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Author Topic: The Box -- an idea for clarifying terminology  (Read 6408 times)
bluegargantua
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Posts: 167


« on: December 17, 2002, 09:30:05 PM »

Hi,

  So reading through the GNS articles and a number of threads here in this forum, I've come to the following conclusion:

  The terminology was rather vague to begin with.  Now, there's a whole host of specialized jargon which does a great job of obscuring whatever it is that's under discussion.

  To some degree, this is because many of the basic terms are still kinda open to amendment and modification.  I think that another problem tends to be that a large amount of jargon is pushed together when new topics come up and people want to discuss whether an accurate combination is described.  It's also a bit sloppy because there's probably no one game that fits neatly under one heading.  

  But frankly, I think that there just aren't enough clear, unambiguous examples of any given term.  I note that people often say X is much like game Y (or a sub-section of game Y).  I also note that a large number of threads get off on tangets that start off with "I don't think we mean the same thing when we say X".  Which really seems to undermine the whole purpose of having a shared vocabulary.

  So I'm going to propose "The Box" a sort of imaginary laboratory where people can set up a very simple game and use it to highlight whatever term or word they are trying to use.  Ideally, it might produce a series of examples that will serve to highlight all the major terms and produce an easily digested resource for people looking to wade into all of this.

  So.  Here is "The Box".

--------------------------------------------------

  Imagine that you have 3 people sitting down to play a role playing game.  The players are:

    Adam -- a player[/list:u]
    Brad -- a player[/list:u]
    Carol -- a GM[/list:u]

      The characters being controlled by the players are:

    Abe -- Played by Adam, he's a fighter[/list:u]
    Ben -- Played by Brian, he's a magic-user[/list:u]
    Cal -- An NPC played by Carol, he's a thief[/list:u]

       Obviously, the game has a fantasy setting.  When we look in on our players, this is what's going on:

      Abe and Ben are standing in a large square room (about 20'x20').  They're standing at the only entrance to the room -- a simple wooden door dead center on the south side.  Directly across the room from them, seated behind a small table is Cal.  Cal is in possession of the Magic Widget -- an item which Abe and Ben would both very much like to have, but which Cal is unlikely to part with.

    --------------------------------------------------

    That's it.  That's the set-up (rather stolen from the Orc with a Pie scenario).  From here, the idea is for people to describe a sequence of play that highlights whatever terminology they're trying to expound upon.  The basic rules are:

    1.)  You only get to describe one term at a time.  Don't mix.  You can, and are encouraged to, compare and contrast between different terms.  However, you must re-create the same events as they would play out under each term.  So if you want to describe G/N/S -- you have to play out three examples.  

    2.)  Don't mess with the Box.  The idea is that we have the fewest possible components so that your example is as clear as possible.  Adding things, or changing the basic set-up makes it harder to set your example next to others for comparison.  If your terminology can't work within this framework (a generic situation that happens in almost every RPG you ever play) then perhaps it needs some revision.

    So there's my idea.  What do you think, sirs?

    later
    Tom
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Emily Care
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« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2002, 06:22:39 AM »

***********************
Emily enters the viewing room, conveniently hidden from the players behind the two-way mirror on the wall of the Box. She fiddles with the volume level on the microphones, until she can hear Carol's voice clearly as she narrates to Adam and Brad.  

Emily says: "Hey Tom, how's the game going?"

Tom says: "It's just getting interesting...."
************************

a note on the set-up:
Having a gm won't work for all games, so you're gonna have to "mess with the box" sometimes.  But it seems like a useful tool to have around.  Thanks, Tom!

--Emily Care
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bluegargantua
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Posts: 167


« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2002, 06:58:40 AM »

Quote from: Emily Care

a note on the set-up:
Having a gm won't work for all games, so you're gonna have to "mess with the box" sometimes.  But it seems like a useful tool to have around.  


Yeah, yeah, I know.  But even if Directorial/Authorial stances are really shared around the table, it's not utterly impossible to talk about having a GM, even if it's in a "reduced capacity".  If nothing else, Carol is the person who bought the game and she's showing how it works to the other two by setting up this dirt-simple scenario for them to experiement with.

And remember, we don't necessarily need to get into details about the rules or mechanics of the game that's being played -- there aren't any.  We just need the Box to show a snapshot of what a game might look like when a particular term is being very strongly expressed.  

So if I want to show an example of Fortune I'd say something like: "Adam decides that he'll have Abe shoot an arrow at Cal.  Adam rolls a die to determine whether or not he hits."  Note that I haven't said anything about what die he rolls, whether there are modifiers, what kind of target numbers he's trying to beat, etc.  It doesn't matter.  The point in modelling Fortune is to show that it requires some sort of random element to determine success or failure.  (at least, that's what I *think* Fortune means)

I just want to avoid people starting off all their examples by saying "Well, in Purple Poka-Dotted Transpersonaism, the players wouldn't actually exist and there wouldn't be a scenario...".  That kinda defeats the idea of being able to look at different terms side-by-side.  

later
Tom
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quozl
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« Reply #3 on: December 18, 2002, 07:28:24 AM »

Quote from: bluegargantua
I just want to avoid people starting off all their examples by saying "Well, in Purple Poka-Dotted Transpersonaism, the players wouldn't actually exist and there wouldn't be a scenario...".  That kinda defeats the idea of being able to look at different terms side-by-side.  

later
Tom


I just wanted to let you know that this idea is AWESOME and I really hope it gets used to define terms.  I have an aversion to people not using plain language and this seems to require it.  (You might want to clear up what Brad is doing since Ben is played by Brian.)  I'm looking forward to seeing terms defined in this manner.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #4 on: December 18, 2002, 08:38:43 AM »

Quote
The terminology was rather vague to begin with. Now, there's a whole host of specialized jargon which does a great job of obscuring whatever it is that's under discussion.


Actually, I find anything that's in the GNS essay to be exceedingly precise, which happens to be the part that leads a lot of folks astray.  It is very specific, and written in a concise manner, what usually occurs is that folks tend to either add more to the definition, or assume it has implications where it does not.

On the other hand, some of our new-er terminology(illusionism, Gm-oomph, vanilla/pervy, points of contact) could use that same treatment.

I think if anyone decides to use the Box, they should also include the listed definition as well.  Examples are a great way of illustrating ideas.

Chris
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Seth L. Blumberg
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« Reply #5 on: December 18, 2002, 06:55:10 PM »

Ron has steadfastly refused to define the terms of GNS theory with respect to abstractions such as "motivation" or to imaginary examples of play.

At first, I thought this was needless obscurantism, but over time I've come to realize that he's probably right.  There are far more ways to fail to articulate crucial assumptions in an argument over a thought experiment than there are in a discussion of a real-world event.

As such, I think "the box" is clever, but fundamentally misguided.
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talysman
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« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2002, 07:58:51 PM »

Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
Ron has steadfastly refused to define the terms of GNS theory with respect to abstractions such as "motivation" or to imaginary examples of play.

At first, I thought this was needless obscurantism, but over time I've come to realize that he's probably right.  There are far more ways to fail to articulate crucial assumptions in an argument over a thought experiment than there are in a discussion of a real-world event.

As such, I think "the box" is clever, but fundamentally misguided.


maybe, maybe not. depends on how it is used.

if, while describing terminology using the Box, the description were to make references to abstractions and unknowables such as motivation, then the concept becomes useless, leading to even more debates over terminology.

if, however, the descriptions are designed as procedural definitions, it may be useful.

I think the restriction to procedural definitions is what is important, not the restrictions to Box terminology, but the procedural definitions should definitely restrict themselves to greatly simplified settings and characters, like the Box, in order to avoid distraction.

I would be more inclined to name the two primary players Alice and Bob (because of their existing use in examples of other theories,) with additional players Carol and David added as necessary. if a unique GM is specified in a definition, I would call him Gary, for obvious reasons. to avoid confusions about who is the player and who is the character, I would assign character names derived from player names: first two letters of player's name followed by a hyphen and "Cha" (for "Character"... thus, Al-Cha, Bo-Cha, Ca-Cha, Da-Cha.

of course, this is all beside the point. I believe Tom's question or intention in this thread was to get people to post definitions of terms using the Box.
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John Laviolette
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2002, 12:11:20 PM »

It seems a useful idea; I'm just targeting a point in the example.

Quote from: Tom a.k.a. bluegargantua
So if I want to show an example of Fortune I'd say something like: "Adam decides that he'll have Abe shoot an arrow at Cal.  Adam rolls a die to determine whether or not he hits."  Note that I haven't said anything about what die he rolls, whether there are modifiers, what kind of target numbers he's trying to beat, etc.  It doesn't matter.  The point in modelling Fortune is to show that it requires some sort of random element to determine success or failure.  (at least, that's what I *think* Fortune means)


I think that "whether there are modifiers" has significant impact on whether this is a purely fortune mechanic. If there are no modifiers, then this is probably just fortune; but what are modifiers?

If the modifiers are on the order of "because Abe has a dexterity of 72, he gets +7 on his roll", that's a karma adjustment to a fortune mechanic--it is still primarily fortune-based, but is influenced by the ability scores of the character.

Similarly, if the modifiers are on the order of "because the referee does not want Cal killed, Abe gets -8 on his roll", that's a drama mechanic influencing an otherwise fortune outcome.

Modifiers in a fortune system tend to be of a sort which reduces the impact of fortune on the outcome, most commonly by karma.

There are few purely fortune systems. Even a simple chart that provides different chance to hit for more experienced characters is a karma factor.

Now, I note that your example did not mention modifiers; it was in your clarification that you mentioned they might or might not exist. To make your example more clearly fortune, I'd say, "Adam flips a coin to see whether or not he hits." Note that in this case there are no karma influences whatsoever; it is implied that anyone has a fifty/fifty chance of scoring a successful hit. As soon as you introduce an element that suggests different chance to hit for different characters (not based on defenses), you have modified away from the fortune mechanic.

--M. J. Young
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2002, 12:17:37 PM »

Hi M.J.,

Well, the Box is proving itself in this instance, because I disagree with you. As I have more-or-less interpreted the terms from Everway, they go like this:

1) Fortune = use of a randomizing mechanic of any distribution at all. 50/50, 100:1, whatever.

2) Karma = reference to a fixed value.

3) Drama = just sayin', without reference to quantitative values.

These are clean, distinct categories, and although a system might combine them, a specific mechanic does not (i.e. it's one of the three).

I've often suspected that people might think that fixed modifiers to a randomizing mechanic constituted a "Karma influence," and have waited patiently to correct it if it ever cropped up. Today seems like the day.

Note that "fixed values" in Karma does not mean non-adjustable. Nobilis, for instance, represents a Karma system which may be adjusted from a spent Resource. But there is no randomized element in that game, hence no Fortune.

Best,
Ron
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bluegargantua
Member

Posts: 167


« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2002, 12:57:22 PM »

Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
Ron has steadfastly refused to define the terms of GNS theory with respect to abstractions such as "motivation" or to imaginary examples of play.


Quote from: Ron Edwards
Nobilis, for instance, represents a Karma system which may be adjusted from a spent Resource. But there is no randomized element in that game, hence no Fortune.


:)

OK, I agree that there may be some terminology which really deals with stuff that are larger than a single game or gaming example (real or imagined) could contain.  I suspect that most of these will be from the "Social Contract" realm.  But there's an awful lot of stuff that can be more clearly defined by using very simple examples.

I'd would suggest that people don't resort to using the box in very early stages of developing new terminology unless there was a lot of misunderstanding about what the term actually meant.  Then it might prove a useful tool in helping to produce a more easily-understood definition that doesn't rely on the example.  It can't be this self-referential loop (i.e. Term X is just like example Y).  Terms need to stand on their own (i.e. Term X means this.  I can use this example Y to show the Term in action).

I guess I'd also be a bit leery about having a debate using nothing but box models -- or worse, nit-picking a single example to death.  I can see the potential for losing focus when people get caught up in explaining how the examples are all wrong.  The box only needs to model enough to communicate a Term and as such, it's probably going to be really simplistic.  But it really can't (and shouldn't) try to address multiple shadings and grey areas that occur in real life because that's not what it's supposed to do.  My intent to is to provide an aid to help people get a better handle on terminology being used (especially rather well-defined terminology).

"So there are all these RPG designers chained to a wall, bound up in a series of special harnesses, such that they can only perceive and interact with a computer sceen, upon which, postings by other RPG designers can be read..."
Tom
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2002, 07:29:12 AM »

Hi Tom,

Couple points.

1) Seth's comment is dead-on target. I do prefer to stick with specific examples of play, as opposed to theoretical ones, due to the multivariate nature of the theory. I don't see my phrase that you quoted as contradicting his, because M.J. is asking about definitions, not examples.

2) The Box looks useful insofar as its contents conform to a specific and full example of play. As soon as those contents become too vague - and I suspect in many cases they will - then its utility will drop.

I'm not sure if you've seen any of the "show me" posts that demand (from me) an application of GNS/etc. I always welcome them. Provide me with any example of real play, answer any questions I have about it, and I'll explain just what's happening in terms of the available theory. It's fun.

Best,
Ron
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