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Author Topic: What ever happened to Points of Contact?  (Read 9695 times)
Larry L.
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« on: August 01, 2005, 08:18:27 AM »

Okay, so I think this is an "Ask Ron" thread.

Ron,

Regarding Infamous Five #4, what's the current state of things Vanilla and Pervy? A quick seach reveals not much discussion on this in the last couple years. Did this issue basically just get hammered out to everyone's satisfaction to the definitions in the Provisional Glossary? Are "vanilla" and "pervy" still frowned upon in favor of "points of contact?" Are people still consciously designing in consideration of Points of Contact, or did this turn out to be a relatively unimportant design issue?

I'm not conscious of which designs have intentionally gone for vanillaness or perviness.

Also, was rules-light vs rules-heavy dismissed as a fruitless argument, or just as totally irrelevant to this particular piece of theory?

Am I asking totally stupid questions here?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2005, 09:36:36 AM »

I'll shoulder on Ron's turf, because points of contact are very much in the foreground, at least for me. My understanding and de facto practice has been to discard "vanilla" and "pervy" as general terms in favor of points of contact. The latter is a more powerful and exact visualization, because you need not just talk about how much, but can also consider the where and why. In practical design it's usually not the case that vanilla or pervy is better, but that you have to consider the points of contact you choose very carefully. I might still use the terms, but only to describe something in a general way, not as an analytic conclusion.

Nowadays, visualizing the actual play experience is a central design tool for me. And the idea of there being the "soft" stuff, which now and then is in contact with the "hard" stuff is a very basic starting point for that. What's more, when you grasp the idea of points of contact, you can analyze other things than SIS vs. system as well; things like how narration rights are shifted, or literary sources are referenced, or moments of immersion arranged. It's all about internally coherent activities with their own momentum and how players switch between them. Points of contact are the transmission system of a rpg design.

A general point: we don't really talk much here about our design practices and the processes. That's one thing that could get more attention if only because it's so interesting. In this case, for example, I have no idea if points of contact are at all relevant for the design process when other people here start to design. We might talk about how this or that game has these points of contact (although we review and analyze actual games too little, too), but I don't remember anybody writing about how the concept impacts his design.

That being said, I personally think that Trollbabe is very interesting as a points-of-contact excercise. I don't remember knowing if it's intentional, though. MLwM and Heroquest are pretty much from the different ends of the spectrum, if you want that kind of examples. They aren't intentional, though.

Rules-light vs. rules-heavy I don't want to touch on, I've lost the little understanding I had on that topic. You could say that it matters for points of contact insofar as handling time matters. That is, it's irrelevant for the points of contact per se, but certainly will affect the overall experience in adjunction with them. That's as far as I understand that topic.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2005, 10:30:45 AM »

Hiya,

Eero wrote,
Quote
My understanding and de facto practice has been to discard "vanilla" and "pervy" as general terms in favor of points of contact.

... which pretty much sums up my take on the matter. Including the bit about how the terms might crop up informally with the understanding that personal interpretations vary.

I've never placed any credence on the "rules-light"/"rules-heavy" distinction and consider it an example of verbiage pretending to be ideas, useless for any meaningful discussion.

Best,
Ron
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Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2005, 11:53:07 AM »

(Re-reads Eero's first paragraph very slowly.)

Ah. So "points of contact" is a more useful term, not because of the aesthetic objections to the whole pervy/kinky metaphor, but because the concept is not adequately described by just "high" or "low."

Cool, that makes sense.

Thanks,
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2005, 12:09:05 PM »

Ah. So "points of contact" is a more useful term, not because of the aesthetic objections to the whole pervy/kinky metaphor, but because the concept is not adequately described by just "high" or "low."

Exactly. When you say "vanilla", what you're really saying is "uniformly low points of contact", when you say "pervy", you say "uniformly high points of contact". It's a global attribute over a whole design, a mathematician would say, while speaking about single points of contact is a whole another thing. And while it's interesting how the relative vanillaness/perviness of a design might or might not have some effect on the game experience, for design purposes it's not useful. It's also very complex. I for one would certainly be interested in some strong analysis about what, exactly, we can deduce from the global variable, but to this point the best thinking on the subject says really nothing at all. We don't know that any humanly significant property of the rpg experience is uniformly caused by the global frequency of points of contact, so talking about it is almost as bad as talking about rules-light and rules-heavy. I can sometimes say that there's too many or wrong kinds of points of contact in the combat system or something, but that's as global as it gets. No chance to say that this game is pervy or vanilla and deduce anything useful at all about how it actually plays out.

A simple mathematic branch that illustrates the idea of global and local properties well is graph theory. We have properties like the order of vertices (the number of connections it has), which we study as a global phenomenon (maximal number over the graph, minimal of the same, the average) and a local phenomenon (the order of this particular vertix); and it's quite interesting to try to find how the global property actually limits the possible local graph properties. Sometimes it's just the complementing local variable that's affected, but sometimes also some completely different secondary structural rules are enforced by the simple expedient of naming some global constraint.

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drnuncheon
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Some call me Jeff


« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2005, 01:06:18 PM »

I think Points of Contact is probably the bit of Forge jargon that I am having the most trouble understanding.  I've read the linked threads and the glossary but something about exactly what it is trying to express eludes me. I'mn hoping someone can express it in plain English for me, because I'm still trying to grok the rather specialized terminology in use here.

Is it as simple as "when do we resort to the game rules to settle something?" and I'm making a big deal over nothing, or os there some kind of deeper nuance that I need to understand to really get what's going on?

Jeff
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Simon Marks
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« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2005, 12:47:56 AM »

IIs it as simple as "when do we resort to the game rules to settle something?" and I'm making a big deal over nothing, or os there some kind of deeper nuance that I need to understand to really get what's going on?

Quote from: Ron Edwards in the Glossary
The steps of rules-consultation, either in the text or internally, per unit of established imaginary content.

So, yes, I think.
How many times do I have to refer to the rules to do something.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2005, 04:31:12 AM »

Hiya,

I want to make a fairly subtle point clear, though. And I'm not sure whether I can articulate it correctly the first time, so bear in mind we may have to triangulate through dialogue.

This is not quite how I've looked at it in the past and should not be taken as plain-and-simple Ron Says. These are some of the issues that need to be considered to refine the concept a little.

Points of Contact concerns using specific applications (techniques) of the system. It does not actually concern looking up the rules, although the latter is clearly related to it. In other words, looking up the rules in order to follow or critique them is a form of Points of Contact, but a fairly obvious and crude form, and Points of Contact is a broader concept, including more things.

A group who never looks up the rules because they know them (and their modifications) so well is still utilizing all the Points of Contact for the system. This is one of the reasons why "rules-light" is a useless term, because this group will consider their system to be light (i.e. painless) despite its many procedural contortions.

I also want to remind people that rules are textual and system is procedural. Rules are what the books say or what we've formally agreed upon about those books. System is what's actually done during play. Points of Contact is ultimately about system.

So the key issue about Points of Contact is whether they change in nature, whether they force a "stop" in the process of play, whether they are familiar, and so on. A system with high Points of Contact requires more cognitive shifts of attention regarding "how we do this," as you go along. It is often associated with sudden changes in scale in the SIS that are supposed to be equally and consistently formalized, such as considering who's standing where, and then considering whether someone's finger slips on the trigger. A system with low Points of Contact is clearer about when we do or do not employ specific features of the system, and those features tend to be very much alike throughout play - so we might not know what is going to be resolved, but when we get there, we are fully prepped to resolve it the same as we did before.

As I often say, so-called freeform play is actually incredibly high in Points of Contact for this very reason, as every contribution to the SIS is being vetted not only for how it works for everyone else, but also readjusted in whether it's OK for that person to contribute at that time. It's extremely prone to subtle Calvinballing, enforced through approval and disapproval rather than through shouting out rules.

I do not want to imply or get into a High-Bad, Low-Good way of looking at this. In some games, for instance, a totally different subsystem for (say) magic stuff works very well, and that Contacts-based shift is a fruitful part of play. Or in another, the same might be said for combat and movement among spacecraft as opposed to among people.

H'm! Looking over this, I'm pretty comfortable with it, less tentative than when I first started writing. Larry, how's it working for you?

Best,
Ron
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Larry L.
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« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2005, 05:23:05 AM »

Ron,

I'm understanding Points of Contact in terms of layers of abstraction that don't quite sync up with the Big Model. Points of contact being anyplace a player has to grab a chunk of System to interact with the SIS. In an information science idiom, a point of contact is like a handle a program has to grab before it can pass some data to another device. That sound about right with you?

I understand that it doesn't directly correlate to handling time, since a group of players may have the system down pat and not need to touch the book. Although it seems to suggest a greater learning curve to novice players.

Quote
It is often associated with sudden changes in scale in the SIS that are supposed to be equally and consistently formalized, such as considering who's standing where, and then considering whether someone's finger slips on the trigger. A system with low Points of Contact is clearer about when we do or do not employ specific features of the system, and those features tend to be very much alike throughout play - so we might not know what is going to be resolved, but when we get there, we are fully prepped to resolve it the same as we did before.

This bit is a little odd to me. "...low Points of Contact is clearer..."? Whip out some examples for me. My Life with Master is low Points of Contact, right?

Quote
I do not want to imply or get into a High-Bad, Low-Good way of looking at this. In some games, for instance, a totally different subsystem for (say) magic stuff works very well, and that Contacts-based shift is a fruitful part of play. Or in another, the same might be said for combat and movement among spacecraft as opposed to among people.

This subsystem business seems to be opening a whole new can of worms. So parts of System can be higher contact than the rest of the System as a whole without being a thoughtless drift into Simulationism? That sort of thing is where I seem to associate high points of contact cropping up.


As a side note, I'm a little sad that "vanilla" and "pervy" are not the terms du jour. It took me forever to figure out how the hell pervy could be an antonym for vanilla. When I did figure it out, I was terribly amused by what a cute piece of gamer de-programming Edwards had come up with. Oh well.

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drnuncheon
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Some call me Jeff


« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2005, 05:54:53 AM »

Ron,

As I understand the use of the word system here, it's the procedure by which events are resolved during play.  As such it is not the written rules themselves but how they are used by the group - and that includes techniques like GM fiat (even on small levels like "I'm not going to bother rolling a survival check for that orc you took to -5 hp").

But if we're talking about system in that sense, aren't we contacting it at every moment we play, regardless of what it is?  When a group is playing D&D, and the DM says "Behind the door you see an orc guarding a pie", that may or may not be rules, but it is system (since part of the system is that the DM is the creator and arbiter of the world and the player's situation, as opposed to that being a shared responsibility as it might be in other games).

From what you say above, though, it sounds like you are suggesting that a system like D&D 3e, which has a fairly unified roll-under system for resolving most situations, and then has a much more detailed (and different) systems for combat and magic, is a system with high Points of Contact, whereas Wushu, which uses the same mechanic for literally everything, would be a system with low PoC.

Assuming that I've got that right: is it the level of detail of the D&D system that causes it to be high Points of Contact?  Or is it the change in the mechanics that causes it to be so? And if it's the latter, are they more like Points of Change rather than Points of Contact?

Jeff
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2005, 06:29:33 AM »

My explanation can be found in My Unified Theory of Exploration.  The last four posts contain an edit about unstructured drama resolution.  There are further details in the parent thread, but those initial zilchplay threads were very heavy.

My definition of Points of Contact hasn't changed with time (at least not that I've noticed). I defer to Ron as to whether or not that still agrees with the big model.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2005, 07:29:13 AM »

Hello,

Larry, you wrote,

Quote
As a side note, I'm a little sad that "vanilla" and "pervy" are not the terms du jour. It took me forever to figure out how the hell pervy could be an antonym for vanilla. When I did figure it out, I was terribly amused by what a cute piece of gamer de-programming Edwards had come up with. Oh well.

Hey, you and me both. The terms encountered quite a bit of resistance based on equal amounts of prudery and people's sense of ownership over their own kinky sex habits. That's a hard pair of kneejerks to argue against successfully. I'm just glad you got it, and we can agree to use the terms when no one else is listening.

Although I eventually did cave because I realized that people tended to associate Vanilla with what they were used to, or basically, "traditional basic role-playing" in the hobby sense. I had to decide whether that was what I was talking about or not, and when I decided it wasn't, then the terms proved inadequate to make sure people understood that.

Jeff, you wrote,

Quote
... it sounds like you are suggesting that a system like D&D 3e, which has a fairly unified roll-under system for resolving most situations, and then has a much more detailed (and different) systems for combat and magic, is a system with high Points of Contact, whereas Wushu, which uses the same mechanic for literally everything, would be a system with low PoC.

Right.

Quote
Assuming that I've got that right: is it the level of detail of the D&D system that causes it to be high Points of Contact? Or is it the change in the mechanics that causes it to be so? And if it's the latter, are they more like Points of Change rather than Points of Contact?

"Level of detail" is unfortunately a difficult term; it's not entirely clear whether a person is saying a rules-set is detailed because it's promoting high Points of Contact, or vice versa. For instance, let's say we were playing AD&D2 and knew the rulebook really well - and our System was close to that but with some mods of our own. So far so good? Well, how often do we "refer to System" in order to "play right"? Whether we're consulting and confirming our shared understanding in purely verbal terms, or looking at our three-ring binder of rules mods, or looking at the book itself, the point is that we have to do something mentally just to be sure.

I'd like to separate this phenomenon from the usual hitch-and-start of simply learning a rules-set in the first place. I'm afraid a lot of people are thinking of a game as having high Points of Contact simply because it's hard to learn. The reverse might be true, but it's not necessarily so.

You can call it "Points of Change" if you'd like, but maybe we can still call it "Points of Contact" and specify that we are contacting it such a way that we have to change what we're doing, a little.

Jason, I agree with you in pretty much every way. That's a good thread to reference for this one.

Best,
Ron
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drnuncheon
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Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff


« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2005, 09:40:16 AM »

"Level of detail" is unfortunately a difficult term; it's not entirely clear whether a person is saying a rules-set is detailed because it's promoting high Points of Contact, or vice versa.

To clarify, I wasn't actually trying to draw a direct 1:1 comparison between level of detail and Points of Contact, although it's certainly likely that one affects the other.  When I talk about different areas of the D&D system having different levels of detail, I'm more referring to the fact that an attempt to resolve a conflict verbally through social skills is done with a single die roll (or opposing die rolls), while an attempt to resolve a conflict through violence is done with many repeated instances of a task resolution system.  When you go from words to blades in D&D, you 'zoom in' and use, for lack of a better term, a more finely detailed resolution system. 

As a contrast to that, consider Dying Earth, which has a fairly detailed resolution mechanic that works on the same scale or level of detail for both social and violent action - and contrast further with Wushu, which has a mechanic that isn't very detailed at all for all actions.

That's the difference I thought you were referring to when you talked about "cognitive shifts of attention" and "sudden changes in scale" in your previous post - am I way off base here?  Anyway, I think they're something different from (although related to) your Points of Contact.  One could have a system that handled all actions at a similar level of very fine detail, and I think it'd have a high Points of Contact but few or no Points of Change.

Whether Points of Change are worthwhile or not...well, I think they can tell you something about the system since anywhere you 'zoom in' ought to represent an intentional focus of the system.  But that's probably another thread if it hasn't been dealt with already.

Quote
For instance, let's say we were playing AD&D2 and knew the rulebook really well - and our System was close to that but with some mods of our own. So far so good? Well, how often do we "refer to System" in order to "play right"? Whether we're consulting and confirming our shared understanding in purely verbal terms, or looking at our three-ring binder of rules mods, or looking at the book itself, the point is that we have to do something mentally just to be sure.

Even if that thing is mentally "Is it the DM that's telling us there's an orc behind the door? OK, there must be an orc because the GM is allowed to do that."  By my understanding, that's part of the system, even if it isn't normally consciously thought about - but if we call that a 'Point of Contact' then the term gets pretty diluted. 

Or is the setting of the DM in such a system a single point of contact, because from then on we don't have to check every time they use their authority - everybody already knows he can do it because he's the DM?

All of this, of course, is still going to make sure I understand what Points of Contact are, since every time I think I have it they seem to wriggle away.

Jeff
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #13 on: August 02, 2005, 10:14:45 AM »

Ron,

Does a game written clearly have fewer Points of Contact than the exact same game (in terms of System) written poorly? 

That is, do you consider the conveyance of the System to be System in itself?
Is the System an ideal that the text references, but never expresses perfectly?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #14 on: August 04, 2005, 12:02:54 PM »

I'm going to take the risk that I'm all wet here, because honestly points of contact has always been a bit unclear to me in application as well.

All systems rely to some degree on authorities. These include rules, character papers, die rolls, setting descriptions, attributes, skill ratings, target numbers, skill descriptions, resources--all technically external to the shared imagined space.

A point of contact, if I understand it aright, is a moment in play in which an authority is referenced, internally or externally. Thus if we think, John's character's strength is 27, and that's pretty high, so we'll decide he can do this, we probably have a point of contact, whereas if we think John's character is strong enough to do this, without reference to the authority of what his strength score actually is but rather because it is our impression of the John's character, we probably do not have a point of contact.

Again, I may be all wrong on this, and if I am I hope someone will tell me why.

--M. J. Young
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