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Sim Essay: reading the book is the start of play?

Started by Jack Spencer Jr, February 04, 2003, 07:10:07 PM

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M. J. Young

Quote from: Jack raised the question when heUsing 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 cook all the time; I make dinner almost every night for a family currently (thanks to the presence of the displaced girlfriend of one son) numbering eight. Making dinner almost always begins with deciding what to make. Often that means trekking down to the freezer and shelves in the basement to bring up food, possibly to look at what I have. Sometimes it includes running to the store, particularly if I need one item like milk.

Similarly, drafting blueprints is an essential step in building a house, and writing a script an essential step in making a movie--one which, in modern cinema, is ongoing simultaneously with shooting it, as rewrites and revisions come out daily on the set.

Let me turn to cards.

Bridge and Pinochle both have what is called an auction phase. It is during this part that decisions about the next phases of the game, the play phase, are made. Those decisions include which suit will be trumps, what cards have greater value, and who gets to play the first card. (Pinochle has a third, intermediate, phase, called the Meld phase, which is between the two both temporally and in relation to actual play. The decisions have been made, and during Meld phase players are scoring points by revealing certain cards and card combinations that they hold in their hands, but no tricks are taken.) Play then begins as the designated player leads the first card, and each side attempts to score as many points as they are able through judicious card play.

Note that within the game, there is a distinction made between actually playing the game and participating in the set-up portion known as the auction. However, no one who says they want to play Bridge or Pinochle is excluding from that use of "play" the auction phase. It is a necessary part of play, and in both games it is strategically very important with nuances of bidding practice that can make or break a team's chances in the later phases.

Game preparation is like going to the basement to get the food, running to the store for milk, drafting the house to be built, writing the script, and participating in the auction. It is, in that sense, part of playing the game, and cannot be said not to be gameplay. However, just as the Bridge and Pinochle players do when referencing the taking of tricks, we who play role playing games also use that word "play" in a specialized sense to mean this specific part of play which most represents what we do on an ongoing basis in the game. We call that "play"; it is also part of "play".

Now, whether reading the game book is "part of play" anymore than going to the game store to buy the module or get more dice may very well depend on how the book is written. I've read sections of Alyria that make me feel I'm experiencing the game--not just the world, but the world as it would be experienced in play. If those experiences are part of preparation to play an actual game (and in my case they may well be), they might well be part of play in the broader sense. On the other hand, I never felt like I was playing D&D when I read the rule books, and I didn't write any part of Multiverser with that in mind. Even the one piece of game fiction, the short story embedded in The Perpetual Barbecue in The Second Book of Worlds--isn't written to give the experience of play. (It's actually written to provide the framework for the world as it is before the player characters arrive within it.) So it depends on a lot of variables.

--M. J. Young

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: M. J. YoungIt is, in that sense, part of playing the game, and cannot be said not to be gameplay. However, just as the Bridge and Pinochle players do when referencing the taking of tricks, we who play role playing games also use that word "play" in a specialized sense to mean this specific part of play which most represents what we do on an ongoing basis in the game. We call that "play"; it is also part of "play"
Excellent point, MJ and what I was thinking but just couldn't put into word. Thanks.

Mike Holmes

I assume that y'all have felt misunderstood at times. Try to hearken back to one of those moments as you read my words.

For purposes of discussing theory we need a definition of what play is in an RPG. There are probably several, but that's not important here. What's important is determining whether the parts of an RPG such as Character Generation and other forms of preparation are sufficiently like play to be able to use the terms associated with play to describe what happens during that part of participating in an RPG.

Thus I'll repeat myself and say that I am not denying that there are  important, recognizable, and substantive differences between what happens in such portions of RPG activities, and elsewhere. So, yes, any analogy that you want to throw at me that points out that they are not identical is going to stand just fine. It will also completely miss the point. I am not saying that preparation to dive into the story or action does not exist as a separate phase, or that we should stop calling Chargen, Chargen. Only that in certain narrow and specific ways it differs not one whit from what we call play. To that extent we can extend the terminology of play to preparation where it makes sense to do so.

The question is where a participant gets the authority to make decisions about things like what their character is like, or what the world is like "pre-play". In D&D you start by selecting a race/class often. In this case the authority to do so and have the decision stick is provided by the text which states that each player does this when creating a character.

But there are several other ways that this can be accomplished besides this player fiat methodology. In some cases selection is random giving the text and dice the authority to decide what is "true" regarding some aspect of the character. More importantly, however, there are systems that have things like career choices that occur along a linear timeline (Traveller being an obvious example). Or games like Aria where chacter generation occurs as a part of the continuing creation of the world. As such, players often make these decisions in-character ("Hmm. Bob's just graduated from college, so, given his high social standing, he'd probably continue on to the Naval Academy"). This is unusual, and as such, I find it important to have tools to discuss this difference in decision making technique that is promoted by these methods.

And they already seem to exist. Most decisions in character generation systems seem to me to be, for example, Author Stance in that the player decides things in gross about the character (often without considering the details of why the character has the selections he has: Pawn stance), so as to make a character that the player feels is "fun" to play. One that interests him. Often they are also given Director Stance Authority during chargen that they would not likely have acess to afterwards to do things like create NPCs, institutions, communities, realms, etc in the form of character background. And in certain circumstances, as I describe above, the player makes decisions in Actor Stance using the sort of logic I describe above ("Well, at this point he would do xyz").

So, we can decide that this is "not play" if we like. But that obviates the fact that the terms that we use for play are very useful in describing what happens pre-play (and post play, for that matter). In fact, perhaps the greatest utility to this is to look at the differences between how these phases of a game operate. Thus, I can make that statement above about how a player making a background often has Director Stance powers that are eliminated when "play" begins.

Here's another solution that people may like better. I'll coin a new jargon term, Construction. Construction means all parts of RPG activity that add elements to the jointly imagined space, whether they be adding a country, adding a character, adding an action, whatever. As such, Construction includes all Play, and all Pre-Play, and all Post-Play, so long as it's about adding something to the imagined space. Thus we maintain our separation between play and stuff like chargen, but still have a term to talk about the similar natures of these RPG activities. In fact, I'd say that Construction would probably entail all of what is technically considered to be the activity of RPGs, leaving out only those elements that are often considered (potentially incorrectly) as ancillary such as OOC socialization during a session.

This is similar, really, to Ron's term Participant which is a superset that includes all Players and GMs, or other, well, participants (I'm still waiting for a report of an official Audience participant).

In that case, however, I'd like to then amend the definition of the Stances so as to have them refer to Construction, rather than just to Play.

Or, if we don't want to even go that far, then I'd like to discuss creation of terminology to discuss how things are decided in Pre and Post play phases.

Because, lord knows, I don't want to be making "Otherwise confusing statements." It seems that Ron would admit that, at the very least, some designers are trying to make chargen "like play". It seems to me that all this is a long way to go to avoid saying that preparation for play is not also play, but if people really think that the distinction is that important, I'm willing to accept that definition. Yes, I'd still call chargen and such Play if given my druthers. But if the community demands it I can live with the old definition.

I'll even admit the advantages of this definition. One is that, if we say that preparation is play, then we'd probably want to come up with a term to distinguish "play-play". And it seems intuitive to talk about chargen being "pre-play" for some games, and "in-play" for others (such as Universalis and a number of other recent designs at least in part).

But it seems to me that these designations came about traditionally and without rigor, and, as such suffer from the same problem as I mentioned that creates the necessity for the term Participant. As such, I think it's important that we review this in order that understanding can be achieved in this part of RPG activity that seems to me to be relatively unexplored in terms of direct (especially comparative) analysis.

For example, just in writing this, it occurs to me that other formalized phases can occur in RPG activity. Such as in Aria where one takes a break from playing the characters after an "adventure" and goes back to progressing the timeline in a shared fashion. These "Interphases" (the text almost certainly has a forlmal title for them), sure seem like play to me, but share a lot of the sorts of differences that chargen has. Anyhow, one could imagine a game where you stopped and created new characters every so often during sessions, interrupting "play". The point is that just thinking in these terms allows me to formulate different possibilities in addition to understanding them better.

Anyhow, it seems to me that this is something that needs to be considered, at the very least, to advance our ability to discuss these subjects.

Is that any clearer?

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Mike Holmes

I just now understand the whole play/part of play thing. It's my point exactly, actually. Basically play refers to two sets, "Play" meaning the stuff that happens after preparation (more or less), and "Part of Play" meaning all the activities of participation. As such, "Play" is a subset of "Parts of Play". Do I have that correct?

That's confusing (consider how long it took me just to get it here), and why I think we need a new term for either the subset or the superset. That's pretty much my point in a nutshell. And to say that Stance should refer to the superset, not the soley the subset.

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Ron Edwards

Hi Mike,

I'm really wondering why you are looking for consensus about any of this. I'm perfectly happy to say that some folks' aesthetic standards include character design as play, and hence include Stance, and others' don't. And that it's not a big deal except insofar as it informs stuff like explanatory text and Social Contract, including the ways I wrote about.

I think you are reading way too much judgment into my "otherwise-confusing" phrase. Prep-as-play confuses me, and I'm the guy who wrote the essay, so that's what I say. I'm not claiming the concept is confusing to everyone, for Pete's sake.


Le Joueur

It surprises me that everyone is getting so tied up in knots over a little word.  I really think that the word "play" ought to get added to the list like "genre" and "story."

Seems we're talkin' 'bout two kinds of 'play' here.  Both the cooking example and the character creation discussion are obscuring this problem.  Like M. J. points out making dinner can actually start when you see something on sale during a routine grocery trip; this is the same as when - reading through the new Rifts book I got (the week after it's first Gen Con) - I conceived of a borg character based on one small passage (something like "...most 'full conversion borgs' save only a hand or their face...;" it occurred to me that nothing said I couldn't keep something a little more visceral).  Mike has demonstrated quite succinctly that character creation can quite unequivocally be a part of 'play' (under any definition).  Yet Ron is right there - and right - with how 'play' is the affecting the 'shared imaginative space.'  (Although it could be argued that placing a character within such would be this kind of act, it wouldn't become literally 'play' - according to Ron - until that character was shared.)

The problem here is that we have two distinct uses of the word 'play.'  They are not the same, trying to reconcile them will only lead to more confusion.  It would be like trying to prove that 'play' as in 'played a card' is the same as 'play' as M. J. pointed out in 'playing Pinochle.'  (One is a part of the other, but they aren't interchangeable.)  Furthermore, I'm not entirely sure that's the real problem here.

See I think each of us is reading "reading the book" to mean different things.  For example, say I'm playing in that Rifts game and a new player questions the validity of my Borg character; I'd go to the book to find that line which inspired me, that might take a bit of reading if I've forgotten the place.  At this time, "reading the book" is a part of 'play' as much as checking a modifier or consulting a table.  However, if I've never seen a game and I pick up the book to learn it (perhaps even in the store), I am indeed literally "reading the book," but not in any way that could be construed as 'play' under any definition.

Now, I'm not going to make any attempt to analyze whether "reading the book" in order to learn character creation counts as 'play' because I think that's arguable at best.  I am on record for saying that character creation and advancement are both a part of 'play' in the bigger sense because if you don't prep, you don't play.   And I don't mean that getting chips and dips is play either; I mean actual substantive contribution to what will be 'shared imaginative space.'  If making up a non-player character up 'on the fly' is a part of play, I don't see any difference between that and spending four hours on your masterpiece player character - they're both 'for play.'  However much "reading the book" is involved is probably not what Ron was referring to when he wrote that "reading the book" was not a part of 'play.'

Fang Langford
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!

Ron Edwards

And I'll say it again: I did not say that reading the book is not part of play. I said that treating it that way confuses me, personally.


Mike Holmes

I'm looking for consensus because I think that adjusting the terminology would add great utillity here. While you may be "fine" with this just remaining an aesthetic issue, I am not; I think I'm on to something here. I see it as much more than cosmetic. Apparently I'm either not communicating that well, or people just don't care.

And, for one, I am not wrapped around an axle on this. I think it's an important idea and want to discuss it. Why must passion be mistaken for overreaction? My comment on th4 "otherwise confusing" remark was simply to remind peoople why I threw this in this particular thread.

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Le Joueur

Quote from: Ron EdwardsAnd I'll say it again: I did not say that reading the book is not part of play. I said that treating it that way confuses me, personally.
Ah, but which "reading the book?"  Does 'looking up modifiers' not count?  Comparing reciting descriptions from modules to perusing in the store?  There are a lot of things that can be inferred in "reading the book."  We're just trying to be clear here.

Dang Langford

p. s. Note to all: this misspelling is always intentional when it occurs, I prefer it to using smilies when indicating a post of a semi-humorous nature.
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!

Walt Freitag

I think Mike has a strong point here, especially in light of examples like Jack Spencer's self-diagnosis of past play problems in this thread. Dysfunctional (in the sense of reflecting mutually incompatible goals between participants) character creation seems to have been the earliest and also the clearest symptom of the fundamental GNS conflict that also caused (arguably more subtle and harder to diagnose, if I'm interpreting Jack's account correctly) dysfunction in the play that followed. Evaluating char gen in the same theoretical terms as the ensuing play appears to have been the key, in this case, to the insight gained.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere


Quote from: Le JoueurAh, but which "reading the book?"  Does 'looking up modifiers' not count?  Comparing reciting descriptions from modules to perusing in the store?  There are a lot of things that can be inferred in "reading the book."  We're just trying to be clear here.
I thought it was pretty clear Ron was talking about the initial read of the rulebook, when you sit down to absorb the system and setting...
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FWIW Mike I definitely think that play begins when the book is opened the text is read and ones mind begins to imagine the possibilities.  The very first moment of "oohhh, that would be a cool hook to explore", or "ahhh I could easily see a character like X" etc is play.  Its imbedding the vision of the game world into the players mind and causing him to make judgements and assumptions about what the game is about just as much (and one could argue MORE) than actual play will.

Already when one is reading the rules and evaluating which are "wow cool" and which "well I'd definitely change that" the forces of GNS are at work.  Already when one is thinking about and discarding different ideas for characters is one engageing in all of the balance vs protagonism vs simulating a character vs maximizing effectiveness stuff that we spend so much time hashing out.

Frankly this is so second nature to my way of thinking that I'm finding it strange that it hasn't been part of the definition of "play" all along.  I guess I just had always assumed it was.

So yes.  IMO the minute you open the cover and read the first words of text for the first time you are involved in the over all play process and are demonstrating / experienceing GNS, stance, meta vs non meta concerns exactly as during real face to face time.

As suggested above, saying that prepareing the recipe isn't part of cooking seems completely foreign to me.


Chess requires tactical vision, strategic planning, etc, etc. When you play chess, you are engaged in these activities.

Preparing for a match by studying openings and your opponent's prior games may or may not qualify in some particular person's head as part of the PLAY of the game. Fine. Whatever. Semantics.

An important point (and in my mind the important part of what Mike's on to) is that during the pre-planning stage the player is engaging in very similar activities as he does during the actual game proper. We can use the same terminology to describe what the player is doing and what his experience is.

What ever terms you want to use for the "preparation", "actual play" and "entire experience", the terms and concepts used to study the game can be applied to all phases of the "entire experience."

M. J. Young

Mike: I really do appreciate your notion that we need better terminology; my problem is that I don't think we can get it without creating other communication problems.

We can say play, roleplay, gameplay, character play, adventure play. Roleplay is too narrow, as to the unitiated it would be taken to mean what you do with your own character during interaction. Character play probably has the same flaw. Adventure play seems to imply a certain kind of game. That leaves play and gameplay. But which is the general, and which the specific? Any decision made in that regard would be arbitrary; anyone who is not informed that the terminology is so used is going to be confused by any post that uses it.

Perhaps the right step is to use the terms, and when using them distinguish them in the current post. That way no one is going to be confused, and start shouting "but gameplay includes preplay set-up", because you've already stated which means what in the post.

Once a common usage is established, it would be easier to reference it as jargon. Meanwhile, there is a tendency around here to keep increasing the learning curve--on one thread recently someone used "pervy", and someone else responded that they didn't know what "pervy" meant, and no one answered that. The more jargon we've got, the more difficult it is for newcomers to follow what we're writing.

Next thing you know, we'll be composing all our posts in Latin; and since my Latin is extremely limited (worse than my Greek, and my Greek is really amateur level), I'll be among the excluded.

--M. J. Young

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: Mike HolmesI'm looking for consensus because I think that adjusting the terminology would add great utillity here.
I'm starting to agree with you, Mike.

This bit has been bothering me for a while but I didn't think to say something about it until now. When MJ addressed the whole cooking dinner analogy, he said
QuoteMaking dinner almost always begins with deciding what to make.
Emphasis his, probably for this very reason.
My analogy was about cooking dinner, not making dinner. It is a matter of sematics. I could see making dinner including going to the store to buy the necessary food items, but I cannot see shopping as cooking. It's shopping!

Anyway, I hope that dragging up that analogy again will only illustrate the point and not bring the focus back on the analogy. (no offense, MJ)