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Author Topic: A Theory on Role, inspired by character class debates  (Read 7175 times)
John Peloquin
Member

Posts: 4


« on: September 10, 2005, 12:58:01 PM »

First a little background:
I've been lurking on these forums for about a month, reveling in the collection of knowledge available here. Yesterday I was running a search on threads relating to character class. This thread was particularly informative, and provides some context for what I'm about to say:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?t=2802&highlight=class

The impression I received is that the purpose of character class is to define (or characterize) individuals, hopefully for a particular purpose. "Class," therefore, is a synonym for "role," and both terms can be applied in a wide number of circumstances and still be correct. If this is accepted to be true, the next problem is to create a framework by which roles can be described and analyzed.

Since gaming is a social activity, and social activities are all about interaction, it seemed best to create a descriptive framework based on various types of interaction between the individuals participating in the game. Here, I chose to recognize the characters as participants because, even though they exist solely in the shared imagination of the players, they are still conceptual individuals. "Players" also includes the GM, if one is present. Eventually, I dropped the term "interaction" from the framework, replacing it with "influence." This decision was made because the framework is described in terms of one participant influencing another, not two participants influencing each other.

  • Players Influencing Players: Here lie the social roles that players take when interacting with each other. For example, some players will be mediators, others mentors, some (sadly) might be jerks, etc.
  • Players Influencing Characters: Here lie character roles that are set by the player in the context of the game system. In a game about commando missions, roles from this category would include gunner/sniper, pilot, tech guy, stealth guy, etc. In a D&D game, roles might be traps/stealth guy, massive damage guy, damage sponge, healer, etc. In a game about making epic stories, roles might be hero (tragic or otherwise), chief villain, faithful companion, love interest, etc. The point is that the players need to have certain roles in the system filled, so the characters are called upon to act accordingly.
  • Characters Influencing Players: Roles in this category exist in the shared imaginary environment and limit the choices of a player. If a character is of a particular race/species, the character might have be played in a particular manner. Or a priest might have to perform certain duties. Furthermore, the in-game role of a character can limit the choices of a player in regard to the character's abilities and advancement.
  • Characters Influencing Characters: Here, a character's role is how other characters in the game world view him or her. In concept, the roles are the same as social roles that the players take on - an individual in the game world can be viewed by other characters as a mediator, mentor, or a jerk, just as a player can attain those same roles in the real world. In actual play, lables are often attached to characters that function at this level as roles. In many games, race/species would be a good example. Other games might mandate that sorcerers (or warriors, or priests... or any other role) be viewed in a certain way by other inhabitants of the game world.

Questions:
Can the framework contain and describe the various roles that can exist in an RPG?
Would it have been better to base the framework on something other than participant interaction or influence?
Can the framework function as a unifying theory in regard to role?

Hopefully this doesn't trample on a theory of role that has already been canonized. If so, someone please point me to it. If not, and if this method of analyzing role is inadequate, someone please come up with a better method.
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Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2005, 07:12:23 AM »

Hi John and welcome to the Forge!

Your classification works for me, but I find the wording confusing, particularly "Characters influencing Players". This sounds a bit like "My guy"-syndrome, which I guess is not intended.

It bears repeating that whatever character limits you have, they are chosen by the players. For instance, a "code of honor", whether it's a mechanically codified option ("a 10-point disadvantage") or implied by the rules ("all Klingons adhere to a strict code of honor"), is just as much a player choice as pure whim ("my orc follows a code of honor").

Regards,

Hal (who is sorry to have nothing more to add than a quibble)
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Troy_Costisick
Member

Posts: 802


WWW
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2005, 07:46:59 AM »

Heya,

Some or maybe most of what you're talking about is covered in the Stance theory.  Check out the different stances defined in the Provisional Glossary:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/_articles/glossary.html

Peace,

-Troy
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J. Tuomas Harviainen
Member

Posts: 127


« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2005, 10:37:31 AM »

Would it have been better to base the framework on something other than participant interaction or influence?
Can the framework function as a unifying theory in regard to role?

Hello and welcome, John.

I believe that participant interaction is indeed one of the most important keys in understanding role-playing as a singular phenomenon, but it's not an answer to the entire issue. So it does not in my opinion work as a unifying theory. I think you should proceed further into interaction instead of influence, but other than that I believe you've found a good path.You're not the first one to follow it, yet your initial steps seem to contain highly promising insight.

There's a lot of theory on the subject you've touched, both here and elsewhere. One text that comes to mind (of those that are availlable online) is Lankoski 2004, which discusses many of the same issues but from a slightly different perspective. I hope it, and other texts, will give you further ideas.

-Jiituomas
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Ari-Pekka Lappi
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2005, 12:53:10 AM »

I believe that participant interaction is indeed one of the most important keys in understanding role-playing as a singular phenomenon, but it's not an answer to the entire issue. So it does not in my opinion work as a unifying theory. I think you should proceed further into interaction instead of influence, but other than that I believe you've found a good path.You're not the first one to follow it, yet your initial steps seem to contain highly promising insight.

I agree with JiiTuomas on that the approach of John Peloquin doesn't work as a unifying theory or a base for such. I think, unlike JiiTuomas claimed, that John misidentifies the (fundamental) participant of the role-playing process.

The key questions is: What makes a participant of a game a player; not a spectator, a narrator or a game designer? Furthermore, what makes a gamemaster different kind of player than the others (at least in the traditional games)? This is to say that if we want to discuss critically the role of a player in a game, we shouldn't take any role he actually have for granted. The social role called "a player" makes the participant a player – not for instance a spectator.

In a way, it is easy to identify the role of a player. In a game a spectator (for instance) acts differently from a player because they have very different social roles (in the context of the game). This is absolutely obvious and thus deceitful. One potential conflict in a game is that participants identify the role of a player too differently. (I'm going to make my own critical and extensive contribution soon, but it takes time to study the terminology you use here. I'm not familiar with it and thus I'm not going to make any extensive contribution yet.)

Back to the subject. I suppose that no one will deny that a character, as it is being played or is played on, is a role. Now we become to my main point: If we want elucidate the concept of role, we cannot use categories that are basically roles themselves. I'm not saying that it is useless or unimportant to discuss the interaction between the player and the character (or the influences they have on another), quite the contrary. The discussion is important, but if and only if we are clearly aware of the roles, which have been taken for granted. If we aren't aware of the presupposes we have made, we will probably only confuse things not elucidate them.
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J. Tuomas Harviainen
Member

Posts: 127


« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2005, 01:25:05 AM »

I suppose that no one will deny that a character, as it is being played or is played on, is a role. Now we become to my main point: If we want elucidate the concept of role, we cannot use categories that are basically roles themselves

Actually, I for one deny it being /a/ role. It's instead /several/ roles, each filling a tangential or completely different function on the different layers the game is happening. And that's where I see the strength of John's theorem, the separation of different kinds of roles by purpose and origin point, even if I do not agree with everything he has stated. One set of roles appears from the interactions of players and their characters, as well as the interaction of players on diegetic arbitration (roughly "the way the game's reality is agreed upon"), and that creates the other roles. To understand them, we must first make some headway into the interaction process.

And using roles to explain roles is a valid approach - it's basically an adaptation of Durkheim's idea of social phenomena being only explainable by social elements.

(Nice to see you here, A-P.)

-Jiituomas
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Ari-Pekka Lappi
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2005, 12:17:21 AM »

Actually, I for one deny it being /a/ role. It's instead /several/ roles, each filling a tangential or completely different function on the different layers the game is happening.

That's exactly what was on my mind. Still, I think it is more lucid to discuss a role instead of several and consider the role to be a combination of several roles.

And that's where I see the strength of John's theorem, the separation of different kinds of roles by purpose and origin point, even if I do not agree with everything he has stated.

I don't think that roles should be defined by or categorized accord to their purpose or origin. They may function (or dysfunction) in an unwanted way having very little to do with their origin. I like to think that a role may corrupt and thus become dysfunctional or otherwise inappropriate.

Say a gamemaster intends to create a good dramatic and exiting story. Furthermore, he declares, that he doesn’t want to railroad or to force players. In this case the role he has originally chosen is corrupted as he's main aim to create a good dramatic and exiting story force him to railroad. Something has gone wrong, but has his role changed? The purposes and the origin haven't necessarily changed. Still it seems that the actual role had changed some how. Some of the good intententions had been revieled to be inconsistent. The gamemaster may feel that he has failed to create a good game though he succeeded to create a good story. Thus he might think, he didn't fulfil the role he chose. Questions to be answered are: Why the role corrupted? Why the gamemaster found the role he had chosen himself impossible to fulfil properly (i.e. in manner he had declared at very the beginning of the game)?

In my point of view the purpose of a role is merely a way to judge whether one has fulfilled a role or acted accord to it. It might be a part of introspective techniques a player (including GM) uses more or less unconsciously to evaluate themselves and their acts: If the purpose of this game is this-and-this, has my behaviour been suitable? Furthermore, how could I act in more suitable way? The origin of a role seems to be just a way (but an important one, IMHO) to grasp the purpose of the game and the role we have in it. Neither of them do define the actual role bun only an ideal one.

And using roles to explain roles is a valid approach - it's basically an adaptation of Durkheim's idea of social phenomena being only explainable by social elements.

Certainly. It is a valid approach, if we are clearly aware of the presuppositions we have made, namely if we explicate, which roles are taken for granted and which one are based on more fundamental roles. I suppose, I should had stressed this more I did.

I think, John Pelaquin tried to explain the deep structure of roleplaying by a surface structure. On my point of view both a player and a character are only instances of the role as a part of the deep structure of role-playing. In other words, a falling apple won't explain the theory of gravitation, quite the contrary. Still, without a doubt, we are explaining a material phenomena by a material phenomena; a meaning (of a falling apple) by a meaning (of the theory of gravitation).
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Ari-Pekka Lappi
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2005, 12:21:03 AM »

a falling apple won't explain the theory of gravitation

Should be: "a falling apple won't explain the gravitation"
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John Peloquin
Member

Posts: 4


« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2005, 07:42:34 PM »

Your classification works for me, but I find the wording confusing, particularly "Characters influencing Players". This sounds a bit like "My guy"-syndrome, which I guess is not intended.

I agree that the wording is a little strange, but I couldn't come up with anything better. Also, I'm not sure what "my guy" syndrome refers to. I couldn't find it in the glossary.

Some or maybe most of what you're talking about is covered in the Stance theory.

I checked the stance theory. I can see similarities in that the labels in both theories are defined by interaction between the real world and the game world, but I don't think the two theories cover the same area. Role are formed or applied independently of how one goes about forming them or applying them, and the theory I put forward doesn't do anything more than provide a way to describe roles in an RPG at a higher resolution of detail.

I believe that participant interaction is indeed one of the most important keys in understanding role-playing as a singular phenomenon, but it's not an answer to the entire issue. So it does not in my opinion work as a unifying theory. I think you should proceed further into interaction instead of influence, but other than that I believe you've found a good path.You're not the first one to follow it, yet your initial steps seem to contain highly promising insight.

Using interaction instead of influence would basically remove the distinction between "Players Influencing Characters" and "Characters Influencing Players," a distinction which I think is important. The former deals with out-of-game concerns on the part of the players, while the latter deals with character role in the game world.

The key questions is: What makes a participant of a game a player; not a spectator, a narrator or a game designer? Furthermore, what makes a gamemaster different kind of player than the others (at least in the traditional games)? This is to say that if we want to discuss critically the role of a player in a game, we shouldn't take any role he actually have for granted. The social role called "a player" makes the participant a player – not for instance a spectator.

In a way, it is easy to identify the role of a player. In a game a spectator (for instance) acts differently from a player because they have very different social roles (in the context of the game). This is absolutely obvious and thus deceitful. One potential conflict in a game is that participants identify the role of a player too differently. (I'm going to make my own critical and extensive contribution soon, but it takes time to study the terminology you use here. I'm not familiar with it and thus I'm not going to make any extensive contribution yet.)

You're absolutely right; much of this didn't occur to me. I should review my reasoning, taking into account any effects this blind spot might have had. Some terms will definitely have to change. And on the subject of terminology, my apologies for any mistakes I'm making. I'm not entirely familiar with all the terms in Ron Edwards' glossary yet.

About the thread in general:

It seems clear that this theory is not a 'unifying theory,' a phrase that was almost certainly a poor choice of words on my part in the first place. Even if the theory was perfect at describing various roles, it still wouldn't be unifying in any sense.

I need to mull over what's been said for a while, particularly Ari-Pekka Lappi's ideas. I'll write something soon about the differences and similarities between my theory and the definition of "role levels" in the glossary, since they share 3 identical or very similar points, but portray those points in different ways. This isn't very surprising, since the glossary definition seems to have come from the thread that served as my inspiration, but the two theories do differ radically on the fourth point.
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Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2005, 12:59:26 AM »

I'm not sure what "my guy" syndrome refers to. I couldn't find it in the glossary.

My search skills are practically zero, so I can't link to a concise definition. I'll try to give one myself:

When a player has his character act in a way which pisses off some or all of the other participants and justifies this with the rationale "But that's what my guy would do!" Essentially, the player uses his character as a mask for antisocial behaviour. This can also apply to GM behaviour.

An example (for traditional play, where the PCs form a party) would be a player who has his character betray the other characters, thereby killing them, ending the adventure and ruining everybody's fun. There are social contracts under which this is perfectly acceptable or even expected, but under many, it is not and no amount of "But my PC was betrayed in his youth, it's in his backstory. Really, I have no choice, he would act this way!" is going to make this any less of a violation.

Regards,

Hal
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Alan
Member

Posts: 1012


WWW
« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2005, 04:36:35 AM »

Your four categories don't seem to be roles, per se, so much as channels of influence.

Characters Influencing Players: Roles in this category exist in the shared imaginary environment and limit the choices of a player. If a character is of a particular race/species, the character might have be played in a particular manner. Or a priest might have to perform certain duties. Furthermore, the in-game role of a character can limit the choices of a player in regard to the character's abilities and advancement.

I don't think this category actually exists.  Do characters ever really influence players?  I mean, if a priest "has to" perform certain duties, where does the imperitive come from?  Is it the fictional data which reaches out and moves the player's mouth?  Or the numbers on paper?

Nope.  It's the player's interpretation of his or her social contract with the other players.  So this is just player influencing player again.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
J. Tuomas Harviainen
Member

Posts: 127


« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2005, 06:47:26 AM »

I don't think this category actually exists.  Do characters ever really influence players?... It's the player's interpretation of his or her social contract with the other players. So this is just player influencing player again.

In some cases it goes beyond that. A lot of players experience role-playing games (especially larps) through a reciprocal state where the player influences the character and the character influences the player. This happens because the character's traits produce situations the player would not normally encounter. It is indeed the player's choice /in the first place/ to commit to following the character's traits, but after that choice is made, many people follow it logically (immersing or not) and thus end up influenced by the character, not the social contract.

This is not true of all players, though. Some of them follow the divisive (character and player completely separate) or narrative identity (a character is just another social mask) pattern, or at least believe they do, meaning they experience the relationship completely differently.

-Jiituomas
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Alan
Member

Posts: 1012


WWW
« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2005, 09:00:22 AM »

This is not true of all players, though. Some of them follow the divisive (character and player completely separate) or narrative identity (a character is just another social mask) pattern, or at least believe they do, meaning they experience the relationship completely differently.

What you're describing is a subjective experience.  The objective reality is that the player has chosen to act according to tacit player-created rules.

I assumed that John's framework was intended as a tool for objective understanding.  If that's the case, a subjective-experience category has no business being in it.

The pursuit of a subjective experience is a perfectly fine goal.  In some cases it may even be convenient to speak of suchexperiences as if they were objective.  But when we want to talk about _how_ to produce certain subjective experiences, we must actually communicate in objective terms, we can't treat the as if they were real.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
J. Tuomas Harviainen
Member

Posts: 127


« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2005, 09:56:11 AM »

What you're describing is a subjective experience.  The objective reality is that the player has chosen to act according to tacit player-created rules.

No. A subjectively /perceived/ experience, not a subjective experience. There is a point in a game where /for some players/ the character becomes a separate entity that is no longer connected to player wishes, but an individual entity following its internal logic. It's an emergent property of the game, not a delusion.

(Then again, I see the subjective prerception experience the primary framework for explaining role-playing, so maybe I'm just biased.)

-Jiituomas
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John Peloquin
Member

Posts: 4


« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2005, 08:42:38 PM »

Your four categories don't seem to be roles, per se, so much as channels of influence.

Yes. The only connection the categories have to roles is that the roles are what exert influence.

Characters Influencing Players: Roles in this category exist in the shared imaginary environment and limit the choices of a player. If a character is of a particular race/species, the character might have be played in a particular manner. Or a priest might have to perform certain duties. Furthermore, the in-game role of a character can limit the choices of a player in regard to the character's abilities and advancement.

I don't think this category actually exists.  Do characters ever really influence players?  I mean, if a priest "has to" perform certain duties, where does the imperitive come from?  Is it the fictional data which reaches out and moves the player's mouth?  Or the numbers on paper?

Nope.  It's the player's interpretation of his or her social contract with the other players.  So this is just player influencing player again.

Yes, it is originally the player's choice to create traits and limitations for his/her character. But once that choice is communicated to the other players, it becomes part of the character's identity.

Sometimes, certain roles are attached to a character through the rules. D&D classes are roles that fall under this heading, since they all carry limitations as to what the character can do or learn to do, which limits the player. These roles don't have to be extended to the shared imaginary space, but they are still part of the character's identity.

Other roles might not exert influence through the rules, but solely by existing in the shared imaginary space. A player might inform the group that his or her character is an elf, which then becomes part of the character's identify in the shared imaginary space. Or, to use a more specific example, a rebel elf. Or a loyalist elf. Or an elf who fears conflict with his brethren and lives in the wilderness. Note that once a character role exists in the shared imaginary space, it often falls under both "characters influencing players" and "characters influencing characters."

In both cases, the character's identity, as communicated to the rest of the group, is then what would influence a player to have his/her character exhibit those traits and limitations in play.

It could be said then this is player - player influence, but if that reasoning is carried to conclusion it excludes the shared imaginary space from having any influence on the gamers. In my experience (which admittedly is with a very small segment of the gamer population), players do take into account facts that exist solely in the shared imagination of the gaming group when making decisions about their character - or any aspect of the game world. This is how characters influence players - the fictional data doesn't control the player, but does exert influence.

The player could ignore traits or limitations that exist in the character's identify, but he or she would then be ignoring that particular aspect of the character's established role. In time, this might change the way the character's role is perceived by the group, which is the same as saying that the character's role has been changed. In essence, the role can exist in the mind's of the other players or in the rules document even if it is temporarily ignored. If it isn't utilized at all, then it no longer exists, and exerts no influence due to lack of existence.
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