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Author Topic: Reward Cycle II: Cycle Sans System  (Read 10617 times)
M. J. Young
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« on: November 03, 2005, 03:58:30 PM »

There were some excellent points made in the recent thread Reward Cycle; as I read it, though, I was brought back in my thinking to the problem that I've had understanding my own game in the light of Ron's recent emphasis on "Reward Cycle" as "Unit of Play".

The problem is that Multiverser lacks a reward system in any mechanical sense, yet it is clear that players express and pursue creative agenda during play. To complicate it, because of the multiple staging aspect of the game, although players are playing simultaneously they might not be playing "together" in the strictest sense of the word. I, as referee, am playing with John, Kyler, Adam, Donna, and Bryan, pretty much all at once, but their interactions with each other are mostly social and advisory much of the time.  Thus each of them negotiates an individual social agendum with me (not formally) through play, and we can have multiple agenda in the single game. Further, because of the one-on-one nature of so much play and because of the drastic changes that can be made to setting, situation, color, and to some degree system on the fly during play, some players drift naturally between agenda in response to those changes--agendum being renegotiated.

I am certainly curious of what Ron makes of that; but I'm not posting this so much to ask him as to make a stab at it myself. If my analysis fails miserably, perhaps he'll tell me where I went wrong; if it succeeds, perhaps it will throw some light on the connection between "instance of play" and "reward cycle".

My first observation is that Multiverser play tends by its nature to be very episodic.  It has to be. Even if a player spends his entire character time in a particular world doing the same routine or mundane things, eventually something kills him and he's in a new world, starting a new chapter. Quite apart from that, though, within the same world players tend to focus on one thing at a time, creating episodes in which they were doing this, then they were doing that. The recent exposition of my world The Dancing Princess illustrates this fairly well. There is a period in which the character is assimilating to the medieval setting and so becoming part of the world, then a period in which he goes on the quest to rescue the princess, and thereafter a period in which he again settles into the world after this success. Each of these episodes has its own characteristics.

My second observation is not new to me at all; it is that with Multiverser play is its own reward. People play because they have fun. I have said repeatedly that reward systems are either icing on the cake that reinforces the reward already present in play, or they are incoherent efforts to persuade people that they should have done something different from what they really enjoyed. Having fun is the reward every game hopefully offers; getting points or character advancement or extra dice or levels or whatever the game mechanically provides can reinforce that if it points the same direction, but can't make the game fun otherwise.

Long ago, in relation to gamist play, I postulated the existence of major versus minor victories, suggesting that the gamist players who lose the big battle still congratulate themselves on how well they did against all the little battles, and thus they enjoyed the game despite "losing". I expect that this happens in all agenda in some way. In connection with episodic play, however, it poses an interesting question. At what level are we looking at episodes versus events? For example, I've got a guy in my Spy World (he really wanted to go there) right now going through the terrorist-occupied tower looking for the bomb. I think that being in the Spy World is not usually an episode, because player character spies usually survive several missions and each of those missions can have its own character. On the other hand, to this point the current player has had to deal with guards on the entrance, a lone gunman in a hallway, the discovery of explosive devices on doors, the rescue of a fleeing hostage, and a couple of other events each of which required specific thought and consideration. He's heading into the moment when the terrorists will have high ground and numbers to their advantage, and he'll have to decide how to handle that; thereafter, he has numerous other events ahead, including one in which terrorists use hostages as body shields. Play will take quite a few sessions to get through this entire scenario (in part because it's mostly done in forum format).

Some of those events have the character of being episodes, but not all of them do. What I see, though, is that the player responds to the resolution of certain events in a way that suggests a milestone has been passed. It is for him the end of something and the beginning of the next part. Coupled with that is that ethereal sense that fun has happened.

That is the reward cycle in action. Because players are in different time and space streams, it hits each of them at different moments; but because they are sharing their stories with each other as they create them, they are on a mutual admiration track, even if they have different individual agenda--the player who is using the Prisoner of Zenda track to make moral statements about his refusal to resort to violence or deception in his effort to save the King can still cheer the player who just beat the tar out of the tough terrorist who took him on one-on-one, and the guy coming out of the fight can respond to the discoveries of the one who is trying to determine how to build a city in the jungle and civilize the primitive natives. The reward comes at the moment agendum is successfully engaged in a complete way. Thus the player's perception of "that was good" becomes the definition of the reward cycle, and at that moment we can look at what was "good" and see agendum.

Of course, maybe I'm completely off base; but I'm sure I see agendum at work in the games I run, and there's no reward system operating, so there has to be some "cycle of reward" that defines an "instance of play", and this is at this point the best I've got.

Thoughts?

--M. J. Young
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2005, 04:10:18 PM »

I feel like we are very much on the same wavelength, Mike.  No wonder I like playing with you so much.
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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!"
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timfire
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« Reply #2 on: November 03, 2005, 06:05:43 PM »

Hi MJ,

A "reward system" and a "reward cycle" are two different things. Confusing, I know. A "reward system" speaks about mechanics. Getting experience points for killing things is a reward system.

It is my understanding that a "reward cycle" speaks about Creative Agenda and the general cycle of dramatic build-up->climax->cool-down. (Ron can correct me if I'm wrong.) As a generalization (if I'm right on this), I believe a reward cycle more or less corresponds to a single "adventure" or "story". In typical DnD, getting the info, hacking through the dungeon, killing the Big Boss, and then finding the treasure would correspond to one cycle. Notice that sometimes that corresponds with leveling up, but sometimes not. That's because levels are a "reward system".

You mentioned that in Multiverser, play is usually episodic. While I can't be sure without playing the game, I would bet that each "episode" probably corresponds with a reward cycle. You mentioned players reacting to certain events---how often does that happen?
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
timfire
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« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2005, 06:09:10 PM »

My second observation is not new to me at all; it is that with Multiverser play is its own reward. People play because they have fun. I have said repeatedly that reward systems are either icing on the cake that reinforces the reward already present in play, or they are incoherent efforts to persuade people that they should have done something different from what they really enjoyed. Having fun is the reward every game hopefully offers; getting points or character advancement or extra dice or levels or whatever the game mechanically provides can reinforce that if it points the same direction, but can't make the game fun otherwise.

BTW, I totally agree with this.
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Vaxalon
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« Reply #4 on: November 04, 2005, 01:05:25 PM »

Hi MJ,

A "reward system" and a "reward cycle" are two different things. Confusing, I know. A "reward system" speaks about mechanics. Getting experience points for killing things is a reward system. It is my understanding that a "reward cycle" speaks about Creative Agenda and the general cycle of dramatic build-up->climax->cool-down.


If that is true, then I feel my point is even stronger, that there are multiple reward cycles operating at different amplitudes and wavelengths throughout the game, of which Ron's is but one.
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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
talysman
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« Reply #5 on: November 04, 2005, 01:15:46 PM »

Hi MJ,

A "reward system" and a "reward cycle" are two different things. Confusing, I know. A "reward system" speaks about mechanics. Getting experience points for killing things is a reward system. It is my understanding that a "reward cycle" speaks about Creative Agenda and the general cycle of dramatic build-up->climax->cool-down.


If that is true, then I feel my point is even stronger, that there are multiple reward cycles operating at different amplitudes and wavelengths throughout the game, of which Ron's is but one.

are there mini individualreward cycles during play which form part of the larger basic group reward cycle?

I'd say, "certainly".

but it seems to me that the question in this thread is "what did Ron mean when he said that you determine the Creative Agendas of the people around the table by examining the `reward cycle' as the basic unit of play?"

and Ron has just confirmed that what he means is the smallest *group* reward cycle for the game, and further clarified that he's not talking about moments of individual player satisfaction, nor is he talking about character advancement systems.

seems pretty cut and dried to me.
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
Frank T
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« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2005, 05:54:42 AM »

My understanding was that "reward cycle" was an attempt to narrow down "instance of play" so the actual instance of play could be identified more clearly (or at all). If you cut the link between "reward cycle" and "system", especially "explicit system", especially "rules mechanics"--if you cut that link, you might as well keep calling it instance of play. Or am I missing something crucial?

- Frank
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Vaxalon
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Posts: 1619


« Reply #7 on: November 06, 2005, 06:38:44 AM »

...Ron has just confirmed that what he means is the smallest *group* reward cycle for the game, and further clarified that he's not talking about moments of individual player satisfaction, nor is he talking about character advancement systems.

I disagree that the smallest group reward cycle is the one that Ron has identified.  It's probably the smallest group reward cycle that supports the big model as it has been formulated.
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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
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2005, 08:27:43 AM »

The way I understood it, Reward Cycles include, but are not limited to mechanical cycles.

There has to be a better way to put this...

Basically many things could comprise a reward cycle in any game. For one set of players playing ruleset X, it's simply the mechanical reward cycle like leveling up. For another group playing with the same rule set, it's winning each "adventure." For another group, it has nothing to do with any of that, but with a dramatic cycle. For yet another group it has to do with how often the players pat each other on the back.

Basically it has to do with what the players are concerned about in terms of recieving a reward, and in terms of giving rewards. For a group, a cycle will be either based on a coherent agenda, in which case the expectations of giving and recieving rewards match, or based on an incoherent agenda, in which case the expectations will not match. That is, for one player, perhaps all they care about is the social pat on the back for "good roleplaying." For another it's all about leveling up.

See how this allows for agenda identification?

"Play is it's own reward" is a truism, but a useless one. This assumes that the "reward cycle" idea doesn't take into account the fun of the play somehow. But it does. If, in fact, there were no other rewards being given out than play itself, then play itself is the reward cycle. And that says something itself about the agenda. That said, I don't personally believe that there are no other reward cycles in your game, just not mechanical ones. I'm betting there are social reinforcement ones (is the game more fun to play with others than solo? Why would this be if there weren't social reinforcements going on?). Further, I'm also betting that the cycles happen to somehow coincide with transiting between worlds.

But that's all speculative. My point is that it didn't seem to me that Ron was focusing on mechanics exclusively. Yes, the mechanics of a particular game may in fact be how the game supports a particular agenda. But as we all know, rules are not actual play, and it's how it all ends up being used in play that's the important part in discerning agenda. Reward cycles are about looking at what the players reward in play by any means, not just mechanics.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2005, 11:14:29 AM »

What Mike said.

Best,
Ron
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #10 on: November 23, 2005, 11:38:36 AM »

Now I'm totally confused.
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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
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #11 on: November 23, 2005, 12:22:08 PM »

That's odd. I think my post was quite clear. Perhaps you're not feeling well, Fred?

Mike
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #12 on: November 23, 2005, 12:29:24 PM »

No, I'm confused about Ron's agreement, because your post, Mike, seems to refute at least part of what Ron says about reward cycles.
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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
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #13 on: November 23, 2005, 01:40:50 PM »

Which part? Re-reading the original thread, and other stuff Ron has said, I'm not seeing any contradiction. If you could point out the problematic part?

Mike
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #14 on: November 23, 2005, 03:38:38 PM »

The contradiction, as I see it, is that you and I are talking about "reward cycles" and Ron's CA identification talks about "the reward cycle".

As I understand it, Ron acknowledges that reward cycles exist at a shorter wavelength than the multi-session one that he uses for identifying CA, but they aren't important to identifying CA because they aren't "group" reward cycles.

What I'm saying is that reward cycles happen at a large number of scales.  The IIEE cycle is, after all, a reward cycle of a kind.  The "Effect" part at the end is the reward; "I tried to get this thing to happen in the game, and it did.  I win."  IIEE is possibly the shortest wavelength in the game. 

There's also a reward cycle at the scene/encounter level, and the session level, and then Ron's (it might be called the 'story arc' level), and then a bigger one I'll call the "epic" level.   Some of them are better at rewarding different things than others, and by focusing on any one of them, you strengthen the things that are best rewarded at that level.

Ron puts his CA emphasis on the "story arc" (again, my term) level, as I understand what he means, because that's the shortest wavelength reward cycle that's a group reward cycle... but I don't agree that it's the smallest group reward cycle.

Basically many things could comprise a reward cycle in any game. For one set of players playing ruleset X, it's simply the mechanical reward cycle like leveling up. For another group playing with the same rule set, it's winning each "adventure." For another group, it has nothing to do with any of that, but with a dramatic cycle. For yet another group it has to do with how often the players pat each other on the back.

Is there any reason that all of these things can't be operating simultaneously, all at a high level of efficiency?  Is reward a zero-sum system, where drawing one's personal reward strongly from one cycle will cause someone else to be less effective at drawing it from another?  I don't think so, because if it were true, then the best games would be one-on-one or even solo games, and that hasn't been my experience.

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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
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