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Author Topic: Constructive Denial?  (Read 16538 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: November 30, 2005, 11:13:39 AM »

In the following post, Ron came up with the phrase Constructive Denial: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17334.15

Actually I think that some of his last posts were some of the best statements that I've read to date on sim definition. He went a long way to making more concrete with this ideas that I'd thrown out there like "seeming objectivity." He points out that this particular fiction is about restricting the "wrong" in play. Hence the term denial.

And, well, I'm sure that I'll come off as a kneejerk political correctness advocate or something, but can't we term it something like "Constructive Constraint" or "Constructive Restriction" instead? Denial has the current connotation that it's about self-delusion. When, in fact, people are pretty aware of what they're doing in this case. Yes they're rejecting things on aesthetic grounds that have no basis in any "real objective" criteria. But the criteria are real nonetheless, and very important.

So, could I get a terminological concession here? I think that Constructive Constraint sound much more positive, and would be less prone to misinterpretation based on the connotations of it's constituent terms. Uh, basically I don't want to have to explain a thousand times that denial is a positive thing here.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2005, 11:29:45 AM »

Shrug. Maybe.

On the other hand, and given that Jim Henley (Supplanter) has found it powerfully useful - and Jim is one of the single most fervent proponents of the Don't Upset the Poor Sensitive Sims Society - I'm OK with it. No pun intended, but using the term "denial" is something of a deliberate, uh, reality check.

Frankly, the Right to Dream was chosen as a very friendly, this-is-OK kind of term. And it didn't do any good at all.

Best,
Ron
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« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2005, 11:36:55 AM »

Hunh. I'm feeling a palpable irony in having absented myself from the Forge a few years ago partly because of a lot of the psychodrama around the definition and valuation of sim play, and finding the term "constructive denial" to be tremendously healing of that very drama. All because of the first word in the phrase.

The fact that I fell instantly in love with the term shouldn't determine things, I know - I don't even live here! I'm not averse to the idea of changing it, FWIW. I don't think "constraint" or "restriction" make as flavorful a phrase. Because they're not verbs? I dunno. So I'd wish that, if we're going to replace "denial" with another word, it should be more active. The big thing is this: whatever monks do that's cool? That's constructive denial, or whatever people decide to call it. Monks deny themselves certain conveniences toward reaping a reward they could not otherwise harvest. That, IMHO, is the principle behind sim play the phrase needs to capture.

CROSSPOSTED WITH RON, I SEE. Yes, Don't upset the poor sensitive sims. That's me, sort of. But it isn't about me, needless to say.

Best,


Jim
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« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2005, 12:02:36 PM »

Should add: as "validating" as I find the term, my enthusiasm is not just about validation. I think it encapsulates what is actually behind sim play very powerfully. I don't think "constructive constraint" or "constructive restriction" are as vivid. That may be an idiosyncratic reaction. I suppose "abnegation" does the same duty as "denial," maybe with less potential baggage. But it's not a word that rolls trippingly off the tongue. "Renunciation" and "abjuration" are candidates too, perhaps. That's what two minutes with Bartleby offers.

Best,


Jim
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #4 on: November 30, 2005, 12:05:58 PM »

I'm tracking with Jim here.  In fact, it was as soon as he started talking about monks denying themselves that the phrase went "click".

Here's my understanding of what's going on.  A group of people sit down at a table to engage in roleplaying.  From one perspective, the entire imaginative structure (SIS or whatever we're calling it) is up for grabs.  However, in order to encourage the sort of shared experience that they all wish to have, each player, including the GM, gives up ("denies himself") a portion of his personal authority over the imaginative structure in order to create boundaries and expectations for play.  These boundaries and expectations are then given authoritative weight, since they are really simply an expression of the shared will of the players.  As a result, these boundaries and expectations can be appealed to by any player to give or challenge the credibility of the introduction of any fact into the imaginative structure.  (In other words, they become part of the System for that game, whether or not they are written.)  But this only works if each player willingly submits to these boundaries, "denying" himself decisions that might otherwise be valid.

Well, this clarifies things for myself quite a bit.  Hopefully it's helpful to the rest of you.  Personally, I agree with Jim that we've made an important breakthrough here, and that is an unqualified good.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
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talysman
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« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2005, 01:59:07 PM »

ah, yeah... they deny part of themselves and their right to total control in order to affirm the illusion of the Fiction as an independent entity, an extra "player" at the table. Sim play often has patches of discussion about "what is realistic" in terms of the Fiction because, when one player makes a statement that is stretching the Fiction too much, everyone has to reach an agreement about how much they are willing to stretch this part of the Fiction. the danger lies in arguing too much or too long, because then it turns from a discussion about an impersonal object (the Fiction) into personal issues (what resonates for me versus what resonates for you, and my interpersonal skills that I will use on the group to get my way.)

to use the "Star Trek" example from the other thread, what if one player announces he wants to play a leprechaun from the magical area of space described in the animated "Star Trek" series? the other players might argue that the animated series is not "canon", despite being made by some of the same priniipals as the original series... what the argument may really be about is the personal resonance of magic as a thematic element for that player, which doesn't resonate in the same way for the rest of the group (they may prefer a more technically-oriented Fiction.) they may eventually agree to allow "leprechauns" that achieve magic-like effects through some kind of psi or technological device, or they may fail to reach an agreement at all because the argument has become too personal.

I think also that the argument about subjective versus objective comes from the fact that Sim players treat the Fiction as an external entity through this process of constructive denial, sacrificing their own personal vision for the group Dream; this leads hardcore Sim players to forget when discussing RPG theory that the Fiction is *not* "objective" (in the sense of "empirical",) which is how non-Sim players are likely to interpret the word. when Sim players say "subjective", they mean "personal opinion, as opposed to consensus", while for Gam/Nar, the distinction doesn't even matter as much: it's all personal decisions in the context of interpersonal communication and dice-rolling or paper-scribbling.
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John Laviolette
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2005, 02:21:33 PM »

ah, yeah... they deny part of themselves and their right to total control in order to affirm the illusion of the Fiction as an independent entity, an extra "player" at the table. Sim play often has patches of discussion about "what is realistic" in terms of the Fiction because, when one player makes a statement that is stretching the Fiction too much, everyone has to reach an agreement about how much they are willing to stretch this part of the Fiction. the danger lies in arguing too much or too long, because then it turns from a discussion about an impersonal object (the Fiction) into personal issues (what resonates for me versus what resonates for you, and my interpersonal skills that I will use on the group to get my way.)

And that makes me wonder if a good Sim game needs to address this issue head-on.  Rather than just providing tons of setting information (in an attempt to nail down the Fiction in the game text), perhaps a solid Sim design also needs to incorporate methods of assisting the players in negotiating and establishing the Fiction, both before play and during play, as conflicts arise.  After all, if even the GM is bound to uphold the Fiction, then it is definitely not something that should be left assumed and unstated.  I'll go out on a limb here and wager that a major source of discontent in Sim play is a lack of real consensus on the Fiction covered by an assumed consensus.  To use the Star Trek example, the entire debate could probably have been avoided by establishing what is covered by canon.  If the group had agreed that only Classic Star Trek (defined as the original three seasons and excluding the movies) was considered canon for the game, then there would be no question about leprechauns.

In some respects, Universalis already does this by giving bonuses to Challenges that are supported by previously establishes Tenets.  Hmm.  There might be something useful there to consider....
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
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talysman
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« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2005, 02:27:48 PM »

And that makes me wonder if a good Sim game needs to address this issue head-on.  Rather than just providing tons of setting information (in an attempt to nail down the Fiction in the game text), perhaps a solid Sim design also needs to incorporate methods of assisting the players in negotiating and establishing the Fiction, both before play and during play, as conflicts arise.

that's part of the reason behind Dispute Rolls in Serpentine Thunder, although I state outright in the rules that if the group doesn't agree on what's *possible*, the play should stop right there, because there's a problem with the social contract. probably not the best approach, but I didn't really see Dispute Rolls as being useful in the case of extreme disagreements.
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John Laviolette
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« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2005, 02:39:04 PM »

that's part of the reason behind Dispute Rolls in Serpentine Thunder, although I state outright in the rules that if the group doesn't agree on what's *possible*, the play should stop right there, because there's a problem with the social contract. probably not the best approach, but I didn't really see Dispute Rolls as being useful in the case of extreme disagreements.

Yes. The trad sim approach is for the ref to "teach" the Official Reality to dissenters by bad consequences in play - classic case of trying to solve a social-contract issue at the intragame level. I still weep for all the times I did that.

Best,


Jim
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Marco
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« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2005, 02:40:31 PM »

So, could I get a terminological concession here? I think that Constructive Constraint sound much more positive, and would be less prone to misinterpretation based on the connotations of it's constituent terms. Uh, basically I don't want to have to explain a thousand times that denial is a positive thing here.

Mike

I like Constructive Constraint. But then, I thought Right-To-Dream was a step in the right direction to, so what do I know?
-Marco
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2005, 02:52:12 PM »

Oddly, the example that bounced into my mind (of all things) is Scrabble.  Technically, before you sit down to play Scrabble, you are supposed to choose the dictionary which will be used for challenges.  This dictionary, in a sense, is "canon" for this particular game of Scrabble.  All challenges are resolved by appealing to this particular volume, and its authority is final.  As a result, if you're wanting to use obscure words in your game of Scrabble, you'd best have a solid dictionary at your disposal.

So, I guess what I'm turning over in my head is something akin to this.  Before play, the group needs to get its canon in order.  This should be recorded somewhere official and should consist of Tenets.  This is true, even if the Tenets are things like "Our Star Trek game will only use the original TV series as canon" or "Our Amber game will only use the first five novels as canon".

However, no list of Tenets can be complete.  As a result, the group should agree to allow additional Tenets to be added to canon, so long as the group agrees unanimously and the new Tenet does not contradict the previous Tenets.  Or something like that.  Regardless, the method of clarifying and amending canon needs to be established before play begins.

Of course, for all this to work, the players need to understand that they are engaging in constructive denial.  This means first that the players must acknowledge that they are making a choice to be limited by a voluntarily accepted canon.  This is a big deal, I think.  There's no "right" or "wrong" canon; there is only the canon that the group agrees to employ.  This is especially important when working in licensed settings like Amber, Middle-earth, Star Trek, or Babylon 5.  It can be easy to assume that "everyone knows" what canon is, and therefore, as a result, assume that all gaming groups are bound by the canon that "everyone knows".  This leads to bad assumptions within a game group and judgment of other game groups that are using a different "canon".  Acknowledging that a gaming group chooses the canon by which it is bound, rather than having that canon imposed on it, would therefore seem to be a vital part of functional Sim play.

I hope that this doesn't seem blindingly obvious to everyone else.  I have lightbulbs coming on all over the place, and I want to share them with all of you.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
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komradebob
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« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2005, 02:53:18 PM »

Quote
In some respects, Universalis already does this by giving bonuses to Challenges that are supported by previously establishes Tenets.  Hmm.  There might be something useful there to consider....

Which is why I always considered Uni sim supportive, despite it normally being categorized as narr supportive.
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Robert Earley-Clark

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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2005, 03:14:42 PM »

I thought I was getting somewhere near to understanding what was being talked about, but then Seth brought the example of Scrabble, which is probably closest to Gamist if any comparison can be drawn. But I think his point is valid still.

In games, participants should agree on what is and what is not (=denial) allowed into the game. Sim does that mainly through setting, genre conventions, but Gamist does that through the rules that are used to achieve the step on up (people deny other possible means) and some Narrativst games do that by at least focusing the premise somewhat (tMW is more about honor than it is about religious beliefs). Each of these cases have a constructive goal behind the denial (achieving the CA).

It does seem though, from the way most here are talking about it, that I'm missing something in my reasoning. So what makes Sim especially a case of "constructive denial" in regards to the others?
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Christoph
talysman
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« Reply #13 on: November 30, 2005, 03:49:52 PM »

I thought I was getting somewhere near to understanding what was being talked about, but then Seth brought the example of Scrabble, which is probably closest to Gamist if any comparison can be drawn. But I think his point is valid still.

Seth is only using choice of dictionary in Scrabble as an example. don't worry about whether Scrabble is really like Sim RPGs.

part of the problem, though, may be that Seth talked a lot about choosing what's canon in regards to the Fiction, but didn't stress the fact that the Fiction is not the canon. if I say "let's play a Star Trek game based on the three seasons of original Trek only", I'm suggesting a canon as a jumping-off point for the Fiction, but I and the other players are going to have slightly different interpretations of what the events of the canon mean; plus, as we play, we're creating additional elements of the Fiction.

constructive denial isn't just denying what source material is not going to be considered canon, but is also a process of my agreeing to not bring in fictional elements, even "canon" elements, without a process of rejecting or limiting elements that don't fit with the group vision.

have you ever heard the description of sculpting as "carving away parts of a block of material to reveal the form hidden within"? it's like that. the Fiction has infinite potential before it's ever discussed. when we agree on a canon (Star Trek,) or a process to modify the canon (Star Trek, but with Lovecraft,) we've not only agreed what stays in the Fiction, we've also carved away big chunks of stuff that doesn't belong. as play continues, we keep carving away more stuff, further limiting the Fiction while simultaneously revealing more detail. once we've carved away all we can in a particular area (a planet we're exploring,) we have to move on to another area of the big block and start carving there.
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John Laviolette
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #14 on: November 30, 2005, 05:22:11 PM »

Seth is only using choice of dictionary in Scrabble as an example. don't worry about whether Scrabble is really like Sim RPGs.

Oops.  Sorry if I added confusion with that example.  I wasn't talking about Scrabble-playing being equivalent to Sim RPGs; I really was just focusing on the idea of establishing, prior to play, an outside authority to which a player can appeal during play to support his actions or object to others' actions.

Quote
part of the problem, though, may be that Seth talked a lot about choosing what's canon in regards to the Fiction, but didn't stress the fact that the Fiction is not the canon. if I say "let's play a Star Trek game based on the three seasons of original Trek only", I'm suggesting a canon as a jumping-off point for the Fiction, but I and the other players are going to have slightly different interpretations of what the events of the canon mean; plus, as we play, we're creating additional elements of the Fiction.

Good point.  I want to clarify one thing, though.  When I talked about "canon", I was referring to all the Tenets of the setting that constrain play, regardless of their source.  Maybe "canon" isn't the best term for it.

I agree that the different players will probably have differing understandings of these Tenets, which necessitates a method of clarifying the Tenets during play.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
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