person is getting something out of it, such as being regarded as the Great Author, and the overall behavior in general looks cultish without the cultish focus of actually preaching anything.

If, on the other hand, you are talking about groups which do utilize a Creative Agenda and simply don't have any words for it, I think you will find that they have words of their own for it, or at least well-defined social rituals for communicating about it, and thus are more like your Synthesis anyway.

To be absolutely clear: no, I do not think the image of the "happy unreflective group" is common. Check out that furball of tearful recriminations in the current Dogs thread in Actual Play. Role-playing is characterized by stuff like that, in between long spells of doing whatever some one person wants everyone to be doing.

3. Unless I'm misunderstanding, you are suggest that the act of reflecting is operating as a destabilizer. I tend to look at it differently: the situation described in #2 is already destabilized and requires constant correcting and social manipulation/subordination to persist. The role of reflection is to attempt to find a stabilized position, which often erupts into overt conflict - but that is best understood as revealing the covert conflict which was fulfilling the needs of at least one person in the group.

Some folks at the Forge have been present when I am asked about the hobby by people totally removed from the existing hobby, usually because they have learned I have a publishing business, or because they asked how I and the other person know one another. You know what? My answers are always presented in what you are calling the "Antithesis," and it serves as a perfect starting point for people who are not subculturally committed to the gamer social/creative ideals of role-playing. They know exactly what I mean by Creative Agenda and the potential conflicts about it. They quickly and enthusiastically affirm Narrativist and Gamist play as separate entities. By the end of the short conversation, they are often even requesting a chance to watch or join in.

I consider the kind of reflection that underlies the Big Model is only notable in gamer culture because that culture is so badly broken - in fact, practically the worst imaginable context for anything fun in role-playing to be expected to occur. This kind of reflection is nothing more than the easy, rather painless starting point for any other social leisure activity that you'd care to name.

4. Your general use of "self-aware" and "conscious" carries the same problems that any use of these terms brings in. I was recently asked about why I keep being so insistent on the term "mindful," and this is how I replied:

Quote
"Conscious" is a terrible term. It focuses on introspection, deliberation, and "what I meant to do," staying locked up in the person's head.

It's also fundamentally meaningless, if you want to get really critical. After all, am I "conscious" of my desire to publish a game? To play a game? To eat lunch? And so on.

However, "mindful" is much more useful because it's social and has an "off" condition. I am mindful of your actions when I consider how they affect me and behave accordingly. I am mindful of my actions when I consider how they affect you and behave accordingly. You can see when I fail to be mindful of either of these, in how I talk, how I treat you, and what I do.

The "fundamentally meaningless" part is probably going to upset some people. I shall amend that to saying "it is fundamentally a metaphysical issue and can only be addressed at that level."

So those are some of my thoughts. Ultimately, I'm not disagreeing with your basic application of Hegelian thinking, although I'm not sure its parts are well matched-up, and I'd like to know a bit more about why you find it helpful.

Best,
Ron
« Last Edit: August 03, 2005, 08:25:06 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
xenopulse
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« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2005, 10:05:16 AM »

Ron,

Thanks for the comments, I appreciate you taking the time. After posting the thing, and pondering it more, I realized that I can indeed formulate it in simpler terms, but that it helped me to connect the individual/group levels ad the issue of "awareness" in the way I expressed it. Why? Probably because my socio-philosophical background (good old grad school) was focused on Kant and Hegel. If I knew more contemporary social science frameworks, I might be able to find something that fits better.

Now, the value of this insight, for me, lies with the realization of the connection between (in your terms) mindful play at the individual level and creative agenda at the group level. I believe that individual mindful-ness and group CA are vital to each other. Players need to be mindful both of themselves as players and of the group as a whole.

Some directed responses:

1. You may be right about using the terminology for anything; my reason for applying it is that a roleplaying group is a social entity, and the progression I was talking about is all about social groups and the development of individual awareness (i.e., mindfulness). I think most people play RPGs without ever looking at it closely on those two levels. Maybe we can drop the Hegelian terms here, but it helped my understanding of what you recently explained with the sports team comparison; I'm just not much of a sports person :) So what worked for me probably won't work the same way for normal people.

2. I see what you mean regarding dysfunctional play being the norm. My point was, the group as a whole plays that way. I.e., they've somehow gotten into their head that this is the way it was meant to be played and they all do the same stuff. And I don't know if it's common to be happy with it, but when I was playing without reflecting on it, even when it was bad, it was still better than the other ways of spending my free time.

But maybe that was just my personal experience; it's possible that the players all do different things and frequently clash because of it. In my groups, people tend to say, "This is the way it's done," and then everybody does that (no matter whether it's conducive to the fun or not; but I might post another thread about that one).

3. Once the group starts looking at what the players want, they might realize that they really want different things out of roleplaying. That's what I mean with the reflection leading to the group being aware of their fragmentation. I didn't mean to say that it causes the group to be internally breaking up, I meant to say that it makes the players aware of their differences. And people act differently once they realize something. But it CAN break them up, and that might be a good thing if they really are incompatible.

4. I think your use of "mindful" actually is better because it's an active term, just like Creative Agenda is an active expression.

As a summary, trying to say it simpler and without any "jargon" at all, in order to reach functional play:

1. Players need to become mindful of what they want and how to get it
2. The group needs to be coherent with regards to the players’ desires
2a. This requires mindful individual players and communication (except in some lucky cases)
3. The rules they play by need to facilitate those desires
3a. Either out of the box, or drifted
4. The group then plays with a purpose, staying mindful, sticking with the good rules

Most groups don't even get to step 1, or if individual players do, they don't get to step 2 and the group remains dysfunctional.

It's possible that this is exactly what you've always said, it's just that for my little brain, the connection between step 1 and step 2 didn't come easy.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2005, 10:28:47 AM »

Hi,

Quote
My point was, the group as a whole plays that way. I.e., they've somehow gotten into their head that this is the way it was meant to be played and they all do the same stuff. And I don't know if it's common to be happy with it, but when I was playing without reflecting on it, even when it was bad, it was still better than the other ways of spending my free time.

(snip)

In my groups, people tend to say, "This is the way it's done," and then everybody does that (no matter whether it's conducive to the fun or not; but I might post another thread about that one).

I suggest taking a real close look at abusive relationships and situations- you'll find that in a lot of cases, both "This is how we do things" without reflection, and the idea that a bad relationship (with lover, family, religious leader) is better than no relationship parallel exactly to what you're talking about.

The lack of reflection is not a matter of happiness- the lack of reflection is a matter of not shattering the illusion of happiness, revealing the covert conflict that Ron pointed out.  Often times it requires a person who is not indoctrinated to the situation to identify what is going on- which is why folks were surprised when a spouse commented during playtesting of D&D 3.0- "It's like 20 minutes of fun wrapped in 4 hours."  It was obvious to anyone who hadn't come to expect it as the norm.

And, instead of having addressed the issues directly, the culture has instead focused on covering it up, which is why one of the first "lessons" of mainstream play is that meta-game discussion is bad, and perhaps, has played a significant part in the obsession over Immersion- because these things focus on the imagined element, and not the real element of people to people.

Chris
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xenopulse
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« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2005, 10:37:15 AM »

You're right, Chris. And I didn't know any better at the time. I do now.

My current group is not against meta discussion, it's just that they've played AD&D the same way for so long, they think they have good arguments for going about it the way they do. They think that, "Your character is unconscious, so you cannot make any recommendations to fellow players" is a good argument. I say, "But then I am excluded for the next 2 hours!" That discussion is yet to be resolved in my group. As you can see, it's all about preconceived notions on what "makes sense" and how players are only supposed to act through their characters.

As I said, I might post a new thread about that sometime.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2005, 07:29:57 PM »

Hi,

No judgement on my side- just something to look at in regards to your play, the people you know, and the hobby in general.  I'm doing the same thing myself as I'm meeting people, or connecting it to experiences in and out of play, past and present.

Being mindful is the only way we're going to get something better :)

Chris
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