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Author Topic: Reward Cycle  (Read 11077 times)
Vaxalon
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« on: November 02, 2005, 12:40:33 PM »

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.

Best,
Ron

Perhaps I'm not understanding the meaning of "reward cycle" then.

Quote from: Provisional Glossary
Reward System

    (a) The personal and social gratification derived from role-playing, a feature of Creative Agenda. (b) In-game changes, usually to a player-character, a feature of System and Character. (c) As a subset to (b), improvement to one or more of the character's Components. Typically, the term refers to how (a) is facilitated by (b).

In many games, the rewards come pretty quickly.  DitV, Capes, and TSoY all have a reward mechanic that can trigger multiple times in a single game session.  In Dungeons and Dragons, of course, the level-ups happen after  an average of 13 encounters, but each encounter has an XP reward, does that count?

You use the example of Dogs in the Vineyard, and state that the reward cycle is tied to the resolution of the Town rather than the rewards that come along the way via fallout experience.

Why is that?  What is it about the long-term Town cycle that makes it a "reward cycle" but  the short term "conflict cycle" isn't?

I'm not trying to argue, here, that the short term conflict cycle is in fact a reward cycle.  Yet.   I'm trying to distill out the essence of what a reward cycle is, since it is intimately bound up with the concept of CA.

As a side note, I find the simile you used there distasteful, but I didn't post this message to debate matters of taste.
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"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
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« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2005, 04:19:32 PM »

Hi Fred,

That's a good issue to raise.

Historically, RPG reward systems have typically paid off only in the long term, if ever. The notion that a scene or even session could be expected to include a standard payoff (satisfaction, happiness, reward, fun, whatever we want to call it) would have been considered unreasonable, if anyone had thought to frame the question in those terms.

When we bring in Vincent's whirlwind, the neat thing about it is each go-round is fun, on its own. I suggest that such small-scale payoffs can be found in quite a few games that have appeared in the last five years or so. It's interesting that many people trained/entrenched in older forms of play often ask, "But why would I play a game that's over so fast?" Isn't that interesting ... they associate experiencing a unit of fun with being finished. (These are the same people who say "I only play to have fun," too.)

Anyway. My current thinking is that fun and pay-rich as the whirlwind is, we have to take a look at actual play in order to find the real reward cycle, socially and creatively among the group.

Here's what my actual play and reading about the actual play of others tells me. The whirlwind in playing Dogs in the Vineyard, for instance, exists not relative to a given conflict between a Dog and one guy ... but between the group of Dogs and the town. That's where the questions of play lie, including all that powerful Premise stuff like "What makes a religion right?" and similar. Because you see, Dogs issues are community issues; they aren't about individual boundaries of ethics like Sorcerer.*

And if you want to get Theme from Premise in Dogs, you gotta play out a town. Sure, you'll have lots of conflict resolutions, and lots of individual instances of Fallout, and so on. But that whirlwind Vincent drew? Where it says "Fallout," it's not talking about one time that dice are rolled, pushed forward, and compared, and narrated. It's talking about all the Fallout experienced by characters in that town, during the time they're there, mapped linearly through time, growing stronger as the whirlwind goes around several times. Scene after scene, escalation after escalation, confession after confession, disagreement (between Dogs for instance) after disagreement.

That's really my answer: you can't see the center of the whirlwind until it's gone 'round several times.

Best,
Ron

* And in Sorcerer, you have the Kicker to work with instead of a town. And Kickers? Boy, with player back-story and situation back-story, with the demon (at least!) to contend with, and the Crossing among Kickers and situations of more than one sorcerer player-character ... that's a hell of a lot of play, right there.
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Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2005, 04:55:18 PM »

I dunno, Ron. I'm kinda on the same page with Fred here. My play experience with Dogs has been that different players' Reward cycle seems to flow at different places - it's ONE conflict that is the big turning point, where the character gets eye-to-eye with Premise and comes away changed. But that point might come at different places in the same town for different players. Sure, maybe you see it more clearly in Reflection between towns, but I get pulled into the heart of the whirlwind about 1/2 way through in some towns, and not at all in others.

Are you talking the group having a reward cycle that's separate from and overlaid on the individual player's reward cycle?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2005, 05:32:27 PM »

Hi Mark,

Um, yes, I am. I thought we all were.

Creative Agenda is fully realized at a group level. I've posted about this pretty extensively lately.

Reward systems include quite a bit of individual gratification, but they function in a group context. Even highly competitive Gamism.

With any luck that puts us on a similar page.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2005, 05:37:15 PM »

Whoa - I just realized a bit of your phrasing rang an alarm bell for me.

The group context and the individual experience of a reward system are not separate and overlaid, as you phrased it. The individual experience is a component of the group one, just as it is for any highly interactive social activity.

Best,
Ron
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Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2005, 05:50:52 PM »

That's how I'd understood your talk about reward cycles - that they were extant only at the group level. I just think that's ... affirming the consequent a bit? I get that CA makes sense only as something that happens for the whole group or not at all. But the reward cycle only exists if the whole group participates in it?

If we're talking with the assumption "in completely functional, coherent play" here, sure. And I understand that that's generally where you're talking from. But are you really saying that the individual reward doesn't happen unless there's group function?

The glossary assigns reward system as a feature of Creative Agenda. What IS that thing that Fred and I are seeing at the individual level? Because it looks like a reward system in every respect except that it isn't sitting where it's "supposed to."
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2005, 06:28:10 PM »

Hiya,

You guys make all this so hard when it doesn't have to be.

Just translate it into sports or something similar. Let's say the softball game was a blast this afternoon. Do we have to dissect out just how your personal enjoyment of the game was a component of the overall enjoyable team-level day-level event-level phenomenon of softball? Or that the latter is composed of multiple examples of the former? Is this really anything worth doing?

I think the big issue here is that I've been throwing around the term reward cycle a lot lately, with no snail-tracks in the essays or forums for people to see where it comes from.

'K. You experience the reward system, and hell, let's keep this all individualized at the moment. Never mind that it can't really happen outside the social contract, but hey, you experience it, so OK.

What keeps you coming back? If it's not about some dysfunctional fuckup thing where you keep coming back because you didn't get what you want, so you try again. If it's about really having fun like gamers keep bleating about without ever doing it. But you! You're actually having fun. What keeps you coming back?

The social reinforcement of the fun. See, it's not just the thing with you and your character. It's these people, 'cause they had fun too, with you. Doing this specific thing together.

When that hits for everyone, not necessarily simultaneously or not in the same ways simultaneously in terms of Techniques and Ephemera, in regard to the interactions with System, now we're talking about reward cycles. Stuff happened with the characters. The instruments of play change. This has everything to do with why we're here. It's fun, we got a payoff. The game worked. The social fun worked. We didn't waste our time.

Think of this with all the characters, all the players, with concrete elements of System - which is defined as making Situation move, and Situation is composed of Setting and Character, and it's all Colored. Pretty good!

No, I'm not pipe-dreaming. For me and my group, this is typical play. For a lot of other people, these days, actually. It's considered normal, not an amazing event that we can now recall for ten years as the one amazing time.

Anyway, it's real simple. Don't get all wound up and wrapped up about "individual" and "group" and whatever. It's just like any other interactive fun activity.

Best,
Ron
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John Kim
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« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2005, 10:37:48 PM »


Well, as Fred suggests in his initial post, I think we have a terminology problem here.  The term "reward" and "reward cycle" is being used here to talk specifically about whole-group, social reinforcement.  I guess I would suggest here as a more general term enjoyment -- which can be short-term and can also be individual. 

Just translate it into sports or something similar. Let's say the softball game was a blast this afternoon. Do we have to dissect out just how your personal enjoyment of the game was a component of the overall enjoyable team-level day-level event-level phenomenon of softball? Or that the latter is composed of multiple examples of the former? Is this really anything worth doing?

Sure, if everyone's having a blast then maybe you don't question it.  The same applies to RPGs.  However, what if not everyone is having a blast?  It's quite possible that some players are enjoying themselves while other players aren't.  My distant experience of team sports was that there were quite a lot of group dynamic issues involved.  For example, everyone enjoys winning, but you also want to give everyone a chance to play.  There will be questions about what the batting line-up is and how it is determined, who is pitching, and so forth.  The experience of pitching isn't the same as playing outfield, and if you're trying to coach a team you have to think about that if you want to keep everyone happy. 

What keeps you coming back? If it's not about some dysfunctional fuckup thing where you keep coming back because you didn't get what you want, so you try again. If it's about really having fun like gamers keep bleating about without ever doing it. But you! You're actually having fun. What keeps you coming back?

The social reinforcement of the fun. See, it's not just the thing with you and your character. It's these people, 'cause they had fun too, with you. Doing this specific thing together.

When that hits for everyone, not necessarily simultaneously or not in the same ways simultaneously in terms of Techniques and Ephemera, in regard to the interactions with System, now we're talking about reward cycles. Stuff happened with the characters. The instruments of play change. This has everything to do with why we're here. It's fun, we got a payoff. The game worked. The social fun worked. We didn't waste our time.

Wow.  I have to say, I find that quite peculiar.  You're saying that anything except positive social reinforcement is a waste of time for you?  That's the only draw of role-playing?  To me, positive reinforcement is a sign that the game will hopefully be long-lasting -- but the reason why I come back is personal fulfillment.  Did I learn something?  Did I have cool new insights or reflections?  I can certainly think of a number of games where everyone else was laughing, slapping each other on the back, and telling me that I was doing a good job, but I didn't enjoy in the slightest. 

I suspect that this is something of a spectrum of variation.  Perhaps it relates to degree of introversion/extroversion.  More introverted people like me may tend to get more out of personal fulfillment but still appreciate social reinforcement to a degree. 

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- John
Jason Lee
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« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2005, 02:07:24 AM »

I have to agree with John.  I didn't get a chance to respond before the parent thread closed, but basically...

Ron,

As I read you, you keep saying there is no important distinction between the personal gratification within the social activity and the social gratification.  Hence the distinction shouldn't be hard to understand, because there really isn't one.  Perhaps that applies to some people, but I think you're making a generalization about human behavior that simply isn't true.

Even if the generalization is true, I think you'll continue to encounter discussions like this where terminology forged with individual CAs doesn't mesh well with group level CAs.  The glossay definition above mentions personal gratification as well as social involved in the rewards cycle, and I mentioned the effects on the terms Congruent and Hybrid in the parent thread.  I don't know where I'm going with this... nowhere I suppose.  I Just wanted to say that even if everyone understands and agrees with all the concepts involved, the terminology is still tangled. 
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- Cruciel
ffilz
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« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2005, 09:13:50 AM »

Now that I've identified what was going on in at least four of my previous campaigns that have been smashing successes, and that those campaigns include both simulationism and gamism (sorry, as far as I can tell, I've never been involved in a game with a narativist CA), I have to totally agree with Ron. In fact, it was Ron's last post that pushed the right button so I was able to identify what was going on in the Rune Quest campaign described here, and then to realize how the analysis also applied to a Traveler campaign. Of course in this thread I had already identified successefull gamism (and I know that at least one of my college Cold Iron campaigns was successefull gamism by the same measures).

Remember, the big model is about the activity as a whole. Sure, individuals make up the group, but the big model is examining what is happening at the group level. CA is something (that if it exists coherently, or at least substantially coherently) that operates at the group level. The group reward cycle is what we look at to identify CA. So in my Arcana Evolved campaign, we see the group responding to kicking butt by coming back next week to kick some more butt. Good pure gamism. In my Rune Quest campaign, we saw the players responding to celebration of setting by comming back next week to celebrate setting some more. Good pure simulationism. The fact that the Aracan Evolved campaign exists in a setting, and there is cool stuff to discover, does not make the game simulationist, because it isn't part of the reward cycle. Similarly, in the Rune Quest campaign, the fact that the PCs had fights and kicked butt didn't make the game gamist (though that is a little harder to see through) because again, it wasn't part of the reward cycle. When players came came back after missing sessions, we didn't talk about how much butt we kicked last time. We talked about what they discovered in the setting. If kicking butt was being explored at all, it was being explored as part of setting.

So Ron, thanks for somehow hitting the right trigger for me.

Frank
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Frank Filz
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2005, 09:57:40 AM »

John, you've thrown in a bunch of red herrings.

No distinction between social/individuality? I didn't say that.

Only social enjoyment is enjoyable? I didn't say that either.

No nuances within which aspects were most enjoyable or how they were divvied among individuals? I didn't say that either.

If John's post makes sense to you, you are getting distracted by irrelevant details. Those details are real and worthy of discussion for the issues they involve. They play no role, however, regarding the current issue and my points about it.

Best,
Ron
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Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2005, 10:22:11 AM »

Gotcha. I find the glossary definition contributes to my misunderstanding, but that's happened before. John's post actually showed me WHY my concern was a red herring, so I guess it was helpful.

My confusion is resolved.
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Sean
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« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2005, 01:47:27 PM »

Batting practice is kind of fun. Y'know, taking a big smack at the ball, and all that. Sometimes groups of guys will go down to the cages and do batting practice together, which is also fun.

On the other hand, getting that big hit in a game is more satisfying for most (not all) people, even when you lose the game. When you win the game it's generally most satisfying of all.

The group reward cycle for baseball is winning the game. The moments of play have their own enjoyment, to be sure, but the big payoff is the win at the end. Baseball players who just look after their own numbers aren't exactly beloved by their teammates.

Substitute 'fulfilling the group CA' for 'winning' and you've got the analogous pattern in role-playing.

Now some role-players get put off by this analysis because either/both (a) they haven't done too much focused play and (b) the elements of role playing themselves have an incredible texture for some of us in our imaginative lives. We can think about what our characters did, what the world is like, etc. for a long time. So there's a payoff there that's mostly individual and idiosyncratic, bigger for some, smaller for others.

The difference between Simulationist play and incoherent play is that the group is on/reinforcing that individual stuff in a shared way. That's just another way of saying 'exploration squared' though.

On the other hand, some guys like going down to the batting cages alone or together more than they like playing baseball. And some guys would rather play baseball but go to the batting cages because it's easier.

It would be nuts to think that there's no joy in making a great play in the field or smacking a home run even if you're down 10-1 in the game. And it would be nuts to think that clever combat tactics, a nice piece of acting, a fantastic bit of imaginary imagery, a satisfying plot twist, or any of the moments of role-playing don't have their own joys either. If they didn't, no group would have ever sat down together long enough to get to the other stuff.

And some players are actually perfectly happy to run meaningless series of one-off combats or disconnected roleplaying scenes, whatever.

I think that techniques that let you put those moments together into a bigger whole with its own rewards will, for many people, make those moments themselves richer and fuller in meaning than they are when taken individually. Even for many people who put a huge premium on the texture of their own immediate experience, actually (and this is why immersion is a technique which often supports a Simulationist CA, because shared functional immersion reinforces everyone's sense of 'being their character' and the rewards that go with that kind of imagining). Not universally, not for everyone; some guys could really care less about being on a field and would rather go to the batting cages with one or two buddies, because they just like to whack balls. But very commonly.
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2005, 03:50:04 PM »

Batting : Winning a baseball game :: RP Enjoyment :: RP Reward

That's the analogy, correct?  That's what I'm hearing.

I think it's a false analogy.

Batting is a component of hitting a home run, and hitting runs (by whatever means) is a component of winning.

I don't see that enjoyment on the scene-to-scene level is, in the Big Model, a component of the reward cycle, as it has been described here.

It seems to me that the individual "enjoyment cycle" if you will (as represented by resolving conflicts, say, in Dogs) can and does operate alongside and in addition to the longer "reward cycles" of the group.  Not only that, individual sub-groups (especially in larger game groups) can have their own smaller reward cycles.

Are these smaller cycles less important than the longer cycles?

What I hear implied in what much of Ron says is that any energy put into the smaller cycles, (using the sports analogy) drains it from the longer cycles, so that people who aren't "team players" are a detriment to the overall effectiveness of the group.  I'm not sure that that's always true.

In my experience, these smaller cycles don't interfere with the longer cycles, and in fact, timing and manipulating them on the scene-to-session scale can be an important tool in timing and manipulating the longer ones.

After all, the buildup-climax-denouement cycle familiar to anyone who's had high school English operates on an even longer cycle than the reward cycle.  Does that mean that the reward cycle should be made subservient to the literary cycle?  I think not!  They can both operate side-by-side without significant interference.

As I see it, there is a complex and chaotic hierarchy of reward cycles.  Generally speaking, the more people invovled, the longer the wavelength, and the greater the payoff.

Let me make my own analogy, one that's perhaps a bit more accurate to the actual situation.

Different styles of play are like different musical instruments.  Now in a small group (say, a quartet) you can have a group of highly similar instruments (like in a string quartet) but it's just as interesting to have highly disparate instruments (like a jazz quartet).  The larger the group is, the more likely that disparate instruments will work together.

Now it is important to have everyone "on the same page" and if you have disparate instruments, it's more likely that issues will be more audible when they're not.  This means that it's easier to identify "incoherent" play when people have different styles... but that doesn't mean that having different styles is the cause of the incoherency.

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"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
Sean
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« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2005, 05:55:52 PM »

That's not the analogy I was making, though.  I'm saying that there's a kind of joy you get from just hitting a baseball all by itself and another kind of joy you get from hitting a baseball as part of a game and maybe a third kind of joy you get from hitting a baseball when that hit is actually part of your winning a game. And then there's also the joy of winning the game itself.

Quote
What I hear implied in what much of Ron says is that any energy put into the smaller cycles, (using the sports analogy) drains it from the longer cycles, so that people who aren't "team players" are a detriment to the overall effectiveness of the group.  I'm not sure that that's always true.

I think it's hardly ever true, that that's the choice. I've also never interpreted Ron this way.

I think there are different kinds of rewards, but I wouldn't use the phrase 'reward cycle' for all of them. The word 'cycle' is doing some work in that phrase that doesn't really apply to spontaneous and locally specific situations.

That's all I got.
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