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Author Topic: Sim Essay: reading the book is the start of play?  (Read 6772 times)
Jack Spencer Jr
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« on: February 04, 2003, 11:10:07 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
How-to-play text
A lot of game texts in this tradition reach for a fascinating ideal: that reading the book is actually the start of play, moving seamlessly into group play via character creation. Features of some texts like the NPC-to-PC explanatory style and GM-only sections are consistent with this ideal, as well as the otherwise-puzzling statement that character generation is a form of Director stance. It supports the central point of this essay, that the value of Simulationist play is prioritizing the group imaginative experience, to an extent that expands the very notion of "play" into acts that from Narrativist or Gamist perspectives are not play at all.

Out of the entire article this passage it what pulled from me the strongest reaction of "What the hey...?" This really isn't developed in the essay, not to the point where I understand it. Is reading the book part of play? Really? Can someone develop this a little?
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clehrich
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« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2003, 11:36:04 AM »

Obviously Ron should weigh in on this, but I took it to refer to two things at once:

1. The habit of starting a game-book with a story, something WhiteWolf kind of made into a signature item, e.g. with Werewolf.  You see it also in Unknown Armies, where throughout the book are bits and pieces of "the underground," laid out to look like scribbled-on paper clipped to photos and whatnot.

2. The idea that a given book is only for players, while other books are for GMs, such that the publication structure enforces the play structure.  You see this again in Unknown Armies, to take a modern example, where the different sections are "graded" in their secrecy level vis-a-vis a particular campaign level.
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Chris Lehrich
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2003, 11:46:41 AM »

Probably my fault. I've said that phrase before that "deciding character background is Director Stance". Ron's claim is that this isn't play proper.

My point is that as soon as you start deciding what is happening, or has happened, or anything at all in the shared imaginative space that you are role-playing. This actually starts with the first description of the game, probably well before chargen. As soon as the GM says, it's about a planet in a galaxy far, far away, the shared imagining has begun.

If not, and "play" must relate to the character only, then all use of Director Stance Authority is not play, but something else. I fail to see how, say a narrated flashback scene that effectively creates my character's father is in any way different from doing the same in chargen.

Or perhaps I should say that the distinction between the phases of chargen and "play" is artificial and unneccessary. Chargen is just a part of play where the rules are different in how you decide things. For example, Universalis does not require any creation of any "background" before "play". You can do as much of this as you like, but it's not required, there is no chargen section of the rules; it's just not neccessary to have separate rules for it. In any case, from one perspective all you do in Universalis is creating a "background" that is, in the end, the story. All Director Stance.

So which is it? Is Director Stance play, or isn't it? If not, what is it? Why the artificial separation between these phases of...activity?...in RPGs. By the definition of role-playing as creating a shared imaginary space, it's all play to me, just play with separate rules.

Mike

P.S. sorry, that sounded ranty.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2003, 11:49:03 AM »

Hi there,

Chris, that's a good start, but I'll take it even further - for instance, lifepaths in character creation that determines, through use of the system, events that most play reserves for in-play occurrences. Traveller, Cyberpunk, and Legendary Lives all do this.

A number of the readers of the essay agreed with this issue very strongly, though. Can they or anyone else help clarify through their own perceptions and experience of reading game texts?

Best,
Ron
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2003, 11:50:08 AM »

OK, I'll buy #2 with the division and the begining of play structure, especially player/GM sections or books. I'm not so sure of #1. But then, maybe I'm typifying the last sentence of the quote.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2003, 11:51:18 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
2. The idea that a given book is only for players, while other books are for GMs, such that the publication structure enforces the play structure.  You see this again in Unknown Armies, to take a modern example, where the different sections are "graded" in their secrecy level vis-a-vis a particular campaign level.
Another game that does this is Deadlands.

Basically, in theory one is allowing one to adopt a very extreme version of the Actor stance: The player does not know what the character does not know. As Ron points out in the original GNS essay, this is the default stance for Simulationist play, so trying to enforce Actor stance can be seen as a very Simulationist technique.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2003, 12:09:16 PM »

Interesting perspective, Mike. Let's see if I can shoot it out of the saddle or not.  ;)

Using this same perspective, grocery shopping is cooking. Not a part of cooking, or just preparation to cook, but actually cooking. Drafting blueprints is building a house. Not planning to, but actually building it. Writing a script is shooting a movie. Not part of the preparation or planing to shoot a movie, but actually shooting it.

I think that there is a line between preparing to do something and when the task is actually being performed.

That is, you can decide you want a cheese omlet. You look in the fridge, see you are out of cheese and eggs, so you go to the store, buy eggs and cheese, decide you want some ham as well, buy it, take it home, get out a bowl and heat up a frying pan, crack the eggs into the bowl, beat them, throw them in a pan, put the ham and cheese in, etc etc.

We can argue over this belabored example as-to when preparation to make an omlet ends and the actual making of the omlet begins. Is it when you start heating the pan or when you crack the eggs? My point is that there is a difference between preparation and the actual act.

That said, I think that this difference is a tad slipperier in RPGs than in omlet making, as Universalis points out.

I think it is better to emphasize that it is a form of play rather than play itself because there is a difference and IME may not have any real effect on "actual" play. :)

Does this make sense?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2003, 12:15:55 PM »

Much more slippery. Because in chargen you aren't "planning". Youare actually creating. You do your "planning" very quickly, deciding something like " I want to play a elven mage". Then you create the character just like you would the omlette. Later you create your father with a flashback, which is just another form of cooking. We've all got to top with the analogies.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't note that chargen is different in substantive ways from other sorts of play. Just that it is, itself, play.

Try this, give me a definition of play that expressly does not include the sorts of activities that occur in chargen.

Mike
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2003, 12:44:32 PM »

I'm still having trouble with this concept and I probably will continue to do so for a while at the very least.
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Try this, give me a definition of play that expressly does not include the sorts of activities that occur in chargen.

Hmmm... That's not exactly fair. In defining "play" I would naturally want it to cover different types of games from Universalis to AD&D to Sorcerer to DeProfundis to some game with as-yet unimagined method. Such a definition would either be extremely open by necessity to cover all of these different styles of play or will attempt to be close so as to exclude chargen which you would then point out, thus invalidating this definition. But this does not invalidate that I can still perceive a difference in proceedure and attitude in myself and the play group when creating characters vs. actual play. I stand by my reasoning above in that it is a *part of* play to be certain, but to call it simply play is synecdoche, I think.

In any case, this has gotten clean away from my actual topic. I'm not talking about chargen being "play" but reading the darn book being play.
Quote
This actually starts with the first description of the game, probably well before chargen. As soon as the GM says, it's about a planet in a galaxy far, far away, the shared imagining has begun.

That's more like it. This has all of the problematic debate potential of the abortion issue. When is it a human being? Bah.

I don't think that any more ground is going to be gained either way here. The only thing I can think of is that the Lumpley principal is absent at this point, it seems to me. Is it? The players may be agreeing, but not with any system facilitating it. It's purely social contract at that point.

Maybe. It's a pity that we've already reached a point to argee to disagree, but such is life.
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lumpley
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« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2003, 01:35:09 PM »

Quote from: Ron's Sim Essay
How-to-play text
A lot of game texts in this tradition reach for a fascinating ideal: that reading the book is actually the start of play, moving seamlessly into group play via character creation. Features of some texts like the NPC-to-PC explanatory style and GM-only sections are consistent with this ideal, as well as the otherwise-puzzling statement that character generation is a form of Director stance. It supports the central point of this essay, that the value of Simulationist play is prioritizing the group imaginative experience, to an extent that expands the very notion of "play" into acts that from Narrativist or Gamist perspectives are not play at all.

Emphasis mine.  I been there.

I wrote my own fantasy heartbreaker entirely in the voice of someone who lived in the game world.  The point was to get the players' heads inside the world as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

The goal of the game was to "be" someone in the game world.  The other players could support or distract from your experience, but they weren't necessary to it.  You could start without them.  I mean, "actual play" wasn't social, it was in your own private head.  You could start when you picked up the book, for instance, or while you were making your character before the group got together for the first session.  In fact, ideally, you'd come to the first session with a rich and detailed experience of your "self" in the setting already.  Hit the ground mid-stride, like.  Just as Ron describes.

(A problematic ideal, I'd say now.)

-Vincent

P.S. Jack, the so-called Lumpley Principle (so-called because I feel like "lookie me! I'm a fer-frick-sake principle!" when I call it that) says that group consensus is what's necessary, not mechanics.  It's in full-swing operation whenever the group is deciding what's true in the game.  If you make characters separately, before the game, it kicks in when you introduce your character and get the thumbs-up or thumbs-down from everybody else.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2003, 02:00:15 PM »

Thanks, Vincent. That's what I thought.

Jack, I don't know what you could possibly mean by chargen being *part of play* but not simply play.

To all of ya, I've never said that these things were identical to "normal play" or anything of the sort. Just that they are play of a sort, and as such can be analyzed with the same terminology, etc. That's the important part.

Consider this. What if there were a game where you created the character in a chargen phase by having a discussion in character between the players that took turns describing the character's attributes (I am in fact contemplating using this for my next design). So player A has his character Bob say, "Well, as you can see, I'm pretty Tall, and as such monsters tend to fear me". Then player B says, "That may be true, but consider my great Strength!" etc.

Is that not play? How is it not chargen? It's use of explicitly given player Director Stance Authority to create a character. It happens in a separate phase (as soon as they leave the bar, "Normal" resolution and powers are assumed), and it's different from the normal resolution to be sure. But I'll be damned if it's not play.

The point is that, even with traditional chargen it's useful to see it in terms of play so that we can disuss it. Let's say it's not play, and therefore creating a background is not Director Stance. Then what praytell is it? What form of authority is the player using to create the character? Special Chargen Authority? The methodologies are sufficiently similar that they need to be discussed using the same terms.

And you don't need a system to decide what happens in a game. Freeform games don't. So, yes, as soon as the social contract is "signed" the game is on and the participants are all, potentially playing. As soon as anyone makes a statement that is accepted by the other players due to any sort of authority, they are playing a RPG.

To the extent that one can play solo RPGs, even imagining things when reading the text is play.

Mike
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #11 on: February 04, 2003, 02:17:53 PM »

Hey, Mike and everybody. Thanks for the responses. I think I got it now. I'm still going "what the hey...?" but I think I'm just typifying the Gam/Nar perspective Vincent highlighted.

Thanks again.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: February 04, 2003, 03:03:49 PM »

Hi there,

In case anyone's interested, I'm with Jack on this one - not in the sense of refuting or denying anyone else's points or perspective, but just in saying, "Huh. Is that how you look at it? How very different."

I'm also thinking that reading the book itself is not necessarily, and quite often is not, an act of shared Exploration. Sure, maybe when one person says, "It's on the second moon of Rigel IV," then we're in that mode and (maybe) that can be seen as play, but when I'm hangin' out and reading the book? Before a group discussion? After it? That's when I say, I dunno, Mike, it doesn't work that way for me anyway.

Best,
Ron
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Trevis Martin
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« Reply #13 on: February 04, 2003, 05:57:37 PM »

The game that I immediately thought of when reading the beginning of this thread is the first publishing of Cybergeneration.  The GM literally read the book out loud and the integrated "adventure" had the characters define themselves at a data terminal so the AI could evaluate them, ran them through the carbon plague, which gave them their powers, and then moved on from there...   Talk about getting to the characters head right away!


Trevis
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clehrich
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« Reply #14 on: February 04, 2003, 07:35:25 PM »

You know, as long as we have a "frickin' prinple" around, let me point out that kill puppies for satan does this too, rather subtly.  I don't mean it's a Sim game or anything, but the entire text is written in this peculiar jocular scuzzbag dialect.  This projects the reader into the game-world, essentially, "Yeah, we talk like losers, but we really don't suck, 'cuz we got magic powers from Satan."  It works wonderfully, and for me reading kill puppies already told a lot about play.  

Similarly, when lumpley wrote up "So we killed some puppies for satan" recently on the Actual Play forum, he did so in that same stream-of-not-quite-coherence dialect.  Admittedly, the game was funny, but why was everyone "corpsing" all over the thread?  Because of the dialect.

In fact, kill puppies has been cited in the Indie forum recently as the single example of a game with constant printed profanity which is nonetheless not offensive (if you're kind of open-minded, obviously).  As the link from the Forge says, "All profanity, all the time."

So from my perspective, the idea that this sort of thing makes reading a game book play, no qualifications, is perfectly okay.  The only problem is if you overextend it (it's what play is really like, should be, etc.).

And of course if you can't write, you're s--- out of luck....
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Chris Lehrich
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