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Author Topic: Beating a Dead Horse?  (Read 6900 times)
masqueradeball
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« on: December 22, 2007, 12:08:32 AM »

Okay, so all in all I'm still new to this GNS thing... though I've been reading as much as I can and trying to understand the language, but I want to bring up something...

One day, my older brother Logan proposed we start a game of Hunter: The Reckoning. I made a character, a thirty something soccer mom who immigrated from Mexico and married a rich white guy and started a second family after abandoning a wayward son from her youth. Her life was her daughter, for various reasons.
We player a session which went through the process of how I became imbued (the in game term for getting you magical "I hunt bad things" powers). The gist of it was that my character's daughter was being threatened by some unidentified undead creatures that I didn't know how to fight. The game ended without a resolution.
It was one of the highlights of my life as a roleplaying gamer because I felt really, genuinely scared at the thought of losing the thing that my life was about by experiencing/thinking about that same thing happening to my character.

So my question is this: If one is trying to design a game in which these experiences happen, where does that design fall on the GNS model? If one is trying to play a game to get more of these experiences, where does that fall on the GNS model?
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Nolan Callender
masqueradeball
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« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2007, 12:16:22 AM »

For those of you who might have read it, Joseph Campbell relates a story from Leo Frobenius that describes a similar process in the play of a child that Frobenius calls "becoming." I don't know how this feeds in to the conversation exactly but I think it might be important to think of RPGs as a form of play (in the since used by Campbell and Frobenius, which has a sort of exalted sense of "pretending towards a state of becoming) as opposed to a form of storytelling.
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Nolan Callender
Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2007, 02:47:49 AM »

Hi Nolan,

Not sure if this is a perfect question to ask, but with your experience; was it the intense in itself trepidation of what your mother (the PC, I mean) might have to choose to save her daughter? Or was the moment already forfilling in itself - you could vividly see and internalise the moment because the situation really made the game world really leap out at you?

Having a look at how you enjoyed that moment. That makes it kind of a hard question.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2007, 06:00:30 AM »

Hello,

Callan, I think that's a bit premature. As I see it, the topic isn't so much about identifying Nolan's particular preference of play, if any. Can we hold off on that for a while?

Nolan, I'm going to prompt ice-storms in hell and give you a simple, clear answer.

Quote
If one is trying to design a game in which these experiences happen, where does that design fall on the GNS model? If one is trying to play a game to get more of these experiences, where does that fall on the GNS model?

Anywhere. That's the answer.

Now I'll try to help us arrive at a satisfying answer, which will take more work. And furthermore, we need to establish what you mean by "the GNS model." I'm not sure which of my essays or points you're working with. If I had to guess, I'd say the material from about 2000 or 2001. Have you read the introductory section of the Forge Glossary? It has seven terms and a picture (the Big Model), and it's pretty much the only thing I'd like you to know or think about, in order to discuss what you're describing.

Quote
It was one of the highlights of my life as a roleplaying gamer because I felt really, genuinely scared at the thought of losing the thing that my life was about by experiencing/thinking about that same thing happening to my character.

I can describe this in Big Model terms very easily, but it'd be really awful if I did that before you had read the two pages I'm talking about, and before I knew that you'd read them.

Let me know where you are with that, and I'll carry on from there.

Please, no one else hop into the thread for a while.

Best, Ron
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2007, 06:21:03 PM »

Yes, I've read the introduction and I think I understand the terms presented, as far as I know (I could be missing one), I've read all of the articles and then some. This post was actually inspired after reading something that Vincent wrote over at Anyway (if thats whats its called, I found the article through a link, and I'm not sure where, and I couldn't find it again) and then some things about the Beeg Horseshoe thing...
Does that answer your question?
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Nolan Callender
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2007, 11:03:50 PM »

Hi Nolan,

Yes, excellent! Thanks for letting me know. So I'll dive right into it with jargon flingin' left and right.

What you've described is what it feels like when one participates in an SIS (a) through the medium of a character, when (b) a Creative Agenda is firing among the group. The arrow of the agenda is now linking all the levels together: Social Contract, SIS, Techniques, Ephemera. It's more about what level you're currently paying attention to, which in your case was the SIS, specifically the Character component. Contrast, for instance, someone who was doing exactly as you were doing, but really feeling it in terms of Techniques and Ephemera. That person might say, "I loved it! I really saw how the rules came together, and I used this ability in the context of that spell in action, and timed it just right with my teammate's attack!" Same thing, different level of the model being experientially processed.

In terms of GNS, or more accurately, in terms of the diversity of Creative Agendas, the above point applies no matter which of the three is in action. Any will do, as long as it's the one you want to be doing at the time. ("You" refers to an individual, but Creative Agenda in action is more of a group thing. Think of a person playing a team sport; he wants to play, but it has to happen in the context of everyone else playing too.)

Now, here's another aspect which really matters. Even though you are talking about experiencing this through very strong identification with the character, the system/techniques stuff has to be working full blast as well. Otherwise the character-experience as a game-outcome is not possible. Just as with my hypothetical contrasting person who's all excited about the Techniques, for whom all the SIS/character stuff has to be working full blas as well, or his excitement won't work.

What I'm saying is that the contrast between you and the other guy is purely experiential, and does not represent any sort of fundamentally different approach to play (hence the "role/roll" dichotomy is utter bullshit). When a Creative Agenda is really happening, the levels of the model are all complementary, or rather, each part or layer is fueling the functions of the other parts. Which one is your particular one to "see from" is more-or-less a matter of taste.

So regarding game design, the way to facilitate any and all of this to happen is to inspire the reader toward understanding the whole structure. How that's done, textually, is currently a developing thing. It probably doesn't rely on providing a rigid one-way description of play in action, but rather on providing both enough Color to make the SIS attractive in the first place, and enough procedural guidance ("do this, do that") so that no level is left utterly in darkness, and so that how one level fuels another (inward or outward) can be ascertained.

To pick an example, or rather a counter-example, from my game shelf almost at random, here's what my copy of Mutant Chronicles provides:

Social Contract? Nil. The game is written for a specific audience of gamers and either presumes a functional Social Contract or labors under the false impression that "just following the rules" will generate one, or the equally false impression that "a good group" results from mystic lucky influences rather than any directed human effort toward its construction.

SIS? Sure! And plenty of it, particularly regarding Setting, and with a fair peek at Character. System is definitely present, but subordinated to Setting in a big way, and key parts are missing - particularly, how in the world to generate adversity for characters aside from merely hurling hordes of Dark Legion foes at them. One has to dig into the setting material and dope out fault lines in the various societies and ideologies which might yield the core conflicts inherent in a prepared situation for a session's play. Which is to say, Situation is crushingly absent. On the plus side, there's Color to burn, and (as I read it) any number of possible situations occur to me. But how do we get there? Make up characters, then look at them to see what sort of situation is suitable? Or vice versa?

Techniques? Well, with Situation pretty much absent, that means a ton of necessary Techniques are absent too. One simply has to 'port over one's experience from other games into this one, or the group can't play. As far as I can tell, the only Techniques which get explained are basically role-playing versions of the original skirmish wargame's combat rules. Oh yes, and character creation too, which as I say is kind of neat and fits the setting really well. (This is another one of those games which I love making up characters for, and dream about bullyragging one of the groups I'm in to play it, but then quail at the thought of the monstrous effort it would take to construct and prep enough of the missing pieces so that play would be possible.)

Ephemera? Not much. About the only bits to be found concern looking at the dice values in an example; there's nothing about the moment-to-moment experience of play at all. Conceivably, someone who picked up the book with no knowledge of role-playing would be at an utter loss regarding the purpose of the book. But more relevantly (considering that the audience is gamers, period), there's no way to consider what play will feel like.

And so, looking at this, is there any way at all to ascertain the most rewarding Creative Agenda? Well, Gamism is flat out. The skirmish wargame exists for that, and it does a fine job, but the RPG offers no "muscle and guts" context for System-type reward of any kind, or even as a priority of play at the verbal level. After that, though, it's pretty incoherent - either a group must come up with its own inspiration of existing cyberpunk-y, horror-y, political-y material in order to use this game to celebrate it; or it must come up with conflicts inherent to the setting material which (to this group) demand addressing. It's basically saying, "I dunno how all this is supposed to fit into some kind of creatively purposeful play; you figure it out."

I presented all that as a counter-example, and a particularly annoying one, because so much interesting stuff is provided that I can't help but fill in some of the gaping blanks some of the way, and grimace because the blanks are so wide that I know I'd really have to construct material and instruct my fellow players in order to make them work.

Does that help, or make sense?

Best, Ron
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2007, 12:10:24 AM »

No, it completely make sense. What I'm asking is this: can a game be designed to encourage a given experience of play? Is immersion a Creative Agenda that exists along side or separate from the given three (Step on Up, the Right to Dream or Story Now)? When someone asked me what my agenda was when playing (as opposed to running, I guess) an RPG I would say that my agenda was immersion, and I like game designs that I feel encourage this (Amber and Pendragon come to mind as examples)...

I love the big model and the Forge in general for doing something that "the industry" was never going to accidentally do... that is, create a language to talk about "what it is we're doing here," but I've had this weird feeling that there was something missing in various things I was reading regarding the question "what is the game trying to accomplish?"

An example, lets take Vampire (a game I get the impression you (Ron) don't have much respect for (and trust me, after playing it in various  incarnations for years, I understand why))... Every time Rein-Hagan (and some of the others who worked on the game) talked about what it was about and what you were suppose to do they were really saying that you were trying to become in Frobenius' sense... and the ST's singular job was to use the rules and the shared universe as a vehicle for encouraging that state in the characters... whether it did that successfully I think is widely up to debate, but I think its clear that that was the intent.

So, is one of the points of the Big Model's GNS CA limitations that other, more personal person goals can't be realistically encouraged or supported by design outside of coherence (i.e. coherence= ability for individual ti fulfill personal goals effectively while working within the group framework) or is it possible that "becoming" is a CA.

P.S. Sorry if I was wrong about the Vampire bit...
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Nolan Callender
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2007, 10:14:40 AM »

At last, someone asks the right question. And fortuitously, I spent some time hashing out the response (first formulated over three years ago) just last week, with Frank Tarcikowski when I visited him, knowing that he was concerned about the same thing. So it's simultaneously high time and the right time.

Being a new dad during the Christmas holidays, with relatives about to descend upon us from a foreign country, and also coping with a just-busted laptop screen, I must beg your pardon in not replying right away. The reply itself is locked and loaded, and I think you'll like the answer a lot. But the next few days are Lady Xiombarg's Chaos Fest for me, and I'd rather take the time to compose just right, rather than cause problems with a slipshod post.

So! I am really glad you asked this and am eager to respond. Give me about a week if you can. If I take longer than that, send me a PM to remind me.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2008, 06:33:05 PM »

Hi Nolan,

To start, I looked back over the thread. I'd like to clarify that this is a new question. The first question was, which Creative Agenda is associated with the experience of emotionally-felt, high-identification role-playing? That's been answered: any of them, and I think we agreed upon why. So now we're on a new question, which you've stated very well.

Here are 13 points which are sort of a chain of reasoning, but some of them are more like parallel lines of reasoning to what was just stated. I hope it makes sense this way.

1. The Big Model is about what we do, not what it feels like to do it. So we should discuss that felt-stuff, and I'll start by distinguishing a little bit between an initiatory, input-oriented experience as well an outcome, consequential experience. Sort of like the difference between {"22! 8! Hike!" + rushing, blocking, passing} and {catch or not catch the ball, be tackled or not be tackled, make the first down or not make the first down}. They're both still play, but there's a shift in everyone's relationship with the process after the transition. I'll be talking a lot about what happens after that shift.

2. At least some of the time, people do not experience stimulus, when by "experience" I mean how they would describe what happened to them. A good example is what happens when I get angry with someone. My experience of the event is, "He made me mad," as if he actually opened the top of my head and poured anger into it. Whereas what really happened is that he did something, I felt something about that, and then I got mad about how I felt (and possibly also about what he did, not always). When I reflect on the event, in the past, I can usually understand the real process pretty easily, but at the time, in the moment, I felt it only as him making me mad, with the intermediate and internal process being completely non-experienced.

3. I think role-playing is often like that. We do X (or rather, a whole lot of X's), but what we experience is a response to seeing our X's in action, or seeing the X-action fail or otherwise only sort-of be in action.

4. What you're calling "immersion" is one of those responses. It's what role-playing (or one way that role-playing) feels like when a particular set of techniques (there are many) is put into action and works in that particular group/activity context. Unsurprisingly, the fact that it's worked strengthens the overall SIS and provides a richer context for the next application of whatever techniques are involved.

5. Let's talk about this in Creative Agenda terms, because (any) CA is definitely involved. To role-play at all, we travel on our CA arrow from Social Contract all the way down or into the model, to (at a given moment) a nitty-gritty bit of Techniques application. But we do not feel that very much; what we feel is best understood as traveling back up or out along the CA arrow, touching each level on the way, and culminating in the Social Contract (very simply: "that was fun!"). You're talking about feeling it especially strongly when the journey up the arrow passes through the SIS layer, with Character as the primary touchpoint for that particular person. That's how CA is often experienced: as the journey back up, not as the process on its way down. From the moment the quarterback passes, not the set-up and scuffle until he does. "He made me mad," instead of "I got mad when he did what he did."

6. All of the above should be understood as a unit of process, which doesn't take that long in real time (unless there is much maundering and puttering, but never mind that). Experiencing it and acknowledging it  can be very diverse. For example, a number of people prefer for the journey "back up" to use reward mechanics and otherwise to touch System quite strongly as it passes through the SIS; whereas others prefer to avoid that precise thing and find it upsetting, so that the only thing that expresses that touchpoint is the passage of in-SIS time.

7. I think you've stated the Rein-Hagen claim or (perhaps) ideology of play accurately and appropriately. I think it is fundamentally confused. Not because the phenomenon isn't real or enjoyable, but because it's like saying, "Sex leads to great orgasms, which is what I like a lot, so to have great sex, we must begin with a big ol' orgasm." It confuses experiential outcome with process and production. Hence all that emphasis at the outset on atmosphere and Method acting (literally "getting into character." I don't think it's panned out historically. I'm not trying to be deliberately crude or insulting, but I do think that trying it this way leads to plenty of the equivalents of premature ejaculation and faking it. In which case(s), the bulk of play itself is curiously unsatisfying.

8. To design a game to encourage this particular experience is easy: (i) design for CA coherence in the first place, and (ii) do so in such a way that character identification touched on often. The specific crucial "touches" are inspiration not to be but to play during character creation, consequential decisions on the part of the character, and some sort of reward mechanics which enrich the character's relationship to the overall setting.

9. You'll find examples of all of these across most of the overtly Narrativist-facilitating designs from Forge culture. Yes, My Life with Master is highly "immersive" by your definition, and so is Dust Devils, and so is HeroQuest, and so are many others. Modestly, I suggest that Sorcerer, Trollbabe, and It Was a Mutual Decision are very, very strong in this regard - for some, to a degree best described as "blazing." I have never seen men play in such unpremeditated, passionate, and unguarded fashion as in Trollbabe. There are Sorcerer games I've played that I cannot compose actual play posting for because I start shaking. Some posts about Mutual Decision characterize the interactions among everyone at the table as genuine love, a "moment of grace" based on their commitment to the characters' imagined identities and crisis. I think you can find the three "touches" for character as explicit rules in all three games. I think people fail to realize this specifically because the experiential element is left unremarked in the rules; the rules are about making it possible, and most importantly, sustainable.

10. To old-school Forge participants: what does any of this have to do with Stance? We haven't talked much about Stance in Big Model terms. However, some of you know that I think it falls in the Ephemera level ... and so, for this discussion, it's interesting that Stance-shifts would be found right at the "turnaround" point - when the quarterback commits to the pass, so to speak.

11. I want to make sure that people don't mix up what I'm talking about with reward cycles, or if there's any relationship, it's only at the smallest of the cycles. It's in the moment, not at the larger scale of reward that expresses CA. The key is that once the "feedback" or "up the arrow" experiential features occur, they then become the context in which the next trip down the arrow occurs ... so that instead of inward-outward in a cycle, you get kind of a vibration ... what I've called reverberation among the levels of the model, in the past. In this context, implementing the details of resolution is a joy - or to put it in terms of an actual person, when Emily Care Boss stared at Vincent with mingled pique and pleasure, saying, "So this is what the dice are for," in an early playtest of Dogs. Until that moment, she'd never managed to convince herself that they could be for anything. I had the pleasure of seeing/reading Vincent go through the exact same transition about a year before that, regarding my games.

12. But to get back to CA, this reverberation is the ultimate expression of the arrow, in the model. The CA becomes the backbone of play, without any need to reflect upon it, remind people of it, remember it and try to accord with it, or anything else that is outside of the moments of play themselves. I also want to emphasize that what you're calling "immersion" is one kind of such up-the-arrow phenomenon, out of many. So the reverberation contributes to the CA, or if you like, the CA is the context in which the reverberation can occur.

13. Back to design: there are no guarantees. A book, or a set of rules, is not enough. The actual people have to be into playing this game, with one another, and with a certain degree of obligation to play well. They have to be be turned on by the complex of techniques in and of themselves, to like the system. They must be open to what emerges, out of rules-consequence and SIS consequences, not fearful of them. They must share these values ("we play on purpose") as a group. The rules-text, in my view, does not do well to try to tell people what play will be like, because (a) it's like giving away the Easter eggs instead of hunting them, and (b) none of this stuff about the people can be guaranteed. What the book can do is to inspire such interest and willingness, insofar as it's possible, and to be clear about the procedures.

Whew! Well, that's what I think.

Best, Ron
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2008, 11:18:11 AM »

Great. That's a perfect answer, and I think it makes the model "click" a lot more than it had before, so I guess I have a follow up question: Lets say I post about a game I'm designing, using Forge terminology, how do I talk about supporting becoming/immersion as a design goal. Sometimes I feel like I don't know how to express certain goals, design points, agendas, etc... without breaking away from the shared language (of the forum) and inventing localized terms. In general I think this is a bad thing, because it creates confusion. This has actually really hung me up before, because I think I know what I want to express, I just don't know how to in the language...
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Nolan Callender
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2008, 11:31:30 AM »

Hi Nolan,

I think that's pretty easy. If it's a design goal, then that's what it is, and say so. The only potential problem is to call it a Creative Agenda when it isn't, and that seems like it won't happen now.

I mean, there are hundreds if not thousands of conceivable "desired outcomes and sensations" for role-playing, across all the myriad Agendas and families of Techniques. I'm not sure why naming and describing one for your game in design would cause any difficulties.

Oh yes, one thing: you may have noticed that I used the term immersion in my post, but was very careful to restrict its meaning to the phenomenon that you described in your posts. That's another source of difficulty: the word is used for quite a few different things by different people, some of which are deeply heartfelt and perceived by their users to be not only obvious but morally obligatory. So discussions using the word tend to careen about and result in massive confusions.

My favorite example, which I might hunt down, was during the time (2001, I think?) that sundry folks were convinced that "Ron hates immersion," and they all fell all over themselves trying to explain to me why immersion was so wonderful and how bad I was being. Every one of them thought they were a member of a monolithic, fully-in-agreement phalanx, but in that thread, the various descriptions and definitions were completely contradictory of one another.

My recommendation at the Forge is to use the term for your purposes in discussing design, but always to define it very clearly at the outset of the thread. Then I, as moderator, enforce that definition for that thread only throughout the discussion.

Best, Ron
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2008, 03:08:11 AM »

So there it is! I like it. Also, I think it's way too important to get lost in the depths of the actual play forum. How about a sticky that links to this thread and, say, the Frostfolk, RIFTS and Werewolf threads? And maybe the one with the authorities as well? The infamous five of actual play or something?

- Frank
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If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.
Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2008, 06:59:37 PM »

Hi Nolan,
Great. That's a perfect answer, and I think it makes the model "click" a lot more than it had before, so I guess I have a follow up question: Lets say I post about a game I'm designing, using Forge terminology, how do I talk about supporting becoming/immersion as a design goal. Sometimes I feel like I don't know how to express certain goals, design points, agendas, etc... without breaking away from the shared language (of the forum) and inventing localized terms. In general I think this is a bad thing, because it creates confusion. This has actually really hung me up before, because I think I know what I want to express, I just don't know how to in the language...
I think if you wrote a game that supports the immersion your talking about, we'd know exactly what your talking about by playing it. In concert with that, I think if you already knew the language to describe the immersion you want, you could write that language down and have half the game written already. Just start trying to write the game and you'll start to develop the language you need.

But yeah, since there's no language I think you just have to start off with blind stabs at it. I offered a couple of stabs myself - tell me if either seem hot or just cold (perhaps both are cold, but that's helpful to know as well).
Quote
was it the intense in itself trepidation of what your mother (the PC, I mean) might have to choose to save her daughter? Or was the moment already forfilling in itself - you could vividly see and internalise the moment because the situation really made the game world really leap out at you?
Either of them - Hot? Cold? I'm asking broadly right now, so as to possibly get some idea of what questions to ask next.
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2008, 06:15:57 PM »

If I had to choose a term I'd stick with becoming. I think it encompasses a lot. Its a very complicated concept thought, because what it addresses is a psychological moment when the mind becomes unable to separate the act of play from reality. These moments are short, and so short that as adults we rarely realize whats happening. I think talking about catharsis in the traditional dramatic sense might also serve the purpose well. Build up of emotional identification (i.e. pathos) ends in emotional release (catharsis)= point of play.
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Nolan Callender
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« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2008, 08:15:12 PM »

Hmm, this might be bluesky theory (I'm also saying this just in terms of talking design rather than looking at agenda or whatever). But are you sure your talking about the act of play? By that I mean, I find by exposure to people, I can start creating an emotional model of other people (hehe, including people I encounter here). By concentrating on those models, I start to predict how they will act to this or that.

The thing is...I am a model. A very complex one, the dominant one. But I am a model of behaviour. There's also something that comes before that model, but as far as I can actually percieve myself, I am a model. Now if I haven't freaked you out, I'm suggesting it's not an act of play, it's an act of briefly shifting between models. Not just concentrating, but shifting over briefly (usually the disjoint between the two only lets it last a brief time). The reason it seems like your unable to seperate play from reality is the new model sees reality as it sees it. It's not a missperception, it's the other models perception. I sometimes get this when I'm trying to understand someones else's post about how they love something in play or such, and I suddenly get it (or something) in all it's alien (to me) glory.

I'm suggesting that in case it perhaps illustrates some set of steps that is useful. It might be something else entirely that your talking about, but hey, I thought I'd note it. But in terms of these steps, I don't mean you'd be making models - I'm suggesting those models already exist and need to resolve something. You already have a model of that soccer mum, and it came to mind first because it needed to work something out.

Hope it's not an odd post - you started it first with your talk of becoming! Wink
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