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Mechanics, Emotion and Amberway II

Started by Supplanter, September 03, 2001, 02:23:00 AM

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I don't think I agree.

While I certainly and easily, concede that the characters are fictional, I think you can develop a very real emotional attachment through them.  Let us notice:

In Jim's example, the player Ginger caused the character Orrinda to say things about her revulsion for the character Vialle and her relationship with the character Gerard.  But what was that revulsion really for?  An idea.  Orrinda did not herself have sexual relations with a man who had killed her husband.  She heard about Vialle doing this.  The idea repulses Orrinda.

It's just the same for Ginger.  There's an idea there, the whole "sleeping with someone who killed your lover" concept.  That idea gets into Ginger's head, and it can provoke just as strong a reaction as it does in Orrinda's (imagined) head.  Does it matter that the people who provoke the idea are fictional, that Vialle and Gerard and Random never really existed?  I don't think it does, necessarily.  For both the player and the character, there's no immediate sensual reality to the situation, and, as such, I have no trouble believing that the player can have the exact same emotional response as the character.

In contrast, I don't believe that a player could have the exact same emotional response to killing a person or to looking out over an endless chasm that she must jump, because there is an aspect of sensual reality that's missing.

Mike Holmes

Even if combat and loyalty have slight differences which make one harder to experience than the other, I still contend that we as humans have a stronger ability to empathize with the characters than you give credit for. I think that the extent to which a particular player can empathize with a particular game stimulus probably has much more to do with the player than any mechanical barriers placed between the player and that stimulus.

If I were a combat veteran, for example, I don't think that I'd have any more difficulty empathizing with my character in combat than Ginger did empathizing with her character about Sexual Responsibility. Yes, even if it is portrayed through a mechanic. OTOH, I myself might have problems empathizing with the idea of Sexual Responsibility. Any interference by mechanics in this would seem to me to be relatively minor by comparison. Either a subject will touch the player or it will not.

And are you actually positing that you play combat via mechanics because it is less possible to viscerally portray it via writting? You don't get any kicks out of combat mechanics? I think that perhaps we are trying to hide our guilty pleasure, here, that old-school enjoyment of combat in our RPGs. I know that I have fallen into this trap personally before.

Also, I'd think that you'd have to admit that the "danger" posed by such mechanics only threatens this empathy, if even that. Certainly you wouldn't posit that such mechanics make it impossible to create a good portrayal of such feelings, would you? I mean despite having mechanics (and often, if fact because of them I'd contend) portrayals of such feelings in RPGs are done very well. I see it all the time. Ginger's monologue could just as easily have been faked, I contend, a result which might have been nearly as satisfying to all who participated (and maybe moreso to some). I suspect that there are plenty of players who have no interest at all in feeling the exact emotions of their characters, despite Jim's motivation to have them do so. So the area of "danger" is pretty limited, if it exists at all.

And this sort of tactic is limiting of itself, anyhow. When you rely solely on the idea that you can get a response from the player with this tactic you eliminate the possibility of producing interesting reactions via other methods. By which I mean that an important part of portrayal, IMO, is players extrapolating the feelings of heir characters, which are sometimes feelings that they themselves do not share with the character. I have a fondness for playing characters that have feelings, behaviors, and ideas that are foreign to me, personally, for example.

While players are still just as free to produce reactions that are interperetations of their characters feelings in a mechanic-less situation, often mechanics serve to spur on such interesting fiction. And the mechanic-less design may inform some players that they should only go by their own feelings as well, again leading to the situation where acting the part of a character such as it may differ from the player may be lost. How often have I lamented poor play on the part of a player because he let his player biases show, even when totally inappropriate. This is where mechanics can step in to aid play.

I see the no-mechanic response to the desire to have something in a game as being a neutral response. Yes, it doesn't hinder play in any way, but obviously, neither does it help. This is the essence of "System Does Matter". While there is no substitute for having a GM like Jim running your game to produce the desired response, the design of a game should promote the type of play desired if at all possible.

Certainly there are systems that attempt to promote certain parts of play that are unsuccessful in their design. But I don't take that to mean that all mechanics are so deficient, especialy because I (and others) have seen it work.

Mike Holmes
Member of Indie Netgaming
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Just thought of a really dangerous thought experiment related to that game that came out a while ago where all you did was roll on charts and then did live whatever they instructed you to.

I'm intrigued - what was this game called?

Mike Holmes

It was mentioned to me at GenCon. Paul, Raven, or Ron might know at a guess. Anyhow, the caveat that I kept hearing is that the game has a big disclaimer in the front (or was it that it was missing said disclaimer?) that the game was just a joke and nobody should actually play it as written. This because apparently some of what you could roll could get you into very big trouble. I keep thinking of a name with an M, but I always misremember such things.

Sorry I can't help further. Anybody else?

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James Holloway

On 2001-09-12 10:08, Mike Holmes wrote:
I keep thinking of a name with an M, but I always misremember such things.

Sorry I can't help further. Anybody else?


Morton's List.


One consideration I think is relevant to this discussion of, essentially, psychological mechanics, is that under certaing circumstances the GM may wish to deliberately impose a change in the characters consciousness.  A good example of this is the Cool(ness Under Fire) mechanic of Cyberpunk 2020.  

IMO, having such a mechanic allows a mediation of the GM's interpretation of the characters psyche and the players authorial control over their character.  Without something which either side can distance themselves from, observe analytically, this form of interaction can, I think, get rather messy and personal.  The mechanic allows an (tacitly) approved avenue for the GM to effect such interventions, something which I think is an intersting element in the Simulationist approach (i.e. the physical brain can also be Sim'ed).  It may well be of much less utility in games featuring strong use of Author/Director stance, but it strikes me that this area is a priome candidate for non-absolute failure mechanics (as previously discussed in other threads, the idea that mechanical failure does not necessarily mean actual Failure in the game space, but possibly an unsatisfying success.
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Mike Holmes

Aw, man, Ayyy-men. Thank you for consolidating all the thoughts that I've been having over the past couple of months about the role of psychology mechanics in improving simulationist play. This is exactally the sort of thing that I'm getting at. Not only do such mechanics allow the GM to produce effects, but they inform the player that they should be considering the idea that they might not be able to respond perfectly in a given situation.

Too often I see players unmercifully pushing their character's protagonism unrealistically or in a fashion that defys the nature of the game. This because other games have informed them that there is no limit on such decisions. "It's my character, he is my puppet to do with as I will. No mechanic says otherwise." With such a mechanic as Coolness in place the player has to say, "Huh, I really should consider whether or not my character is cool enough to even attempt this", or "maybe I should consider playing the character another way; perhaps we aren't always able to respond in a perfectly heroic fashion". This would be a mechanic out of place in a game of action heroes where everyone is brave all the time, but in a game of cyberpunk, which is about who is more cool after all, it means that when heroic actions do happen they are all the more heroic.

And if really lucky, the mechanic will cause moments to occur with which you can link yourself to the character. Have you ever faltered before trying something important? I have, and I might be reminded of that and associate more closely with my character when he does this due to the mechanic.

Mike Holmes
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Ron Edwards


I should like to point out that your point applies equally well to Narrativist play ... although we are not talking about the SAME mechanics working in the same ways, the principle is the same - maximal coherent creativity emerges from within designated limits.

This is the essence of my and Jim's ... well, not disagreement, but non-accordance, that I think solid emotional stuff emerges quite nicely from quantitative/organized system mechanics, whereas he prefers those mechanics to be "soft" and perhaps verbal-only.

I believe you already made this point above in the thread, but I felt like repeating it.