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Author Topic: Men are from Universalis (split Adventure in Impro'd System)  (Read 21309 times)
Tony Irwin
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« on: October 13, 2003, 04:46:18 AM »

Hey Folks, I split this myself from the Adventures in Improvised System Thread as my questions are quite off topic.

Quote from: Paul Czege
Hey Vincent,

First off, I agree that Universalis is brilliant. But I must say I'm unconvinced that its workings can be correlated to any great extent with the dynamics of what you, Meg, and Emily do during play. A game of Universalis is essentially a mechanically regulated conversation. Your gameplay is a conversation as well, but qualitatively quite dissimilar to a Universalis conversation, I think.

Consider the common dynamic of a group of guys talking. They interrupt each other. They challenge and contradict. They redirect. They talk over each other. The mechanics of Universalis regulate that kind of conversation. It's a male conversation. It's about challenges, and elaborations, and the only kind of support recognized by the system is unqualified agreement.

Your gameplay isn't that. Your gameplay is not an unregulated version of Universalis. If Meg's character enters a room, you take up an NPC and do your best to support what she's trying to do in her scene. Universalis isn't about attentiveness and respectfully facilitating each other. Sure that stuff can happen, but it does so entirely off the radar of the system.
Anyway, in case it's not obvious, I'm seriously interested in what a non-systemless non-male "Universalis" might be like.

Paul


Hi Paul, I really enjoyed reading your comments and I had some questions about them.

I think I see what you mean, for example in Universalis complications all parties involved are rewarded (or at least protected from loss) for getting involved in one side or another. The more you commit to being confrontational, the more dice you have the chance to win. Then the system takes the players' different intentions and beats them out into a strict "this is what happens" verdict. The system values players with opposed intentions, aggressive commitment, and also the idea that definitive "this is what happens" rulings are intrinsically satisfactory and what players will want.

So bearing in mind that I think I see what you're saying, and I think I see it too, here are my questions.

1) How commited are you to seeing this as male/female thing? Do you see this as just a useful way of describing at it (like classifying joints as "male" or "female" in carpentry), or something more? For example would you see value in the idea of someone taking "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" and writing a Universalis clone based on the female perspective it puts forward?

2) I can see counter-arguments based on the suggestion that conflict is what makes stories tick. If stories are all about conflict then a game like Universalis (which is all about controlling stories) needs to keep the conflict in players' hands. Do you see non-male Universalis clones still being able to tell conflict laden type stories? Or would story conflict still be achieved, but through "female" means?

3) In Ron's rough categories for Narrativist Play/Design Universalis shares the first category with other games that emphasise controlling story elements to create Story Now. I very much agree that the same kind of "Take control to tell a story" approach in Universalis can be seen in The Questing Beast, and Inspectres as well (these are the only ones I've played in that category). Do you see that whole category of games as essentially "male" in the way you've described? Do you see "female" approaches yielding new games in that category, or is a female approach basically incompatible with that whole category?

Quote from: Paul
Notably absent from Universalis are mechanics for being sympathetic to the efforts of another player even if you disagree with what they're trying to achieve. You either support them in their effort, or you don't. There's no way to give the game equivalent of a plate of homebaked cookies to someone who failed at something you warned them not to do. And there's no "thank you" mechanism for support received during a challenge other than supporting someone later when they're being challenged. But I bet you guys play around with stuff like this in your games all the time. Am I wrong?


Quote from: Jonathon Walton
Paul Czege wrote:
Anyway, in case it's not obvious, I'm seriously interested in what a non-systemless non-male "Universalis" might be like.

*cough*Ever-After/Facedance*cough*


4) Hey Jonathon, can you be explicit about how you see Ever-After fulfills this?
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simon_hibbs
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Posts: 678


« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2003, 05:09:09 AM »

Quote from: Tony Irwin
...The system values players with opposed intentions, aggressive commitment, and also the idea that definitive "this is what happens" rulings are intrinsically satisfactory and what players will want.
...

1) How commited are you to seeing this as male/female thing?...


Anyone who thinks agrressively arguing their possition is a purely masculine trait has obviously never got on the wrong side of my wife!


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2003, 07:09:25 AM »

Quote from: Tony Irwin
1) How commited are you to seeing this as male/female thing?


Calling it a male/female thing seems liable to lead into gender stereotypes and the whole bit.  Obviously, it's not just a male/female thing, but I think Paul's right that gender (and social constructions thereof) has a lot to do with it.  I don't know about you guys, but I go to a school (Oberlin) that basically teaches that gender is a social construct that has more to do with how society expects you to act than the equipment you were born with.  By this description, I think that Universalis is definitely "male" in that sense: i.e. it is based on how men are taught to interact (agressively) in our society.  That, I think, may have been what Paul meant.

Quote
2) I can see counter-arguments based on the suggestion that conflict is what makes stories tick. If stories are all about conflict then a game like Universalis (which is all about controlling stories) needs to keep the conflict in players' hands.


Sure, the story is driven by conflict, but why should that conflict have to be between competing views of the players?  Why can't two players agree that their characters are in conflict and then give them ways to resolve it agreeably?  This the Torchbearer model, actually, and Shreyas often does a good job of building "female" resolution systems that are based on consensus and not free-market idea economics.  Darwinistic mechanics are often "male" and exclusive-seeming, unless you're willing to dive into the pile and fight for your ideas.  Not everyone is.  Especially at first.

Quote
3) ...games that emphasise controlling story elements to create Story Now. ...Do you see that whole category of games as essentially "male" in the way you've described? Do you see "female" approaches yielding new games in that category, or is a female approach basically incompatible with that whole category?


You can "control" story elements without being "male."  We're not talking about Communist game design here, where all story elements are shared by the group.  Obviously, taking the time to come to consensus on everything that happens is probably too time consuming in most cases.  But people can control story elements without actively bringing them in conflict with the narrative visions of other players.  Honestly, I don't think the issue is control at all.

Quote
4) Hey Jonathon, can you be explicit about how you see Ever-After fulfills this?


Sure.  Ever-After/Facedance started because I wanted to create a Universalis-like game that I could play with my current player group, which is 95% female.  Honestly, I knew that they would never really get into Universalis, but until Paul's post, I hadn't really put my finger on why (thanks, Paul!).  Now I'm sure it's the agressive interaction required for it to work really well.  My group can play freeform like there's no tomorrow, but ask them to fight with each other, even in a friendly way, and they balk at it.

In any case, there are a few things I did with Ever-After to change things.

1. Turn based, with the opportunity to pass. This way, people don't have to fight for input into the story.

2. You can't reject anything someone else does.  They have the right to do anything related to the things they have control over.  None of this "your ideas have to pass group approval" stuff, which can be very threatening.

3. No detailed list of traits to make things "seem otherwise" than they are.  There's no way for one character to triumph over another, simple because they have more traits.  Everything stands an equal chance, with no way to really "rules-lawyer" your way to victory.

4. You can't damage or destroy someone else's creation.  They have to do it themselves.  This limits the risk of victimization.  No de-protagonization.

5. No reward for causing conflicts.  Players who are more active than others quickly find themselves without the resources to do anything else.  This creates a balance between quieter and louder players.

That's all I can think of right now, but I'm sure there are other bits.
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2003, 07:27:05 AM »

What an interesting line of discussion.

I had never made the connection myself, but having read Mars and Venus, I'd say Paul's comments make a lot of sense in that context (if one accepts the dichotomy as posed in the book).

In fact, after reading Jonathan's list of differences in Ever After I think I'd probably balk at it in the same fashion that he suspects his group would balk at Universalis.
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simon_hibbs
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Posts: 678


« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2003, 07:43:10 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
What an interesting line of discussion.

I had never made the connection myself, but having read Mars and Venus, I'd say Paul's comments make a lot of sense in that context (if one accepts the dichotomy as posed in the book).


Mars and Venus is exploitative populist faux-psychology at it's worst. What can you believe about a relationship book written by a man now on his third marriage, who wrote it while on a relationship counseling tour with his second wife, during which their own relationship disintegrated.

Please!


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
Valamir
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« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2003, 07:53:17 AM »

Perhaps...and certainly its more sensationalized than it needs to be.

But having read it together with my SO of 10+years I have to say we both found it to be as pretty dead on accurate as any sweeping generalization is capable of being.  

In fact the section on men putting on their "Mr Fix-it Hat" when their women just want a sympathetic ear to listen to them helped our relationship enormously.

Since I find all psychology to be a great steaming pile of clap trap anyway, I found Mars and Venus to at least be accessible useful and practical...regardless of the guy's questionable credentials.
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Emily Care
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« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2003, 08:06:32 AM »

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
By this description, I think that Universalis is definitely "male" in that sense: i.e. it is based on how men are taught to interact (agressively) in our society.


Let's go with this as an assumption. Arguing whether gender is innate or not is simply going to derail the discussion.  

Quote from: Jonathon
You can "control" story elements without being "male."  We're not talking about Communist game design here, where all story elements are shared by the group.  Obviously, taking the time to come to consensus on everything that happens is probably too time consuming in most cases.

Actually, in the improvised system we use (Vincent/Meg/Emily), 100% concensus is required.  And although not all elements are group controlled, a much larger percentage are communal than in most other systems. That may not be necessary to construct the "female" Universalis, but it's the option we've chosen.

Quote
But people can control story elements without actively bringing them in conflict with the narrative visions of other players.  Honestly, I don't think the issue is control at all.


It may not be control of game elements, but from your description of Universalis/Face Dancers, the changes you've made modify narrative control. In Universalis, the control of the ball is competitive, in U/FD, it is shared equally.  It sounds like we're looking at competitive vs. cooperative models.

--Emily Care
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2003, 08:21:51 AM »

I suppose we could use the male/female terminology in the sense of the various plugs on the computers and other wires. A male/female plug in this case has little to with the human sexes. It is just a method of describing the device. So in terms of system, "male" is proactive, aggressive, etc. and "female" is accepting, enabling, passive, etc. All of this has nothing to do with men and women. This could work, but maybe it's better not to since wires are wires but games still deal with people and the potential for confusion is greater.
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Emily Care
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« Reply #8 on: October 13, 2003, 09:12:43 AM »

One of the initial questions was how strongly committed Paul is to the male/female dichotomy, which only he can answer. (smile) But I agree with Jack that it is potentially more confusing than it's worth to use this terminology. Do we really want to have the same argument about it everytime someone hears about it for the first time? We could look at the phenomenon and describe it more explicitly using gender neutral terms, and take it as read that there is sometimes a breakdown in preference of one type over the other based on gender, for whatever reason.

Quote from: Paul Czege
It's about challenges, and elaborations, and the only kind of support recognized by the system is unqualified agreement.

This is Paul's description of Universalis. Is this support written in to Jonathon's alternate version?

Quote from: Jonathan Walton

In any case, there are a few things I did with Ever-After to change things.

1. Turn based, with the opportunity to pass. This way, people don't have to fight for input into the story.

2. You can't reject anything someone else does.  They have the right to do anything related to the things they have control over.  None of this "your ideas have to pass group approval" stuff, which can be very threatening.

3. No detailed list of traits to make things "seem otherwise" than they are.  There's no way for one character to triumph over another, simple because they have more traits.  Everything stands an equal chance, with no way to really "rules-lawyer" your way to victory.

4. You can't damage or destroy someone else's creation.  They have to do it themselves.  This limits the risk of victimization.  No de-protagonization.

5. No reward for causing conflicts.  Players who are more active than others quickly find themselves without the resources to do anything else.  This creates a balance between quieter and louder players.

That's all I can think of right now, but I'm sure there are other bits.


Not really. The changes limit the players ability to compete with eachother, they don't necessarily reward them for cooperating or supporting eachother's actions. What needed to be changed was the emphasis on challenge in Universalis for this group to enjoy it.

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Now I'm sure it's the agressive interaction required for it to work really well.  My group can play freeform like there's no tomorrow, but ask them to fight with each other, even in a friendly way, and they balk at it.

There's a rule in Universalis that rewards players for using a trait attached to someone else's character, which could be used for supporting the work of other players. However, it seems like the focus of the game is on conflict which undermines the possibilities for collaboration inherent in it.

It may boil down to the fact that the main way to gain resources is via complications. Rewriting complications to give reward for more than just winning the conflict, and broaden resource increasing activities to include creating situations or settings that engage traits of other characters could change this dynamic. Along with emphasizing rewards for mirroring traits created by others.

--Emily
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: October 13, 2003, 09:31:39 AM »

Quote
It may boil down to the fact that the main way to gain resources is via complications. Rewriting complications to give reward for more than just winning the conflict, and broaden resource increasing activities to include creating situations or settings that engage traits of other characters could change this dynamic. Along with emphasizing rewards for mirroring traits created by others.


Interesting.

I'll note that reward in Complictions is not just for winning the conflict.  You get bonus Coins just for participating.  Its possible to get more Coins as the loser than as the winner.

Since the most effective way of coming out ahead in Coins in a Complication is to generate most of your dice for free using Traits, to some extent one is encouraged to create situations that engage those Traits.  Since using the Trait (and gaining a die from it) requires an in game justification, I am thus motivated to use, and reinforce through that use, the Traits that you assigned to something.  While its possible for me to seek to subvert, ignore, or eliminate the Traits you selected, it costs rather than generates Coins to do so.  It is much more "wealth promoting" for me to go along with and reinforce what you've done rather than to attempt to overthrow it.  

But I take it this is just scratching the surface of what you have in mind.

I'd love to see a write-up of what might be required to change the dynamic of the game in this manner that I could put on the site as a variant.
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #10 on: October 13, 2003, 09:36:02 AM »

Emily, i think you pointed out the dichotemy pretty well: "competative vs. cooperative."  I don't know exactly how to facilitate cooperative play, but a couple of ideas come to mind.

1. No systemic opposition.  Just because you have the most resources (coins) doesn't mean you get your way.  You can voice opposition, but if someone is dead-set on having it their way on their turn then they get it.

2. Rewards for support (which has been mentioned).  This is already done socially, you get along better if you help each other out.  A systemic version seems like it would be much harder to execute.

3. Games are generally focused on competition.  In Universalis competition is between players, in more traditional games it is between players and between the party and the GM.  If you want a non-GM system that still includes competition, but not between players, then it would seem that the system itself would have to generate competition (opposition tables, etc.)  Perhaps you decide that you want a Complication and instead of someone introducing one, roll some dice and check a table to get an outline for the Complication.  Then the players cooperatively flesh out what happens...

That's all i've got for now...

Thomas
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #11 on: October 13, 2003, 09:48:47 AM »

Hey Em,

It sounds like we're looking at competitive vs. cooperative models.

I'm not sure this is the most meaningful possible distinction. But maybe that's just because men and women have a fairly different understanding of "cooperative." To a lot of guys, dividing a project into separate chunks, each wholly owned by one contributor, is cooperative. To a lot of guys, voting on proposed alternatives, with all participants agreeing to accept the outcome of the vote, is "compromise."

Let me throw something out for consideration: conversation among women is often characterized by participants working to elicit details from a speaker. "He said what? You're kidding!" What's the reward? A little bit of ownership of those details, installed credibility when you relate the story later? The dynamics of social significance are different.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2003, 10:07:20 AM »

Oh, so it does have something to do with men and women. My bad.

*wanders off*
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #13 on: October 13, 2003, 12:41:44 PM »

Hmm, can we get away from the male/female dictonomy while still acknowledging some of that distinction?  How about we appropriate some non-Western terminiology and say that Universalis supports a very Yang-oriented resolution system: one that is aggressive, impulsive, strong, resolute, stubborn, and often "male."  What we're looking for, then, is Yin-style Universalis, one that rewards being open, receptive, fluid, changeable, irresolute, compromising, and often "female."

I agree with Emily that E-A/FD isn't really Yin-oriented.  I think I was more trying for a balance of forces, something neutral that different personality types could play together.  E-A/FD doesn't actively support cooperation in the game system because players are encouraged to build that kind of thing into the Social Contract (which is the part of the game I haven't written up yet).

I think Emily and Smerf both have good suggestions for tailoring Uni to more Yin-style personalities (which includes people like me, honestly).  But I do think de-protagonizing the conflicts is a mistake.  The thing that's so great about Uni is that every bit of it is represented by a player and not the GM or some abstract embodiment of mechanics.  You just have to ensure that the conflicts stay between characters and not players.  I think you can do this without losing protagonism, because I, the player, can still enjoy my character getting the snot beat out of him.

Anybody want to help take this on as a side project?  Yin-style Uni?  I'd volunteer my writing and layout skills if people want to get a bunch of us together and create a webpage or PDF that Ralph can post.
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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #14 on: October 15, 2003, 01:10:19 AM »

Hi Paul, thanks for joining in.

Quote from: Paul
Let me throw something out for consideration: conversation among women is often characterized by participants working to elicit details from a speaker. "He said what? You're kidding!" What's the reward? A little bit of ownership of those details, installed credibility when you relate the story later? The dynamics of social significance are different.


Can you think of any examples of game mechanics that model any of the kind of dynamics you're talking about, do you think these kind of mechanics can be modelled in a game?

Also do you see the mechanics Nicotine Girls is built on as being closer to male or female dynamics in your experience?

Quote from: Jonathon
Hmm, can we get away from the male/female dichotomy while still acknowledging some of that distinction? How about we appropriate some non-Western terminiology and say that Universalis supports a very Yang-oriented resolution system: one that is aggressive, impulsive, strong, resolute, stubborn, and often "male." What we're looking for, then, is Yin-style Universalis, one that rewards being open, receptive, fluid, changeable, irresolute, compromising, and often "female."


I can see what you're saying Jonathon - in the Men are from Mars book I mentioned earlier the author confines himself to discussing Martians and Venusians. He refuses to get bogged down in nurture/nature debates and emphasises that men and women can find themselves taking on either of the Martian and Venusian roles at any time.

The entire book is a discussion of how Martian/Venusian values are the cause of specific behaviours. When it comes to RPGs I'm not sure that male/female or martian/venusian or yin/yang are going to be helpful for me because I'm struggling to see immeadiate links between the values and the behaviours. eg

Value
"Yin is receptive, fluid, changeable, irresolute, compromising, and often female."

Behaviour
"conversation among women is often characterized by participants working to elicit details from a speaker. "He said what? You're kidding!" What's the reward? A little bit of ownership of those details, installed credibility when you relate the story later?"

See what I mean? To me the two above statements are worlds apart - it's a long and complicated road from one to the other. If I was trying to create mechanics/dynamics based soley on my understanding of the value, I feel there's no guarantee I'd end up with anything resembling the behaviour.

I could certainly build a game with mechanics based on Yin values - but there's no guarantee it would play naturally and instinctively for people in my life who I think of as having those values. Game mechanics that model their behaviours (not my guess of behaviours that match their values) are perhaps what's needed.

What do you think of that? What kind of design approach would you take for making a Uni clone for your group?

Quote from: Jonathon
I agree with Emily that E-A/FD isn't really Yin-oriented. I think I was more trying for a balance of forces, something neutral that different personality types could play together. E-A/FD doesn't actively support cooperation in the game system because players are encouraged to build that kind of thing into the Social Contract (which is the part of the game I haven't written up yet).


Cool, that answered my question. I confess I've only read over FD a couple of times and my understanding of it was that perhaps it was structured to prevent conflict rather than actively support cooperation, so I wasn't sure at first how you saw it modelling the kind of play Paul talks about.

Tony
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