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Author Topic: Parameters of the Social Contract  (Read 5711 times)
J. Tuomas Harviainen
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Posts: 127


« on: September 20, 2005, 01:06:48 PM »

Discussions of what Social Contract does and does not mean should be taken to new threads in the GNS forum. I'll be happy to explain how the Big Model's being misrepresented in the last few posts, if anyone is interested.

As suggested, I'm making a continuation here. There are apparently forum participants who would like a further explanation about the parametric systems of Social Contracts in the context of the Big Model. So information on that would be highly appreciated, especially on the sub-subject of social role interpretation within it.

-Jiituomas
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2005, 02:08:23 PM »

Hi there!

To go back to the parent thread for a minute, all of the commentary about how social roles are a feature of social contracts makes a lot of sense. That's all very good. It's also easy to see, I think, how social roles inform, shape, and even contain the various "character roles" and so on, such as the ones I listed in the older thread "The class issue." So none of that is a concern for this thread, I think (and hope).

Now, here's the part that I got squirrelly about: the assumption that "role-playing" as a sociological phenomenon, today, must include a functional Social Contract. Obviously, that is not the case. Quite a bit of what gets called "role-playing," in hobby and subcultural terms, is a big blah - lousy Social Contract full of dishonesty and what I call huddling, intermittent and fragmentary Exploration (SIS), no Creative Agenda to speak of, a hodgepodge of Techniques, and so on. "Bad play," if you don't mind a judgmental moment.

My essay concerns play which actually works, which as I see it typically includes a coherent Creative Agenda. As Vincent puts it in his blog, "I'm not here to discuss stupid play." And in order for a coherent Creative Agenda to occur, clearly the Social Contract (as the biggest category of play) must include it.

So yes, my essays do presume a functional Social Contract which includes at least the possibility of arriving at a Creative Agenda, as expressed through the consistency of Techniques and all the other layers/boxes. Why? Because that kind of play (i.e. successful, reliably fun, etc) is what I'm writing about. But no, I am not claiming that any and every crowd of self-labeled "role-players" out there is experiencing such a thing. In fact, quite the opposite.

Best,
Ron
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Ari-Pekka Lappi
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Posts: 7


« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2005, 06:50:28 AM »

Now, here's the part that I got squirrelly about: the assumption that "role-playing" as a sociological phenomenon, today, must include a functional Social Contract.

I've no doubt about it.

So yes, my essays do presume a functional Social Contract which includes at least the possibility of arriving at a Creative Agenda, as expressed through the consistency of Techniques and all the other layers/boxes.

In other words, you don't presume a social contract but a certain kind of social contract having exactly those features and (logical) properties you want it to have. In my point of view, that is bit fuzzy and arbitrary.

Of course if we have a certain kind of social contract the Big model will function. Actually, the Big model itself is a method to reach the certain kind of social contract. Still, the weak point of the Big model is how we reach a functional and good social contract. The answer cannot be "by chance" or "it is a miracle". (I don't believe in coincidences nor miracles. Contingency is an illusion or merely a feature of insight. But that's off-topic.) So, how it comes that you have a functional and good SC meanwhile many others have not? Again, as you say, there are bad players. The crucial question is what is a good and proper SC and what is not and how, even in theory, one may reach a proper social contract.

I'm not quite sure whether this is clear, so I take an analogy. In the ethics, it is a matter of fact that there are good deeds and bad deeds. Philosophically, it is uninteresting, if those who do mostly good deeds (and are thus good people) analyse only the structure of good deeds and write articles about how you could make your good deeds even better saying nothing about that, what makes the difference between good and bad deeds. Instead of that a philosopher should tell, how bad people (those who do mostly bad deeds) may, in theory, become good people even in those cases, in which bad people think wrongly that they are good people. (Note! If you are a thick-skulled subjectivist, who thinks that you can say nothing about others and their values, you shouldn't talk of ethics at all but only be confused about the fact that people generally draw a distinction between good and bad deeds although the concept of opinion would be good enough.)

The presupposition beond philosophical ethichs is that every one would do good deeds and avoid bad ones if they knew and understood what is good and what is bad but, in reality, they don't. In the case of role-playing, I have no doupt, every one wants to be a good player and no one wants to be a bad player. The problem is that it is not clear what makes the difference between a good player and a bad player; good play and bad play. So, as a theorist, you should essentially describe what it is "to be a good player". Actually, this is the main motive of the rpg-theory as whole and has always been. In this particular case you cannot presume that a player already have a proper social contract, if a proper social contract is the crusial point, which draws the difference between a good player and a bad player; a good play and bad play.

If a philosopher argued that the primitive (logical) property that makes his deeds good (suppose that his deeds are really good and no one deny that) is a proper Social Contract, he would make more or less poor ethics, since those who would also like to be good people would ask "tell us, how we arrive at the Social Contract you have found out". If the philopher answered "by acting accord to it" or "by presuming it", the people would be confused and dissatisfied, since they didn't ask how they could be good people after they are good people or after they already know the social contract (which would make them good people). Furthermore, they would argue, "as we have presumed a social contract, it has often caused even more conflics and thus been revealed deceitfull".

Should the philosopher answer: "I'm not here to talk about (your) bad life and bad deeds but good ones. Every ethical phenomena includes a social contract and I have a theory of good deeds, to which a proper social contract may give rise. How dare you ask for more?" Don't you think that there is something lacking in the argument, do you.

Hopely I make clear enough, why we shouldn't presume any social contract but consider it to be a result of complicated hermeneutic processes.

Best regards,
    Ari-Pekka

P.s. I feel like my text is a bit too antagonistic and hostile - not a critical but, still, constructive one. If it is so, please, consider it to be caused by the fact that English is not native language.
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Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2005, 07:23:46 AM »

Hi there!

The first step towards helping others is understanding, ourselves, which combinations of factors lead to good (i.e. consistently and predictably satisfying) play. This requires theoretical analysis and practical testing.

The second step is communicating our findings, if possible in the form of practical advice which does not require knowledge of the body of theory.

As far as I can see, the Forge does both, all the time:

(1) The theory is mostly in place (cf. the articles section) and further explained in the GNS forum and refined in RPG Theory.

(2) Practical advice is given all the time, piecemeal, in Actual Play. Far more importantly, though, the Forge has helped people create new RPGs which are, in fact, excellent manuals on how to get satisfying play.

If Bob is out to ruin everybody's fun, there's nothing we can do. But if some people get together and genuinely want to have a satisfying roleplaying experience, we can help them. We have a veritable list of help packages...the games!

Just look at, for example, Breaking the Ice or Sex & Sorcery: They both explicitly discuss comfort levels in regard to sexual content.That's advice for building a functioning social contract, right there.

Regards,

Hal
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2005, 08:04:21 AM »

Hello,

My articles concern stuff which is specific to role-playing - not stuff which is generally the case for any social, leisure activity. As I see it, all social leisure activities require the equivalents of functional Social Contract (if they are creative activities), in order to be fun and have much chance of continuing in a satisfying way.

What you're looking for, it seems to me, is a formula or model for how people like each other and feel like working/playing with one another. That's a much bigger issue than those I address in my essays.

I consider hobby gaming (role-playing, et cetera) to be an undeveloped and embryonic activity, currently embedded in very badly-constructed, mainly-dysfunctional social situations. Therefore, when we look around at what really goes on, I consider many instances of what's called role-playing to be, socially speaking, not anything at all - just a bunch of horrible a-socializing.

And you know what? That's not my problem, intellectually or creatively. It'd be as if you and I were musicians, talking about what makes music work and putting those ideas into practice, being inspired by ideas and sensations and experiences, in a larger musical community ... but in addition, there were all these odd music-like activities going on with demonstrably unsatisfying, demonstrably non-fun, demonstrably a-social features.

And no, I do not mean like "experimental" or "atonal" music - those are still music. Imagine some sort of hideous broken version of music-like actions that was neither artistic in any imaginable or social fashion, nor enjoyable to do in any way. Nor did it contribute to the "real" music, not even as avant-garde, except maybe once a year or so. Imagine a whole lot of that around, with everyone calling it music. Its key feature would be the absence of Social Contract that reliably produces music.

I suggest that you and I, as musicians who functioned with reliable Social Contracts in our respective bands and among our overall musical community and audiences, would simply ignore them. All we could say would be, "Look, guys, get it together and make reasonable Social Contracts first, and then recognize that Creative Agenda must tie together your work after that. Until you do that, nothing will reliably happen. And we can't talk to you as fellow practitioners until then."

And then we'd go and work on our music and our stuff, in our space, without them. Some one of us, maybe, might continually cast his net out among those others, looking for folks who are seeking reliable Social Contracts and Creative Agenda without knowing what they are. That's me and Clinton, with the Forge. But that net we cast, and the welcome we give to people who are willing to try, rely on the people being willing to try. There's nothing we can do, and no point in modelling or theorizing, about those who are unable and/or unwilling.

Best,
Ron
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Ari-Pekka Lappi
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2005, 02:59:41 PM »

And you know what? That's not my problem, intellectually or creatively.

Indeed, you don't have to discuss with me, or anyone, if you are not interested in. I thought that you would like to, because you said "I'll be happy to explain how the Big Model's being misrepresented in the last few posts, if anyone is interested." Furthermore, you are definitely right on that you have framed your subject differently.

I'm revising the agenda of this discourse and the presupposition that have been made. I'm fully aware of that and so are you. So I see no problem. You may still argue, that there is no need for revision of fundaments and there is no need for a change of the point of view or for diversity of point of views. I beg your pardon, but I didn't quite understood your arguments (if there was any), merely I felt like you are thinking that I don't fully understand the rules of discourse and, on the other hand, you are discouraging me by your pessimistic rhetoric. For me, both of them are only petty rhetorical tricks, not real arguments. In case I'm wrong, would you like to re-state your argument(s)?

I re-state my own:

We should revise the Big Model, because it presumes players having a proper social contract. In many cases play is dysfunctional or, as you say, "a bunch of horrible a-socializing" (touché). That seems to be a symptom of the lack of a proper SC. It is certainly possible that players have a proper social contract even in cases they have no theory how to reach it. On the other hand the Big Model itself seem to be quite a good and usable theory and thus worth of saving.

There's nothing we can do, and no point in modelling or theorizing, about those who are unable and/or unwilling.

I liked your music metaphor but I doubt, whether music and rpgs are analogous in this case. For me it makes a great difference whether you listen music or do it yourself. In the case of role-playing games, every one is doing art and no one is supposed to interpret the result as a work of art. Thus the "misunderstood artist" -argument won't apply. The problem is not whether anyone really understands you but basically whether every player may really partake in a game you participate in and vice versa so, that no one finds it (too) uncomfortable to make own proposals (e.g. because one consider improvisation too tricky.)

I think that we are just prone to be over-pessimistic if others don't understand us immediately and keep on acting in unreasonable way. We are prone to think that others are stupid or at least too different from us and that we have expressed ourselves entirely properly. At least I'm prone to that, and since I know my little foible, I keep on repeating myself "Ill seen, ill said. Mal vu, mal dit. If you can say it better, you can see it better (and if you cannot, well, there you have a blind-spot to take into account)."

Just look at, for example, Breaking the Ice or Sex & Sorcery: They both explicitly discuss comfort levels in regard to sexual content.That's advice for building a functioning social contract, right there.

A friend of mine, Juho Itkonen, gave a very practical and very easy advice for building a social contract: "booze and have fun with other players". He was joking a bit, but there is a lot of sense in the advice. The basis of a proper social contract in role-playing games is that players trust each other and think that "it is ****ing great to play with these people". That is true in case of any art made together with others and that's not a new idea in the rpg-theory either. Another very usable advice is: play with those who you know well and who think similarly. Both advices have few disadvantages.

Personally, I would prefer to start with fundaments of SC, not with a practical advises although they may also be quite usable. I.e. what is common to every possible functioning advice for building a social contract? A bit easier question is, what is the structure of social contract?
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Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2005, 04:02:43 PM »

The basis of a proper social contract in role-playing games is that players trust each other [...] Another very usable advice is: play with those who you know well and who think similarly. Both advices have few disadvantages.

This advice is rather trivial. That's neither a put-down nor coincidence because, in my perhaps bold view, a working social contract is rather trivial.

I have no problems finding agreeable strangers for a pick-up game of volleyball or one of the many German boardgames played at pubs around here. Granted, these are not creative activities, but on the other hand, these are strangers, not friends.

The problem is that many mainstream RPGs make promises that they cannot keep or are incoherent. They authoratively fuck up the default social contract (i.e. sportsmanship, do unto others, the things you mention etc.) which was already in place.

So Joe has been told that he can play a hero just like Conan and then he spends an evening fighting rats and rolling on fumble tables. And Jack has been led to believe he can explore a whole world, but Jill is charged with deciding what he will explore.

With a coherent game text, these problems ought to evaporate.

Quote
Personally, I would prefer to start with fundaments of SC, not with a practical advises although they may also be quite usable.

Most, if not all, coherent RPGs do not require a specialized SC. The default will do just fine.

However, this default - what you call the fundaments - is either trivial (cf. your advice) or, if you probe beneath the surface, at a totally different level (i.e. social science).

Yes, you can bring that level to bear on RPGs. But it's quite a stretch, really. Still, taking the long view can be refreshing, so I, for one, would follow such a discussion with interest.

Regards,

Hal
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2005, 04:57:26 PM »

Hello,

Let's see if I can write out my exact position on this issue. It is:

The work so far at the Forge has focused on the functional, fun aspects of role-playing within the context of a working Social Contract. I, and others, fully understand that without such a Contract, none of those functional/fun aspects can occur.

Now, it would be a great service and a great confirmation of the work we've done here, if someone else can outline or analyze the connections among specific Social Contracts and specific forms of role-playing.

Some of us have done so in informal ways. Ben Lehman has written about "Social Agendas" as over-arching contexts for Creative Agendas. My book Sex & Sorcery is aimed very explicitly at how our personal sexual and social agendas may be brought into Creative Agenda as fuel for play, at least for games like Sorcerer. But is there a formal, theoretical (as you say, hermeneutic) framework in place?

No, not yet. Please understand that I am not saying it should not be done. I'm saying that it remains for others to use our work as an influence, and (if we are right about any of it) material for building such a framework.

Phrases like "The Big Model is flawed" or "incomplete" are not going to help that happen. What will help, is if you and others who'd like to build the Social Contract end of the picture will do us the courtesy of saying, "What you have here works very well for its scope and context." Then provide the linked ideas, the larger context, and the actual convincing information and arguments which can help us all understand more.

Dialogue here does not proceed through confrontation and the staking-out of turf. Here, the process is more like a symposium, where we know our ideas will change when they contact others, and we try hard to find points of overlap where they can blend (or "mate") most constructively.

I invite you to provide Social Contract ideas and experiences which anchor the deeper/inner portions of the Big Model into social reality. I also suggest, and request, that you do so by stating the positive and successful aspects of the ideas that you are using.

Best,
Ron
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J. Tuomas Harviainen
Member

Posts: 127


« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2005, 09:15:20 PM »

I think that in the last few years, there actually /has/ been significant progress on the SC issue. A lot of games, from mainstream to indie, have started to include descriptions on the form problem players (usually /players/, not /play/, unofortunately) typically appear in. In the mainstream games, the instructions often come much later in line (say, in a "Storyteller's Handbook" published years later), though.

So by creating visible permutations on what acceptable game-play conflicts are like (example: intra-group CA issues and how to resolve them), or how to circumvent such problems by limiting the expected default social contract (example: the "no Gamism" rules of many Nordic experientialist larps), or even by defining a new type of SC (example: ensemble play), positive experimentation is being made. All of these SC techniques are fully compatible with the Big Model. The use of such methodology will not remove problem players at once, but it does help remove some problem play. And, since there are good examples of acceptable conflicts being provided and discussed, it's easier to say when someone isn't following the default SC, and take action as a result.

Other significant positive steps are the style-specific games seen on the indie front ("this game is always about tragedy") which require the participants to think about how they must play - and thus about the SC as well, and the "increased player to player trust" techniques experimented with in the Nordic area (such as "in-game things are not told to those who were not there"). So far, those seem to produce a lot more good then bad effects, even though when the SC does break in those circumstances, the results can be far worse than in a more mainstream case.

-Jiituomas
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Ari-Pekka Lappi
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Posts: 7


« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2005, 01:38:13 AM »

This advice is rather trivial.

Yes. Hopely they both were, not only the last one. They were meant be as trivial as possible. I keep on repeating that there has been thousands (propably even more) games having a perfectly proper social contract.

Phrases like "The Big Model is flawed" or "incomplete" are not going to help that happen.

Ah, my apologies. I should have been clearer and stress the Big Model itself is a very nice and inspirational theory, but on my point of view there is one (only one) feature I don't like. That is, it presumes a proper social contract. I'm unwilling to say that it has flawed. Quite contrary it has in fact promote development of a proper social in various ways directly as a thery and indirectly as basis of various games. I've try to say all the time that the Big Model has worked even thought it cannot explain why it works. I've not said either that the Big Model is incomplete. No theory is incomplete only because as it presumes something. Still, the presuppositions may be worth revising every now and then.

I invite you to provide Social Contract ideas and experiences which anchor the deeper/inner portions of the Big Model into social reality. I also suggest, and request, that you do so by stating the positive and successful aspects of the ideas that you are using.

I'll be glad to do that. At this time I only sketch my theory. Hopely this isn't a too sketchy contribution.

At first I want to stress, that this isn't contradicting the big model in any way. Most part of my ideas may be derived form the Big Model and vice versa. I consider that to be trivial, since we are theorizing the same thing. If I succeed to create a theory that is totally isolated from its predecessor, there would be something badly wrong.

I want you to notice that I'm not going to start from social phenomena but an abstract logical structure. It will soon emerge as a social phenomena. However, I start with the logical properties of players' thought patterns not with the features of play as a social phenomena .

Let me next introduce my key concepts.

A playable is a short for a playable thing or process. Thus it means a thing or a process, which is being player or is played on. Playables constitute complicated and multifaceted hierarchies. I think, they are quite near to the Big Model's exploration and on the other hand to techniques.

A player is a participant of a game, who has both authority and means to modify at least one playable. At the first stage a player is nothing more than a person who is willing to play something.

A role is the connection between a player and a playable. Essentially, it defines each player's authority over each playable and the means they may use in a game. Every player has at least one role. In the most cases a player have many complementary roles. Only in very simple or simplificated cases a player has only one role. Every role is attached to at least one playable.

A role is a way to co-ordinate participation of players: The roles as whole (including unspoken roles) defines each player's position in the group. The role doesn't mean a character in any case. A role may include an absolute supremacy over a character. Nevertheless, character is a playable (not a role in this sense). A role is a certain kind of interface to the character. Hopely my a bit weird terminology won't confuse you.

As you see, I didn't not introduce a social contract as a key concept and I will not say a word of it for a while. I could have introduce forth key concept: a rule, but I chose to use it as a feature of a playable and of a role.

Chess as an analogy

Take chess as an analogy. I know that this can be a bit provoking, but I think, it's better to start with a simple example instead of a difficult one (like any real role-playing game would be). I presume, that chess and role-playing games, as both being games, have a lot of similarities in their deep structure.

In the chess there is only one playable. In essence, the playable is a position of chessmen on the chessboard. The position conveys the shared imagination or diegesis. The shared imagination in the case of chess is a thin one; it's only an interpretation of the situation having essentially five possible values: Player A has won, Player B has won, Player A has a stronger position, Player B has a stronger position, they have equally strong position. In addition, to be a playable thing or process both player have to know the regulative rules of chess (i.e. legal moves) and have at least potentially a partial winning strategy. These rules and stategies define their role in a game.

I define winning strategy in the case of chess as follows: If a player have a winning strategy, he have in his mind a sequence of legal moves, by which he will win the game no matter, which moves his opponent makes. If a player have a partial winning strategy he have in his mind one or more moves, by which his position in the game will be improved no matter which moves his opponent makes.

It is quite clear, what is meant by a player in the context of chess. A player is a person who has both authority to manipulate the position of (his) chessmen on the board (~socials contract of partaking in a game or mutual understanding who are playing and who aren't) and means to manipulate it properly (~player knows both regulative rules and strategic rules of chess well enough). Note: there are two different kinds of rules in chess: regulative rules and strategic rules* (or winning strategy). No one wants to play with a player, who doesn't know the strategic rules and thus will not attempt to win or avoid losing in a proper way. As well, it is impossible to play with a person who as no idea how he may move chessmen.

(* = The distinction between two kinds of rules is originally made by logician Jaakko Hintikka. The winning strategy is orinally the elementary concept of the game theory of mathematical logic, which have be inspirated by interrogative logic by (again) Jaakko Hintikka.)

The winning strategy in role-playing games

Role-playing is based on a similar structure as playing chess. It contains always a set of regulative rules and strategic rules, even the winning strategy and winning condition, but the rules themselves are quite different from chess. In rpgs, winning condition is not to defeat opponent but essentially based on a creative agenda. Regulative rules aren't stating how you may move a token but they merely give you some restriction and precondition that you should follow. However, the way you make moves in roleplaying games (=ephemera) is based on your winning strategy (=strategy of how you at a minimum fulfill the creative agenda and in best case arrive at your artistic ambitions). Furher, regulative rules are not only something for simulation and gamist play. E.g. I consider the genre rules to be also mostly regulative rules. That is to say, that regulative rules aren't always easy to interpret or find out.

In the case of chess regulative rules defines the playable well enough in all normal cases. If a player knows the regulative rules of chess he automatically understand the strategic rules. Hintikka like to take an example of a player who knows exactly the regulative rules of chess but have no idea of the strategic rules. Hintikka claims, that it would be highly unsatisfying to play with such player since your opponent is not trying to win in a way you understand winning but e.g. create esthetically beatiful positions of chessmen. I think, this will never happen in reality.

In role-playing games situation is different. It is quite a common scenario that a player knows the regulative rules but have no idea of strategic rules or is not even interested in them - mostly because he isn't aware of them. This is to say, that players will not arrive at a shared creative agenda or at to proper social contract.

I'm turning the theoretical structure around. I'm really saying that at least prototypes of a creative agenda, exploration and techiniques exist before a proper social contract. As a proper social contract has been found out the prototypes will be re-established and elucidated. How this is supposed to work? Think of the hermeneutic circle. I'm scetching the hermeneutics of role-playing.

Exactly here resides in the function of the Big Model. It states essentially that "You can have this all if…". A player have to figure out what comes after "if". The Big Model gives ideals and hints, which have an essential role in constructing a proper social contract. Any well-written text function in similar way, as a waypoint to to social contract, to the creative process in a game and, finally, to shared imagination or diegesis.

Summary and conclusion

I've chosen a playable as most primitive concept of my theory much because it can be reduced to a set of rules. The rules are essentially texts that are intrepreted within a hermeneutic process or formed form other texts withen such.

I think that any theory should start from what is obvious and undenyable if possible: If we have a game, we have necessarily one or more playables and each of us have a role in at least one playable. If we have a playable and we have a role in it, we have a set of rules (including unspoken ones) which make a playable really playable (e.g. not a subject of an alienating spectacle, in which we have no role). These all are obvious things you cannot miss them unlike you can miss a proper social contract.

As you see, we still need something more to play than this theory, we need something like the Big Theory. I say nothing about the content of the rules, it not the task of this theory. As I said in the beginning: I discuss the logical structures meanwhile the most rpg-theories (all I know) talk of social phenomena. That makes this theory (partially) uncommensurable with them but on the other hand a complementary theory.

Best regards,
Ari-Pekka
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2005, 07:48:04 AM »

Hello,

Now we're talking! (American slang for enjoying a discussion, looking forward to what it will produce)

I invite others who are interested in the Big Model and related issues to draw further connections and to help define the next set of most-productive questions.

Best,
Ron
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