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[Question] Mode / CA and related

Started by Frank T, October 22, 2005, 02:43:35 PM

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Frank T

Since I'm trying to explain this to people on GroFaFo, I better make sure I have understood it myself. This is not about discussion, this is just about "have I got this right".

So CA is a single person's aesthetic priority with regard to an instance of play. What exactly is Mode, then? I have guessed from the term's use throughout forum and articles that it might refer to the whole group, as in "how do the individual CAs blend together?" Is that right?

A related issue is incoherence. I take it incoherence is strictly an issue on the group level, i.e. the CAs of the group members don't fit together. In contrast, if a single player shifts between, say, Gam and Sim erratically during an instance of play, that wouldn't be incoherence, it'd just mean that he doesn't have a consistant CA in GNS terms. Right so far?

If such a shifting CA were to be present with all players and play were to be functional, would that be considered "hybrid play"?

Thanks in advance,
- Frank

Ron Edwards

Hi Frank,

Well, you're running into problems right from the start.

You're much, much better off trying to explain the Big Model first.

Social Contract encloses Exploration (shared imagination). Exploration is composed of five things being imagined: character, setting, situation, system (time/events), and color. All of them, but especially system, are collectively composed by Techniques, some of which are textual "rules" and some of which are not. Finally, the bits and pieces and moments of how Techniques are employed are Ephemera.

Do that first. No, really, talk to the others and do that first. Stop talking about anything about GNS or whatever.

Once you've done that, then say, "play is most reliably fun when the Creative Agenda for the entire activity is shared." In English, the phrase "playing on purpose" is an excellent paraphrase. You can also see easily, I think, that Creative Agenda is begun as an aspect or part of Social Contract, and "penetrates" throughout the rest of the Big Model.

And that leads us to your first problem in what you've written: this whole group/individual issue. Stop talking about that, because it's a waste of time.

I'll use a sports analogy. We all show up to play football (I'm thinking of what we Yanks call "soccer"). We all have an individual agenda to play, right? But unless the agenda is expressed at the shared social level, there's no football. It's the same thing for role-playing, and it's very easy and familiar. Do not let someone bog you down in a complex definition-ridden discussion about it.

Also, don't worry about the term "mode." It's just the term I used before I finally reached the right term, "Creative Agenda."


Frank T

Hey Ron,

right, of course I'm explaining the Big Model, too. I'll take your advice and leave GNS out for a while to let the rest sink with the people. However, just for the sake of my own comfort, I'd like to know whether my remarks about incoherence and hybrid play hold some understanding.

- Frank


Hi Frank,

Since you didn't restrict your query to Ron I'll say the following:

QuoteIf such a shifting CA were to be present with all players and play were to be functional, would that be considered "hybrid play"?

IMO we need to distinguish three things:

1) Incoherent play, which has no recognizable CA particularly, or which hits one CA for a while but gets frustrated before going back into vagueland or drifting

2) Play with identifiably shifting CA, where one segment of play has clear Sim priorities, say, followed by another segment with clear Gam priorities, or Gam/Nar, whatever.

3) Congruent play, where there are two CA simultaneously being satisfied (in the same or different players) by what's going on at the table.

I seriously doubt that 3 exists, really, though it's hard to prove, because some people might take relatively satsifying incoherent play as an instance of 3. But I haven't seen it. I have seen relatively functional incoherent play where different people do their own thing during their spotlight time, but I don't consider that a case of 3. In fact, fuck it, it's impossible.

2 I know exists because I often play that way with old friends. There's a question here about when this shades into incoherence, but there are some pretty clear cases in some playstyles traditional games: the freeform Sim roleplaying broken up by hardcore Gamist combats, say. I almost think that in its best and purest forms this way of playing is like a group that plays 2 games at once with some pieces that have the same names and switches back and forth between them.

1, well, obviously exists, it's the default mode for most roleplayers, alas.

I think what you're talking about in your post is just semi-functional incoherence, which is what we see all the time with traditional game groups, and it can be pretty fun with a good group of people, good social contract, good GM, etc. etc., but like Ron said it will mess you up explaining the theory to dwell on that too much. Usually 'hybrid play' gets used to discuss 2 or 3 around here though, IME.


I'd like to supplement Ron's explanation and I hope I don't step on any toes in doing so.

In this post, Seth Ben-Ezra describes how he had to adjust his expectations of "the rules" in a nominal game of "checkers" in order to play an enjoyable game of "let's push pieces around a board and shout" with an enthusiastic young child. He concludes with

QuoteYou'll find that a large chunk of Forge RPG theory boils down to this dictum:  "Make sure that everyone in the group is actually playing the same game."

I'd like to point out that an equally valid illustration of this dictum would be a game where two people are playing chess exactly according to the rules, but one is trying to win while the other is privately trying only to sacrifice his queen, bishops, knights, and rooks as quickly as possible. Or some equally "silly" goal. If this goes on for several games, at least one of the players is going to be bored and possibly annoyed. (Note: unless they're playing for cash.)

Another valid illustration would be a game of chess where both players are trying to win, but one of them prefers not to spend more than a minute thinking about each move and gets annoyed if the other player seems to be taking a lot more time. (I'm assuming there's no formal clock.)

In both of these cases, even though the rules of the game are being followed in terms of formal procedures, there's still a problem because the two people aren't actually playing the same game. Just as there would have been a problem if Seth had tried to impose the standard rules of checkers on his game.

To the extent that this illuminates a concept of CA, I think it shows that the idea is valid and useful even if one doesn't want to go into the GNS categories (for whatever reason).
Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA

Frank T

Thanks all. See, there is (hopefully) no need to explain the whole Model to me. It's just that I'm still struggling with the relation between each player's individual level vs. the group's level with regard to Creative Agenda, (In-)Coherence, Congruence, and Hybrid.

- Frank

Ron Edwards

Hi Frank,

Quotethe relation between each player's individual level vs. the group's level with regard to Creative Agenda

That is nothing but a way to drive yourself crazy and open the door to meaningless debate by others who would prefer to argue rather than understand. I suggest that your first step is to recognize that there is no difficult relationship between these two levels.

What people call "individually different Creative Agendas" are best understood, in actual play among those people, as "people who don't want to arrive at a shared Creative Agenda."


M. J. Young

Just to answer a question that seems to have been overlooked in the discussion:
Quote from: Frank T on October 22, 2005, 02:43:35 PMWhat exactly is Mode, then?
I believe that "mode" is the word commonly used before the word "agendum" was introduced. It is thus what an agendum was called before it was called that.

It has no particular definition now.

--M. J. Young


Quote from: Frank T on October 23, 2005, 12:22:17 PM
Thanks all. See, there is (hopefully) no need to explain the whole Model to me. It's just that I'm still struggling with the relation between each player's individual level vs. the group's level with regard to Creative Agenda, (In-)Coherence, Congruence, and Hybrid.

- Frank
I'm one of those people who thinks that this area of the model has issues.

Incoherence is commonly used to apply to:
1. Games that in the writer's opinion don't correctly or strongly support one CA (exception: possible hybrids).
2. Play where people have different CA's at different times.

3. There's no reason to think that incompatibilities within a CA are fundamentally more chaos-prone than between CA's (i.e. extreme incompatibility between players about choice of techniques. See here).

I think (1) is problematic because the analysis of how most (traditional) RPGs support CA is, IMO, often weak.

I think (2) is problematic because of the requirement for social reinforcement for a CA. This means that if you have a functional Creative Agenda it's gotta be socially reinforced. Discussions here have centered around the game solitaire which is certainly a step-on-up challenge but requires no social reinforcement to be enjoyed as such.

As such, I do agree, fundamentally with Ron: rather than stick with "Incoherence" simply focus on "coherence" and assume that if people come to the table wanting dramatically different things, the potential for chaos is elevated. You don't need theory for that and I don't think the theory does a strong or necessiarily convincing job of addressing the fine points of that area anyway (3).

JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
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Jason Lee

Quote from: Frank T on October 23, 2005, 12:22:17 PM
Thanks all. See, there is (hopefully) no need to explain the whole Model to me. It's just that I'm still struggling with the relation between each player's individual level vs. the group's level with regard to Creative Agenda, (In-)Coherence, Congruence, and Hybrid.

Congruence is when a creative agenda is present, but you cannot tell what that agenda is.  For example, Nar/Gam Congruence would be when functional play is happening, but you can't tell if that play is Nar or Gam.  This doesn't mean that one player would be fulfilling both Nar and Gam agendas simultaneously.  By extension of this concept, this would mean that there is no Nar/Gam conflict in play. as a conflict would identify which agenda is at work.  This then implies that individual players in such play could engage in different agendas functionally.

Hybrid play is when more than one agenda is satisfied simultaneously by a player.  Hybrid play is a sketchy topic, because whether or not it can exist is fundamentally linked to the definition of Sim being used.  Hybrid play is a GNS specific concept, because in practice (beyond just the definition) it is about how Sim relates to Gam and Nar.  (For the version of Sim in the essay, Hybrid play has only so far been identified as either Sim/Gam or Sim/Nar, which is equivalent to the Beeg Horseshoe Theory; under the discovery definition hybrid play doesn't exist).

If you're going to follow Ron's suggestion and discuss creative agenda instead of GNS (which I think is a very good suggestion), the topic of hybrid play can be all together skipped.  If you're going to address creative agenda at the group level, you might be better off also skipping talk of Congruence, as I think those two concepts are contradictory.  The group definition of creative agenda also causes the concepts of Hybrid and Congruent to overlap in definition when you are talking about two different players, this makes a bit of a mess considering the concepts are rather different.  I guess I would say Hybrid and Congruent are concepts from the earlier individual creative agenda definition and I wouldn't expect them to work with the group definition.  I suppose I would like to see some clarification on this.

The idea of an agenda that exists for a whole group and all the social feedback and such that goes with it is fine, but I don't understand how the concept of Coherence is meant to apply to it either.  Clarification?  Is play coherent if 4 out of 5 players are engaged in play, and 1 isn't?  What about people who, instead of won't, can't engage in a different agenda to meld with the group?  If you only define a creative agenda as a functional agenda across the group, how do you diagnose dysfunction and how can creative agendas ever conflict?
- Cruciel

Ron Edwards


You guys are tying one another in knots over nothing, I'm afraid.

Let's say Bob and Bill come to the table with a Creative Agenda in mind at the group level that's pretty straightforward Gamist. This means that they are individually described as Gamist, because what they expect from everyone including themselves is Gamist.

Let's say everyone else is pretty much lined up with a different expectation, oh, I dunno, let's say Sim and specify it High Concept. No one's talked about any of this, even without jargon or anything - they "just know" what good role-playing is, right?

We can now talk about their play-experience being Incoherent, specifically, that no group-level Creative Agenda is ever, ever reached, even though everyone thinks everyone else ought to be on the same page with them.

Is this so hard to understand? It's common, easily observed, and easily discussed by talking about differing Creative Agendas as expectations and commitments, and describing what actually happened as Incoherence.

Again, you guys are getting into the issue of whether a man with no legs is a biped.



Can a group level creative agenda be reached temporarily (say, for the duration of a scene)?
"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker

Ron Edwards

Hi Fred,

The relevant time-unit for an "instance of play" is a reward cycle. In Dogs in the Vineyard, for example, conflicts arise, fallout is taken, events occur, and a town is transformed to greater or lesser extent by those events - creating new conflicts, either here or elsewhere. I hesitate to generalize, but historically, reward cycles are composed of one or more sessions, and sometimes longer. They are certainly not scenes, which by definition have to be components of the fictional events within and during the reward cycle.

Those of you who've been paying attention will note that Vincent's "whirlwind" is a reward cycle.

So the existence of a Creative Agenda "for a scene" is nothing but a glimmer, or a teeny hope, or fate's teasing. It's not a Creative Agenda, but evidence that such a thing might exist. What always interests me in such situations is not that the evidence shows up occasionally, but rather why it's so fleeting.

In my experience, groups have been known to stick together for years on the basis of such glimmers appearing, oh, once every few sessions or so. It reminds me a lot of abusive relationships in which the woman with a black eye tells you all about how the guy really loves her, because he gave her a nice present for Valentine's Day last year.


Frank T

I think I got it now. Let's call it a day and close this thread.

Thanks again,