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Author Topic: [split from Dramatikos thread in Design forum] Intimacy in cyberspace?  (Read 4278 times)
Green
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Posts: 247


« on: January 30, 2006, 07:18:39 AM »

I'm currently revising and refining Dramatikos.  During this phase, one of the issues that came up was how various media (tabletop, LARP, chat, play-by-post) can work for or against the mechanics of my game.  After thinking about it for a bit, I realized that my conundrum came from overlooking the obvious when it comes to my game's goals.  In a nutshell, I want players of Dramatikos to think, "I have to play because I need to know what happens next."  To do this, I believe that a certain degree of intimacy with the story is necessary.  Let me be clear and say that I do not mean immersion.  The intimacy I'm talking about is not supposed to blur fiction and reality.  Rather, the intimacy I'm talking about focuses on understanding rather than becoming.  In the sense of game play, it clarifies the meaning behind specific behaviors and events because everyone is aware of the connections between and within the story's elements.  I want Dramatikos to provide tools that help develop that intimacy.  Which brings me to my next---or rather, real---point.

RPGs have a unique advantage in this regard because the participants and the audience are one and the same.  Tabletop and LARPGs have an edge over cyberspace games (in the sense of running, not design) because you share a real space with real people.  There is something visceral and immediate about being in direct contact with other human beings, something that makes (or should make) the play experience more interesting.  What are some things about cyberspace which foster that urgency and intimacy?  Is cyberspace simply the wrong medium for this, or am I overlooking something? 

What have been your experiences with intimacy in the various media for playing RPGs?  Which techniques did you use to establish and support it?
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Green
Member

Posts: 247


« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2006, 07:35:54 AM »

Looking at my first post, I realized that I forgot to put in my own experiences with intimacy and the different media for RPGs.

For the most part I am a tabletop roleplayer.  My most satisfying gaming experiences came from the tabletop environment, and looking back on it, the quality of intimacy was there (at least for me) when I played these games.  My satisfaction came from my understanding of the story and my character's place in it.  The most recent example has been a LotR game I played at the FLGS where I created a character whose experiences and actions haunted him.  In the end he died, but not before he found redemption.  What made this game work for me was that I understood not only my character and the overall plot of the story, but how it personally affected my character and the meaning of his choices.

Granted, one could chalk that up to a skillful GM.  However, looking back at the innumerable failures in this regard, I noticed that in most cases, there was a lack of intimacy between me as a player and the story as a whole.  Whether it was unfamiliarity with source material or inspirational works, differences in expectations based on background and experience, or even the difficulty in communicating vital information in a way I can intuitively and rationally understand, I could not fully comprehend the meaning of what was going on.  Ultimately, I was left feeling unfulfilled with my gaming experiences.

In the LARPGs I've played, the disconnect came from deeply ingrained habits and assumptions on the part of the players.  Unfortunately, I was not able to participate in other groups to find out LARPG's true potential.

My experiences with cyberspace games often combined the worst facets of tabletop and LARPGs.  Getting involved and establishing intimacy in these games required too much time not doing much of anything to even scratch the surface of the play experience I wanted. 

However, I do know that I am speaking from limited experience, so I am not making universal claims about games in non-tabletop media.
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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2006, 08:20:58 PM »

If you're looking for intimacy, then cyberspace is perhaps the wrong medium.  However, for Dramatikos if you feel that the sense of "stage play drama" could be aroused through line-writing, then chat may be the way to go: It'll look like a screenplay being written in real-time, and some of the up-close and personal incimacy will be gone, but instead the players will have more time to think about and write out their lines in a format which gives them a few seconds/minutes to come up with cool lines.  It's a tradeoff, and something you'll have to weigh yourself.

On my own "intimacy LARP vs Tabletop Actual Play exp": LARPs tend to be more social and intimate than tabletop RPGs. I know this because I had Ben L's buddy Hunky Jasper in a Sorcerer game two GenCons ago, and he fucking floored us with his facial expressions, mannerisms, and just bits of method-acting he dropped at the table.  He used to do some serious vamp LARPing, and that's where he picked up his skills. Coming to the table of an intense game of Sorcerer... it was like Pele coming over to the Brazilian Street Boys to play a little friendly soccer. I realized then that superior acting, face-to-face drama, the stuff that moves people at the table... That shit has to be learned, through practice and repetition in a forum that rewards such participation.  The reward mechanism in LARPs is not brownie points or exp, it's a deeper experience, respect of your peers, and quite possibly tail.

I thought that I wanted my own games to feel like that a little more, means considering what makes people stand up and act, and reward them for it (like Fan Mail in PTA).  But that comes down to whether you want that in your game or not. Going all LARP at the gaming table can be rewarding on levels of intimacy, but for people who aren't used to taking on roles that deep, the play can be unnerving or overwhelming (certainly tiring). That's something you'll have to decide.
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Green
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Posts: 247


« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2006, 10:19:08 PM »

I see what you mean about acting skills (along with a bit of chutzpah) playing a huge role in being able to get the most out of a LARPG.  At the time I was doing LARPGs, I was bored most of the time because it seemed like it took a lot of effort to attempt an interaction that did not resort to saying, "Hi, I'm a player in this game.  Will you come up with some way to have your character interact with mine?"  The same happened with online games.  Since I don't have experiences to counter this, I cannot say what tools and techniques games can use to foster this sense of intimacy that does not shift the burden completely to the new players.

Does anybody have some ideas about that?
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2006, 04:01:44 PM »

Cyberspace's distance allows you to do more intimate things. Don't overlook that. Gamers who wouldn't consider having a hot-and-heavy sex scene with their fellow players around the gaming table are way more willing to do such a thing when it's in cyberspace. Gamers on the net are more likely to play with identity issues, too.

It's not just limited to sex, of course. Seriously emotional scenes are easier to do online than at the table. Crying, extreme violence, and so on...
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
Green
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Posts: 247


« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2006, 03:56:38 AM »

Cyberspace's distance allows you to do more intimate things. Don't overlook that. Gamers who wouldn't consider having a hot-and-heavy sex scene with their fellow players around the gaming table are way more willing to do such a thing when it's in cyberspace. Gamers on the net are more likely to play with identity issues, too.

It's not just limited to sex, of course. Seriously emotional scenes are easier to do online than at the table. Crying, extreme violence, and so on...

Hm.  I never thought about it that way.  Thanks.
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Ice Cream Emperor
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« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2006, 07:51:09 PM »


Personally, all my most 'intimate' roleplaying experiences have come out of online play. Some people have mentioned how important acting skills are to LARP -- and how much they can enrich a tabletop game -- and I can't help but draw a parallel to my own experiences. LARPs and tabletop both cause me frustration (to greater or lesser degree) because a) I am not a particularly skilled actor and b) thinking on your feet makes it easy to screw up. Meanwhile, when I play online, I get to draw on my experience as a writer -- which is considerably greater than my experience as an actor -- and I can also take a much more methodical approach to what is going on.

I think it's true that face-to-face gaming makes it easier to achieve intimacy with the story -- but I also think it makes it easier not to achieve that intimacy. Body language, etc. makes communication and emotional connection that much easier -- but it also makes it that much more obvious when the emotion isn't there, or what is being communicated isn't what the other players want. The immediacy of the face-to-faceness is a double-edged sword, because it's just as easy to immediately convey detachment and disappointment as it is to convey vigorous engagement.

I can't count the number of LARP or tabletop experiences that have ground to a halt as a result of one or two players simply not being into it to the extent of the other participants -- not to mention all the times I've been playing and thought 'it would be so cool to express this emotion, through my character, right now' and then found myself unable to live up to the potential of that idea. (Similarly, as Adam mentioned, there have been cases where players simply could not 'step up' to the level of emotional intensity required, and had no way to hide or otherwise mitigate that inability.) When I am playing online -- at least, in the circles in which I've played -- nobody is concerned if you take 5 or 10 or even 20 minutes to perfect a particular piece of writing. When you have a really great idea about how your character is going to act, or how their particular emotions will be expressed, you can take the time to really get that idea across. For me, this increases my level of 'intimacy' with the story, and with my character, because it reduces the moments where, put on the spot, I end up accidentally breaking with my own ideas and hopes for the fiction -- or where you can tell that someone has something really great to add, but they just can't get it together to add it.

I think what Andy said about the 'skills' is really right on -- and they're both audience and player skills. I enjoy online roleplaying because I have the skills as a writer to really portray the character and the story that I want to portray. But I also am able to enjoy online roleplaying because I have built up the skills as a reader to appreciate the medium's strengths and gloss over its weaknesses; for example, the ability to experience paragraphs written 15 minutes apart as though they followed an immediate, compelling narrative, and the ability to pull very strong emotional impressions out of written text.
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~ Daniel
Green
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Posts: 247


« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2006, 01:55:25 PM »

I can understand where you're coming from about online play.  I must admit that as a GM I like online play better than tabletop for the same reasons you enjoy playing online better than face-to-face.  However, my experiences as a player of online games has been less than satisfactory because usually the games I join don't have much in the way of narrative structure.  It's usually just a bunch of characters hanging out at one location, which is boring to me because as a budding playwright, I want to get to the drama as quickly as possible. But it often turns out that you have to play consistently for months before any kind of real drama can emerge.  When I had the time to devote to that, it wasn't so bad, but now I can't make myself to commit to something that requires so much input for even the possibility of reward.
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2006, 01:58:56 PM »

Green,

By online play do you mean MUing?

Do you also include online table top? Such as what the Indie-netgaming groups do?

Because there is a large difference in the mediums. I've played on MUs and gotten just the thing you describe, but I've played in online TT games and had a rockingly directed good time.
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- Brand Robins
Josh Roby
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« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2006, 02:42:20 PM »

However, my experiences as a player of online games has been less than satisfactory because usually the games I join don't have much in the way of narrative structure.  It's usually just a bunch of characters hanging out at one location...

Lots of online games remove the GM role (or distance it) from the players without replacing or redistributing the GM-tasks involved.  As one very important traditional GM-task is to create, engage, and escalate the situation, removing that task from play results in exactly what you're talking about.  There's nothing to do but chat in-character (and maybe get some of that hot-n-heavy sex, cause you don't need a GM for that!).

If you're talking about Dramatikos being played online, especially in a non-persistent medium, I don't think you'll have this problem.  You will have explicit procedures for creating and engaging the situation, shared by all those playing (or at least those who take on Poet roles).  The best way to find out, however, is to try it.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2006, 03:25:56 PM »

I divide online role-playing into three categories:
  • MU*ing (MUD and MUSH and derivatives in that category, and MMORPGs, too, but grudgingly) -- mostly GMless interaction in "rooms" where other people in that room can hear and see what you say and do, but other players not in the room cannot. MU*s generally supply ways to communicate privately (page, tell, etc.), too. These are often one-to-one and one-to-many. These games generally have a lot of freeform role-playing going on. Think "LARP in cyberspace."
  • Online Tabletop setups, generally at a cost, with some GUI support but mostly text communication. This is basically one "room" per game (everyone in the room can hear everyone else). These generally supply means for private communication, too. I don't know much about these, so the private communication channels might be only one-to-one. Think "pen and paper RPG on a high-tech virtual tabletop."
  • Tabletop-style gaming done on a MU* or IRC server or other chat room. This is taking a server meant for some other kind of activity and shoehorning a tabletop game into it. Think "pen and paper RPG on the cyberspace equivalent of the telephone, maybe with a dice roller." It lacks the razor focus of the Online Tabletop setup, but it does let people have one-on-one and one-to-many private conversations.

I think intimacy requires being alone AND being together. True RL tabletop gaming is a private gathering. There aren't many identity issues (everyone feels they know who everyone else is -- or that Joe is, in fact, a dude). Sharing drinks and snacks with gamers makes you feel closer to them. At the same time, a lot of shy players will feel inhibited about the kind of things they'll do in front of an audience. They'll draw veils and lines to protect themselves from potential embarrassment.

On the other hand, players have a certain amount of privacy and distance in online games. Even when you know the players RL, it's easier to say certain things online than it is to say them to their face. This is why the Internet seems to be full of assholes, creeps, and people much weirded than you. They exist in RL, of course, but they come out in droves on the net. Many people (Turkle, etc.) have written much better than I can about identity issues online. Private communication channels make it easier. Say you're playing in a Tabletop-style game on a MUSH and your character gets romantic with another player's character. Maybe you "fade to black" publicly or even "take it to pages" publicly. The rest of the players get the general idea, but you and the other player continue on more intensely in private real-time communication. Because of the multitasking nature of online gaming, you can have your little private scene with the other player while continuing the regular scene with the rest of the group. Don't take my example to mean that online gaming is only good for sex. You can take offline, any scene that you feel more comfortable doing privately.

It's the equivalent of note-passing in RL tabletop games (how's that for a retronym?), only it's faster and more convenient.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
Josh Roby
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« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2006, 03:54:34 PM »

Oh, right, I meant to add: I genderbend online all the damn time.  I genderbend very rarely in tabletop.  Online, with only text to convey what I'm doing and saying, I can roleplay women far more effectively than in person, where little things like voice and anatomy tend to detract from the overall effect.  It's also difficult-to-impossible for a male player to explore femininity in a tabletop environment without absurdly strong trust between players, and I'm not lucky enough to have that sort of thing on tap.
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