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Author Topic: El Dorado (terms clarification)  (Read 4938 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: November 22, 2002, 02:56:30 PM »

Hello,

I thought I'd clarify a term or two. This may be a completely unnecessary post, but perhaps it'll help out if anyone needs it.

El Dorado = Narrativism without breaking suspension of disbelief. (Phrase courtesy of Joachim [Daredevil], term courtesy of Paul Czege) See Simulationism and Narrativism under the same roof and El Dorado.

The Impossible Thing = the players determine the protagonists' decisions and the GM authors the story. (This is all me.) Please note that by "determine" and "authors" I mean really really, not "looks like" or "feels like."

These two things are not the same. I'm perfectly happy with El Dorado as a concept. It's basically Narrativist play without a lot of metagame chit-chat. I'm also completely committed to the idea that the Impossible Thing is Impossible. Any suggestions otherwise, or tearful protests, have all shown themselves, to my satisfaction, to be one of the "slipaway" solutions (i.e. Possible) listed in my essay.

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2002, 03:41:54 PM »

Okay Ron,

Fine, then according to my misunderstanding, when I said "I've seen El Dorado," I meant that I comprehend a way to do "The Impossible Thing."  My mistake was to equate the two.

Here is the contention:
    "The players determine the protagonists' decisions" completely and totally,

    Because the 'world' of the game is a 'myth of reality.'  That is to say that they determine that the protagonists "go left," and by "magician's choice" left is where

    "the GM authors the story" to go.[/list:u]The 'trick' implied is that via
Symbolic-Language Gamemastering when the gamemaster "authors the story" is has nothing to do with "the protagonists' decisions" which are specific in nature and not at all abstract.

The reason I see "The Impossible Thing" to be impossible is because what appears to be at odds is who controls 'where the game goes.'  And it is impossible in that context.  My offering plays upon the specific wording of "The Impossible Thing."  Like any good rules lawyer or Devil's Advocate, I saw a loophole; if you don't "author" anything specific and the "protagonists' decisions" were in no way symbolic, then some weird alchemical fusion makes the "Impossible" possible.

I really need to create an explicit "Symbolic Language" to put this to a test, though.  If one cannot be created that meets my criteria of 'not being specific' and can be wed to "protagonists' decisions" using techniques like "magician's choice," then I easily return the point to you Ron.

However, until it is shown by practice in playtests both my own, and elsewhere, I cling to the point that "The Impossible Thing" as written here and in the essay is not exactly impossible.

Fang Langford

p. s. I withdraw my claim to El Dorado, clearly I was lost.  What I found was "The Impossible Thing."
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2002, 03:53:43 PM »

Hello,

I sniff a badness. Fang wrote,
"... if you don't "author" anything specific and the "protagonists' decisions" were in no way symbolic, then some weird alchemical fusion makes the "Impossible" possible."

Now waitaminute. I'm under the impression that "you" are the GM, neh? If so, then if you aren't authoring anything specific (as you say), then the Impossible Thing has already been elided. All that remains is for the protagonists' decisions to become meaningful, which is fine and easy, given a wide variety of techniques that (a) you have investigated in your El Dorado thread and (b) aren't really all that hard or unfamiliar.

What's impossible is for the GM actually to author the story and for the players, simultaneously, to be determining the decisions of the protagonists. You just took out the former requirement - and claimed to find the Impossible Thing? I do not think that makes a lick of sense.

Best,
Ron
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« Reply #3 on: November 22, 2002, 07:01:04 PM »

Sigh Ron,

We're talking about a lot of vague terms and loaded terminology.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I sniff a badness. Fang wrote,
"...If you don't "author" anything specific and the "protagonists' decisions" were in no way symbolic, then some weird alchemical fusion makes the "Impossible" possible."

Now waitaminute. I'm under the impression that "you" are the GM, neh? If so, then if you aren't authoring anything specific (as you say), then the Impossible Thing has already been elided.

This is true, if you believe that the only 'stories' that can be authored are specific.  To me, in the sense of a 'sequence of events,' you can 'author' a story, symbolically.  Taking a note from my description of 'literary reviewer term' cards, a story could be authored as follows:
    [*]Establishing scene: protagonist is in a tense situation.
    [*]Protagonist resolves the situation in a character-reinforcing way.
    [*]A metaphorical reference is implied by conflict that was resolved.
    [*]Major conflict begins: central cast interferes with the fringes of larger problem.
    [*]Something valuable is revealed, just out of reach.
    [*]Early surmountable conflict is resolved.
    [*]Thing of value comes under cast's control; the dynamic between them and it relates to the metaphor that underpins the game.
    [*]The cast's effect on the thing attracts the attentions of a larger organized group.
    [*]The larger group fields a number of sorties because of the disposition of the thing.
      [*]Each sortie escalates both tension and correspondence to metaphor.
      [*](I am not going into detail, because I don't feel like authoring an entire story right now.)[/list:u][*]The cast is motivated by repeated sorties to resolve their overall conflict with the organized group.
      [*](I could go both further in this story and into smaller 'units of story;' but this makes my point.)[/list:u]While I recognize and grant that not everyone will agree this is a story, but it's good enough for me.  And lo, story is authored, not abridged.

      Quote from: Ron Edwards
      All that remains is for the protagonists' decisions to become meaningful, which is fine and easy, given a wide variety of techniques that (a) you have investigated in your El Dorado thread and (b) aren't really all that hard or unfamiliar.

      Do the players determine that they keep the thing?  Do they spurn it?  Destroy it?  Sell it?  In terms of the story authored, it matters not, merely that they interact somehow.  What I am unaware of is how well the merger of the players' determinations and the gamemaster's story can work.  I sense it can, but feel a need to test the idea outside of my personal gamemastering.

      The point is that the players determine their characters' actions, but without the symbolic structure employed by the gamemaster, this narrative struggles to have a larger metaphorical relationship as a sequence.

      Quote from: Ron Edwards
      What's impossible is for the GM actually to author the story and for the players, simultaneously, to be determining the decisions of the protagonists. You just took out the former requirement - and claimed to find the Impossible Thing? I do not think that makes a lick of sense.

      That's because I am more comfortable with a slightly different definition of "authoring," "story," and "determining decisions."  I accept the essence of your 'impossibility' as you imply here; authoring is of a specific story, determined decisions affect the specifics of that story, and that the story is both a specific sequence of events and has value determined by the interrelation of these events and a metaphor.  (I believe saying the above is not part of a story is nonsensical; our opinions differ.)

      What I am offering is a way to produce results that I believe that people constantly assail you with when they insist that it isn't impossible.  I am not saying that both players and the gamemaster can be the deciding factor over the specifics of a game; that is impossible.

      What I frequently see people thinking about is that authoring has to do with the overall structure of a story and how the parts relate.  What they fail at is thinking that specific components (like the familiar, recurring villain) are necessary for the conclusion of a well-structured story; they become fixated on a specific detail and begin to interfere with player determination of decisions until one vision of the game is spoilt.

      Is it possible to structure a story out of what players determine their characters' decisions regarding it are so that it has both sequential and unified aesthetics?  Yes, but as long as you think that the same details ceded to the players must be manipulated in order to create an aesthetic and satisfying story, you will find that impossible.  Unfortunately, "The Impossible Thing" theorem makes both of these sound impossible, when one clearly is not.

      These are very subtle shadings, but I believe this slips away from Actor Stance Narrativism, Illusionism, and all other ideas posited to 'solve' "The Impossible Thing."  I also admit that I am splitting extremely fine hairs here, but I have long believed that I practiced something that meets the definition of "The Impossible Thing" literally, but not in it's spirit.  This is the first time I have been able to put this into words.  (Not that I am making these words comprehendible, but I'm trying.  Very trying.)  I think it is worthwhile to list this so that future misinterpretations of "The Impossible Thing" can be clarified.

      Am I making any sense yet?

      Fang Langford
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      Ron Edwards
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      « Reply #4 on: November 22, 2002, 08:49:10 PM »

      Hello,

      Yeah, when you say,
      "I am not saying that both players and the gamemaster can be the deciding factor over the specifics of a game; that is impossible."

      ... then you're agreeing with me. That's all the Impossible Thing is. What I'm looking for are words to this effect: Yes, Ron, you're right, that is the Impossible Thing. That's what you've acknowledged, finally.

      Is this just ego on my part? Am I merely demanding homage from members of the Forge?

      No. It's a key point. I am all for any possible solutions to the Impossible Thing by which people have fun, and the more Chunk Theory or whatnot that can be applied to that end, the better. What I don't like, and I think justifiably, is claims that the Thing is Possible - and my having to nail it down in this manner, putting people's backs to the wall, to get them to admit that no, actually, they were talking about something else, or agreeing with me in a sideways way.

      If someone can refute the Impossible Thing, fine. I haven't seen it yet. But to my thinking, your El Dorado threads (which are full of awesome, excellent, insightful how-to-play material) are founded on the "hook" of such a refutation. I didn't buy it, and I'm saying so - to have you say, "Oh, well, yes, that's true. I was actually saying something else, or at least now I'm clarifying that."

      I guess that in itself should be sufficient, since it's the ideas that are important.

      Best,
      Ron
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      Le Joueur
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      « Reply #5 on: November 22, 2002, 10:12:51 PM »

      I already said it was impossible Ron.  Often.

      I said it here, here, and here.  And, of course here, in the first El Dorado thread.  I never once claimed the impossible was possible, except by the literal wording.

      Quote from: Ron Edwards
      ...then you're agreeing with me. That's all the Impossible Thing is. What I'm looking for are words to this effect: Yes, Ron, you're right, that is the Impossible Thing. That's what you've acknowledged, finally.

      What I don't like, and I think justifiably, is claims that the Thing is Possible - and my having to nail it down in this manner, putting people's backs to the wall, to get them to admit that no, actually, they were talking about something else, or agreeing with me in a sideways way.

      If someone can refute the Impossible Thing, fine. I haven't seen it yet.

      If my admission that something is impossible is what you were looking for, you weren't looking very hard.  I think it is reasonable to say that what I have presented is literally correct; if you have a problem with that, change the wording.

      I have therefore refuted "The Impossible Thing," but not what is impossible.  I was pretty up front about that from the very start, no "sideways way" to it.

      My biggest purpose was to begin the process of identifying 'what people think they're doing' when they say they do the impossible.  The best place I thought to look was the semantics.  Am I being picky?  Absolutely.  Am I being unfair?  Not to the people who 'know they've done it' but can explain it as clearly as I, who've been 'nailed down' or had their "backs to the wall."  The kind of treatment they've received is the kind I find disappointing at the Forge and I'll be darned if I'll back down from this point for that reason alone.

      Yes there's an impossible ideal, but using terms like "authoring," "story," and "determining decisions" to define it, is far to hazy to be putting people "to the wall" in a forum to be known for it's receptive manner.  You, yourself, have clearly stated how misleading the word story is, but there it is in the essay, right after the words, "The Great Impossible Thing to Believe Before Breakfast."  I think, justifiably, that there should (at least from now on) be a rider that there are at least one, if not many, ways to appear to do "The Impossible Thing" rather than simple renouncement.

      Fang Langford

      p. s. I just thought it was my turn to be the agony aunt.  No hard feelings, right?
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      Ron Edwards
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      « Reply #6 on: November 23, 2002, 11:46:43 AM »

      Hi there Fang,

      No hard feelings at all. This is good.

      You wrote,
      "I think, justifiably, that there should (at least from now on) be a rider that there are at least one, if not many, ways to appear to do "The Impossible Thing" rather than simple renouncement."

      I'm looking at my essay. There are several solutions listed after the Impossible Thing, including functional and dysfunctional ones. A lot of them have been clarified through discussion since then. I have yet to see any activity during real play or as described that isn't falling into one of these categories. As your El Dorado thread and Mike Gentry's 7th Sea threads are showing me, people aren't seeing that they're shifting to good ol' Narrativist play.

      And furthermore, I stand by my assertion that your thread was presented as a True Solution to the Impossible Thing (which was presented as El Dorado), which none of the listed GNS modes was adequate for. That was the hook that drew people in. I'm not peeved about that; it was a fun metaphor, and it got people learning things, and it was all about real play techniques and other good things. But a True Solution, it is not. You've agreed about that, and so my purpose in this thread, anyway, is done. Still willing to chat about it though.

      Best,
      Ron
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      Walt Freitag
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      « Reply #7 on: November 23, 2002, 03:58:52 PM »

      Hey Ron,

      Willing to chat about it some more, you said? Good.

      I don't see it the way Fang does, apparently. He appears to be saying that within a general realm of impossibility, there's a tiny zone of possibility based on a loophole in the wording of The Impossible Thing.

      My view is that the really really Impossible Thing probably is impossible, but that the zone of impossibility is a small singularity in a generally possible-but-difficult (difficult, at least, using conventional tools) realm of play.

      Some possible things might include:

      - The players determine the characters' decisions to the same extent that exercise of free will in the real world appears to allow people to make decisions about their real selves and the GM authors the story.

      - The players determine the protagonists' decisions and the GM co-authors the story with them.

      - The players determine the protagonists' decisions and the GM makes sure the outcome has a satisfyingly story-like narrative structure. (This is more or less Fang's hypothesis, which he equated with the Impossible Thing based on the latter part being a specific variant meaning of "authoring.")

      This makes the utility of the principle of the Impossible Thing very limited. It's like saying that the Impossible Thing to Believe About Cars is that you can really really drive wherever you want to go while really really obeying all traffic laws. Of course you can't. But what's the benefit of even pointing this out? It doesn't mean traffic laws and cars cannot operate simultaneously. It doesn't mean that the freedom and mobility afforded by cars is illusory and they might just as well be trains. It doesn't mean traffic laws aren't worthwhile. In fact, I honestly can't think of anything useful that it does mean.

      The problem is that attempts to discuss the possible (difficult) things run into "forget it, you're trying to do the Impossible Thing" reactions. This is related to a frequent Forge phenomenon that I don't blame anyone for, but I believe does happen: attempts to argue against a theoretical principle by counterexample are held to the strictest possible interpretation of the definitions involved, while attempts to make judgments based on the theoretical principle are permitted to extrapolate the definitions with relative abandon.

      (For example, how does anyone know that the people who wrote all those game system introductions really, really meant "author" and really, really meant "determine" in the absolute strict sense you've applied here? Or that the players who read them interpret them in that strict a sense? Maybe they, too, meant one of the "possible things" suggested above or one of the solutions listed after the Impossible Thing in the essay. If these are so difficult for so many people to distinguish from the real Impossible Thing, how is it possible to judge, from the vague and hyperbolic language of a game intro, which was meant?)

      The enthusiastic response to Fang's thread suggests that discussion of certain real experiences and real useful play techniques is facilitated by hypothesizing the Impossible Thing as possible, just as discussing certain basic principles of Newtonian physics is facilitated by regarding objects as actually having a definite position and momenum simultaneously, even though quantum physics absolutely rules out that ever being really really true. These play techniques are more readily understood and developed in terms of attempting to reconcile the conflicting demands of The Impossible Thing as far as possible, than as peculiar flavors of particular GNS modes of play. Overgeneralizing the relevance of the impossibility of the Impossible Thing has tended to marginalize them. The excitement evident within Fang's thread is a reaction to the hope that that might no longer be so.

      Thanks for letting me say my piece. (To echo Fang:) Nothing personal intended. No hard feelings, I hope.

      - Walt
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      Ron Edwards
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      « Reply #8 on: November 24, 2002, 08:12:35 AM »

      From the text of Undiscovered:
      Let the players control their own fate. Although it is your story, you must follow the whims of the characters. It is, after all, their lives they are playing out. The characters must have the freedom to choose their own fates, not just do what the AG [Adventure Guide] tells them to do. It is your job, however, to guide the characters through the story you have created.

      From the text of Zero:
      In a role-playing game, the central characters belong to the players. They are the ones whose actions will determine how the plot unfolds. What the game master provides in preparing a scenario is the central problem or group of problems those characters must face. Much of the game master's fun lies in discovering how the heroes will react. The more experienced the game master, the more he or she can predict what player characters might do in a given situation. But there is always an element of surprise, often a very strong one. Once the player characters react to the situation, the game master has to react to those heroes' actions, deciding how the situation changes. And then the players must decide how their characters respond to the changing situation. Which leads to further reaction from the game master, and so on. The plot begins rolling along, carrying everyone with it on a journey of discovery, until it finally reaches some resolution.

      (True, the heroes aren't the only characters. Often, the central problem involves a character or creature on the game master's side - an antagonist to the players' protagonists. But for the purposes of role-playing games, we can consider any game master personae to be part of the problem, rather than characters in their own right, at least for now.)


      And a bit later:
      Some players may even suggest particular events or plot developments beyond their character's direct control, or maybe just describe a scene as they see it. A good game master encourages this sort of thing for two reasons: first, it helps involved those players even more deeply in the story, making their experience all the more vivid; second, it takes some of the burden off the game master's shoulders, letting someone else share the work of describing things, and further spurring the game master's creativity.

      From the text of Arrowflight:
      Driving the Plot
      Once you've constructed your magnum opus of a campaign plot, the players will inevitably find ways to exploit, ignore, or downright break all of your hard work. You can either let that happen, or you can crack the whip and get them back in line. Don't be afraid of exploiting a character's past or weakness to ensure complicity. After all, you are the storyteller. Without you, they'd be playing Monopoly. Some of the tried and true methods of driving a plot are as follows:

      - Start the characters off in Adversity. Strip them of everything ...
      - Alternately, have them called upon to serve the Common Good ...
      - Appeal to any number of Baser Instincts ...
      - Force them in a certain direction with Rule of Law ...
      - Similar to the Rule of Law, you can direct your players with Threat of Bodily Harm ...

      Whatever you do, make sure it is not a no-win scenario. Nothing will frustrate and alienate players more than a dead end with no way out.


      My points are as follows:

      1) Arrowflight and Zero are honest and clear about their goals as game texts. Undiscovered is confused. The former two represent front-loaded Illusionism and Character-centered Narrativism, respectively; the latter represents the Impossible Thing.

      2) Arrowflight and Zero present inspiring and understandable goals regarding the procedures, ideals, and outcomes of play. Undiscovered does not, and I am convinced through bitter experience that the play-equivalent to the Undiscovered text is very, very prone to dysfunction. (Note my phrasing: I have not yet played Undiscovered)

      3) I have cherry-picked these examples, true. I also maintain that I can identify literally hundreds of similar passages from role-playing game texts, in various combinations or degrees of clarity, and that the Impossible Thing is by far the most common. (I can also toss in other forms of play, such as player-vs.-GM Gamism, hardcore reality-Sim, and more, to round out the diversity of all published RPGs. And yes, I have read very nearly all of them in the quest for these specific "what we do" texts.)

      I don't think that the quest for the Impossible Thing is a good thing. Upon reflection, I realized that Fang's metaphor of the jungle and so forth is entirely backwards, in my view. As I see it, we have dozens of wonderful and functional modes of play: Cibola, El Dorado, Shangri-La, and many others. They aren't hard to find or to do! That is my point. They are not mysterious and guarded by serpents. The Impossible Thing is not a thicket which surrounds them. It is a hobbling device we wear, and then we moan and suffer instead of proceeding to the beautiful places.

      Best,
      Ron
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      Valamir
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      « Reply #9 on: November 24, 2002, 08:33:04 AM »

      Yeah, that's the thing that's being missed here.  The Impossible Thing is not some thing that was invented here on the Forge.  It is the result of dozens of game book texts that instruct "players do this", and "GMs do that" that are simply incompatable instructions that don't work.  Generally what happens is that the players TRY to do this and the GM TRIES to do that, and somewhere in the pushing and pulling the game gets played.  But in reality the players DIDN'T really do this and the GM DIDN'T really do that...because they can't both do what they're told to do.
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      « Reply #10 on: November 24, 2002, 07:16:48 PM »

      Just wanted to give props to Ron for starting this thread. I think this conversation desperately needed this clarification to proceed.

      - Joachim -
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      « Reply #11 on: November 26, 2002, 04:13:07 PM »

      Quote from: Ron Edwards


      The Impossible Thing = the players determine the protagonists' decisions and the GM authors the story.


      First of all; Hello ron, forge people.

      Reading through the discussions on all sides of this topic, it seems to me that alot of the grey area involved is due to the phrase "the protagonists' decisions". If think that "protagonists' decisions" is being used interchangably for two different things; "protagonists' intent" and "protagonists' actions".

      CASE 1:

      I believe that the situation "the players determine the protagonists' intent and the GM authors the story" is impossible, if you consider determination of the protagonists' intent as part of authorship.

      However, I believe that the situation "the players determine the protagonists' intent and the GM authors the rest of the story" is entirely possible. (Authoring the rest of the story will include the outcomes of the intent once resolved via either the GM, or the rules.)

      This situation encompasses my understanding of Eldorado from the discussion, and also encompasses my understanding of Illusionism, and probably encompasses most ad-libbed no preperation GMing people refered to.

      CASE 2:

      I also believe that the situation "the players allways determine the results of the protagonists' actions, and the GM allways authors the story" is impossible, if you consider determination of the results of the protagonists' actions as part of authorship.

      However, I believe that the situation "the players allways/sometimes determine the results of the protagonists' actions,  and the GM authors the rest of the story" is entirely possible.

      This situation encompasses my understanding of most of the games with non-GM narration possible (most games ive seen around the forge, you raging narativists you.)

      JUSTIFICATION:

      Before i am accused of trying to oppose the "impossible case" by merely redefining the impossible case (which I admit I am doing), I will justify why i do so.

      I believe any statement of the form "condition X, and the GM authors the story" is not roleplaying unless authoring is constrained/redefined in some way. I believe such a case is story telling / one-man-narative-creation, and is not useful in discussion of gaming.
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