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Author Topic: A Mechanic for Other Plot Types?  (Read 2442 times)
james_west
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« on: June 21, 2001, 08:10:00 PM »

In Relationship Maps, Edwards has done a very good job of producing a concrete mechanic for running scenarios based on the style of plot found in mysteries and a lot of Literature (with a capital L).

This got me thinking about whether you could design mechanics for other plot types. The type that springs to mind is Science Fiction. In Relationship Map style plots, the plots essentially revolve around violations of normal ethical codes within a group of people related by liason or blood. In SF, the plot revolves around the way in which technological change impacts human lives, manifested through its impact on a specific set of people. How would you design a mechanic for codifying the way this is translated into a scenario, as a parallel to relationship maps?
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2001, 07:19:00 PM »

Hey James,

In SF, the plot revolves around the way in which technological change impacts human lives, manifested through its impact on a specific set of people.

Even with SF, I still think the key is relationships. Hardcoremoose and I had an email conversation about this very thing while he was developing his Cronenberg-inspired concept for Sorcerer.

I think the major reason the cyberpunk literary movement actually turned out to be more smoke than fire was because proponents quickly lost sight of the fact that the originary stories were not about the bio-modifications; bio-modifications were symbolic of the psychology of the characters. If a character has reflective lenses permanently installed over her eye sockets, that's symbolic of something about her psychology. Her psychology had been shaped by the culture, not by the bio-mod.

The key to hooking the players is relationships. You won't hook them by asking them to explore issues of psychological degradation from the encroachment of technology on their physiology. That's Simulationist, engaging to the character perhaps, but not the player. You'll hook the players by showing the impact of technology on relationships.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2001, 09:14:00 PM »

Aren't all stories (in essence) about human relationships and emotions?  I'm thinking yes -- if not, it's not a story...it's, oh, I dunno...porn (techno-porn, erotica, navel-gazing, etc.)?

Witness virtually every cyberpunk game -- it's chromed fetishism rather than a serious attempt to understand the types of stories that W. Gibson wrote (and what he might have been trying to get across when he did).

Time, space, identity...
- J
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
Paul Czege
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« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2001, 05:31:00 AM »

...what he might have been trying to get across when he did...identity...

This is interesting. With identity in the context of relationships, you're either who you think you are, or who others think you are, or some combination. Nearly every RPG out there says you're who you think you are. InSpectres says you're who others think you are.

Paul


[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-06-23 09:53 ]
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
joshua neff
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« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2001, 05:50:00 AM »

i agree with everything paul just said.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Paul Czege
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« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2001, 05:53:00 AM »

Sorry about that...typo in the HTML.
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
james_west
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« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2001, 12:03:00 PM »

Paul -

I was about to be annoyed because you'd ignored a large part of my text, and then I realized I hadn't written it :wink:

I'll try to avoid getting into the classification debate that seems to have subsumed GNS, but there is a large school of SF in which the SF elements are clearly social metaphors. This is typical of most of the SF written in the twenties and seventies, and  much of it from other times.

However, I was thinking more of the school of SF which is genuinely trying to explore the impact of technological change on society.

In this vein, I have to say that you're absolutely correct; not only does this not work well in a game, it doesn't even work well in fiction, unless you're using it as a modifier to understandable human relationships.

Aside: That having been said, I'm not convinced at the moment that -all- good fiction requires use of relationships in the manner implied by Edwards' relationship maps. Note the use of the word good; I think no-one's arguing that you can't make bad stories without them.

That having been said, here's a possible flowchart for designing SF stories for gaming using this model.

(1) Think of a very specific technology change. For example, "gene therapy" is too broad - there's way too many things you can do with it. "use of gene therapy to change major histocompatibility loci" is about the right level of specificity.

(2) Think of at least two concrete uses for this technology, that couldn't be duplicated with existing technology The brain recorders in "Strange Days" are a -bad- example of this; they were never used in the story in a way in which they couldn't have been replaced by small videocameras. Using my MHC locus example, the first thing that springs to mind is a substantial simplification of organ transplants; in the real world, the big drawback to organ transplants is MHC matching, which is never perfect unless you've got an identical twin. MHC mismatch requires massive use of immune supressors, which brings on all sorts of other problems. Not to be depressing, but most organ transplants have a lousy five-year-survival.

A less obvious use is identification; DNA fingerprinting could fail as an identification technique for criminals because the thing being checked is changeable (every technique in use today uses noncoding information, which could be scrambled using retrovirii with technology that almost exists today, all without any noticeable effect on the user). In contrast, MHC information can't be changed without killing yourself in the process.

(3) Make one or both of them a fact of life, which can be introduced in a subtle enough way it doesn't ring alarm bells in the players' heads. Think of a perversion of one or both of these uses which will have a direct impact on human lives.  In the MHC example, presumably changing the markers on a donor organ requires expensive life suppport equipment to keep the organ healthy while markers are being changed; this is a minimum of a several week process to complete and check, even with a polished procedure (you have to make sure all the old MHC are gone, make sure your vector, which was probably a modified retrovirus - something like avian sarcoma - has gotten into all the cells). This could be greatly simplified by kidnapping a healthy donor, supressing their immune system into the ground, and switching MHC in-situ. Alternately, I can think of ways of temporarily fooling using MHC for identification as well, although they're very drastic and depend upon methodology used.

(4) Insert the bit of nastiness you thought up in (3) into an Edwards relationship map. Once again using my MHC example, a body discarded after the organ(s) desired are harvested is not hidden well enough, and is found by police. They do MHC typing, identify it as a player's relative (or whatever) and call them in to give a visual identification. When the player arrives, the body is clearly not the relative ... Alternately, someone connected to the player could be the one kidnapped to use in this fashion, thus drawing them into the plot (the fewer MHC to alter, the easier, so possibly if you were vicious enough you'd want to use your own relatives).

[ This Message was edited by: james_west on 2001-06-23 16:05 ]
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james_west
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« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2001, 07:44:00 PM »

I seem to have produced a comment that's a conversation killer; in any case, my fundamental point is that while Edwards' relationship maps are revolutionary, they are designed to mimic a specific plot style.

While I agree that human interactions are probably the core of most good stories, the relationship maps are even only designed to mimic a specific type of relationship.

Which means that it would be interesting and useful to try to generalize this methodology a little.
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2001, 08:06:00 PM »

Hey James,

Yeah...I didn't know how to reply. I do think there's some potentially productive wiggle room with relationship mapping, but I haven't actually explored into it.

Lon Sarver posted an interesting observation to the Sorcerer forum on G.O. earlier this year:

I'm a psychotherapist, by profession, and when I first heard about relationship maps, I thought of genograms. For those who don't know, a genogram is a fancy family tree which includes notations for the different ways in which a family system may be buggered up.

One of these is to draw a circle...around people who are in alliance together against the rest of the family...


If I were looking for a potentially productive avenue of exploration into relationship mapping, genograms might be it.

Paul


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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Uncle Dark
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« Reply #9 on: June 30, 2001, 10:34:00 AM »

Hi, Paul.

Yeah, I said that.  Later, I went on to say that one modification to a relationship map which might be useful in adapting it to other types of story would be to change what relatioships were marked on the map.  For example, I gave the example of a Godfather-type story, where loyalty is as important as blood relation or sex.

Ron accepted that, but pointed out that a relationship map is supposed to show relationships that would engage the players, rather than the characters.

It's an important point.  The emotional impact that Ron is trying to evoke in Sorcerer comes from the conflict between the way the characters look at a situation or relationship and the way that the players would look at it.

A Sorcerer might look at concieving a child through deliberate incest as a valid magical operation, but the players would think, "ick."  The emotional punch comes from the player's reaction to the character's reaction.

To tie in an earlier example, the characters in Gibson's work didn't really notice the cyber.  It was a fact of life, like eyeglasses and cell phones are to us.  The emotional punch came from the reader's reaction to the fact that the characters were blase about it.

Lon
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Reality is what you can get away with.
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