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Objective/super-objective and the role

Started by Brian Hose, April 04, 2002, 12:54:58 PM

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Ron Edwards

Hey Danny,

I respectfully disagree with your conclusion, because I think you are expecting the Stances issue to dovetail in some kind of 1:1 way with GNS, and they are not intended or expected to do so.

We are talking about different levels or scales of play. Much as the interactions of tissues, the interactions of chemicals (molecules), and the interaction of atoms are related but not in a 1:1 way, the decisions and modes of play (GNS), the stances (person-to-character relationship), and the details of system (e.g. DFK) are related as well, but not 1:1.

If we look across role-playing among real people, we'll see a whole bunch of Stances in some combination across the people and across time. If we look again, for the same exact period, we'll see a whole bunch of different GNS preferences being expressed too. Now I do consider Stance to play a causal role in expressing whatever GNS preference is occurring, for a given person, but the Stances change more quickly and occur in more combinations than the GNS preferences.

By inserting the "intent" issue into Stance, you are trying to make the term apply at a level that it's not designed for, and tangling yourself all 'round. I agreed with your distinction between intent and action, but did not realize that you were combining them in your effort to talk about Stance.

I strongly recommend that you review the topic without putting "intent" into the picture at the Stance level - consider Stance to be a technique, and GNS to be goals. You'll see, as I described in my previous post, that Stances operate as a small-scale (faster, more instances) causal factor, one of many, that go to produce the GNS outcome of interest.


Danny Cline


Thanks for the reply, though I'm not sure that you're addressing exactly the issue I was trying to bring up.  I don't expect stance to go in a one-to-one correspondence with GNS; actually I would prefer not to have a parallel to GNS figure into the stances, as I think it causes problems.  If stance is used to describe something different from intent, perhaps a means or behavior, I think it would be more relevant, and the stance issue could be made more coherent.  However, my reading of the current definitions indicates that intent (or something very similar) is what two of the stances actually refer to (Actor and Author) but not the final stance (Director).  Of course, this is unless I am misreading them or the version of the paper I am reading isn't current.  Further I think it's important for the word "stance" itself to have a consistent meaning across all three (or however many) stances; this is really the main point I'm trying to communicate here.  We need to know what the concept of "stance" categorizes or examines; now it seems to examine different things depending on which "stance" we are in.  (Excerpts from "GNS AND OTHER MATTERS OF ROLE-PLAYING THEORY" follow.)

>>In Actor stance, a person determines a character's decisions and actions using only knowledge and perceptions that the character would have.

>>In Author stance, a person determines a character's decisions and actions based on the real person's priorities, then retroactively "motivates" the character to perform them. (Without that second, retroactive step, this is fairly called Pawn stance.)

The definitions above seem to consider a mental state regarding decision making as the only issue in deciding of stance.  The question asked here  and thus the apparent definition of "stance" itself is: "Why does the player make certain choices for his or her character?" or perhaps in the case of Actor stance "How does the character make choices for his or her character?"  This is a very different question than we are asking below.

>>In Director stance, a person determines aspects of the environment relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character's knowledge or ability to influence events. Therefore the player has not only determined the character's actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters.

This definition asks not why the player makes certain choices, but what in-game resources the player uses.  The question of why the player takes certain actions (or his or her in-game proxies, whether they be characters, object, or events do) becomes irrelevant here, and only the number and type of these (previously paranthetical) in-game proxies is the issue, and thus here the definition of "stance".  

Note that neither other stance considers this issue.  It may seem in Actor stance that one should control only a single character, but there is no explicit restriction against controlling more (though in actor mode controlling an in-game event admittedly stretches the definition).  In addition, if there is an implied restriction, the same language is used in Author stance and so the implied restriction should be found there as well.

I agree that even in my second post my link between the first two stances and GNS may have been incorrect or incomplete, but nevertheless the Actor and Author stances do tread the same ground as GNS, i.e in-game decision making.  Even if this is not the case (and admittedly, these first two stances may not be examining exactly the same issues as GNS) the difference between the apparent meaning of "stance" between Actor / Author stance and Director stance makes me wonder why these definitions are included together.

There are several ways to make the meaning of "stance" consistent through the definitions, primarily by changing or deleting definitions.  I don't know whether you would be comfortable doing this or even whether you see what I am getting at (or if you do, whether you agree with it).  I'm sure you could see these as well.  The primary fixes would be

1. Deleting Director stance; not a good option in my book.  (I'm not completely convinced that "stance" even means exactly the same thing in Actor and Author stances.)
2. Modifying Director stance to give "stance" a similar meaning as in Actor and Author stances; probably not a good option because I don't see what the new definition would be.
3. Modifying Actor and Author stances to agree with what Director stance implies "stance" should mean.  Here the new definition of Actor stance would be obvious, but the Author stance again doesn't really fit in with this meaning.  (We could use a Procrustean solution and delete Author stance to force a fit here.)
4. Ignoring the issue, and not having a definition of "stance" itself.  Here we treat the three stances as somwehat unrelated definitions.  They are all called stances, but "stance" doesn't mean anything.  This is really the best option if no one feels it necessary to have "stance" have a particular meaning.

I think I'll quit for now here.  This is probably long enough already and perhaps already so esoteric it has become meaningless.  (Hurray me!)  If this makes it clearer what issues I was trying to discuss, I'll be pleased, as I think my last post must have been unclear.

Thanks again and have a good week.


the motivation issues you raise above are what GNS positions are about.  What Stance is about is defining how the player interacts with the game world.  Interaction by definition is a two way process.

Actor:  In Actor Stance a player only interacts with the game world through the vehicle of his character.  He only effects the game world by having his character effect it, and his only source of knowledge about the game world is that which is filtered through his character.  This means only the characters knowledge and goals and personality go into making decisions.  A diagram might look like this.


Author:  In Author Stance a player also effects the game world only by having his character effect it, however he is not limited to the knowledge and goals of his character.  Rather information about the world that is passed to the player without first being filtered through the Character is used to make decisions.  In addition to the characters knowledge and goals and personality, decisions also use the players knowledge and goals and personality.  


Director:  In Director Stance not only does information flow from the game world without being first filtered through a character, but the player can effect the game world directly rather than being limited to effecting it only through the actions of a character.  


Ron Edwards

Hi Danny,

I'm not sure whether we're going 'round and 'round on this or not, although I hope it's more of a spiralling toward one another ...

Here's my call: Stance is, was, and shall always be about how a person declares something about what a character is doing - and by "doing" I mean in the broadest sense. By definition, that means that the circumstances of the character are also involved.

Now, you are right in spotting that Author and Actor stances share the "player's still in the character's head" and "player isn't messing with the environment" qualities. However, Author and Director share the quality of "player's priorities come first," which makes a nice exclusion of Actor. In other words, I think that we really have three categories on the same level, not one packet of two and one packet of one.

"If stance is used to describe something different from intent, perhaps a means or behavior, I think it would be more relevant, and the stance issue could be made more coherent."

This puzzles me, because stance is indeed used to describe something different from intent, specifically a means or behavior. As I've stated here and there, one can't distinguish Author and Actor stance based on one quick glimpse - but given a few scenes and a few observances, they are pretty damn different. My examples in the essay are chosen to show how different. In other words, I think you are, in fact, misreading the descriptions of Author and Actor as overly "intent" based. The whole "why" that you are seeing as inherent to (say) Actor, is specifically not an issue. One can hit Actor stance for a wide variety of reasons (intents).

In other words, you should apply the same reading you gave to Director stance (technique) to Actor and Author stance as well, and expand the necessary observation-time of the actual play in order to make this possible. Once this is achieved, then "goal" or "intent" can remain where it belongs, that is, as a GNS issue, and Stance can remain where it belongs, as a technique issue.

So now to your fixes - I think what needs to get fixed is the big picture, most likely all the way back in the first part of the essay, such that the layer occupied by GNS is clearer in people's minds, and no techniques are ever, individually, confounded with a given intent of any kind.


Danny Cline

Hi Ron,

Sorry this is so late.  I was busy with work and such.

I realize that when we are dealing with such purely psychological topics there is bound to be some confusion about what they are about.  Perhaps I am the confused one between the two of us (assuming only one of us is confused) but I still feel that there is something wrong here.  However, it is becoming clearer to me now that you are getting my point.  However, we may have reached an issue on which we disagree and one in which further arguments may be fruitless in changing our minds.  In any event, I'll respond here to your post rather than go over my main points like last time, as I feel I was clear enough then.

My main point of contention here I think in your claim that stance is about how a player declares what a character is doing.  Even in "the broadest sense" I think some of these stances as written are not at all about player commands to a character.  In fact, it is far from clear to me that any of these stances describe methods of player declaration of in-game agent action.  The only one of these stances as written that seems to mesh with this description is actor stance, and there it is in this broadest sense you mention.  Actor stance certainly describes a certain limitation on the commands a player may issue an in-game agent, and in this sense does discuss then how these commands are issued.  However, the other two stances are much more problematic as regards this description of stance.

Author stance is probably the fuzziest of the stances to begin with - fuzzy in the terms that even if it were describing a behavior rather than an intent, the behavior is not, in general, an observable one.  (A player may, to an outside observer be entirely within the bounds of actor stance, but actually acting within author stance - as long as the actions of the in-game agent are made due to the player's real-world priorities, they can coincide with actions that would fit the character's in-game motivations.)  This stance seems to me to in no way describe how a player issues commands to his or her in-game agents, but rather why (here in the broadest sense; as in due to real world concerns).  I admit there is some symmetry with actor stance in this but I am unsure whether that means that in these cases your description of stance fits or whether these stances are both merely descriptions of intent.  (Or perhaps both the "why" and the "how" in these cases are so tied together to be indistinguishable.)

Director stance is where this meaning of stance really seems to break down, though.  Even allowing for the widest possible definition of character here - using "character" to mean any and all in-game agents or proxies - we still have problems.  Here the player's stance says nothing about why or how he or she gives commands to in-game agents, but merely what form those in-game agents take (absent except perhaps by implication in actor and author stance), in particular how many of those agents there are.   (Also, whether those agents are representative of conscious beings in the structure of the game or events or objects other than the conscious.)

Part of the problem is with your description of stance.  Rather than "How a person declares something about what a character is doing" we might say "how a person affects the structure of the game" or perhaps "how a person affects the in-game environment."  In work like yours, it is too limiting to use the term character in the traditional sense; the possibility of role-playing games in which players control no true characters or control many (sometimes controlling many characters in actor stance even) are limited by this description.  Even in this sense, however, some problems with actor and author stance still remain, I believe.  

It may be possible that the question "how" answered in these stances is too intertwined with the question "why" I see to separate.  It is also possible that merely rewording the question will not really turn a "how" into a "why" or vice versa.  The question "How does a person affect the in-game environment?" may simply be too broad to answer in a coherent way.  We answer this, in the stances:

Actor:  "By following the apparent motivations of the player's in-game agent or agents."
Author:  "By acting through in-game agents in accord with the player's real-world priorites."  (Which still seems to me an odd way to answer this question, perhaps as though answering a different question.)
Director:  "Through the use of multiple in-game agents."

Not only are these different answers, they are answering the question in regard to such extremely different factors that the question each answers may not even be the same.  Why not instead:

"Through the use of a single in-game agent."
"Through the use of multiple in-game agents."

or some other answers to much more focused questions.  If there have to be more of these questions answered, at least we get the information to each clearly.

In any event, I think I've gone on long enough.  I'll let you decide whether there is still anything useful coming out of this before I follow this up again.  As always, I appreciate your comments.

Danny Cline

Gordon C. Landis


I've got some thoughts here, but a few things first . . . 1) Thanks for participating - I'm always impressed with the work so many folks (new, old or whatever) put into their posts here, and 2) I'm a bit lost as to why you see "How a person declares something about what a character is doing" as remarkably different from "how a person affects the structure of the game".  The two are very close correlates in my mind, and this thread has helped me realize just how close that correlation is (at least in my mind).  But since I'm not sure I fully understand the distinction you're drawing . . . my thoughts may not actually address your concerns.  If not, I hope they have value in some other way . . .

First let me say that it seems to me there is no "pure" Stance.  It is (as I and others have said on the Forge before, I think) literally impossible for a sane person to be TOTALLY "in the head" of a fictional construct - your Actor Stance will always be colored by your own "desires", and thus could be seen as "tainted" by Authorship.  Every statement about what your character is doing makes assumptions about the nature of the environment that could be seen as "Director" power - at the absurd level, you're assuming/asserting/Directorially creating that there is air to breath/talk, ground to walk on, and etc.  Less absurdly, you'll "create" that there is an available shopkeeper to talk to when you say "I go talk to the clerk".  And even the most extreme "Pawn" player (who sees the character as just a piece to move through the game) needs to be able to look through that pieces' "eyes" at SOME level (Actor Stance) in order to make meaningful statements about the conduct of play.

So it seems to me that when we talk about Stance, we MUST be talking about both the how and why, and about both the character and the environment, in every case.  Actor Stance is really saying "I'm *focused* on what the character would think" in making this decision, because it must be assumed that there is some element of Author and Director involved as well.  What kinds of things am I most directly taking into account as I make a statement about what's happening/what I intend to happen in the game?  What limitations (by game rule or group convention) are there on what I *can* include in my "what's happening" or "what I intend to have happen"?  These are things to look at when determining Stance.  Like GNS as a whole, while you can't always clearly observe a particular instance as a particular Stance, you can usually figure it out given time and contextual information.

BTW, I do think the single agent/multiple agent distinction is usefull, I just think it's a different issue than Stance, and Directorial actions aren't neccessarily about "multiple" agents - the focus may still be on the "single" agent of the character, i.e., Directorial only in relation to "your" character vs. Directorial in relation to the characters' of others.  That may be a bigger factor in peoples "taste" than the Stance itself - e.g., some folks might be happy to have Directorial power in ways that are directly related to their character, but be really turned off by having other players impact their character.

Hope there's value here somewhere,

Gordon (under construction)


Hey Danny.

I think my first big thread here was on this very topic, or one like it.  Back in October and November, it looks like.

Is Director Stance Real?
Further on Stances
Stance and Event Resolution
Making Stuff Happen Stance
Making Stuff Happen non-Stance

The conclusion I drew from all that was that Director Stance is about viewing the lead characters as unique in the game -- as lead characters, whom the game is about, not as simply one more game element.  If you do that, Director Stance makes sense.  If you think the lead characters are the same kind of thing as the weather or the crate of bat guano or the shopkeeper, it makes more sense to have Actor Stance wrt the weather, Author Stance wrt the crate, Pawn Stance wrt the shopkeeper, instead.

(Hence the association of Director Stance with Narrativism.  Simulationists inclined to share power just change the focus of their Author, Actor and Pawn Stance instead.  Both share power, but from a me-and-the-game-world point of view, as opposed to a me-and-my-character point of view, Director Stance as such looks like nonsense.)