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Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
Post by: clehrich on February 16, 2005, 02:14:18 PM
RPGs and Bricolage: Theory and Practice
In Jay’s recent thread on a 1/3-baked idea, a surprising (to me, anyway) agreement was reached about Simulationism, reflexivity, and so forth.  In many other threads lately, there has been some discussion of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s famous analogy of bricolage, which also came up in the 1/3-baked thread.  One thing that has been borne in on me by these discussions is that a lot of folks don’t see the point of this analogy, at least in RPGs.

There are two reasons for this.  First, it’s not entirely clear to everyone what bricolage is anyway.  Second, it’s not at all clear what if any application this has to RPGs; I have discussed it mostly as an analytical category for understanding how some gaming activity happens, but haven’t tried to turn that around and see it in practice at all.

So I want to do three things here:
  • Explain bricolage in (as soon as possible) strictly RPG terms
  • Give some practical applications, including some from my own game Shadows in the Fog (see weblink)
  • Open it up for more general discussion and argument[/list:u]Now this quickly became an essay, which I hope eventually to polish and put up in the articles section or something.  I've cut it into two VERY LONG pieces.  The first lays all the groundwork, both (briefly) not in reference to RPGs and the second (longer) strictly about RPGs.  The second moves directly into actual concrete issues about actual play.  

    My hope is that after these first very long posts, this will not be a “Chris teaches everyone” thing but a “let’s all think about what sorts of implications this might have practically” sort of thing.  But posts requesting clarification are certainly very welcome, at the very least because they will help me polish it to be more effective as an article.

    Lévi-Strauss and bricolage
    The first thing to get is not what bricolage is, but what it is intended to explain.  Although I consider that Lévi-Strauss altered his conception of these issues significantly over the course of his later career, I will try to remain faithful to the first comprehensive formulation, that in La pensée sauvage (The Savage Mind).  If nothing else, this means that if you should want to follow up these ideas and dig deeper into them, you only have to deal with that one book, and most particularly the first two chapters.  I am not covering the whole range, or all the implications, or anything like that.  This is a teeny fraction.

    Note: this section is not about RPGs directly; see the next sections for that.

    So, a little background on the question.

    An old difficulty in studying “archaic” peoples (e.g. Australian aborigines, South American and African tribal cultures, etc.)  is magic.  It seems that the natives think a rain dance, for example, produces rain; to us, it’s pretty obvious that it doesn’t.  (I’m setting aside modern magical and occult perspectives here, and sticking with a kind of baseline materialism.)  So the first theory is that the natives are stupid, in part because they’re the wrong color.  That explains nothing, and is unlikely to boot; it’s also of course racist.

    Sir James Frazer, in The Golden Bough, proposes something he never gets credit for.  He says that they do believe these things, but not because they are stupid.  It’s because they do not think abstractly or theoretically, two qualities of thought that he largely equates to scientific thought.  So let’s say the natives have a hundred different magical practices, including curses where stick pins in dolls, and rain dances where you pour water on the ground, and so on.  To the natives, these are a hundred distinct and not especially connected practices.  But we, with our learned tendency to abstract, collect all the data into one big pile and infer (induce) a rule or principle: the Law of Similarity, for example, which says that two similar things may affect each other at a distance because they are similar, thus the doll looks like the target, and the falling water is like falling rain, and so on.  The point is that we have made a significant abstraction, which we learned from historical developments in our intellectual history, beginning way back with early religion and so on.  The natives do not do this, their intellectual history not having developed significantly, so they do not see that all these practices are founded on one principle.  If they did, they would stop doing the practices, because the principle is, as a law of nature, quite obviously ludicrous.  If you have a Law like that, it’s obvious how you test it, and then you quickly see that it doesn’t work, and so you discard the practices.

    Now Émile Durkheim, in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, says that this is wrong in principle.  “It is a basic postulate of sociology,” he says, “that no human institution can be founded on error.”  In other words, if these practices don’t do anything, people will stop doing them.  Since the rain dance doesn’t produce rain, it must do something else, or nobody would do it, and chances are it wouldn’t have been invented in the first place.  And what he suggests is that these practices promote the unification and cohesion of the social group.

    Bronislaw Malinowski, in many works but especially Magic, Science and Religion, goes another step.  He, and the later functionalists and structural-functionalists, says that there are three possible functions (empirically observable effects) of a practice, which may or may not correlate to their purposes (why the natives think they do it).  The purpose of the rain dance is to make rain, but it has functions the natives don’t know about.  There are basically three kinds of function: practical, psychological, and social.  Something that has a practical function achieves what it claims to achieve, empirically: you ameliorate soil to get a practical effect, i.e. better-growing plants.  A psychological function is usually catharsis of anxiety, and is definitive of magic: you perform a rain dance or a weather-charm because you are worried about drought or storms, and the magical rite helps you feel you are doing something about what you cannot control.  If you’ve ever pushed the elevator button again and again to make the elevator come faster, that’s what Malinowski is talking about: it doesn’t do anything practical, but you feel as though you’re doing something, so you feel better.  Then the social function is to maintain order, stability, and continuity in the society; for example, men perform couvade (ritual simulation of labor and/or confinement) in order to express paternity (which he can’t prove) and have that be accepted socially.

    Now an implication of Malinowski’s theory, accepted by later thinkers in the main, was that there is a third component: purpose, function, and meaning.  Meaning is rooted in myth, but includes also all the weird symbolic structures that appear there.  What myth does is provide a precedent for the practice, whatever it might be.  So you ameliorate soil that way because the gods did it first; you perform the rain dance that way because the gods created rain that way; you perform couvade because some god told you to; and so on.

    All of this leads to a problem.  From the natives’ point of view, every practice is rooted in myth; the distinction of function is not theirs but the analyst’s.  Yet some of these practices have practical effects, such as soil amelioration or pottery or copper-smelting, which are extremely complex and could not have arisen randomly.  And the natives seem to think that rain dances and soil amelioration are in some sense the same thing.  So how did they learn to ameliorate soil?  Why don’t they see these as different, since one is totally practical and another isn’t?  How come these blur and blend in native life?

    So Lévi-Strauss takes all that and goes back to Frazer’s idea. The natives do not think in abstractions.  Except that they do, as the invention and testing of the amelioration of soil proves.  So he proposes that they think in abstractions by means of concrete objects.  Which is totally at odds with any normal sense of “abstraction.”

    Bricolage is an analogy intended to show that this kind of abstract thought with concrete things is not in any way bizarre or unusual.  We do it too, but don’t recognize it.

    To remind you quickly, bricolage is a hobby in which you build complicated and beautiful things using only what you already have, including taking apart previous projects.  You may not acquire new things, except by stumbling on them in your neighbor’s trash.  So you interrogate every object to see what it could be used for, and then work to make whatever use you want applicable to the machine you’re building.  Because these objects have intrinsic qualities and properties that have nothing to do with what you want, you have to build around those, making the machine very complicated, with all sorts of self-correction methods, again using more objects, which then carry their own oddities, and so on.  You are allowed to bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate your objects, but you cannot undo that, so any change now means that change has already happened the next time you build something.

    Lévi-Strauss contrasts this with normal abstract engineer-thinking, which analyzes the problem and comes up with a required effect, then constructs an element of the machine, from raw pieces, that does this and only this, efficiently.  Thus what the engineer constructs ideally has no extraneous properties, and its elements are perfectly tuned to do exactly what is required and no more.  This is an ideal case, but the distinction should be clear.

    For example, to get a local heating element, the bricoleur might use a toaster (cut open) or an iron, and whichever he chooses carries baggage, i.e. the many other properties of the object.  The engineer would sit down and design a local heating element that is ideally suited to exactly what he wants, and no more.  Suppose we want a machine to heat something, and we want it to be lightweight.  If the bricoleur only has an iron, he has to compensate for its weight by other means, because the iron is heavy.  The engineer designs a lightweight heating element.

    And to be clear, a myth or a ritual is the machine.  It is the result of such a process.  The concrete objects are things in nature, like flowers and animals and such.

    Bricolage and RPGs
    What I’ve been ducking in all that discussion, apart from RPGs per se, is the question of structure.  That’s because the concept is both so difficult and abstract, and also so simple, that it is very difficult to explain through more abstraction.  Rather than get into Lévi-Strauss’s examples, which are mostly irrelevant to us in RPGs, I’m basically going to stick to RPGs from here on in.

    Let’s set up the analogy.  I’ll use some Big Model terms, because they’re so useful, but this really isn’t quite a Big Model theory; it applies without respect to CA, for the nonce anyway.

    So everything described by the Big Model, with the notable exceptions of CA and Social Contract, is a concrete thing.  A Technique, for example, might be likened to an iron: it can be used in various ways, in various contexts, to do a range of things, but it cannot be used at all times to do absolutely anything at all.  Remember that Setting and Character are also elements of the Big Model, and are perhaps the most obvious “things” and sets of things.  But any mechanic, let’s say a way of resolving bullet to-hit probabilities, is also such a thing: it does something, it is applicable in a range of ways and situations, and yet it cannot do everything nor be applied always.

    Consider gaming as a process, the way we usually do.  When a particular situation (not capitalized) arises, we need to decide how to resolve it.  And so we interrogate our shed (the total game system) of things to decide what is appropriate.  Maybe we decide that although this is an arrow being fired, the best way to resolve its to-hit probability is to apply the bullet system, but we have to make some modifications because arrows are not bullets.  The bullet system has now changed, ever so slightly: every time we use it to resolve bullet to-hits in the future, it is a specific application that we have retained, of what is now a larger and slightly differently constructed mechanism.

    Now we might eventually decide that this mechanism is so clever and so useful that we want it to apply to any ranged combat.  But the problem is, maybe laser guns don’t work the same way, so we cannot simply apply it directly.  One way to do this would be to construct a completely new system, from first principles, to handle laser guns.  In play, as opposed to design, we find this practically a pain in the ass; in design, we may find it aesthetically annoying, because it seems more elegant to have one mechanic rather than a zillion different ones.  Now in design, which is nearer the engineering end of things, we may just go back to the drawing board and invent a whole new general to-hit system.  But in play, we don’t want to stop and do this, because as I say it’s a pain, and it distracts from what was the point of all of this, which was to figure out whether Dave’s laser shot did indeed take out Big Fred’s kneecap.  So we use the good old-fashioned chewing-gum-and-twine method: we adapt the projectile to-hit system to apply to energy weapons.  And maybe we announce, “Okay, so the first two steps are the same always, but from now on in the third step projectile combat goes on table A, which we already were using, and energy combat goes on table B, which is just like table A except without lines 1-3 and 12, which leaves 8 options instead of 12 so roll a d8 instead of a d12.”

    I’m not going to ramble on here.  I hope it’s clear why we can treat both mechanics and the imagined objects of SIS (characters, weapons, monsters, etc.)  as concrete things in the sense of bricolage, and have some practical sense of what that entails directly in play.

    All we have done, thus far, is establish the analogy.  This is something my students constantly get wrong: by establishing the analogy, you have done no analytical work, really.  You have laid the groundwork for it, but actually achieved nothing.  We now know that bricolage can be applied to RPGs, and we could go on and on demonstrating this, but all that would have no effect.  So what?  It’s just another model. This is an important point I’ll be returning to.

    So now we have to take into consideration what bricolage is for, theoretically and practically.  Theoretically, we’ve seen that bricolage is an analogy intended to explain the nature of a special kind of abstract thought in the concrete; so what does that entail for RPGs?  Practically, we’ve seen that bricolage produces myths and rituals, but what if anything does that say about practical RPG play?

    Remember how I set CA and Social Contract outside the realm of things?  That’s because they’re best understood as structures.  (If you’ve read Lévi-Strauss, you know there’s something wrong here, but I’ll get back to that.  This is heuristic, for simplicity’s sake.)

    Essentially a structure is two things.  First of all, it is a pre-made machine, already pretty well tuned and running just fine.  We can slap it into any machine we want to build and know it will run in particular ways.  Second, it is the abstract formulation entailed by the machine.  This is the hard part.

    Suppose we step back from the actual machine for a minute and look at it like the engineer.  Yes, that thing there is an iron, but from the perspective of the machine in which it is placed it is really a meaning: it means “local heat, heavy, etc.”  We may only be using “local heat,” but it’s still heavy.  But from this perspective it isn’t “iron.”  So the structure of “iron” put this way is (Local Heat)&(Heavy).  If we look at a whole big elaborate machine, we’ll see a long column of such meanings intersecting.  We’ll also see some apparently contradictory meanings: because we wanted the heating thing to be light, we have both Iron (Local Heat)&(Heavy) and Helium Balloon (Really Big)&(Delicate)&(negative-Heavy).  In this machine, Heavy and negative-Heavy cancel out, so we get a light total.  You see?

    The thing is, any structure like this is a horrible mess if it takes into account every single potential meaning, because every thing we use has a huge raft of potential meanings, i.e. is structured densely.  This isn’t true with engineering, because you design things to have one meaning and little else, but in bricolage you’re stuck with the vast entailments of actual things as they really are.

    So in addition to structure being a quality of the machine, it’s also an aesthetic constraint on what the machine ought to look like.  This has many, many layers—which we can roughly break down into those functions (practical, psychological, social) and some intellectual and aesthetic ideals of how we like things to be.

    Back to RPGs.  I did promise, I know.  And yes, I’m getting on toward practical implications.

    So CA is basically this kind of aesthetic constraint structure.  It says that of the many possible games we could play with our mechanics and characters and so on, we only want a limited set of them.  Others will be counted failures, even if there are no rules-violations or anything like that.  So every time we dig into the shed of System or whatever to get something, we choose not only what could work but what works well under these constraints.

    Now that means we’re always thinking CA no matter what we’re doing.  It’s no good trying to build a light heating machine with an iron if we don’t actually own a helium balloon.  Just so, it’s no good trying to develop an on-the-fly rule for handling energy weapons in a Gamist game if it creates a “you automatically win if you have an energy weapon” rule.  But on the other hand, that might be just fine in other games: maybe part of the Premise in a Nar game is about the uses of absolute power, so by creating a new absolute power we actually encourage the addressing of that Premise.

    Over in Social Contract, we have the real crux of the matter.  Unlike CA, we really cannot fully understand social structure, because it entails too many things.  Thought of as a machine, it has just far too many bits and pieces that extend way out into stuff we don’t want to deal with, like culture and history and sociology sorts of things that we don’t want to make a point of debate or contestation within play.  So Social Contract constrains how we think about what is and isn’t in the shed of things to play with, but it does so without calling attention to itself as much as possible.  As soon as you go and make explicit the fact that you’re not going to draw in national politics during the game, you make that a point of debate, which the whole point of such constraint was to avoid.

    In the Big Model, this works largely top-down.  Social Contract lays down big constraints, then CA narrower ones, and so on.  One implication of bricolage is that this is not actually the case.  In fact, bricolage as an analogy entails that this all works cyclically and dynamically, so as to construct the notion that this is top-down.

    The way this works is by further analogy, but this time analogy within the bricolage process.  That is, it’s a kind of analogy we actually draw in play, usually without really knowing we’re doing it.

    When we look in our range of mechanics and so on, seeking something to accomplish a given purpose without violating CA, we’re apparently thinking theoretically.  But this is not the experience of actual play.  We don’t, that is, reach in there and say, “Hmm, how about this?”  “Nah, that’s going to violate that aesthetic principle.”  “Oh, right, how about this other thing?”  “Hmm, maybe, but we’d have to twist it.”  We just do it, in the main, and we do it oddly well.  Now partly this is because we’re very clever, really, and we have a lot of practice at doing this stuff.  But we know of all kinds of examples where this process doesn’t work, where in fact we do get an aesthetic violation.  Can it really be that there are only perfectly successful and thus invisible manipulations, and total failures that show?  The bricolage analogy proposes otherwise.

    In order to ask the question, “Will this work without violating CA?” we must apply the structure of the thing to the structure of CA, in a hypothetical sense.  But if we’re doing that, then we’re already putting it into practice, and if there’s a failure, it will arise as a failure, cocking up the play moment by drawing attention to exactly what we don’t want.

    So instead, what we do is ask a different question.  We ask, “Is the structure of this thing analogous to the structure of (part of) my CA?”  And “Is the structure of this thing analogous to the structure of (part of) my Social Contract?”  We can answer this question immediately, because the way we got that thing into the game in the first place was by understanding it as a structure, as range of possibilities rather than an iron, so we’ve already done the structural work.  We just say, “structure A, structure B: are they close?”  Sort of like saying, “this is blue, that’s blue, they’re both blue.”  For the same reason as we can see that both are blue, or both are trees, or both are mechanics, we can also see that this mechanic will not violate CA without ever posing the question directly.

    But... wait a minute.  That means that there is no difference in kind between Social Contract, CA, and all those things that lie under them. Correct.  All of these are things and they are also structures of relations.  Any difference in kind is something we impose, not something intrinsic.  (The Lévi-Strauss readers just said, “Oh, is that how you got round that one, gotcha.”)

    But, again, wait a minute.  That means that absolutely everything here, from soup to nuts, is a vast structure made up of lots of intersecting structures, each with its own entailments and weirdnesses, and it’s also a big machine made up of things interacting dynamically and yet carrying their own histories and peculiarities.  So what’s the total structure?

    Let’s hypothesize for a moment that the total structure is the Big Model.  The whole schmear.  Does that work?

    Well, in a sense it does.  The only immediately apparent problem is that the Big Model does not include any actual play things, only classes of actual play things.  To some degree we can get round that by pointing out that a class of actual play things is itself a thing, because a structure made up of structures (which is all the things are) is also a structured thing.  But somehow that seems like a weird answer.  And it may sound also like I’m saying that the Big Model is perfect or something, which I’m not.  Let’s look again.

    We’ve said that particular things have entailments constituted by their intrinsic properties and their prior uses in bricolage, but I’ve been avoiding somewhat the issue of such entailment.  Now we have to get into that, and suddenly the rubber is going to hit the road.  In order to do this, we have to stop using large-scale structures (like those described in the Big Model) and get down to small-scale structures (like “Fred the player” and “+2 Bastard Sword”).


Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
Post by: clehrich on February 16, 2005, 02:15:20 PM
RPGs and Bricolage: Theory and Practice, part II
Practical Applications and Issues
In my game Shadows in the Fog, all this mess is quite deliberate and conscious, because I designed it significantly on structuralist principles.  So it makes an easy example.  Here’s a piece of the game-rules text explaining it concretely:
    Sir David Fulsham (played by Sarah) is trying to break into a house, and he ends up with a lot of Concessions
[negative effects that must be narrated by the player].  Sarah decides that a policeman has seen Sir David entering, and is coming up the steps to discuss it with him.  In the course of the conversation, Sarah plays [the Tarot card] The Emperor, and says that she means this in terms of authority: Sir David asserts his authority, as a member of the nobility, to make the policeman bow to his will.

Now what does The Emperor mean?  As always, it’s a relation, in this case between two kinds of authority.  There is the policeman, an authority in one sense, and there is the nobleman, an authority in another.  So it seems that The Emperor here indicates a power-relationship between types of authority.

A little later, John Keightley (played by Janet) encounters a policeman and wants him to do something.  Janet plays The Emperor, again asserting authority.  But based on the last use, it seems that John Keightley must already have some authority to assert.  Fine, suppose Keightley is a Barrister, i.e. a courtroom official; he thus asserts that his authority as such should make the policeman do what he wants.

Now what does The Emperor mean?  Much the same as before, but now it seems that the relation is specifically legal.  In this last case, it was a relation within the law; in the previous one, it was also a legal relation, because as a Lord, Sir David is inherently a power under the law.

A little later, John Keightley again wants to make a policeman do something, but this time the policeman is a Detective Inspector.  Simply asserting that Keightley is a Barrister isn’t going to help, because the Detective Inspector is an important legal authority outside the courtroom, and can’t be pushed around so easily.  Okay, so Janet plays the Emperor again, and says, “Detective Inspector, I think you’ll find that the situation here is entirely level and square.  [I give him the grips and handshakes of a Master Mason – he’s a Mason too, but not at that rank.]”

Once again, The Emperor has come to mean the assertion of one authority over another.  The legal aspect declines a little, but on the other hand it’s an assertion of a higher authority than the law, and draws on the fact that Masonry represented a kind of higher power within the law because senior policemen were so often Masons.

Now let’s look at another example.  Sir David Fulsham encounters a lady at the opera, and he’d like her to switch boxes.  Sarah plays The Emperor, and says that Sir David is asserting his authority to make the lady move.  But this jars considerably with the sense we’ve developed of The Emperor.  The ploy may not work, or it may produce a kind of backlash: the lady leaves the box, but then summons an attendant (a local authority) to complain about this man’s boorish behavior.  When we started the campaign, The Emperor could very well have been used in this way, but now it seems contrary to its meaning.  Thus the accretion of history to the meaning of the card as a relation changes and narrows the way it can be used.

One final example.  John Keightley encounters a gentleman at a bar who has some information, but the gentleman is not very willing.  Janet plays The Emperor, and says, “I’m John Keightley, barrister-at-law; you’ll find my offices in Thavies Inn.  The information you have could be critically important in a criminal case, and I urge you not to impede the law. <Noting that he’s wearing a Masonic tie-tack, I give him the grips of a Master Mason.>” Because Keightley is asserting the majesty of the law, and furthermore the gentleman is a Mason (a legitimate invention by Janet here), The Emperor fits perfectly, and the gentleman promptly tells all.  Because the history of the card’s prior uses are so exactly in accord with this present usage, Janet’s invention that the gentleman is a Mason carries considerable weight, and furthermore this card-play should be tremendously successful.  If Janet had done this without any history to the card, it’s possible that the man might (quite reasonably) have said that Keightley had no right to assert this sort of authority over a private citizen.  Thus the history of card-use has both narrowed its future uses and also increased its power within that narrower range.

One essential point about cards, then, is that they don’t represent single things or situations; they are relations, not objects, signs and not meanings in Lévi-Strauss’s terms.  This is, in fact, one of the weaknesses of the Assumption alternate rule (see next chapter): it encourages thinking of cards as specific things or ideas.  When it comes to magical forces and powers especially, this greatly limits the ways in which a card can be used.

Let’s consider a famous card, The Tower, often taken to mean disaster.  The imagery is of two people falling from a high tower which has been struck by lightning.

Now if we think of the card as simply a meaning, it’s difficult to see how it can be used in any but a limited number of circumstances.  For example, in a combat situation, it could be taken as disaster for one of the combatants.  But if we think of it as a relation, there are lots of possibilities opened up to the cunning player.

Suppose the card has been used for the following:
  • A thug came to grief in a gunfight with a middle-class professional
  • A spell to summon power from the Thames went catastrophically wrong, and the spell-caster was flung from the docks and drowned.
  • An attempt to climb the tower of Big Ben went wrong; the climber fell to his death.[/list:u]Okay, so clearly all these fit the description, Disaster.  But there are other possibilities if we think of it as a relation.  In every case, two adjacent spheres have commingled disastrously: the lower-class thug with the middle-class professional, the caster on the docks with the Thames beneath, the climber in the air with the land beneath.  So we could in fact read this card as meaning a bringing-together of separate spheres.  If the spheres are close together, this is disastrous, as we’ve seen.  But suppose the spheres are far apart, and bringing them together is a good thing?

    Sir David Fulsham (a Lord, as we know), confronts a thug (lower-class).  The spheres here are far apart.  Rather than interpret the Tower as disaster for the thug, Sarah could interpret it as bringing the two spheres into conjunction, making the thug feel higher-class than usual and read Sir David as a guy like him.  This could cause the thug not to attack Sir David, but in fact to unbend and deal with him in a more constructive manner.

    Now of course, it takes a cunning player to make this sensible, and Sarah’s going to have to do some fast footwork to get the idea across.  To do this, she’s going to have to draw on all that history of the card’s usage: this is what Interpretation is really about.[/list:u]Now that we see a practical application of bricolage by a cunning player, what does this mean more generally, i.e. in a game not deliberately constructed on these principles?

    In order for any of these applications of Tarot cards to work properly, the player must assert that the card already carried these proposed implications.  But this always happens in all RPG play.  This is the Lumpley Principle, in fact.  Every time any action is submitted to the SIS, the group must accept together that this is an appropriate analogy: the structure of what you are doing matches the structure I have in my head of the total game.  We may think we are doing this exclusively at a Situation level, in terms of characters and physics and mechanics and so on, but in fact it’s happening at the total level of the whole game.  If we consider it at all, and remember that this implies at least a possible breakage—that is, most of the time we don’t even consider it deliberately, because it’s automatically accepted and cannot break anything—we consider it at a narrow level, not as a totality.  On the rare occasions that we consider it in terms of the whole thing, right up to CA and Social Contract, there is a tremendous potential for breakage.  That’s when instead of getting a potential failure like “No, that spell requires 3 seconds to cast and you have only 2”, you get a potential failure like “No, that’s not acceptable to me personally and you need to stop it or I’m leaving,” for example “I am not comfortable with this, in a personal way, and you are breaking the game for me.”  You know, big problems.

    Now this means that any normal submission to SIS confirms that the game works.  But what do we mean by that?  Under ordinary, successful play, this means simply “That’s cool, now I do this here.”  After the game, or in a minor potential break-point well resolved, this means “These rules work, this is a good game/system/setting/GM.”  But what rarely arises is “This group plays together well, we make this game work.”  It’s there, and can be discussed of course, but it’s in the background; it’s a high-level abstract concern that we usually set aside.

    So consider instead breakage.  Under ordinary play, this means “You miss.”  “Oh, bugger, I coulda sworn....”  Under minor potential-break play, this means “You can’t do that, the mechanics say no.”  “No way, see here on page 87 it says d8, not d20.”  “No, hang on....”  Under the high-level concerns not normally expressed, this means “My game sucks, I hate this, I don’t want to do this any more.”  We hear a lot of this, or used to, in Actual Play.

    Now the Big Model diagnosis system kicks in.  We first adequate the Model to the situation, by analogy (bricolage at work).  Then we say (we hope), “This is not a high-level concern, but a second-level concern: you have a CA difference, not a personal difference.”

    So just like in regular play, the Big Model operates diagnostically to shift down the level of concern away from straight-up Social Contract.  If it’s really Social Contract that is disastrously breaking the game, we have to say, “Get new friends, these people and you will never get along,” or “You’re an asshole, it’s your fault, go away.”  Nobody wants to say that, if nothing else because it’s not tactful.

    But why not?  That sounds like a stupid question, but it’s quite serious.

    Answer:
      Because the whole elaborate structure here is socially constituted from the start to the finish, bottom to top and in reverse[/list:u]Which means...
        The whole structure of gaming is socially reinforcing[/list:u]Eh?

        Every time the Big Model succeeds in formulating a strong analogy between described play and the Model’s structure, we think we have done something.  Analytically, we haven’t; that’s just the grounds of analysis.  So why do we think we’ve achieved something?  Because by doing so we demonstrate the adequacy of the model.  Now this makes no sense if we are talking about proper analytical abstraction.  That’s fallacious.  But if we’re talking about bricolage, about the Science of the Concrete, treating the Big Model as a structured and structuring thing, the very formulation of the analogy reinforces the structure itself.  That is what bricolage is really for, you see: to demonstrate the adequacy of the structures already present (in the shed, the social system, the game, the discourse) by reducing apparent change to something always already within the structure.

        In ritual or myth, this means that the ability to think through concrete objects to analyze an apparent contradiction in cultural or natural reality proves that the social structure is just fine and doesn’t need to change, so now the social structure is better than it was because it’s the same as it always was.

        Within gameplay, as I’ve said elsewhere about Sim play especially, this means that the ability to handle apparently trivial problems of gameworld physics and such proves that the Dream or the system or whatever was already perfect and complete, and we just didn’t yet see that, so now the Dream (or whatever) is even better than it was because it’s the same as it was.

        Within RPG theory of the Big Model form, with its deliberately practical gameplay and diagnosis orientation, this means that the ability to explicate apparent social problems as aesthetic problems (for example) proves that the Big Model was already perfect and complete, and we just hadn’t seen this particular example, but this change in the Big Model isn’t a change but a demonstration that we already knew this.

        Really Actual Practical Implications
        So this probably all sounds still very abstract and pointless.  It probably also sounds like a criticism of the Big Model, which it isn’t, especially.  So the question becomes, how if at all does this actually affect gameplay and design questions?

        Gameplay
        First of all, absolute in-play incoherence is not possible except as an extra-RPG issue.  That is, the only way you can get absolute breakdown at the CA level is if it is founded on a breakdown at another level, outside of gaming itself.  We would rather not recognize this, of course, because it pushes those Geek Fallacy sorts of buttons: just because you play well together doesn’t mean you’re friends, and just because you don’t play well together doesn’t mean you’re not friends.  The problem is that the latter sort of isn’t exactly true.  If there is no possibility of two players agreeing at a CA level, your disagreement extends well outside gaming; you may be friends in other ways, but as you even near the kinds of broad aesthetic and other concerns that inform gaming, including lots of social issues we don’t want to deal with in gaming most of the time, you simply cannot get along.  The only way to solve such a problem is outside of the game: you’ve got to sit down and hash it out, and you may not end up friends, because you discover you weren’t to begin with but thought you were.

        But this is actually very rare, because if we agree that we like to play RPGs, chances are we are sort of close enough to get along in play.  What do we do about CA incoherence in play?

        Here’s where I think bricolage puts the rubber to the road.  Our natural tendency, stemming from a long intellectual history in the West (circling all the way back to poor old Frazer), is to abstract the problem up to higher-level structures.  There’s a disagreement at a low level (“I hit him,” “No, he hits you first”) so we shift up the hierarchy to handle it through higher-level abstractions: (“Initiative rules say his dex is higher so he goes first,” “Oh crap”).  And in fact, that’s a pretty good way to handle things, as we know.  But it isn’t the only way.

        Remember that this hierarchy of abstractions is an imposed structure.  The difference between “low level” and “high level” concerns is not intrinsic, but an adequation of the issue to a structure, through analogy.  Now think about it as the machine made of bits and pieces.  Changing a big chunk of the machine is difficult, because it’s got all those bits.  Changing one thing is easy—but it ends up changing everything, because if we replace the iron with a feather-light hair dryer the helium balloon is going to pull the whole machine up into the stratosphere.  So we in the West, with our engineering-type tendencies, get into the habit of practicing assiduously at changing the larger structures without much changing the small, unless a big drastic change is needed in which case we retool from scratch.  But in “savage thought” you do it the other way around: you change the iron for the hair dryer and deal with problems as they come, perpetually deferring the need for a drastic retooling.

        Putting that concretely in gameplay terms, this means that sharp disagreements about nearly anything need not be dealt with in the abstract.  You can do it that way, but you don’t have to.  If we have a disagreement at a low level (“I hit him,” “No, he hits you first”), we do not have to shift up the structure to resolve it.  For example: “I do too hit him first,” “Okay, you hit him first, because his swing took him past your sidestep, but he gets a backswing you can’t parry, okay?”

        This is such a slight and silly example it seems like nothing.  But think about what you’ve just done.  You’ve chucked the mechanics—the part where high dex goes first—by creating a variation that accepts both that he has higher dex and swung first and the player’s insistence that his character hits first.  You’ve done this entirely piecemeal, case by case; there is no higher-level retooling done.

        But now that helium balloon is lifting the machine.  Next time any situation analogous to this one—remember the importance of analogies—arises, we have a new possibility: what if I get a sidestep that allows a first hit but leaves me open to his backswing?  Well, tactically, if my strength and weapon are so devastating that I can kill him at one blow, I want this to happen; if my back is badly defended and my front heavily armored, I don’t want this.  And the whole combat system is beginning to alter, bit by steady bit.

        What’s going to happen, in the end, is Drift, broadly construed.  We’ll end up with a weird mess of house rules and strangeness that works only for us, that no sane person would have designed (in fact, we didn’t design it either), and may in fact be totally incoherent if looked at from a design stance.  So why does it work at all?  Because each piece has now been tooled by us, ever so slightly, and that tooling and tweaking has told us, deep down, that we are okay as a game group.  The fact that it’s a horrible mess means nothing; we don’t care.  What we care about is that on a case-by-case basis, we can handle things in a way that makes us feel positive about our gameplay, which means that we feel positive about ourselves, individually and especially as a social group.

        And you know what that implies?  It implies that the longer a group plays together, even if overtly they switch systems and settings and so on, the more their play will become self-affirming and socially reinforcing.  If, as is often (unfortunately) the case, at least some of the players do not feel so positive about social interactions and structures outside of RPGs, the game will increasingly come to feel like a safe haven.  Does that sound familiar?

        The practical point of this is you can let it happen.  There are far too many specific variations on the theme to classify, but there is a social technique here that is devastatingly effective to long-term gaming health. Every disagreement can be handled locally.  It does not need to be, of course; clearly in a great many cases, even in the majority, a quick reference up the imposed structural hierarchy to mechanics or something will resolve the problem without difficulty.  But in every case, at least theoretically, such a choice to refer upwards is a matter of efficiency not necessity.

        There are always, somewhere deeply embedded in the vast nightmarish mess of little fiddly bits of a game as it gets actually played by actual people right here and now, a great many possible ways to chewing-gum-and-twine any disagreement whatever without referring upward in the hierarchy.  Many of the GM techniques discussed here over the years clearly demonstrate this.  The GM, in such a formulation, is emphatically not merely an arbiter, the mechanics guy who decides the implications of a higher-level set of concerns to the lower-level specifics of the moment.  Rather, the GM becomes a facilitator of ongoing bricolage.  His job, and it is a difficult one, make no mistake, becomes rather to see in every disagreement the possibility of a choice: to refer up, or to tweak across.  Every choice to refer up carries immediate danger, because the more of the structure we expose to consciousness, the more obviously a house of cards it becomes.  Every choice to refer across, however, carries very long-term implications.  The GM’s job, then, would be to balance these.

        My suggestion, practically, is that the local tendencies and preferences of the players be observed and followed.  It’s going to turn out that this group here tends to refer these kinds of questions up the chain, and those across to other bits.  Don’t violate that.  If you are referring upward, by checking the rules or saying “No, there aren’t any telephones in Victorian London,” be very watchful: look for signs of discontent.  If you see them, tweak your way out, and encourage other players to help in this.  Keep track of such twists and turns and tweaks, too, and encourage players to do so.  Taking the sidestep-backswing as an example, remember always that having set this up once, having cut the toaster in half to get its heating element to an object too big for the slot, you cannot put it back again.  To do so will, in this case, prompt higher-level thinking at a social level: “Is he just playing favorites with Janet because she’s his girlfriend?”  “Is Janet just being a whiner and a cheat?”  You don’t want those questions ever to be asked.  So when Dave proposes to use the sidestep-backswing trick, he must be permitted to do so.

        And, at a higher level of concern, in between games, stop worrying about whether you are sticking to the system, or whether there are CA conflicts.  The more you think about these abstractly, the more you can’t manipulate them concretely.  And the more they become abstract, the more they have to have social implications.

        Design
        Here I am much less confident in my analysis.  I do think that Fang Langford’s Scattershot was moving in a valuable direction, but it never really came together.  I also think my Shadows in the Fog works pretty well for this, but it’s not applicable to everything.

        I guess my first suggestion is that designing for CA coherence isn’t always a good thing.  It’s an approach that can generate very successful results, for much the same reasons that a good engineer can make a really efficient machine.  But that machine will be of quite limited application.  If you’re okay with that, if you don’t mind that the game is carefully tuned to require a narrow range of play methods and results, that’s great.  But not everyone wants this.

        If you want a much more wide-ranging game, you kind of need to set aside CA in favor of stuff.  You need a lot of little bits and pieces for people to screw around with.  The clean, stripped-to-basics system cannot do this easily; it’s possible, but difficult.

        I see two basic ways to handle it.  One is the old-fashioned way: write lots of bits and pieces, especially lots of setting bits and lots of mechanics bits. AD&D was masterful at this, and I think the anecdotal history of play demonstrates the social reinforcement through house rules and tweaking. Champions was less good on the setting bits, but exceptional at the mechanics, because they were simultaneously very precise and intricately intertwined and also very open-ended and fiddly.  It was obvious in Champions that you were supposed to fiddle with the bits, which prompts bricolage.  I’m sure you can all think of lots of other examples.

        The other way seems to me to follow Champions’s lead rather farther, which is what I’ve tried to do with Shadows in the Fog.  What’s needed is deliberate ambiguity.  You need some bits in there, which are clearly powerful and important, that are sufficiently constrained that people don’t say, “Um, I have no idea how to use this at all,” but are sufficiently open that players can readily bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate.  You also need a system that, in its mechanical and rhetorical design, makes clear that such mucking about is intrinsic to play.  This is what I’ve tried to do with Interpretation as a core rule.

        My next suggestion is that the “Golden Rule” is a big, big mistake.  It tries to do something useful, by saying that the system isn’t rigid and inflexible, but it does so not constructively but destructively: it says “throw it out if it doesn’t work.”  You don’t want to get rid of the things in the shed.  What you need is a New Golden Rule: “If it doesn’t work, bend it, but do not throw it out.”  The practical upshot is likely to be the same at a basic level, but the conceptual point is very different.  My proposed New Golden Rule essentially says that if you think the encumbrance rules don’t work or are silly, you should keep the system around and see if at some later point you can’t mine it for the new “carrying unconscious friends out of danger” rule.  Obviously these are very old-school examples, but I think the point can be generalized.

        Finally, I suggest that design encourage on-the-fly tweaking rather than systemic changes.  This is a variant of the New Golden Rule, of course.  Basically I mean that you want to encourage groups to bend rules when the need arises in actual play; what you want to discourage is the group sitting around outside of play and coming up with a whole new system to handle initiative.  The thing is, if they do that, then the next sessions are basically playtesting, to some degree, and necessarily operate at a higher level of abstraction.  Somebody pointed out recently that playtesting often doesn’t work well as an actual play session, and I think this is why.  So encourage players to screw with rules during play rather than between sessions.  Encourage them to do bricolage, that is, not engineering.

        I’m sure there are other implications, but I’m going to leave that to people who do a lot more design and have more experience with it than I do.



        Sooo....

        Anyone actually get this far?  Responses?  Questions?  New applications and suggestions?


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 16, 2005, 04:21:00 PM
      Quote from: clehrich

      Anyone actually get this far?  Responses?  Questions?  New applications and suggestions?


      Oh yes, that's some good stuff! The first part was largely self-evident, at least to me; that's how I'd figured it when you first suggested the analogy of rpgs as bricolage. But the second... that's some challenge you have there... I'm sure that people will get a lot of food for thought from this.

      One question people will probably have concerns the desirability of the bricolage effect. We're many of us designers here, and there's really deep roots to what that means. Bricolage easily becomes the antimatter of rpg design, and much of what we think of as good design - unified rules systems, flexible and covering techniques - is very much about bricolage control. They're there to ensure that bricolage does not and need not happen.

      I've designed some somewhat bricoleurish games myself, though. One was a formalistic exercise called Intertext: the rpg where pretty much the whole point was to draw in a bunch of cultural intertext, create some new associations and use them to generate implications in the game world. Practically this meant that the game had rules for introduction of illustrations, music and poetry/prose, which each could be imbued with in-game relevance ("My character has Like a Virgin at 5 points, that kind of thing) and had to be appreciated by the players to be used mechanically. The bricolage (which is the same thing as recognition of intertext, really) happened all within rules structures and was arduously controlled by players using a resource bidding system in actually making connections. I wonder how that kind of thing'd work without the formalistic primary structure?

      Another example of an intertextual/bricoleurish game is Jonathan Walton's Humble Mythologies (Where's the beef, Jonathan? You already have all the pieces you need to playtest that, you know...), in which we again see the abstract symbolic structure, which is then freely interposed by the players on the game world. These examples, and Shadows in the Fog, overall would seem to indicate that successful formalistic (meaning essentially Forge-type minimalism) bricoleurish designs work by separating clear representative levels, that are then connected dynamically in play; for example, the SitF tarot cards and the in-game reality never meet, except through the medium of interpretation. Contrast this with the AD&D example, and it would seem to me that the bricolage is much more intermixed in that kind of game: there's a variable amount of different levels of abstraction (for example, you could opt to use either character level or proficiencies for a given task, not to speak of thief skills, ability checks or saving throws, or pure tactical arbitration) that interconnect wildly and have all kinds of assumed and official connections. You may well end up using practical rules in interpretation of other practical rules, which is pretty different from the demarcated nature of SitF. The difference compared to the modern designs is quite obvious.

      The question is: considering the difference between how bricolage happens in AD&D and SitF, for instance, is it a desirable effect in the former? The latter uses the effect intentionally, but for AD&D it's not nearly so clear-cut.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 16, 2005, 07:37:29 PM
      Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
      One question people will probably have concerns the desirability of the bricolage effect. We're many of us designers here, and there's really deep roots to what that means. Bricolage easily becomes the antimatter of rpg design, and much of what we think of as good design - unified rules systems, flexible and covering techniques - is very much about bricolage control. They're there to ensure that bricolage does not and need not happen.
      Yes.  I think this is because designers think like engineers.  As Levi-Strauss predicts, the engineer and the bricoleur are fundamentally at odds.  The thing is, I think bricolage a basically self-policing mechanism.  Once it gets rolling as a social process of thought, it handles itself just fine, thanks.  Derrida's sly shot that the engineer is another invention of the bricoleur is very, very telling.  Practically speaking, I think a lot of this bricolage damage-control in game design is unnecessary and potentially limits the range of possibility undesirably.  As I say, if you want a game that's engineered, that reliably produces X with a minimum of fuss and trouble, you engineer it.  But I think a lot of gamers like the fuss and trouble, and even find that among the most fun bits of gaming, and engineering may be counter-productive for that.
      Quote
      The question is: considering the difference between how bricolage happens in AD&D and SitF, for instance, is it a desirable effect in the former? The latter uses the effect intentionally, but for AD&D it's not nearly so clear-cut.
      I keep mentioning, lately, that I have this plan to sit down and really read, critically and analytically like an academic, all my old AD&D books.  So I can't say for sure, not yet having done this.

      But you want my honest opinion?

      I think there is very good reason for why AD&D was such a success.  Sure, Ron is dead-on about the cultural situation, and Xero has made some lovely additions to that with his remarks on the rise of the popular notion of the auteur in George Lucas and such.  But I don't think that's a full answer.

      Honestly, I think AD&D has an enormous learning curve, and I don't mean what you think I mean, or rather, I don't mean what people would usually mean if they said that.

      I'll start again.

      I think AD&D has a steep learning curve, because you have three quite independent things to learn, and only one of them is in any way explicit in the texts.  

      First, you have to learn the rules as a system of messy and not entirely coherent or cohesive bits and pieces.  This is sort of explicit, though I think the idea that players should not read the DMG and so on undermines this; I do think a lot of players went right ahead and read it anyway, sensing somehow (from their neolithic minds, perhaps) that this rule should be observed in the breach.

      Second, you have to learn how your group plays, and the ethos of the group and its context of other groups, and how all of that works as a social system.  Nothing about this, that I know of, is explicit.

      Third, you have to learn how to bend the system.  In other words, you need to learn how to do bricolage with it.  Not only is this not explicit, I'm pretty sure it's explicit that you shouldn't do it.  Again, it sounds anecdotally as though an awful lot of gaming groups, probably including the very first originating groups, observed this in the breach.

      The thing is, there is just so goddamn much to parts 1 and 2, and they are so powerfully riddled with fractures and intricate weirdnesses that just beg for exploration (how do you use the magic item creation rules, anyway?), and there are so many inconsistencies just waiting to be put to good use somewhere.  And so once you get to stage 3, it's like a whole world opening up.  And I think that because there were so few other choices, and those groups had a social structure that kept their core players bound tightly, a surprising number of players did reach stage 3.

      And I deeply believe (I hope I am never proven wrong!) that players who got to stage 3 of this process, with that game or those sort of like it, are the tiny but fabled minority who played those endless, year-after-year games, the ones that people still tell stories about.  They genuinely did create something disturbingly similar to myth, in a ritual process.  And that is so powerful that it created a legend of its own, without which this hobby would long since be dead.

      I love seeing all this cool engineering and cleverness going on in design around here.  It's fantastic.  It keeps the hobby vital and vibrant and exciting.  But those guys were doing something very different, and I think we are painting ourselves into a corner---a very exciting and fun and valuable corner---from which we can barely even see that stuff.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on February 16, 2005, 07:51:34 PM
      Quote from: clehrich

      Anyone actually get this far?  Responses?  Questions?  New applications and suggestions?


      First, great job. This is exactly the sort of article I've been wanting to see.

      So, you've reassured me on my design aesthetic, which is (to me) a good thing. See, all the games I design have these huge gaping holes in them where I'm really thinking "This sort of thing right here is usually established as a hack by the game group anyway, so let them go ahead and do that." In The Shadow of Yesterday, there's a good example: the range of actions taken within one intention, and the specific-ness required in a stated intention. Of course, I release the game and someone immediately says, "Hey, what about that?" and I feel like a schmuck. I now have a better idea of what I'm trying to do upfront. (This also leads me to believe that Eero's suggestion that bricolage is the "anti-matter of design" might be off: I purposefully made TSOY as a game that took the parts that worked well from the systems I loved and shoe-horned them together. What is that, if not what Chris is describing?)


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: CPXB on February 16, 2005, 07:58:19 PM
      See, this is precisely the sort of thing I mentioned in the "too much theory" thread.  I was reading it and just when I was a little bit into it, I found myself wanting to talk not about gaming but about philosophy, and the interpretations that Chris uses.

      To talk about the gaming part of his post, then, requires me to accept his theoretical postulates, which I don't.  So I can't really talk about what he is talking about without talking about something that is not gaming.  To enter into his discussion about bricolage and gaming I have to accept his various interpretations.  If I don't accept his interpretations, to discuss them moves the conversation away from gaming.

      I see this as a system of control.  The front end of the discussion is padded with a lot of authority based ramblings that one must accept in order to talk about the gaming part of the post.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Jere on February 16, 2005, 08:04:57 PM
      Chris,

      I think you need to take some session transcripts (or just actual plays) and apply the ideas here to them. I hink some mroe practical application would be valuable.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 16, 2005, 08:19:10 PM
      Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon
      First, great job. This is exactly the sort of article I've been wanting to see.
      Thank you.  I'm glad!
      Quote
      So, you've reassured me on my design aesthetic, which is (to me) a good thing. See, all the games I design have these huge gaping holes in them where I'm really thinking "This sort of thing right here is usually established as a hack by the game group anyway, so let them go ahead and do that." In The Shadow of Yesterday, there's a good example: the range of actions taken within one intention, and the specific-ness required in a stated intention. Of course, I release the game and someone immediately says, "Hey, what about that?" and I feel like a schmuck.
      Hmm, interesting.  Historically speaking, I wonder if this is less do-able now than it used to be, when (my impression is) it wasn't really thought of as a serious option to get in touch with E. Gary Gygax or whoever and say, "Hey, how about this gap here?"  Anyway, I know this never crossed my mind back then.

      I do think what you're describing as a design principle is a good one.  My hope would be that we can continue thinking about this directly, here or in other threads, so that you can help clarify for me and others what that might look like successfully in practice.  You've had intermittent success, it sounds like; maybe this will help you formulate a way to get more consistent success---and then you have to tell me all about it, because I'm dying to know!


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 16, 2005, 08:29:11 PM
      Quote from: CPXB
      See, this is precisely the sort of thing I mentioned in the "too much theory" thread.  I was reading it and just when I was a little bit into it, I found myself wanting to talk not about gaming but about philosophy, and the interpretations that Chris uses.

      To talk about the gaming part of his post, then, requires me to accept his theoretical postulates, which I don't.  So I can't really talk about what he is talking about without talking about something that is not gaming.  To enter into his discussion about bricolage and gaming I have to accept his various interpretations.  If I don't accept his interpretations, to discuss them moves the conversation away from gaming.

      I see this as a system of control.  The front end of the discussion is padded with a lot of authority based ramblings that one must accept in order to talk about the gaming part of the post.
      I'm not sure what you mean by my "interpretations."  My reading of Levi-Strauss in reference to gaming?  Go ahead and debate it---I'm still trying to figure it out myself, as I made explicit at the top.  If you aren't interested in the history of the question (one of them, anyway) Levi-Strauss was dealing with, it's not that important; I always find it helpful myself to have an intellectual context to a new idea being presented to me, but you may not feel that way.  That is also why I mentioned in boldface that the section was not specifically about gaming: so you could skip it without direct impact, and I tried to compose the section to permit this.

      I don't think it's really fair to say that you have to accept my interpretations and postulates.  On the postulates, I wasn't intentionally burying them; feel free to reveal them and I can confirm, deny, debate, etc., but I'm not sure what you're referring to so I can't say whether it's relevant to gaming.  On the interpretations, as I say, I'm not sure what you mean by that.  If you don't buy the initial setup, the first analogy between bricolage and gaming at the outset, then unless you can critique that specifically I don't think this discussion is going to be interesting to you.  Sorry; you can't please everyone.  If you do want to critique that analogical formation, though, I think that's very relevant to gaming, and I'd like to hear about it.

      If you just don't buy bricolage as a notion in the first place, you have two choices.  One, you can go read Levi-Strauss, who puts it a lot better than me and infinitely more richly and elegantly.  Two, you can decide, "Here we go again" and drop the discussion.  I'd prefer you not take choice three, which is to knock me in broad strokes and in the third person.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 16, 2005, 08:31:59 PM
      Quote from: Jere
      I think you need to take some session transcripts (or just actual plays) and apply the ideas here to them. I hink some mroe practical application would be valuable.
      Well, I can try, but I find that Actual Play posts rarely provide enough detail for this.  They tend already to be abstractions away from the exact detail of what happened.  But I can certainly keep an eye peeled.  Lee Short's ongoing SITF playtest might provide fodder, as after all I sort of know how to read that game in these terms....


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: John Burdick on February 16, 2005, 08:44:50 PM
      I've wondered before whether any theory discussion would say anything about the rapid acceptance and widespread fun reports of Guardians of Order's games. To establish that the games have had remarkable success, I'll summarize the basic history.

      In 1996, Mark MacKinnon, grad student in chemistry, started Guardians of Order. In 1997, he took his second book to Gencon. The name of the book was Big Eyes, Small Mouth, an anime themed game. It was nominated for Origins Best RPG in 1998. The second edition was nominated for Origins Best RPG in 2000. By 2003, I bought the revised second edition in the local Barnes & Noble. My local game store continuously stocks the book, and other GoO titles.

      Even though the game was written with an anime theme, very little in either edition was tied to anime. So many people played supers with the rules that Silver Age Sentinels was written for the supers market. People play these games, they aren't fluff books for reading or collecting. The company has books about specific anime called Anime Fan Guides, but no show content is in the regular game book. Given that so many people report having fun, what can we see in the text?

      The games are sometimes called "rules lite". The first edition of BESM was 96 pages and was almost entirely rules. The revised second edition BESM is 208 compact pages and is almost entirely rules. For comparison, my Hero System Sidekick has 128 pages of larger size and double column text. My friend's Champions 3rd is also about that size. The mechanical system in BESM, called TriStat, is a point buy power system. You put points into three stats(Body Mind Soul) and attributes (powers, perks, talents, advantages and so on are all mixed together). Disadvantages return some points. You roll under your stat on 2d6 plus difficulty modifiers to do things.

      Quote from: clehrich

      The other way seems to me to follow Champions’s lead rather farther, which is what I’ve tried to do with Shadows in the Fog.  What’s needed is deliberate ambiguity.  You need some bits in there, which are clearly powerful and important, that are sufficiently constrained that people don’t say, “Um, I have no idea how to use this at all,” but are sufficiently open that players can readily bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate.  You also need a system that, in its mechanical and rhetorical design, makes clear that such mucking about is intrinsic to play.  This is what I’ve tried to do with Interpretation as a core rule.


      Here's why I introduced the subject. BESM isn't rules light; it's rules ambiguous. Here's a line of rules text from the first edition: "Level 1 Item offers a small advantage to the character". That's from the mechanical portion, not flavor text. There's no tricks with using words as stand-ins for numbers happening either. The rule really is that open. You spend your points for powers that may be completely open as to what they do.

      The second edition BESM greatly increased the available precision. For example, you can optionally use skills. Some players refused to accept the second edition because of the emphasis on precision. Even this more mechanical edition still has rules text like this line from Dynamic Sorcery "Level 4 can cast medium-duration spells of some power (flight, wards of protection, limited invisibility. etc.)"

      I can recall responses to this system falling mainly into these categories:
      "I had a blast."
      "I hate anime, I wish I could buy a copy without the ugly art."
      "It's so vague, you can't do anything without improvising."
      "I liked it before they ruined it by trying to nail everything down."

      I can easily believe that Chris's deliberate ambiguity was important in the success of these game books in producing enjoyable play.

      John


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 16, 2005, 08:53:58 PM
      John,

      Wow.  Cool!  I've heard of this game, but not being an anime fan all that much never looked into it.

      Do you happen to know, anecdotally, whether it tended toward long campaigns or toward one-shots?  Actually, anyone out there have an impression on this, in general?

      It sounds to me like something that would have a steep learning-curve and then run smoothly for quite a while---when it ran at all, but it also sounds like groups that didn't like it didn't like it real quick.

      Any GoO players out there want to pitch in with examples of what this beast actually ran like?  I just love the fact that you've got 208 pages of dense mechanics that don't quite explain things clearly, and it's billed as "rules-lite."  :)  

      The other thing I wonder is what it was like if you had an ongoing GoO campaign or group, and you tried to introduce a new player.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Nathan P. on February 16, 2005, 09:48:26 PM
      Wow.

      Chris, you continue to blow my mind, in the best way possible. What's even better, is I think I'm starting to see some very useful applications of this whole bricolage thing to my game, Timestream. So thank you.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 16, 2005, 11:26:19 PM
      Quote from: clehrich

      Any GoO players out there want to pitch in with examples of what this beast actually ran like?  I just love the fact that you've got 208 pages of dense mechanics that don't quite explain things clearly, and it's billed as "rules-lite."  :)  


      Never played it, but I read it, and my brother ran a campaign using Silver Age Sentinels. I'm not going to try any in-depth analysis specifically because I've not played it, but I feel a need to set the record straight:

      As far as I've seen by reading Tri-Stat rules (SAS, Authority RPG, the free lite version), it's unambiguously nothing special in the rules department. The ambiguousity of the rules is just the same as it is in GURPS, Hero or the Storyteller system. I would classify the examples John supplies as resulting from the universal nature of the system; of course you have to give guidelines for rating powers and items when it's not practical to list all the quazillion possibilities. GURPS and Hero do this, too. Any system with room for adaptation does. All those system emphatically want you to do the adaptation between sessions and with the GM in the lead.

      Furthermore, I'd like to note that the GoO games drive perhaps the most aggressive line of any mainstream publishers in offering GM-authority and the Golden Rule as solutions to the Impossible Thing. Just read the gaming manifesto they put in all their books. From that perspective it's doubtful whether bricolage is favored by the games: I would think that you'd need a more balanced negotiation platform for bricolage to take place. From what I've seen the GoO games play more in an illusionistic manner, with the GM bridging the potential bricolage situations with Force. Admittedly illusionistic immersionism is perhaps a magnitude more common here in Finland (wouldn't know, but Lord is it more noisy), so that might just be a local curiousity.

      Anyway, most of that is off-topic. I suggest a new thread if any of you want to discuss GoO design (or their financial problems) in more detail. The interesting question here is whether Tri-Stat is a bricolage-friendly environment regardless of my above points. And does this mean that actually any of the '90s mainstream games are that? Would we see bricoleuring commonly taking place if we looked for it in GURPS or WW games? And if so, then does that mean that bricolage is really the status quo, and we've just not noticed it as important because the Forge draws only engineering-type people to discussions?


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on February 17, 2005, 12:20:21 AM
      Quote from: clehrich
      Anyone actually get this far?  Responses?  Questions?  New applications and suggestions?


      Excellent work, Chris. A few comments:

      - You forgot the "define rpg" clause again. :)
      But in this case it's actually beneficial: the bricolage interpretation applies beyond tabletop rpg. It seems to match rather well to any game that uses a detachment-based approach to rules (the structure of rules being both stable and all-encompassing enough to support interpreting them as needed; MIT Assassins Guild material is a good larp example of this).

      Where it doesn't functionally apply are games using eidetic reduction as their primary approach to how the in-game "reality" is seen. (Exeperience creation -oriented larps, mostly) In those games the bricolage tools are not within the reach of the interpreters. They may actually exist, of course, but cannot be accessed during play without the play being interrupted. (This can be countered by saying that a GM always has the option of restructuring the tools used, I know. That's why there's the "functionally" clause in the beginning. The GM's "omnipotence" is a distinctive issue, one not based on game element interpretation.)

      An opposite also exists, in the form of tabletop games such as Aftermath or old Rolemaster, which seem to have been intentionally designed with the precise idea of avoiding the need for interpretation and adaptation by making systems for everything.

      - The key problem I see with this model is that when a game moves into more and more acceptance of bricolage, the need for conracts increases. For example, as soon as the possibility of interpreteting cards as relations is accepted, other incompatible uses (especially that of them as symbols of meaning) have to be ruled as "not acceptable". If that's not done, system elements become just replacements for contract-interpretation arguments instead of tools that solve such arguments. In a sense, to enable further bricolage, you actually have to engineer new parts. How do you get past this?

      -Jiituomas


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: John Burdick on February 17, 2005, 12:40:45 AM
      Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
      [
      As far as I've seen by reading Tri-Stat rules (SAS, Authority RPG, the free lite version), it's unambiguously nothing special in the rules department. The ambiguousity of the rules is just the same as it is in GURPS, Hero or the Storyteller system. I would classify the examples John supplies as resulting from the universal nature of the system; of course you have to give guidelines for rating powers and items when it's not practical to list all the quazillion possibilities. GURPS and Hero do this, too. Any system with room for adaptation does. All those system emphatically want you to do the adaptation between sessions and with the GM in the lead.


      Not only are all three of those different from the current BESM, my first edition comments apply to a radically different game. Notice I said that many early players are unhappy with the enchroaching detail. I have no idea what Champions or GURPS were like prior to their respective 3rd editions.  It's possible there was a similar dynamic, which could be interesting to know.

      Comments by the SAS line developer, Jesse Scoble, indicate that he prefers to use Dynamic Powers extensively in his own games. Since I prefer the BESM rules, I didn't pay much attention to whether he encouraged it in his books.

      John


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Nicolas Crost on February 17, 2005, 01:56:13 AM
      Hey Chris (Lehrich),

      Just let me do a quick recap of the gaming related parts of your posts (in order to make sure I understand them):
      So, what you are saying, basically, is that there is people out there who enjoy fiddling with rules (and setting) bits while roleplaying. This is because it reinforces the social structure of the given group and thereby makes them feel good. If I read you right, you imply that most people engage in this kind of behavior and/or would like that.
      As for design you suggest that one could try to intentionally design games that provide a lot of bits to fiddle with, leave some gaps and provide intentional ambiguity.

      Is that about it (related to gaming)? And if it is: Why didn't you just say so, fer chrissake?! I have to agree with (the other) Chris: this is waaaay to much theory (well, gaming unrelated theory, that is) and way to little application to gaming. And if I missed something... could you please explain it in a way someone without a Ph.D. in Anthropology or something can understand?

      Anyway, I think the point is interesting (though not very new). Roleplayers seem to like the "fiddling with the rules" part. Well, I would like to add: some roleplayers like it. Some are very much turned off by it. And looking outside of the hobby, I would say that almost everyone is turned off by it. The amount of rules and lack o clarity are one of the main points that keep "normal" people from playing.

      But anyway, I think that the notion that some people actually enjoy incoerence or ambiguity is interesting to explore, especially from a design point of view. How does one design a game that caters to those needs? And does it even make sense since d20 is already out there? Those are the thing I would very much like to read more about (and less of the ethnology class stuff).


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Sean on February 17, 2005, 02:59:07 AM
      Chris -

      Thanks for this - I found it educational and useful. Also slightly subversive!
      The subversion, of course, comes in with the idea that the process of groups doing weird stuff with games and getting off into their own isolated mutually incomprehensible spaces is actually a feature, not a bug, or at least can be a feature if you want it to be. The pros and cons of that sort of play is worth a thread or five of its own, I think.

      With respect to AD&D - I agree with you about the three-step process and think your article is helpful in explaining it, on two levels (the mechanics-fiddling and the act of play, which you bring together nicely and convincingly for that example at least). The 'success' issue is more complicated, though, as I guess you ultimately concede. I'll add that D&D, as a more vaguely specified game, essentially involved the same process but with less frontwork at step 1.

      Vagueness and ambiguity are one set of tools for designing mechanics for games that help with using the game as an open platform for individual groups to make meaning together. Another is the design of endless situational rules and an encouragement to your players to do the same: the baroque, which eschews the lawless for the recondite. What are some others? This is an important practical question for design, I think. I'd actually like to see some narrow and even 'accumlulationist' mechanics for this sort of thing, like a Collection of Meaningful Facts, the character as a curiosity cabinet. More magical than the list of magic items maybe.

      I think this article also may shed some indirect light on the curious need of many role-players to feel like a 'game' or 'campaign' is open-ended and indefinite even though in practical fact they know that it's unlikely to last more than six months. The feeling of open-endedness or indefiniteness is necessary for many minds to get into this kind of meaning-making process, I think.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 17, 2005, 03:04:53 AM
      Quote from: Nicolas Crost

      Is that about it (related to gaming)? And if it is: Why didn't you just say so, fer chrissake?! I have to agree with (the other) Chris: this is waaaay to much theory (well, gaming unrelated theory, that is) and way to little application to gaming. And if I missed something... could you please explain it in a way someone without a Ph.D. in Anthropology or something can understand?


      I don't have a Ph.D., so I'm the right guy to explain! It's good to be dumb!

      The part you missed was the explanation of the phenomenon and it's ties to other activities. That's what the biggest part of the article was about. This is important, because theory reinforces observation: if theory explains or even predicts a phenomenon, then that phenomenon can be seen, and can be considered real in observation, too. Furthermore, understanding the why helps the designer/gamer when considering whether to address the phenomenon in his work. Even further, understanding can help in evaluating the phenomenon aesthetically, which is the final step in deciding what it is actually that we're doing when playing roleplaying games.

      If I were to try to condense a small part of the article into easier words, I'd perhaps focus on the significance of the postulate that knowingly applied bricolage could have beneficial SC effects on the group, building a positive feedback loop for them. I'm not sure that I agree, but the idea of a private language is a compelling one. Nicholas: the article is full of tid-bit ideas and postulations like that, so just read it with thought if you want to figure it out.

      At this point it's prudent to note that if you don't care about those things, that's cool. But you did ask, and those things I mentioned couldn't be approached without building connections to all kinds of existing literature about human condition. It's necessary to construct certain kind of understanding, which some of us feel useful or enjoyable. If you don't like it, there's no reason to strain yourself.

      Take a look at what you yourself wrote:
      Quote

      Anyway, I think the point is interesting (though not very new). Roleplayers seem to like the "fiddling with the rules" part. Well, I would like to add: some roleplayers like it. Some are very much turned off by it. And looking outside of the hobby, I would say that almost everyone is turned off by it. The amount of rules and lack o clarity are one of the main points that keep "normal" people from playing.


      See how useful your own comments on the matter are, when you aren't drawing on any deeper model of explanation and just throw out observations? You're saying here that some roleplayers like fiddling, some don't, and normal people don't. Why is this anything more but some random feelings coupled with self-evident fact? Chris makes a case for explaining fiddling as a part of a larger phenomenon (it's been already discussed how important bricolage may be for certain kinds of narration, completely apart from fiddling with rules), even suggesting that the phenomenon may be something worthwile to pursue. While your statement strives to explain away the phenomenon and close the subject, Chris opens it wide for exploration.

      Quote

      But anyway, I think that the notion that some people actually enjoy incoerence or ambiguity is interesting to explore, especially from a design point of view. How does one design a game that caters to those needs? And does it even make sense since d20 is already out there? Those are the thing I would very much like to read more about (and less of the ethnology class stuff).


      How does d20 pertain to this? Would you think that it's especially ambiguous? In my experience it's anything but that. I'm willing to entertain the opposite viewpoint, of course.

      Continuing on that vein, I got to thinking about the different kinds of roleplaying bricolage. Is there a synergy between narrative bricolage (what's been discussed as mythmaking sim) and mechanical bricolage (outlined here)? Chris suggests that mechanical bricolage is a GMing technique that can be reinforced by repeated use. The same holds true for myth-making, if I'm fit to judge that. But if a game applies large amounts of bricolage in rules construction, will that have any affect on it's narrative quality? Or vice versa? The question popped up from mentioning d20: the current version is very strong in the myth-making department, but pretty weak in the rules-ambiguity.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Nicolas Crost on February 17, 2005, 04:13:13 AM
      Hi Eero,

      thanks for the reply. I usually miss half of the discussion around here with the Amercians posting while I sleep... :)

      Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
      Furthermore, understanding the why helps the designer/gamer when considering whether to address the phenomenon in his work.
      [...]
      Chris makes a case for explaining fiddling as a part of a larger phenomenon

      I agree with you here: understanding why people do something does help us to create better games or simply to enjoy our playing experince even more. No disagreement here.
      The problem I have is the following: I think that Chris' posts do not help a great deal in answering that question. This may just be the particular type of scientific training in my field speaking up. But I don't find pages about irons and helium balloons and other analogies very helpful. Neither are pages about native tribes and their behaviour (to me).
      I would rather stick to the facts we observe: some people like it, some don't. Why is that? How are they different? What processes underlie the enjoyment of "fiddling"? And the answer "they like it, because it reinforces the social structure of the group" could have been given in a paragraph or two, without the rather longish analogies.

      Well, but since, as I said, this may be just my scientific paradigm speaking up here, I would be very interested in how exactly Chris' posts help us in understanding the process of "fiddling / bricolage". Because I simply don't get it.

      Chris (Lehrich), or anyone else for that matter, I would very much appreciate some more explaining of this, especially since the thoughts you presented regarding application to gaming are rather vague. And I would like to see the fact discussed, that some people do obviously like fiddling and that some don't. Does that mean that they do not want (need?) their group structure reinforced? Or do they simply use other means to do it? Or something else?

      About d20: I have always felt it to be rather vague with all the unconnected rules and sourcebooks and stuff. But that may just be me.

      Anyway, I am with Sean here: I would love to see more about design implications of intentional vagueness or about games especially created for groups to create meaning together. Additionally I would love to see a more process-oriented analyses of this "creating meaning" which might lead to an understanding of why some people like it and some don't. And perhaps this analysis could come without helium balloons... :)


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: LordSmerf on February 17, 2005, 07:43:36 AM
      Okay, this was a long read, I made some notes...

      First, I think you've got some solid stuff here Chris.  I think your analysis is solid, I'm going to try to spring-board off of this...

      This isn't really an analysis so much as a "connect the theory dots" type of thing, but... Chris (Lehrich) talks about CA focused design, and hints at design that does not facilitate bricolage.  Vincent Baker talks about "Brittle" systems (and of course his site is down so I can't give a link).  Brittle systems are (paraphrased): "Systems which only work within a narrow Social Contract (context)".  Vincent also talks about "strong" systems which are good at getting people to do what they say (so Strong/Brittle is good at getting players into that narrow context).  Just thought I'd point out this cool parallel.

      When you say that as we approach higher and higher levels of abstraction we come closer and closer to analysis of the underlying social structures, I read that as (admittedly simplistic): bricolage and immersionism are very closely related.  This highlights the idea that bricolage is a really great idea, for pursuing a specific type of play.  It also seems to indicate that bricolage is not good for certain other types of play.  From my reading of the article this was not clear.  Chris, would you agree that for certain groups bricolage is actually a huge negative?

      I would be really interested in a discussion of the different types of play in relation to bricolage: what kind of play (or group) really loves it, and what kind of play (or group) really hates it?  Is there a middle ground?  Can you find bricolage okay, or do you either really like it in play or really dislike it?

      One of the interesting implications I see in this is that "System doesn't matter as much" because it is going to be messed with anyway.  Now, that is not to say that the system does not need to be carefully designed, perhaps as carefully as a system not designed to facilitate bricolage.  Rather, the crafting of the system does not suffer as much from (and may even benefit from) some defects in design.

      Quick note, not yet well considered: Bricolage seems to be a sort of antithesis to the idea that system is used to export a certain type of play since we are fully expecting the system to get messed with and altered to do what the group already wants it to do.  This does not mean that the system does not impact their play though.

      I'm not actually familiar with bricolage, but apperently it's a hobby.  People like to make things, it's fun.  This raises the question: is there some subset of RPG players who are primarily motivated by the exercise of mental bricolage?  Do they tend to play together, or do they gravitate to the GM role (which is traditionally very focused on bricolage)?

      One of the interesting things about bricolage is that it seems to be self-reinforcing in this context.  I think that this could be one of the reasons that RPGs have traditionally had so many things in common with other oral traditions (taught by other players the "right way" to play).  I think that a lot of work at the Forge has been to break away from the idea of bricolage, and with that break I don't think much analysis has occurred.  So, Chris, I think you're onto something really interesting here.

      Quote from: Nicolas Crost
      Anyway, I think the point is interesting (though not very new). Roleplayers seem to like the "fiddling with the rules" part. Well, I would like to add: some roleplayers like it. Some are very much turned off by it. And looking outside of the hobby, I would say that almost everyone is turned off by it. The amount of rules and lack o clarity are one of the main points that keep "normal" people from playing.


      I think that Nicolas is onto something good here, especially with "normal people are turned off by this".  If RPG play has traditionally been very heavy on bricolage, how has that contributed to the current mainstream view of RPGs?  How has it contributed to the gamer's view of RPGs?  How are these views changing?

      Hmm... Looks like I've got a lot of questions, and no answers yet.  Anyway, just so we're clear, Chris: I think you've got something very interesting here.  I think you are dead on when you say that traditional forms of play are bricolage heavy.  I think that a lot of work at the Forge has been towards highly focused games that discourage bricolage.  I think that this is a very good thing.  I'd be very interested in a discussion of the pros and cons of bricolage play as compared to low (since it probably can't be gotten rid of entirely) bricolage play.

      I'll do some more thinking on that last point and come back in a bit...

      Thomas


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: matthijs on February 17, 2005, 07:45:48 AM
      Chris, this was great. Reading it felt like coming home. I loved reading...:

      - The positive stuff ("The longer a group plays together (...) the more their play will become self-affirming and socially reinforcing")
      - The stuff that's so obvious only when you think about it ("Every disagreement can be handled locally")
      - The stuff that isn't that obvious, but will make for better play ("So when Dave proposes to use the sidestep-backswing trick, he must be permitted to do so")
      - The design tips ("write lots of bits and pieces" or "deliberate ambiguity")
      - The insights about the Big Model and how it's used ("by doing so we demonstrate the adequacy of the model")
      - The notes about Shadows in the Fog

      So far, not much critical comment. There's a lot to think about in there - this is the kind of essay that has to mature a bit in the mind so the different angles and points can be connected to all the other stuff that's already there.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Paul Czege on February 17, 2005, 09:50:42 AM
      Chris,

      What's interesting to me is that it offers insight into how fantasy heartbreakers get created, and why they fail in the market. You can engineer a product for sale to bricoleurs, but the products of bricolage can't be sold outside the local context in which they were created. And I suspect it's characteristic of bricoleurs to over-estimate the size of the local context.

      Paul


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: shaheddy on February 17, 2005, 10:22:11 AM
      Chris,

      I, for one, appreciated the background on bricolage – it was very interesting. However, I am confused as to what bricolage looks like in RPGs. It seems what you are saying is that the evolving application of mechanics is itself part of the shared imaginary space, hence constitutes a complementary narrative (or game, or whatever) to the, uh, plot. Your prescription,

      Quote
      stop worrying about whether you are sticking to the system, or whether there are CA conflicts.  The more you think about these abstractly, the more you can’t manipulate them concretely.  And the more they become abstract, the more they have to have social implications.


      is your own spin on the disclaimer in many books, “don’t let the rules get in the way!” (I believe there is a recent thread on this). If that is a correct interpretation of what you said, then it sounds right to me. The only thing I would add is that one should pay close attention to just where the evolution of the system is going. There seems to be a good chance that by “going with the flow”, one could stumble into an unpleasant place. This is particularly dangerous taken together with your caveat that bricolage is not reversible (which seems mostly true). The only examples I can think of off the top of my head are when there is an unhealthy dynamic amongst the players (favoritism, someone who is picked on) which over time is reflected in and amplified by the evolving system.

      As for the section on game design, when you say

      Quote
      What’s needed is deliberate ambiguity .  You need some bits in there, which are clearly powerful and important, that are sufficiently constrained that people don’t say, “Um, I have no idea how to use this at all,” but are sufficiently open that players can readily bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate.  You also need a system that, in its mechanical and rhetorical design, makes clear that such mucking about is intrinsic to play.  This is what I’ve tried to do with Interpretation as a core rule.


      I like the idea, but I’m not sure what you mean. There seem to be different ways systems can be deliberately ambiguous. For example, in a system where you buy skills, then by necessity the skills themselves are deliberately ambiguous (“persuasive” can mean seductive as well as skilled at demagoguery, or both, or neither, and the meaning comes out through play). Risus seems like the embodiment of this kind of ambiguity. Earlier, when talking about adapting bow and arrow rules for firearms, you talked about adapting a given rule for a situation that wasn’t covered. This seems like another kind of ambiguity, which typically looks accidental, and seems to come up most with Dnd and GURPS. And Shadows in the Fog seems like yet another kind of ambiguity, where the game includes a process that mediates interpretation.

      What I’m asking is, what kind of ambiguity do you mean? And if you mean all kinds of ambiguity, including types I haven’t listed and none of us has thought of, then I would say that the practical implication for game design is twofold. First, how does one produce a functional ambiguity, and second, what collection of ambiguities (yuck) should one build into a system in order to get the desired play experience.

      On a related note, it seems to me that some sort of, or the collection of, ambiguities is what separates RPGs from (non-RP)Gs.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Harlequin on February 17, 2005, 01:04:11 PM
      Nice. Very nice.

      I suggest that when polishing up to article status, you enhance the prescriptive at the expense of the descriptive.  And that you either define "adequating" as a verb, or dispense with it in favour of more intuitive terms like "confirming" and so on.

      As for followups to this, your prescriptive suggestions - in particular about designing games which would appeal to all of us who became game designers, bricoleurs tous, by leaving loose ends hanging for like-minded players to grab on to - are excellent.

      I seem to have a thing for robot game examples lately, but I'm inspired by this piece to consider making a robot game specifically intended for applied bricolage.  One where the characters start out extremely limited in terms of their capabilities, but where in-character bricolage serves as the vehicle for a high level of player-scale bricolage as well.  I'm thinking robots who, to begin with, have little capability except to modify themselves by adding parts, devices, and capabilities... none of which would come predefined by the game.  Junkyard Bots, with each new arm/leg/buzzsaw you slap on coming with its own rules-level interpretations the group invents at the time.  Hmmm...

      Thank you.  This implementation has legs - pun intended.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Walt Freitag on February 17, 2005, 03:14:15 PM
      Hi Chris,

      I thought you might be interested in an example of LARP gameplay that included a subsystem that's about as close to literal bricolage as I can imagine getting in a role playing game. To understand it (or rather, its significance in its own context, if it has any), a bit of background may be needed on how items possessed and carried by player-characters were handled mechanically in SIL (Society for Interactive Literature) LARPs.

      Most portable items in SIL games, including (especially) weapons, were represented by 3x5 cards printed with the name and description (if a description was needed) of the item. If an item could have an effect on other player-characters, instructions for how to resolve the effect were included on the card. Since we wanted players to be able to resolve as much as possible without requiring GM arbitration, the instructions on the card were the only authority players had available, so item effects were usually very specific and straightforward. A typical example might be, "Smoke Bomb. Tear up this card when used. Usable at any time in or out of combat, but not usable when restrained. When used, the user may leave the area without hindrance, and no one may follow for two minutes. If the user does not leave the area, it has no effect. This item is transferrable."

      Most items in most games didn't have direct uses like that. They were important for other reasons, such as having monetary value. Many of the items were "components" of various sorts -- that is, objects that were needed, usually in specific combinations, to do specific things or create other items. Depending on the game style, such components might bits of SF tech that could be used to build or repair important devices (such as, constructing a weapon that can blow up the planet, or repairing your spaceship so you can escape the planet before someone blows it up), or ordinary objects needed to cast powerful ritual spells, or a set of symbolic tokens needed to claim the throne. Such combinations of components, that needed to be collected by players, were generically known as "recipes" and were one of the earliest tropes of the SIL style of LARP, having been a prominent feature of the original SIL LARP game Nexus/Rekon-1 that I designed in 1982. There were good reasons for this: trading items was one of the most straightforward ways of giving characters with diverse goals and interests a reason to interact with each other, and their use in recipes gave items direct in-game value that helped to drive a game's overall economy. However, during the mid 80s, components and recipies were overused and people got sick of them. Play involving components and recipes became known as "widget hunts," an occasionally affectionate but usually derogatory phrase (akin to "dungeon crawl" or possibly "hack-fest").

      So by 1987, when I wrote Show Biz, I was rebelling artistically against the widget-hunt cliche I'd invented myself five years before. Show Biz was a LARP about cartoon characters, exactly like the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit except that the movie wouldn't come out until several years later. All the player-characters were toons; the humans (such as Mr. Acme, the head of the studio -- yeah, I did say exactly like Roger Rabbit!) were NPCs and GMs.

      Show Biz was set up to look exactly like a typical LARP of its era, right up until the moment the game started. The apparent ultimate goal of the game appeared to be to compete for the best slots in the Saturday morning TV schedule. There was a cartoon combat system (not called combat, of course; combats were "dramatic scenes"), through which the victors could win or lose "ratings points." There were clues to mysteries concerning stolen Oscars and embezzling of studio funds. There was gossip about various PCs' secret vices and marital problems, ready to be used as leverage or blackmail. The usual blend of strategy, trading, diplomacy, and intrigue appeared to be in the offing.

      But, when actual game-time began (on Saturday morning, as it was the usual weekend-long event format), all of the PCs discovered that all of their shows had been cancelled, and replaced with toy merchandising shows. Furthermore, there was no way to change that using the game rules that we'd presented the players with. It was almost as if there was no "game" any more, just the player-characters and the setting.

      Actually, we did throw them one bone. Also released on Satudray morning was a newly issued copy of Variety which listed the schedule for that day's auditions for talent (weatherman, news anchor, hosts for cooking shows and science shows, radio DJ, kids' educational show cast, and so forth). But beyond that, we GMs had no plan whatsoever for what the characters were supposed to do or accomplish during the game. We wanted to leave that up to the players. And to help them do it, whatever it would turn out to be, we gave them the Prop Room.

      "Props" were this particular game's name for item cards. The cartoon combat ("dramatic scene") system involved the players using props, but a bit of experimentation was enough to show that which props a player used in a Dramatic Scene didn't really matter in the mechanical outcome. To a seasoned SIL LARPer, it was obvious that the props were just points; by limiting the rate that the players could acquire props during the game, the GMs could control the pace of play or adjust the balance.

      We didn't do that. Instead, we designated a room of the game space the Prop Room, and we filled it with thousands of props. We printed up cards for every object of every description we could recall ever having seen in a Warner Brothers cartoon. Then we added a few hundred more that we hadn't seen but might be worth a try. We dumped sackfulls of these all over the room. Then we dumped out the pieces of every construction toy I owned, including my large Tinkertoy collection, and covered a few tables with arts and crafts materials, telling the players that if they couldn't find the prop they wanted, they could make it for themselves. And that they could come into the prop room whenever they wanted, and take as much as they wanted.

      This was our anti-widget-hunt, around which we had conceptualized the whole game. Instead of giving players a mission or an arena and telling them to go find the resources they needed to deal with it, we were telling them, "here's all this stuff, everything you've ever seen in a cartoon and more; what are you going to make out of it?" (And there are two different senses of "make" there, both "what game-usable devices are you going to assemble, Wile E. Coyote-like, out of all these Acme parts?"; and "what are you actually going to use it for in the game?" -- which is very close to posing the question, what meaning can you give this stuff?)

      So this doesn't turn into an Actual Play post, I'll just report that it all worked. On the "make stuff out of parts" end of things, we had, for example, one character (one of those auditioning for the science show host gig) make a particle accelerator out of a pea shooter, a pair of perpetually vibrating cymbals, a long tunnel, a giant magnet, and a bunch of other stuff I don't remember except that it was all stock items and all just right for making a cartoon version of a particle accelerator. (No irons or helium balloons, though, sad to say.) On the larger scale, one faction of  player-characters put on an original Broadway musical (fortunately in their reflexive cartoon world they didn't have to travel to Broadway to do this, just construct a Broadway set), making excellent use of pre-made and custom-made props. In the end the toons all got their Saturday morning shows back by having bought out the studio, and the Bugs Bunny character won all the Oscars.

      I'm pretty sure you can see why Show Biz's Prop Room came to mind while I was reading about your bricoleur's shed.

      When I started this post I didn't have a particular point in mind; I just wanted to bring this unusual example to your attention. But it does seem to raise a question for me, which is whether bricolage is really fundamental to all role playing, or whether it's one of two opposing approaches to play, the other being some kind of "engineering" approach, perhaps exemplified (in the context of the LARPs I've described here) by the widget-hunt.

      - Walt


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Dobamine on February 17, 2005, 04:21:31 PM
      When I first saw Chris 's posts loudly claiming that 'Simulationism is Bricolage!', I said to myself, "Hmmmm..... What the heck is bricolage?"

      Eventually I decided that it was ridiculous that a relatively well educated person like myself had simply no idea what this word meant, so I looked it up in Google and read an article with the same 'build something new from the junk in someone's basement' paragraph explained as a metaphor for the creation of culture in all societies. We create ideas, stories, myths and religions by promiscuously remaking them from the detritus and poorly understood practices of our neighboring cultures.

      And then I said to myself, 'Ah, I know that sort of gaming - Rifts and Torg. Nope, not Simulationism to me.' Several hundred words later, I still can't get over that simple first impression.

      Now, I guess Chris has backed off from claiming that this is unique to Simulationism, and has identified it more as sort of process - a means of enjoyable play and design that’s independent of CA, and I certainly can see bits of that in old style AD&D (not d20), my own GURPS Psychosis campaign (essentially take 250 points, every GURPS book I own, and make whatever monstrosity you like), and most especially Rifts. Rifts is the perfect example; it combines bricolage of setting that plunders all RPG genre sources happily with bricolage of system. The Palladium system agglomerates D&D combat (heavily tweaked) with percentage skills, ‘Feat’ like skills, separate damage tracks, a complete handful of magic systems and much more. Perfect Bricolage and in my experience very prone to needing heavy local interpretation.

      To me the old-school bricolage that Chris talks about is almost a synonym for what Robin Laws called Crunchiness. This goes a lot farther than Robin did in identifying why it’s popular and how it works, but at heart it seems to me more or less the same thing.

      The newer approach of deliberate ambiguity mentioned immediately reminded me of Lumpley’s proto Skiffy Game, where the players collectively define and are rewarded for defining the details of the rules and setting in a science fiction exploration setting. Stuff like “Dilithium crystals work like this and are stored like this.” gives you challenge points to use as a GM. One of the basic ground rules is that you are only rewarded for building on another player’s contributions

      Am I missing the point here- taking it too literally? Is the simple process of taking one cultural form (say Wu Xia movies) and gluing them to another (Tabletop Role Playing Games) inherently Bricolage, even though it's largely just bolting one intact thing onto another? How about the raft of recent 'D20 Blah' games where the D20 system is more or less directly grafted on to some other genre with an absolute minimum of retooling of either the genre or the system?

      Tony Pace


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: M. J. Young on February 17, 2005, 07:16:24 PM
      Dang--two long posts starting a long thread, it's a good thing it's still early and I'm reasonably awake here. I hope I can contribute something.
      Quote from:
      “It is a basic postulate of sociology,” he says, “that no human institution can be founded on error.” In other words, if these practices don’t do anything, people will stop doing them. Since the rain dance doesn’t produce rain, it must do something else, or nobody would do it, and chances are it wouldn’t have been invented in the first place.

      Unfortunately, I have to take issue with this basic postulate of sociology. Superstition is generally built on selective reading of evidence, and that could very easily apply in the given examples.

      The best modern example I know is the oft-touted statement that people are a bit more crazy on nights with full moons. I've even read theories as to why this is so, related to tidal forces on cerebrospinal fluid. Ask any emergency room nurse, doctor, or other personnel; ask any EMT; ask police and fire fighters. There is a general consensus that things are crazier, more hectic, and just generally odder on nights with full moons than on other nights, and that it has to do with the fact that people will do crazy things because they're a bit crazier when the moon is full. After all, we wouldn't even have the word "lunacy" if there wasn't some validity to the idea.

      The problem is that studies have repeatedly demonstrated no statistical correlation between the types, severities, or causes of emergencies on nights with full moons than any other time of the month. The data does not exist.

      So why do the people who have their hands in this stuff up to their elbows think the moon matters? Selective recollection of data. If you listen to these people on a busy night, sometimes someone will mention that the moon is full, and everyone will say that it figures; sometimes someone will  mention that the moon is not full, and people will say, "Imagine how much worse tonight would have been had it been a full moon." When the night is quiet, no one really notices whether it's a full moon or not. If they notice that it is, and it's a quiet night, they comment that they got lucky.

      The data is all filtered through the lens of expectation. Full moons bring out the crazies; everyone knows that. Since that's given, all data is interpreted in light of that, contradictory data discarded, and the remaining data all supports the established view.

      It reminds me of a comment I heard from a theologian years ago. He said that he found himself in a difficult spot concerning miracles, because he knew that no respected theologian believed they ever really happened, but he also knew that the definition of "respected theologian" included that they didn't believe miracles happened. C. S. Lewis, for instance, was certainly a scholar in the field of myth, but since he believed in miracles he obviously was not a respectable theologian. If the conclusion is the basis on which the data is judged, then the data will always support the conclusion.

      Looking at the rain dance example, we'll accept arguendo that it doesn't really work. What you say Durkheim says is that the natives must know this; but there's no reason why they must know this. Obviously, nothing works every time. I know how to start a fire, but sometimes my fires don't catch or go out quickly. That doesn't mean that my methods are faulty; it means that my skill is less than perfect. So they perform this rain dance, and sometimes there is rain within a few weeks of the ritual and sometimes there isn't. If there is, the rain dance is credited with having brought it; if there isn't, then the rain dance didn't work, but sometimes it doesn't, and there's nothing you can do about that. Thus all the evidence that matters confirms the belief that the rain dance works, because either rain follows soon enough after the dance to be credited to it or it's one of those rare occasions on which it just didn't work this time.

      Now, Durkheim might be right in his conclusions that these rituals have a different function in terms of societal unification, but the premise as posed does not support that. Also, this doesn't take away from the possibility that these people who believe it really does work are also unwittingly doing other things through the practice, such as reinforcing societal unification.
      -----
      In discussing Gameplay in the second post, Chris wrote some things (somewhat confusing to me) that suggested resolving disputes not by reference to existing rules but by what appears to be negotiation to create new interpretations of rules. I'm not certain whether this is supposed to be descriptive of what "we generally do" or prescriptive of how we should handle it, or something else entirely. In fact, I don't think I play like that generally, and I don't think I should; on the other hand, it may be that I don't see the distinction clearly because my play subsumes it in some way.

      Given the example of the sidestep, there isn't such a rule in Multiverser that would directly allow that. If the other guy has the initiative (determined by a comparitive die roll), he goes first--but let's say that you get this idea for sidestepping this guy. You propose, "I want to sidestep the guy's attack and so get the first strike." I think about it, and say, "Are you willing to give him a bonused attack at your back if he survives your hit?" You say you are, so I sit down and look at the rules. I see that I've got a skill at Steal Initiative, and another at Martial Arts Tactical Movements, so I connect these two skills into one, crunch some numbers and say, "If you make this roll successfully, you've taught yourself how to do this and can add it to your sheet. That will mean you have successfully stolen the first attack from this guy, but that he will get +10 (percentile scale) on his attack against you." I would probably also give him a bonus on his ability to do this, because it's not necessary to give up that bonus to the enemy to successfully steal initiative, so this would probably be at +10 also. Now he can do it now, and he can do it any time he wants in the future. Also, of someone else later says they want to do it too, I'll check whether they (their character) has ever seen it done, and if so they'll get a bonus for having observed an example of this technique when they try to teach themselves how to do it.

      So I'm wondering whether, in your conception, I've actually codified solving it at the lower level into the higher level structure. Thoughts on that?
      -----
      In reading some of the responses, I get the feeling that people don't really get it--or else I don't really get it.

      If I'm getting it, then any time anyone builds something within the shared imagined space, we're engaging in bricolage, borrowing bits we know to be available in our junkyard and using them to construct something new. To connect this to the discussion over in Mechanics, Contribution, and Doug the Dice Guy (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=14266), one might suggest that every book ever written about Middle Earth by Tolkien, plus the Jackson films, plus the several animated versions including Bakshi's, plus perhaps the MERPS sourcebooks, are all the junk in our garage, and when we draw on them and build our shared imagined space from them we're engaged in bricolage, giving some kind of new meaning to these available parts by putting them together in new combinations. The depth or intensity of that meaning is secondary to the fact that it is being created from available bits. Thus, bricolage is the very process of exploration, in Big Model terms.

      Then again, if I'm not getting it, then maybe those who say that bricolage is specific to certain styles of play are correct, and I need more clarification.

      Thanks for the write-up, Chris; I look forward to having the article on my to-read list for several months after it comes out. (I would put one of those winking smiley faces here, but I don't do smileys.) Of course, it's no longer early, but I'm still awake, so hopefully I've contributed something valuable here.

      --M. J. Young


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 09:09:42 PM
      Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
      I suggest a new thread if any of you want to discuss GoO design (or their financial problems) in more detail. The interesting question here is whether Tri-Stat is a bricolage-friendly environment regardless of my above points.
      Knowing nothing about the system, I'd be interested to hear more, especially about early editions which, John says, work quite differently.
      Quote
      And does this mean that actually any of the '90s mainstream games are that? Would we see bricoleuring commonly taking place if we looked for it in GURPS or WW games? And if so, then does that mean that bricolage is really the status quo, and we've just not noticed it as important because the Forge draws only engineering-type people to discussions?
      I wouldn't put it that way, myself.  First of all, this becomes a historical question, and correlating Levi-Straussian structuralism to history is a hideous and totally unresolved problem.  He was against it; I think he was wrong, but haven't fully worked out why or how.  More to the point, I think that bricolage is a plausible analogy for how gaming works in general, but that Forge-style discussions emphasize a much more practical and in many respects effective approach, which is engineering.

      Let's all remember that there is a reason why, having developed sophisticated engineering and science, people do not go back in the main to bricolage.  Engineering produces reliable, predictable results when and how you want them, and when you want to tinker it's quite clear how you go about it (in theory, at least).  Bricolage is a pain, because every alteration changes the entirety of the system in unpredictable ways, and it takes a fantastic amount of practice and support to make it work well.  These tribal cultures have that, and even so it goes slowly.  The opposed, engineering approach is simply more effective.  But it presupposes that you know more or less what you want, and that you want to damp out everything else, which may or may not actually be what you want in the larger scheme of things.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 09:35:41 PM
      Quote from: J. Tuomas Harviainen
      - You forgot the "define rpg" clause again. :)
      Tuomas, for those of you watching at home, is referring to a PM conversation we had.  He pointed out, with absolute accuracy, that in my ritual article I had not specified that I was thinking pretty much exclusively of tabletop play, and that the implications or analyses for LARPs (big in his part of the world) might well be quite different.

      In this case, however, I thought long and hard about such a paragraph.  I decided against it consciously, with that conversation in mind.  I simply do not know enough about LARPs so to constrain application or analysis.  And in fact, your response here tells me I was right: this does have wider implications.  I would like to hear a great deal more about this from you LARP hard-core guys!
      Quote
      Where it doesn't functionally apply are games using eidetic reduction as their primary approach to how the in-game "reality" is seen. (Exeperience creation -oriented larps, mostly) In those games the bricolage tools are not within the reach of the interpreters. They may actually exist, of course, but cannot be accessed during play without the play being interrupted.
      First, can you explicate this distinction (eidetic reduction vs. detachment-based?  Or give a reference?  I don't quite follow.

      Second, we're starting to hit up against the limits of what I was able to formulate semi-clearly in a small space.  The "seeing" of "reality" you refer to here does not seem to me necessary for this sort of process.  I tried to give examples of that form, because they are more readily appreciable, but one thing I can say with great confidence is that this is not a matter of conscious manipulation.  Neither is it necessarily unconscious.  And here it all gets weird again.  See, it's as though cultures or groups have a kind of not-quite-consciousness at which they think, thus getting us out of group-minds or something.  Let me think about how to explain that clearly, because certainly I feel strongly that this ought to make really, really good sense in the context you describe (insofar as I understand it, of course).
      Quote
      - The key problem I see with this model is that when a game moves into more and more acceptance of bricolage, the need for conracts increases. For example, as soon as the possibility of interpreteting cards as relations is accepted, other incompatible uses (especially that of them as symbols of meaning) have to be ruled as "not acceptable". If that's not done, system elements become just replacements for contract-interpretation arguments instead of tools that solve such arguments. In a sense, to enable further bricolage, you actually have to engineer new parts. How do you get past this?
      You're dead right, Tuomas.  But that is an error, or artefact, of my weak formulations.  I just cannot, as yet, think past it.  I know from the examples of tribal societies that this is not necessary.  I know that it is almost disturbingly self-sustaining, in a sense formulating exactly those contracts in the very procedure, such that you don't have to jump out at all.  But I cannot see how to do this in gaming.  That may be an effect of the medium, but I doubt it.  I think it's probably an effect of my inability to see something so obvious and so clear that it simply does not manifest to me; like the old forest-for-the-trees kind of thing.  And when somebody, possibly me, does in fact see it, it's going to be, "Oh for God's sake, is that really so basic and fundamental?"

      I know that's not an answer, but it's the best I can do without actually having an answer to provide!


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 09:42:49 PM
      Quote from: Sean
      Thanks for this - I found it educational and useful. Also slightly subversive!
      ....
      ...explaining it, on two levels (the mechanics-fiddling and the act of play, which you bring together nicely and convincingly for that example at least).
      I'd like to thank you for two things, Sean.  (1) For recognizing the somewhat subversive nature of the claim; (2) for recognizing that the issue of mechanics and play-as-act is an example, not a totality.  It's really lovely to have that kind of careful reading, elegantly expressed!
      Quote
      Vagueness and ambiguity are one set of tools for designing mechanics for games that help with using the game as an open platform for individual groups to make meaning together. Another is the design of endless situational rules and an encouragement to your players to do the same: the baroque, which eschews the lawless for the recondite.
      And good writers.  That is a lovely phrase.  Levi-Strauss, who is a master of that kind of dense but perfect phrase, would be pleased, I think.
      Quote
      What are some others? This is an important practical question for design, I think. I'd actually like to see some narrow and even 'accumulationist' mechanics for this sort of thing, like a Collection of Meaningful Facts, the character as a curiosity cabinet. More magical than the list of magic items maybe.
      Hmm.  Interesting.  Have to think about that quite a bit.  It's a matter of how to put this into effect, I think; the concept seems to me good.
      Quote
      I think this article also may shed some indirect light on the curious need of many role-players to feel like a 'game' or 'campaign' is open-ended and indefinite even though in practical fact they know that it's unlikely to last more than six months. The feeling of open-endedness or indefiniteness is necessary for many minds to get into this kind of meaning-making process, I think.
      That is very much my feeling.  "Shed some indirect light" also hits the nail on the head: I have not explained this.  Fair do's, I haven't tried to very much, but I do think that this can be explained by such a model, even if I have not as yet succeeded in doing so.  Any suggestions?

      I realize this is mostly a "wow, cool" sort of post.  I have to sit down and really think hard for a while about what you've said, though.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 09:54:06 PM
      Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
      Continuing on that vein, I got to thinking about the different kinds of roleplaying bricolage. Is there a synergy between narrative bricolage (what's been discussed as mythmaking sim) and mechanical bricolage (outlined here)? Chris suggests that mechanical bricolage is a GMing technique that can be reinforced by repeated use. The same holds true for myth-making, if I'm fit to judge that. But if a game applies large amounts of bricolage in rules construction, will that have any affect on it's narrative quality? Or vice versa?
      Yeah, well, again, this is a problem of attempting to compress.  Is there such a synergy?  Yes.  Without it, in fact, it's not bricolage.  I tried to formulate some mechanical examples, because I thought they'd help; the reality as I see it is that that is a particular and narrow application of a total process.  I see the distinctions of structures, the various implements and bits and pieces of the Big Model, as by this perspective not necessarily hierarchized or even discrete.  The distinctions are made by the way we look at them as players, not intrinsically.  Thus the synergy you talk about is an artefact of an internal perspective: to you, they seem like different things weirdly interacting; in reality, they are all the same sort of thing interacting the same way you'd expect within one of the levels you project or structure.

      I know that's not clear.  I need to try to step back and give another stab at the totalizing issue.  That, at least, is very clear to me from so many of these responses.  My apologies: I'm trying to compress and apply a conception that took one of the greatest masters of analytical compression at least 25-odd pages to formulate without application, and by another way of reading it took him over 200.  So when I skip over things, I'm losing big chunks of the total argument.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 10:13:04 PM
      Quote from: Nicolas Crost
      The problem I have is the following: I think that Chris' posts do not help a great deal in answering that question. This may just be the particular type of scientific training in my field speaking up. But I don't find pages about irons and helium balloons and other analogies very helpful. Neither are pages about native tribes and their behaviour (to me).
      Nicolas, what is your field?  I'm not looking for an expertise claim; I just am looking to formulate something that may help.

      The problem is that the type of thought, and it is thought, that we are dealing with here is not something that can be directly formulated in propositional logic.  It is not founded on those principles, and resists such structuring.  People in the humanities and social sciences have commonly found the bricolage analogy helpful; some have also found Levi-Strauss's discussion of the visual arts helpful, thought I am not one of them.  He also has a fascinating way of talking about this process of thinking with reference to music/poetry, as poles of a strange dialectic.  The thing is, the bricolage bit is an analogy; the others aren't, so you actually have to understand what he's talking about to make it work.

      I'm not Levi-Strauss.  I am quite bright, in all modesty, but Levi-Strauss is undisputedly one of the very few true geniuses of the 20th century.  The best I can do is try to work out how his analyses apply within RPGs, or to another analogy from another discipline.  I'm pretty good at that, having taught this book for a while.  But if all else fails, I cannot do better than to ask you to read The Savage Mind (or La pensee sauvage, even better, if your French is that good, as the translation sucks).

      What I am trying to do in this article is probably impossible.  I'm trying (1) to explain what Levi-Strauss is up to; (2) to explain how that applies analogically to RPGs; and (3) to explain what some of the practical, concrete implications are for RPG play and design.  I am not convinced that this is even possible, as I say, at least in a space shorter than it took him: some 200+ pages.  Certainly I don't think it could be done by any other than a genius.  In the meantime, I can't do better than to ask you to help me explicate this in a way that works for you, or to read his work, or both.  I mean, we can certainly hope that someone draws his attention to this discussion and he weighs in on it, but I'm not holding my breath.

      Can you give me any sort of concrete help in what's not working for you?  I gather the irons and helium balloons don't work; can you help me see what might?
      Quote
      I would rather stick to the facts we observe: some people like it, some don't. Why is that? How are they different? What processes underlie the enjoyment of "fiddling"? And the answer "they like it, because it reinforces the social structure of the group" could have been given in a paragraph or two, without the rather longish analogies.
      Well, my sense is that everyone likes this and everyone hates it.  Which is no answer at all.  As to the fact that it reinforces the social structure of the group, the problem is that this is a huge statement.  How so?  Why?  Because for me, the whole point is that it's something that happens almost by itself.  "Savage thought" (the totally non-analogical term Levi-Strauss likes) is deeply embedded in the mind, because of our positioning with respect to the world and ourselves, as an implication of the reflection problem.  But to say that reflection, the self/other or culture/nature binary in our lives, is not only universal (that's agreed usually) but also implies a whole mode of grappling with concrete objects in order to reinforce certainty that is not possible while deceptively mystifying what we are really doing, is an extraordinary claim.  There is genuinely nothing like it earlier in the history of Western thought.  And the implications for a particular artistic medium, in this case RPGs, are so vast that it's difficult to know where to begin, or where to stop.

      I haven't succeeded fully, to my own satisfaction; not really much at all, in fact.  I haven't succeeded for you, clearly.  But you've got to work with me here: what can I do to help?


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 10:27:24 PM
      Quote from: LordSmerf
      I think your analysis is solid, I'm going to try to spring-board off of this...
      Good, I'd like that.
      Quote
      Vincent Baker talks about "Brittle" systems (and of course his site is down so I can't give a link).  Brittle systems are (paraphrased): "Systems which only work within a narrow Social Contract (context)".  Vincent also talks about "strong" systems which are good at getting people to do what they say (so Strong/Brittle is good at getting players into that narrow context).  Just thought I'd point out this cool parallel.
      That is indeed interesting.  The odd thing is that for me, it's backwards.  In the long run, what he describes as a Strong system (essentially an engineered one) should end up fragile, dependent on factors ultimately exterior to the group; a Brittle system should end up being the really enduring one, something that is not breakable from within.  This is the reinforcement aspect coming into play.  I'm trying to work out how to explain this concretely, and having trouble, but this whole thread is both helping me and telling me that this bit is absolutely essential.
      Quote
      When you say that as we approach higher and higher levels of abstraction we come closer and closer to analysis of the underlying social structures, I read that as (admittedly simplistic): bricolage and immersionism are very closely related.  This highlights the idea that bricolage is a really great idea, for pursuing a specific type of play.  It also seems to indicate that bricolage is not good for certain other types of play.  From my reading of the article this was not clear.  Chris, would you agree that for certain groups bricolage is actually a huge negative?
      Two points here.  I do think that immersion is a crucial data-point for figuring this out.  But to put it rather confusedly, I think this points toward multiple kinds of "immersion."  It's as though one can be immersed in mechanics, for example, without that entailing that one is not immersed in the usual sense.  I don't know how, for the moment, to put that better.  But it's not all discrete like we usually tend (engineer-minded as we are) to think about it.

      Second, as to what it's good for: no question, this isn't good for everything.  More precisely, to emphasize this element or aspect of what's going on is definitely not always a desirable thing.  What I have not as yet nailed down, in my own head, is the kinds of distinctions that leads to.  Got any suggestions?
      Quote
      I would be really interested in a discussion of the different types of play in relation to bricolage: what kind of play (or group) really loves it, and what kind of play (or group) really hates it?  Is there a middle ground?  Can you find bricolage okay, or do you either really like it in play or really dislike it?
      To me, the "middle ground" question is the really telling one.  Levi-Strauss would, I think, tend to say that these are opposed poles.  But I'm not sure what the implications are, nor whether he is quite right about this.  My suspicion is that he's right, and I have not yet grasped what the actual poles are in RPGs, but I can't as yet figure out what I mean by that, if you see.
      Quote
      One of the interesting implications I see in this is that "System doesn't matter as much"
      Well, Sean's remark on "subversive" certainly hit some chords, now didn't it?  I have to think about this.  Put that way, out of context, it sounds so anti-Levi-Strauss it's got to be wrong.  But given that the phrase "System does matter" means something specific here at the Forge, I have to wonder whether you may not be right, or whether it entails a different conception of "system," or what.
      Quote
      One of the interesting things about bricolage is that it seems to be self-reinforcing in this context.  I think that this could be one of the reasons that RPGs have traditionally had so many things in common with other oral traditions (taught by other players the "right way" to play).  I think that a lot of work at the Forge has been to break away from the idea of bricolage, and with that break I don't think much analysis has occurred.  So, Chris, I think you're onto something really interesting here.
      Yes, for me this is something that really works.  It's to me a kind of proof-text: it just "fits" really well in this context and with this issue.  The problem is that I'm not yet entirely sure why....
      Quote
      I think that Nicolas is onto something good here, especially with "normal people are turned off by this".  If RPG play has traditionally been very heavy on bricolage, how has that contributed to the current mainstream view of RPGs?  How has it contributed to the gamer's view of RPGs?  How are these views changing?
      Again, a powerfully historical question, and as I said earlier the history and structure issue is something that has yet to be dealt with adequately in even the most established ends of this discourse.  I'm working on it, is the best I can say.  But any historical data you folks can provide may really help!


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 10:29:12 PM
      Quote from: Paul Czege
      What's interesting to me is that it offers insight into how fantasy heartbreakers get created, and why they fail in the market. You can engineer a product for sale to bricoleurs, but the products of bricolage can't be sold outside the local context in which they were created. And I suspect it's characteristic of bricoleurs to over-estimate the size of the local context.
      Give that man a cigar.

      I hadn't thought of it quite that way, but yes yes yes.

      Thank you, Paul!

      (Any thoughts on the revised Levi-Strauss in Amazonia project?)


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 10:38:29 PM
      Quote from: shaheddy
      I am confused as to what bricolage looks like in RPGs. It seems what you are saying is that the evolving application of mechanics is itself part of the shared imaginary space, hence constitutes a complementary narrative (or game, or whatever) to the, uh, plot.
      Well, the problem is that mechanics are only one type of effect.  I chose that because it seemed to me the most concrete and straightforward, but theoretically this sort of procedure would be happening at every level simultaneously.  I'm thinking hard right now about another post about how bricolage could work with respect to other elements of RPGs, as formulated in Big Model terms for local convenience.
      Quote
      The only examples I can think of off the top of my head are when there is an unhealthy dynamic amongst the players (favoritism, someone who is picked on) which over time is reflected in and amplified by the evolving system.
      Oh yes, this is definitely a down-side of such play.  Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that bricolage is always necessarily a good thing.  It isn't.  For one thing, it is extremely conservative.  Once it has formulated itself strongly enough, radical transformation of social dynamics becomes impossible, or nearly.  While that may lead the in-group to find their play very rewarding, it may also have very ugly implications for new players, shifting to new systems, and the explanation of "One True Way-ism."
      Quote
      I like the idea, but I’m not sure what you mean. There seem to be different ways systems can be deliberately ambiguous.
      No, you're quite right.  I need to think that one through, and a lot of comments here---including yours, very much---are helping me to do this.  But feel free to start without me!  

      As I said, my suggestions for design are rather tentative, and you folks out there are much, much better qualified to speak to that than I.  I have designed one game, which seems to work pretty well.  But some of you guys have really done the whole thing many times, hard-core.  Your comments and suggestions, from your actual lab-tables of design, would be immensely valuable to our mutual figuring-out of how this sort of thing could be taken into a practical direction.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 10:43:15 PM
      Quote from: Harlequin
      I suggest that when polishing up to article status, you enhance the prescriptive at the expense of the descriptive.  And that you either define "adequating" as a verb, or dispense with it in favour of more intuitive terms like "confirming" and so on.
      I'm terribly sorry.  That term has gotten so much play in my local fields that I just totally forgot that it isn't normal English at all.

      Adequation is essentially the process of tinkering with an analogy until it works.  So you have X and Y objects or structures.  You say that they are analogous.  Then you tinker with the formulation of the analogy, and the actual things themselves in some cases, until they really fit very well together.  This, for example, is how I would argue the Big Model works: we don't tinker with the examples much, but we tinker with the formulations and definitions of the terms in the Big Model until they apply quite rigorously to those examples.

      Hope that helps.

      Oh---and I love the robot game, which works for me as a way to play with this in design.  Tell us more about it as it comes along!


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 10:54:08 PM
      Walt,

      I love that example.  I need to think about it really hard for a bit, though.  Back soon....

      ----------------------------------------------
      Quote from: Dobamine
      When I first saw Chris 's posts loudly claiming that 'Simulationism is Bricolage!', I said to myself, "Hmmmm..... What the heck is bricolage?"
      ....
      Now, I guess Chris has backed off from claiming that this is unique to Simulationism, and has identified it more as sort of process - a means of enjoyable play and design that’s independent of CA, and I certainly can see bits of that in old style AD&D (not d20), my own GURPS Psychosis campaign (essentially take 250 points, every GURPS book I own, and make whatever monstrosity you like), and most especially Rifts. Rifts is the perfect example; it combines bricolage of setting that plunders all RPG genre sources happily with bricolage of system. The Palladium system agglomerates D&D combat (heavily tweaked) with percentage skills, ‘Feat’ like skills, separate damage tracks, a complete handful of magic systems and much more. Perfect Bricolage and in my experience very prone to needing heavy local interpretation.
      Couple points.  I'll get back to the rest soon --- I need to sleep eventually!

      1. If I said that bricolage was unique to Sim, I didn't mean to.  I did mean to say that it is uniquely dominant in Sim.  I haven't changed my mind much on this point, but I may have expressed myself exceedingly badly at one or the other end of this, or both.

      2. When you say that this "perfect bricolage" is "very prone to needing heavy local interpretation," I think you're dead right.  That's in a sense all it is: local interpretation.  The tricky thing is just how damn large that turns out to be, because although we like to think of what we do as broad, in fact it's always grounded in the local.
      Quote
      To me the old-school bricolage that Chris talks about is almost a synonym for what Robin Laws called Crunchiness. This goes a lot farther than Robin did in identifying why it’s popular and how it works, but at heart it seems to me more or less the same thing.
      I don't remember his definitions.  Can you remind me, or give me a link or something?
      Quote
      Am I missing the point here- taking it too literally? Is the simple process of taking one cultural form (say Wu Xia movies) and gluing them to another (Tabletop Role Playing Games) inherently Bricolage, even though it's largely just bolting one intact thing onto another? How about the raft of recent 'D20 Blah' games where the D20 system is more or less directly grafted on to some other genre with an absolute minimum of retooling of either the genre or the system?
      You're missing something, but it's my fault.  At every possible level, whether it be mechanics or setting or GURPS supplements or the Big Model, it's all the same thing.  The trick is, the hierarchy that we see here, quite automatically, is not intrinsic; it's imposed by yet another cultural structure, which is another thing we bolt in there.  The fact that we readily hierarchize all those levels of structures and so on is nothing to do with the process of play; it's a way of thinking about what we are doing and how.  And that process works strictly by adequation of analogies, which is a fallacy of propositional logic but very much how bricolage works.  I realize this may be incomprehensible or simply insanely abstract, but I'm struggling with this right now myself.

      If that does mean something to you, or you can be specific about why it doesn't, can you post to that effect?  I really need all the help I can get!  (Possibly of the "professional help" variety....)


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 11:09:31 PM
      Finally, one I can answer directly!  (Of course, as usual, it's because I haven't expressed myself clearly.)
      Quote from: M. J. Young
      Quote from:
      “It is a basic postulate of sociology,” he says, “that no human institution can be founded on error.” In other words, if these practices don’t do anything, people will stop doing them. Since the rain dance doesn’t produce rain, it must do something else, or nobody would do it, and chances are it wouldn’t have been invented in the first place.
      ....
      Looking at the rain dance example, we'll accept arguendo that it doesn't really work. What you say Durkheim says is that the natives must know this; but there's no reason why they must know this. Obviously, nothing works every time.
      No, sorry, I'm not being clear.  The natives quite possibly do not know this.  In fact, probably not.

      Durkheim's point is that since it doesn't work, and since they think it does, there must be some other reason for why they are doing this rain dance.  I.e. some reason they don't know about, but which is operative despite them.

      Here's a very Durkheimian example: home-court advantage.

      The natives (basketball fans) think they are screaming because they are really into the game.  The players think they are screaming because they care about the players.  And everyone thinks that because of all this screaming somehow it's going to help the players play ball better.

      Now that is sort of true, because of mass psychology and the like.  But for Durkheim, that's interesting and an essential data-point, but it's not the real point to be drawn.

      The question is really why the fans give a damn about some guys throwing a ball through a basket.  I mean, who cares?  What is achieved through this vast process?

      What is achieved is social solidarity with the group.  If everyone shouts and screams together, then they affirm that they really are a functional group.

      Two concrete applications of this:

      (1) When the Patriots first won the Superbowl, there was a riot in Boston.  As that riot went on, everyone started shouting in unison, "Yankees suck!"  Which of course is totally irrelevant to football.  What has happened here is a recognition, at a deep level, that this is really about Boston and identity with the Boston "clan."

      (2) When a soldier crawls out across the battlefield, under the machine-gun fire, to save the American Flag, everyone holds this up as wonderful and a great human-interest story.  Why?  It's stupid.  It's a damn colored piece of cloth.  So why has the soldier done this?  Because the colored cloth is a representation, in concrete form, of the society for which he fights.  And thus everyone else cares about this because they too see that he saved The Flag, not "a stupid colored piece of cloth, you idiot."

      The point being that any sort of social activity like this cannot be examined on a purely local level.  At a local level, it's silly, very often.  Just like a rain-dance, it doesn't really do anything, and if it does, it doesn't do anything worth doing: it makes some guys throw a ball through a basket better.  If you want to be cynical about it, how come so many middle-class white fans are so insistent that it matters whether a bunch of inner-city black guys can throw a ball through a basket, since after all they like black guys so long as they don't marry my sister?  The reason is that this isn't about balls in baskets, or black guys, or anything like that.  It's about group unity and identity.  And the reason to do all of this, what later scholars would call the function, is to create social unity and cohesion around a concrete, specific object or structure (the game, the team, etc.).

      Does that help?
      Quote
      Also, this doesn't take away from the possibility that these people who believe it really does work are also unwittingly doing other things through the practice, such as reinforcing societal unification.
      Bingo.  That's Durkheim right there.  They don't know this, but that's why they really do it.  If it was really just about causing rain, they'd long ago have stopped, because it doesn't cause rain.  They still think it causes rain, but they keep doing it because it causes social cohesion.

      Levi-Strauss, by the way, thinks Durkheim is sort of wrong about all this, but that's another question.

      I'll have to get back to the rest of your post later; I have to go to bed, just after this one last brief post in general....


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 17, 2005, 11:38:10 PM
      After all those response-posts, a few comments.

      1. I need to talk a great deal more clearly about the totalizing nature of this kind of process.  I am struggling with this, but it's important.  I want to make clear, as I did not I think in the first two posts, that mechanical examples are only examples; they do not reflect the breadth of the issue.  We're really talking about a model that is somewhat larger in scope than the Big Model; much larger, if we recognize that the Big Model deliberately sets aside the broad and deep questions about Social Contract.  My applications to mechanics are isolations of particular effects in what might be concretely illustrative fashions.

      2. I am genuinely very interested in all the various sorts of data people have suggested posing here.  All of it.  Maybe some should go in other threads; you're as good at figuring that out as I am.  I was not fooling around when I said I don't want this all to turn into "Chris teaches everyone."  I don't want that.  I want to think with you.

      3. A number of you have raised very difficult and complex questions for which I do not as yet have good answers.  I will work on this, but it may take time.  Please don't feel you have to wait for me.  Jump right in, if you have ideas.  I personally find that grappling with multiple really different perspectives on an issue is very helpful for understanding something, and I too am trying to understand.  Academics always say they learn the most from their students.  This is not because their students figure out the good stuff or something; it's because the students ask questions and propose arguments that depend on completely different perspectives than the academic is used to, and that forces him or her in turn to think through all the issues all over again in a new and illuminating way, not bounded by traditional disciplinary constraints.  While I am not trying especially to teach you all, that's the position I'm in: the weirdest, silliest, most seemingly trivial example or question will help me, because you are not bounded by my disciplinary presuppositions and assumptions.  But I also think it will help the broader discussion.  So please, just dump it all out here.

      4. I am not a genius.  Claude Levi-Strauss is.  I use the term advisedly, and it is not one I like, any more than I like "masterpiece."  But The Savage Mind is a masterpiece by a genius.  It is not compressible.  I teach writing, as some of you know, and I hold that book up as an example of compression taken to its ultimate extreme.  Therefore in explicating some bits and pieces in the context of gaming, in what may seem long but isn't the 269 pages of that book, I am cutting the overwhelming majority.  I just want to state that directly right here and now, so you understand my constant apologies.  As I've said in PMs to some folks, this is a book that I think all responsible scholars in the many relevant fields should be re-reading for the umpteenth time when they are in their 80s.  It really is that deep, and that important.

      5. Following from that, nobody I know of has completely mastered the thought of Levi-Strauss, with the possible exception of Levi-Strauss himself.  Reading him is sort of like dealing with the aliens in 2001: they're just so damn much beyond it's hard to understand anything.  I would urge you, if you find this stuff interesting, to read The Savage Mind; if you read French, read La pensee sauvage instead, as the translation is bad.  It could be much better, but it could never be perfect or even fully acceptable; I have discussed such a translation with Carol Cosman, who I think has the best chance of doing it really well, and she is considering it---maybe in a few years there will at last be a good starting-point!  But there is no doing him justice; it's like a brief summary of Ulysses standing in for the work.

      6. That said, I don't agree with everything he argues.  I am not a Structuralist by inclination, really.  That the work is a masterpiece does not mean it is right.  Nor is my argument about RPGs entirely one I think he would agree with.  One particular point about this is that Levi-Strauss thinks history and anthropology, the latter including everything I explicitly talked about here, are totally opposed.  I think he is wrong, and importantly so.  But I am trying to constrain what I am doing so that I don't write a vast book just to be a little bit helpful here and there about gaming.  My next big professional project is going to do nothing at alll but try to work out why history is not at odds with what Levi-Strauss (and Eliade) mean by anthropology (or morphology); that book will be long and deep, and I'm not sure what it's going to look like.

      All that said, what I'm asking is for you all to think with me.  I don't mean agree with me.  I mean that I am thinking along in steps.  I haven't reached the end.  I laid out a solid block at the start, to get things going, but I don't know where this all goes ultimately.  Join in, ask for clarification as it helps, propose conflicts and debates, give examples (hypothetical or actual).  Everything, and anything, is welcome, so long as it tries legitimately to think with me about the extent to which this works as a basic modeling, and the implications of that model for gaming.

      I am confident about one thing only: I do believe that RPG play is a procedure that could be classified under the heading of "savage thought."  That is at base at odds with Levi-Strauss, though he might agree in a weird way I don't want to get into just at the moment as it would take us very far afield.  If you don't agree, I want to know why in very concrete terms.  But for the rest, anything you can offer is very welcome.

      Good night!


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Nicolas Crost on February 18, 2005, 02:46:00 AM
      Hi Chris,

      thanks for putting up with my rather negative post. I really appreciate it because I think understanding the process beneath the fact that some people are really into the whole fiddling thing is necessary to improve RPG design. In some discussions on my German board it always struck me as strange that some people insisted on liking incoherent RPGs better than “Forge type” rather narrow games (which in my eyes are often real design masterworks). So I think you really might be onto something here.

      Quote
      Nicolas, what is your field?

      I’m a psychologist in psychophysiological research mostly. Which really might explain why I can not really connect to the way your essays are structured. Experimental psychology is all about the typical (experimental) science thing: observe something, build a model, derive hypothesis, test hypothesis, interpret results, change model, restart. Which might explain why I don’t really get the point of your analogies. To me an analogy is always a model of reality. So the model should explain something in terms of concrete and testable (observable) terms. Which I kind of miss in your explanations (perhaps I really just missed it). Anyway, my problem might very well arise from the experimental paradigm being ingrained in my mind…

      As to the whole “reinforcing the social structure” thing: this is again the psychologist speaking, but I think modern social psychology has a lot more to offer in the analysis of roleplaying than turn of the (last) century analyses of mythology or analogies about bricolage. An awful lot of research has been done on small college groups which are very similar in structure to roleplaying groups. Things like identification with the group, emergent norms, interaction and more have been discussed to great lengths. Of course it might just be my familiarity with those theories but I think that they have a lot more to offer with a lot less complicated models involved.

      I am afraid, I don’t have to offer much on the ongoing topic of bricolage and its application to roleplaying. I just think that it is not the best way in trying to understand roleplaying as a social interaction. But, as I said, that might just be me. And still, I am very interested in the topic of intentional vagueness and related topics. I am looking forward to what you guys figure out (in terms of practical design implications or explanations of actual group behavior). And if I find the time to do it, I might even post some of my thoughts on social contract and social interaction in roleplaying. But don’t count on it being soon, I have to get 2 articles published and my thesis done about … right now. :)


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: komradebob on February 18, 2005, 09:38:50 AM
      So, quickly, to recap and see if I'm understanding-

      bricolage= Found Art+ constraints on materials ( limited choice of materials, reuse of materials) ?

      bricolage as applied here is basically doing the same thing, but with ideas rather than physical objects?

      If this is essentially correct, why are we using bricolage instead of the (arguably) more accesible Found Art?

      I find this interesting because over on the History of the GM thread, a tangent had come up regarding the evolution of RPGs. I stated that rpgs had not, in fact, solely evolved from miniature wargames. FFilz responded ( correctly) that, in fact, D&D ( as our origin point for the RPG) had in fact directly evolved from miniatures wargaming, and provided a brief summary of why that is also true. Strangely, I don't think this is exactly the paradox it appears to be.

      What I'm getting at is that RPGs appear to be a product of bricolage themselves, with miniature wargames being the primary core object/material used in the first thing that we recognize as being an RPG (D&D) and not something else.

      If that is true, it would seem to imply that bricolage has always been a part of rpgs from the conception, and does perhaps point to a source for the apparently common urge to tinker with them.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on February 18, 2005, 09:45:06 AM
      Quote from: clehrich
      First, can you explicate this distinction (eidetic reduction vs. detachment-based?  Or give a reference?  I don't quite follow.


      A Husserl-derivative way of describing the difference between tabletop rpg (and larps very much like it) and experience-creation larps. In the former, the diegesis ("that which is true within the story", the in-game reality) is experienced by people through imagining it completely (maybe from source material, but still). Theyre in a state of epokhe, with the ability to analyze the entire game situation (as it is at that moment) and to apply any rules and narrative bricolage as needed, by way of player-player/player-GM negotiation.

      In an experience-creation larp, the players create their view of the diegesis by selectively (by individual choice guided by GM instructions) refusing to see things that exist in reality as existing in the diegesis, or transforming those things into other things in the diegesis. ("the car isn't there in the game" or "in the game, there's a cart where the car is"). This latter approach, eidetic reduction, doesn't allow for bricolage because the players are essentially too far within the game, and therefore unable to neither perceive the entire game situation nor be in a position where they'd be able to negotiate on its premises.

      In essence, "to negotiate on game elements, you have to have enough distance from them, and a holistic view about the game's current and intended state and form."

      Quote
      Quote
      ... In a sense, to enable further bricolage, you actually have to engineer new parts. How do you get past this?

      But that is an error, or artefact, of my weak formulations.  I just cannot, as yet, think past it.  I know from the examples of tribal societies that this is not necessary.  I know that it is almost disturbingly self-sustaining, in a sense formulating exactly those contracts in the very procedure, such that you don't have to jump out at all.  But I cannot see how to do this in gaming.


      The difference, I think, is in what science of religion calls "unyieldable elements" (translation mine). It means a system of bricolage-based rituals can take certain things as unquestionable - and for granted - and build a system of self-evident limits on bricolage based on that, while preserving a lot of freedom in interpretation. (A brilliant example of such a stucture is the current Cathecism of the Catholic Church.) Rpgs do not have such a base, and therefore have to engineer new rules to support new kinds of bricolage. Without elements that can't be negotiated - and thus reliably built upon - they can't reach the same structure that societies do. In that way (in my opinion, at least), it truly is a problem of the medium. (I'd love to see someone prove me wrong on this theory, though. That would open up great possibilities for game design.)

      -Jiituomas


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Sean on February 18, 2005, 10:40:47 AM
      Tuomas -

      Superficially, I'm inclined to disagree with you. What you see as a difference in kind I see as simply an additional technique: the reassignment of functional roles within the imagined space to real objects. Not much different than waving a pencil around as a magic wand, or handing out a 'scroll' or similar widget, in a tabletop game. Just a matter of degree.

      In a game of mud pies, pieces of mud get reassigned roles as pies, according to rough rules (size of mud glob is roughly equal to size of pie; ingredients gradually get correlated to the bits of junk you put in your mud glob; etc.).

      But the rules get formed as you go, of course, especially during the first few games. Acorns don't become raspberries until someone makes it up; they seem to me to do this within the mud-pie-space, without breaking out.

      So anyway. I agree that in a certain kind of immersive LARP there's going to be relatively less bricolage-in-play than in an RPG, but it seems to me that it still happens, and has to. You don't leave the real world in your immersive LARP, so you have to reinterpret its objects in terms of the SiS. Even if most of the time this interpretation is 'it's nothing, ignore it', surely the room for creative transformation of these entities is there, and is at times taken advantage of.


      Chris - thank you in return once again. Whether this stuff turns out to deal with specific techniques or exploration as a whole or something weirder and more wondrous with respect to the Big Model, I think it's really interesting. I also think I understand a certain mindset brought about by many early RPGs, and especially D&D, better than I ever did before; and the importance of the social group not only to actual play but to mechanical tinkering. Really interesting stuff - it's helping a ot.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: xenopulse on February 18, 2005, 11:15:12 AM
      Wow, that was a lot to read. both in terms of the article (which I read completely) and all the comments (which I tried to read completely, but failed :). I do think it was valuable written like this, with enough theoretical background, but then, I also spent a lot of time in academia. Here are my comments, both less sophisticated than most others and more from my particular perspective.

      First, I think you are right in that bricolage exists and is a factor in many RPG groups. Especially the part about taking elements with all their attributes struck home with me. My actual play example: The current AD&D 2e group I am playing in (which is completely dysfunctional regarding CAs, but that's another story) decided, before I joined, that crossbows really should be more dangerous. They doubled the damage for them. Now, when I played, I was the first character in their group to be a thief. I used a heavy crossbow, being hidden in a tree, to shoot at a Frost Giant. I was level 5, the backstab tripled the damage. Therefore, my character suddenly did 6 times the damage of a regular crossbow, which killed the Frost Giant outright (I rolled high). There was a moment of astonishment. Oops--this is what we've done by changing the rules. Here's an unintended side effect, because this element works with these others. Do we need to do something about this? More fiddling? (My question usually is, does it really matter? But I'm a lone Nar-longing player among Sims and Gams.)

      That's where, I think, this whole idea of bricolage has an important point to make. We often don't think things through when we design mechanics or fiddle with the rules, and that leads to more fiddling. Now I know bricolage has this whole aspect of reinforcing the social group, but I think this particular point emphasizes the need for thorough analysis and playtests of systems.

      Secondly, it helped me to understand this phenomenon when looking at it from the perspective of my own field. I have my M.A. in Political Science. It seems to me that what we're seeing is a constitution--i.e., the social contract--and the specific laws that are created based on that. We always check: Does this specific law (action, mechanic, IIEE distribution) violate our constitution? If so, it needs to be changed. Now, people change, groups change, and so the interporetation of the constitution changes. And sometimes the damn thing just needs to be rewritten. The important part about it is that it's vague. It has some clear guidelines, but overall, the implications and implementations are open to discussion, testing, and fiddling.

      AND--the process itself of voting for lawmakers, writing laws, arguing about them, and most of all, always referring back to the constitution, in itself reinforces the society. A BIG part of what it means to be an American is the support of the constitutional-representative democratic-republican process. Even though I am German, I live in the US and have studied American culture, and in an immigrant society like this one which is not a Nation-State, the support of the process (expressed most often through voting and working) is the defining feature of belonging. This might be a more chronologically-direct analogy than ancient cultures.

      Blah blah, I could of course blabber on and on about it, but I'll spare you. My RPG-related point is that as a gaming group, you need a social contract like this country needs its constitution. There might be other factors that keep the group together--friendship, blood relations, etc.--but it all works best when people make explicit their basic tenents and agree on the process of working through problems, always with reference to the basic contract.

      So much for now. Thanks for sharing, the article did make some things clear for me (e.g., I always misunderstood what you mean by "myth").

      P.S.: As to your point about translating the French originals, translations never perfectly work, actually for bricolage reasons. Language is a prime example of bricolage. You cannot export ideas one-on-one in every aspect from one culture to another (see Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science). I am frequently frustrated with English translations of Kant and Hegel. But there are just basic cultural interpretations in there that are really tough to translate properly. I guess we all just need to learn more languages and spend some time immersed in other cultures :)


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: GreatWolf on February 18, 2005, 12:39:40 PM
      Quote from: Sean

      I'd actually like to see some narrow and even 'accumlulationist' mechanics for this sort of thing, like a Collection of Meaningful Facts, the character as a curiosity cabinet. More magical than the list of magic items maybe.


      I mentioned this to Chris in a PM, but upon reading the initial article for this thread, I immediately thought of Universalis as a game that supports this sort of bricolage on some level.  The ongoing group construction of Components might be the sort of thing that Sean is talking about, here.

      Maybe.  Assuming that I read him right.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on February 18, 2005, 01:10:22 PM
      Quote from: Sean
      Superficially, I'm inclined to disagree with you. What you see as a difference in kind I see as simply an additional technique: the reassignment of functional roles within the imagined space to real objects. Not much different than waving a pencil around as a magic wand, or handing out a 'scroll' or similar widget, in a tabletop game. Just a matter of degree.


      This is a (hopefully small) sidestep from the topic, but you've hit one of the core debates of the intra-Nordic rpg theory discussion here: the viewpoint issue on whether the epokhe vs. eidetic reduction (my choice of description, but the core is essentially the same) is a matter of degree or two diametrically opposed ways of approaching role-playing. (I personally favor the latter, and thus approach the situation discussed here from that perspective.)

      Quote
      So anyway. I agree that in a certain kind of immersive LARP there's going to be relatively less bricolage-in-play than in an RPG, but it seems to me that it still happens, and has to.


      This is where your (well-refined and presented, I must admit) interpretation is wrong. An accurate description would be that the possibility of negotiation exists, but is not availlable to the players, just the GM. Thus bricolage does not actualize. Think of it as the difference between a communal ritual where everyone may participare in their own way (tabletop rpg) versus a ritual where everything is up to the shaman who has esoteric knowledge he won't share (experiential larp). While both contain the same theoretical potential for negotiation, only one features the possibility of the negotiation really happening without a huge risk of the ritual being broken.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: LordSmerf on February 18, 2005, 02:17:05 PM
      Quote from: J. Tuomas Harviainen
      This is where your (well-refined and presented, I must admit) interpretation is wrong. An accurate description would be that the possibility of negotiation exists, but is not availlable to the players, just the GM. Thus bricolage does not actualize. Think of it as the difference between a communal ritual where everyone may participare in their own way (tabletop rpg) versus a ritual where everything is up to the shaman who has esoteric knowledge he won't share (experiential larp). While both contain the same theoretical potential for negotiation, only one features the possibility of the negotiation really happening without a huge risk of the ritual being broken.


      Perhaps this needs a new thread, if the answer isn't a simple "Yes" then I will kick one off if you don't.

      Is this a feature exclusive to a type of LARP play, or do you see this in certain types of table top play?  I think that this is a feature of extremely high Immersion table top games.  Where the players are so deep into the characters that this is exactly what you're talking about.  Or am I missing something about eidetic reduction?

      Thomas


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 18, 2005, 02:29:26 PM
      Quote from: LordSmerf
      Perhaps this needs a new thread, if the answer isn't a simple "Yes" then I will kick one off if you don't.

      Is this a feature exclusive to a type of LARP play, or do you see this in certain types of table top play?  I think that this is a feature of extremely high Immersion table top games.  Where the players are so deep into the characters that this is exactly what you're talking about.  Or am I missing something about eidetic reduction?
      I'd like to see this as its own thread.  I don't mean I want to banish it from this one, but I think it deserves its own separate treatment---and I very much want to read that!


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Sean on February 18, 2005, 02:37:24 PM
      Seth - yes, that's what I'm on about. I think Universalis play, especially in the hands of less experienced groups, involves this kind of process. I wonder though if it starts to slip away for skilled Uni groups with a clearly Narrativist CA. Still, the play example in the text with the Meadow seems like a really solid example of what you're talking about and what I had in mind both.

      Christian - as it turns out, I knew Peter Winch rather well before he passed on. Paraphrased in his terms, I think what you're saying is that we have to understand not only the 'behavior' of people in a culture, but the kinds of understanding and reason they themselves give for that behavior - its 'point' as they see it. And since languages involve (on your view) a culture-wide process of bricolage, translation necessarily leaves out the non-cross-cultural aspects of another culture's group piecemeal construction. Interesting...

      Tuomas - if the players are robbed of all authority to negotiate stuff, then yeah, I guess I'd have to agree with you - only the GM is doing anything like this. But:

      (1) Doesn't what's being said still hold for the GM?

      (2) Wouldn't it be possible to give players in such a LARP the authority to do this for themselves? If I was immersed as, say, an alchemist, I'd much prefer to be able to pick up a coffee cup and say it was an alembic or the like - that would free me up like mud pies does.

      (3)  Some tabletop GMs arrogate similar authority to themselves, and likewise in the name of immersive play sometimes, or so it seems to me. It seems like the main difference in LARPs is just the whole-body character of it.

      So I think I see a little better where you're coming from but I'm not persuaded. We should probably pursue this in a new thread if it's worth pursuing though.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: clehrich on February 18, 2005, 02:42:13 PM
      Quote from: xenopulse
      My actual play example: .... crossbows really should be more dangerous. ....
      Nice example.  Can I steal it?
      Quote
      Secondly, it helped me to understand this phenomenon when looking at it from the perspective of my own field. I have my M.A. in Political Science. It seems to me that what we're seeing is a constitution--i.e., the social contract--and the specific laws that are created based on that. We always check: Does this specific law (action, mechanic, IIEE distribution) violate our constitution? If so, it needs to be changed. Now, people change, groups change, and so the interporetation of the constitution changes. And sometimes the damn thing just needs to be rewritten. The important part about it is that it's vague. It has some clear guidelines, but overall, the implications and implementations are open to discussion, testing, and fiddling.
      Somewhere I have a bunch of references to structural analyses of British Common Law and American law, with the idea of the precedent interacting with constitutional law to generate a notion of certainty where it is necessarily absent.  I'll see if I can't dig that up.
      Quote
      P.S.: As to your point about translating the French originals, translations never perfectly work, actually for bricolage reasons. Language is a prime example of bricolage. You cannot export ideas one-on-one in every aspect from one culture to another (see Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science). I am frequently frustrated with English translations of Kant and Hegel. But there are just basic cultural interpretations in there that are really tough to translate properly. I guess we all just need to learn more languages and spend some time immersed in other cultures :)
      You're entirely right about this point, but the translation of The Savage Mind is not in fact a good example.  The problems there are not especially the result of this kind of cultural mismatch, though there is certainly some of that at work.  The main problem is that the translators (3 of them, in succession) simply didn't understand the book, and screwed things up.  For example, they  translate technical terms indifferently, by which I mean that a single technical term consistently applied by Levi-Strauss gets multiple different terms in the English, without remark, so that readers cannot see the connections at all.  The translation is so poor, in fact, that no translator was willing to sign his name to it!  Even Clifford Geertz, who hates Levi-Strauss and all he stands for, trashed the translation as "execrable."  

      The book certainly cannot be translated perfectly, of course, and not just for the deep reasons you mention.  For example, the title, La pensee sauvage, could mean both "savage thought" or the like OR "wild pansy," which is to say viola tricolor, the Johnny Jump-up.  It is a spectacularly untranslatable pun.  And what's annoying about that is that Levi-Strauss actually does mean both: the flower is a really good example of what he thinks "savage thought" is like: familiar, under our noses, even beloved, with deep emotional resonance, and yet completely wild and untamed.

      But all that aside, the translation mostly sucks because it's badly done.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: xenopulse on February 18, 2005, 03:12:21 PM
      Chris,

      Sure, feel free to use the example.

      I don't want to clutter up your thread with more discussions on structural analysis of politics and difficulties of translations, so maybe we'll do that via PM sometime. Just let me add that Hegel's Geist is probably comparable to the La pensee sauvage pun in its multiple meanings. And that I get irritated when people conflate words to one translation as well; even such usually meticulous scholars as Mary Gregor translates Kant's Zufriedenheit and Befriedigung both as "satisfaction," even though that's a core differentiation between "being at peace and positively content-ness" and "satisfaction."

      Anyway, back on topic. I do think that there are positive and negative ways that bricolage can work. My own example is not a positive one. I don't even think it reinforced the group. Why not? Because we have power structures in our group. The GM and the longest standing player make all of these sorts of decisions. Sure, they publicly state that anyone can say whether they'd like rules changes or more input, but when it comes down to it, I am just not as willing to put the time and effort into trying to fix something as broken as AD&D 2e. And switching systems has been flat out rejected.

      Positive examples clearly include your SitF. Actually encouraging bricolage in-game and giving guidelines and currency for people to make these changes (also apparent in Universalis, of course) and adopt the game to their own interpretation has great potential. It sounds like Multiverser has similar potential, though in a more reactive rather than proactive way.

      Actually, today, I finally understood your game. Not just how it works, but why. And why that is a good thing. It seems to strike a balance between focused constraint and creative potential, and that balance is player-driven. Actually, that's very cool.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: contracycle on February 22, 2005, 03:12:47 PM
      My apologies for coming to this rather late.

      That was very interesting. But also interestingly, it was not at all what I was hoping for.  I was not thinking so much of mechanics but the rest of the game space, and I fear that emphasis may have been unfortunate.  It would seem to me to probably be more useful to detach the concept of bricolage from Levi-Strauss and examine instead only the procedural similarities.  Recognising that bricolage as applied in mythology is useful as precedent and referent for the argument that this process also characterises RPG’s but then we should move on to discussing it in RPG’s.

      So here’s my rough take on the topic to date.  My brief survey of bricolage as art technique shows some very simple mechanisms such as addition, subtraction, juxtaposition and so on.    With the analogy to native mythology in mind, I think it seems reasonable to see the use of similar techniques in RPG, and spaces for them to be used further.  Whenever an object is introduced into the game space – such as, for example, the text establishing “the elvish kingdom” – it becomes one of the objects in the bricoleurs shed and can be manipulated.  The incorporation of “the elvish kingdom” into a character concept or motivation or locale in the game space is such a usage.  In the case of incorporation into characters I think this takes us back to one of Sil’s earlier points regarding representation.


      Quote
      Well, Sean's remark on "subversive" certainly hit some chords, now didn't it? I have to think about this. Put that way, out of context, it sounds so anti-Levi-Strauss it's got to be wrong. But given that the phrase "System does matter" means something specific here at the Forge, I have to wonder whether you may not be right, or whether it entails a different conception of "system," or what.


      I’m going to differ and instead argue that the importance of system can be seen to arise from your argument.  Or perhaps, to be echoed in your argument.   As I see it, if everything is vague, as is necessarily the case where connections are formed by intuition and inspiration, then the credibility to make firm statements about the limits to the objects – such as the need to dismantle the toaster – is a precious commodity to be mediated by system.  Ultimately, the only way to make a positive assertion into the SIS is with the active or tacit consent of your peers, and system serves to structure and organise this arrangement.

      In fact I think the significance of ambiguity is kinda going in the wrong direction.  There are limits to the associations you can draw to real objects because of their real nature; that physicality is common to all observers, in the first instance.  In RPG there is no physicality to play this coordinating role, and personal credibility necessarily steps into the gap.  I think RPG should be seen as more ambiguous than myth in this regard – system and the other players mediate what is possible.

      I suspect that some issues of social status and hence credibility will also be present in indigenous populations mythology and may not be explicit either; that is, such status may constitute one of the tacit rules about what is sayable and who can say it.

      Another aspect of system that I think arises from this view is the issue of system introducing time to the imaginary space.  Just as you mention the irreversibility of the stripping down of the toaster, system lends permanence to certain decisions, moves the action causally from step to step.

      Sean wrote
      Quote

      I think this article also may shed some indirect light on the curious need of many role-players to feel like a 'game' or 'campaign' is open-ended and indefinite even though in practical fact they know that it's unlikely to last more than six months. The feeling of open-endedness or indefiniteness is necessary for many minds to get into this kind of meaning-making process, I think.


      Yes an interesting point.  I agree the feeling of indefiniteness looks like a good fit, its’ interesting to speculate on what this means.  Perhaps it is as simple as a creative freedom, but this flies in the face of my perception that sim entails discovery, and also
      in the light of this form of play being most common in heavily GM-directed contexts.

      Perhaps it is merely because the purpose IS unclear, indefinite, rather than absent.  Perhaps it can be discovered, or deduced.  I shall have to think about that some more.


      Komradebob wrote:
      Quote

      bricolage= Found Art+ constraints on materials ( limited choice of materials, reuse of materials) ?
      bricolage as applied here is basically doing the same thing, but with ideas rather than physical objects?
      If this is essentially correct, why are we using bricolage instead of the (arguably) more accesible Found Art?


      Also a good point; I’m in favour actually.  My researches such as they have been into bricolage as art technique have not been startlingly successful, and I’m not sure that mere collage is not good enough.  Perhaps precisely because the original was coined in another language we should not get hung up about the specificity.  Also I think we have move past the point already at which the specific aboriginal mythic context of the coining is appropriate any longer, and should just grab the essence and get on with it.  The point of identifying the parallel between myth and RPG as bricolage, that itself being only a metaphor, is to identify an independently existing prtoxcess in the real world which we can mine for controls to experiments, source of analogies, and so forth.  What we don’t actually need to do much of is worry about what Levi-Strauss meant, with all due respect.

      --

      I outlined the kind of territory I think this gets us into in the second paragraph.  Really these are not complex ideas about bringing elements “objects” if you will, into and out of the game space.  What the precedent allows is an opportunity to see that this can be functional, is not just senseless speculation.  Surely if I take “the elvish kingdom” and add it to the game space, and then I add “the orkish hordes”, and then I remove “the elvish kingdom” from the game space, I have already created a kind of meaning.  I’ve damn near created story (although of course I have not for all sorts of story-structural reasons).  Actually executing that in a game now becomes a purposeful act – even better, and act for which we can design.

      After my collage, bricolage, found art, whatever, actions on the game space (assuming I have the credibility to do them), that space is now different, the meanings have changed.  Elvish Camelot has fallen, or the mighty warriors of the orkish Khan have achieved their destiny – all that is in point of view, in specific construction.  Movement, time, has been introduced, the Colour has come alive.

      The Found Art aspect of all this also explains and expands the way players interact with setting, I think.  We know that, necessarily, the specific content of an SIS re any particular game setting will vary from local game to local game.  Maybe you found the guard on the left of the gate, I found him on the right, whatever.  This is precisely the fact that has impeded metaplot construction – the metaplot must be specific for it to be that plot, but in order to remain specific in the local game, it can’t be touched and can’t be manipulated by the, umm artist, if I’m not going to say bricoleur.  That’s broken from the get go.

      But with any luck the utility of this concept will be to produce methods of sim-satisfying structured settings and game play.  Hopefully, ALL I need to know in phase 2 of my game/metaplot is that elvish Camelot has fallen; I can now structure further work based on the knowledge that these conceptual associations are flitting about, regardless of what the specific local story of the fall of elvish Camelot was.  

      Again, I think the specifics of the anthropological context of bricolage are now irrelevant, if the similarity has been sufficiently demonstrated.  In the local game – the local tribe to which the anthropologist is a stranger – there WILL be a “mythic” construction that WILL contain much ambiguity and that WILL be contextual and incomprehensible to outsiders.  It will contain impressions, cultural perceptions that vary geographically, all sorts of things.  But we can still design into that space I think by realising we can still control the elements found in the shed.

      We can also reset the shed, because the shed doesn’t actually exist either.    We can negotiate local social contracts based on this realisation.  How about we had a discussion like this at the outset of a game – in phase one, one of the objects in the shed will be “Chicago”;  in phase 2, “Chicago” will be removed and replaced with “Los Angeles”, and in phase 3 “Los Angeles” will be again removed and replaced with “Chicago”. ZAP a comprehension about the game is created in the minds of the participants, and I have not had to discuss plot or story.  Establishing this in such a vague form allows it be vaguely taken up; this would hopefully negate something of the resistance players give to such direction.  Maybe one of them is running a bar and would not by inclination leave, but by establishing this at the player level rather than the character, mutual cooperation might with any luck emerge; at least the player has reason to believe their investment to date is not about to be wiped out.

      Of course they still don’t know whether they are going for years or days but at least they have been implicitly reassured through the prior negotiation that the move is not permanent, they are not simply being driven hither and yon.  Ambiguity is thus exploited for both reassurance and insecurity.  Now this example assumes some vigorous central control, but extending the concept to multiple-GM type games also opens opportunity.  Perhaps we establish a cast of dramatis personae and then play RPG Big Brother with the NPC’s – this week, Prince Vanya is being voted off, how will he go?  How do we reconcile the sudden absence of the Vanya object in the shed, how do the rest of the objects settle?

      Perhaps we play The Fall of the Empire, and outposts disappear one by one.  Perhaps we play The Rise of the Empire, and outposts appear one by one (perhaps the players even found one).  Perhaps settlements change colour as their allegiance switches.  Perhaps I am a lord and can create my own minions, but thereafter they are subject to the manipulation of others, being objects thrown into the shed.  Or raise my children.  What this offers is a purposeful rather than serendipitous approach to manipulation of the setting material.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Silmenume on February 22, 2005, 04:15:21 PM
      Hey Contracycle,

      Wow.  I'm not sure of all the implications or nuances of what you have posted, but by and large you have nicely summarized virtually all the ideas I have been overtly and subconsciously playing with.  My tuning fork is resonating very strongly with what you have presented here.   I'm in love with the notions of "the shed", and how it is "filled" (the "movement of items in and out" of the "shed") as being extremely important (highlighting the importance of "time") and an excellent place to focus on in game design and play execution/process.

      I wish I had something more constructive to add, but alas all I can say is, "Right on!"


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: contracycle on February 23, 2005, 01:52:33 AM
      Fantastic, I had hoped that was the case and am glad to see your confirmation.


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: pete_darby on February 23, 2005, 02:13:26 AM
      Very interesting, especially in relation to my gaming obsession, Glorantha and it's metaplot.

      The metaplot has only been related from diagetic, unreliable narrators (until very recently); hence it is available for small groups to manipulate, form relationships between their own characters, etc, while remaining within "canon".

      Meanwhile, published scenarios relating to major events of the metaplot (the cradle, the skyship) have been criticised for being too "railroady": they don't seem to afford the same opportunities to forge meaning, as the plot is imposed. The suggested solution, to make the story about the raltionshop between the PC's and the immutable elements of the canon plot, attempts to use the same process of creation covered in bricolage, but with a large new component imposed from outside the group. Since this is quite different from the way that HeroQuest has encouraged folks to interact with Glorantha previously, this comes as somewhat of a culture shock, een though it's the default method of running metaplot in other games (white wolf, for instance).

      I'm personally just kicking myself that, being passing familiar with this area of cultural theory, and having referred to all elements of rpg's as either a toybox or a toolbox, and I never made the connection between the two.

      Gareth, referring back to a previous thread where we thrashed out that Nar play would tend to be ethically normalising within the group, would you agree that the process called bricolage here would also tend to be culturally normalising within the group?


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: contracycle on February 23, 2005, 04:40:19 AM
      Quote from: pete_darby

      Gareth, referring back to a previous thread where we thrashed out that Nar play would tend to be ethically normalising within the group, would you agree that the process called bricolage here would also tend to be culturally normalising within the group?


      Yes I would think so, because the whole process is self-referential.  Now that may well be useful in aboriginal societies in that people may acquire status based on the knowledge of or ability to manipulate the shared, implicit cultural connections that the group maintains.  Specifically in RPG, like the point Chris Lehrich, this extends even to interopretations of "how reality works" - thus, "we thought crossbows really should be more dangerous".  Equally a group who think "there should be atribute modifications by gender", or, "homosexuality is correctly represented as a mental disorder" probably cannot be challenged within the terms of their own cultural norms.

      But that being said the textual nature in RPG does give external writers some opportunity to intervene in that game space through the declaration of items in the shed.  Some time ago I discussed Norman Davies book "The Isles", a history of Britian, in which he uses different names for geographic locations appropriate to the period.  The express purpose (which Davies discusses) is to erase the conventional cultural associations we have with say "Essex" and replace them with ones that would have been more like those in the minds of the people who lived in those periods.  While this approach is not astoundingly innovative it does show how an awareness of existing associations can be exploited for specific, counter-conventional purposes (this suggests some similarities with culture jamming/subvertising).

      Because the RPG texts are themselves the only authoritative reference - and they are authoritative because their credibility is NOT locally negotiated - there is a high degree of dependancy, deference, to this original Sacred Text.  Mostly, the authors world is accepted en bloc and then locally adjusted to fit the perceptions/prejudices of the players, should that need doing.  So while I still don't think that RPG is usable for propaganda or  advocacy, I do now see a way a way for an external author to drop something into the shed that the local group may find challenging, hopefully in a good way.


      Title: Nobilis and deliberate ambiguity
      Post by: lpsmith on February 28, 2005, 12:31:06 AM
      A quick post to follow:

      Quote
      What’s needed is deliberate ambiguity. You need some bits in there, which are clearly powerful and important, that are sufficiently constrained that people don’t say, “Um, I have no idea how to use this at all,” but are sufficiently open that players can readily bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate. You also need a system that, in its mechanical and rhetorical design, makes clear that such mucking about is intrinsic to play.


      My immediate thought about this was 'this is how Nobilis works'.  For almost every mechanic in the system, there is a nice balance between ambiguity and definition.  The core idea is that players represent a Thing, usually a noun, and can Do Stuff related to Your Thing.  Then there's a list of how hard it is to do different stuff:  the list goes, Knowing if Your Thing is OK, Illusionary Stuff, Information (lesser), Preservations (lesser), Creations (lesser), Destructions (lesser), Change(lesser), and then the '(greater)' version of all of the above (overlapped slightly).  As you play the game (in my experience), you work out what all that means for you specifically.  If Your Thing is doughnuts, you know both a) that there's not going to be anything in the rules about doughnuts, and b) that you can probably figure out the appropriate level for particular things you want to do.  And that's just one example--almost every mechanic in the game is similar in nature.

      During play, I've seen exploration naturally progress from some initial experimental, 'hmm, can I do this, then?' to more confident, 'OK, I do that thing I did last time.'  The Power of Bureaucracy once Created a stream of (literal) red tape, and from then on, was creating strands of red tape in a variety of situations.  Our group in general took the ability to 'perform low-level magic' and after some initial exploration ('I take, uh, an invisibility potion with me!'  'OK, I'll watch your progress in this... scrying pool!')  it settled down to where we had a particular suite of spells we consistently used.  ('These potions only work for three hours, so we better take two each.  John, keep an eye on the pool and we'll wave if we need backup.')

      -Lucian


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: Scrubilicous on March 02, 2005, 02:42:54 AM
      Quote from: clehrich
      ]Yes.  I think this is because designers think like engineers.  As Levi-Strauss predicts, the engineer and the bricoleur are fundamentally at odds.  The thing is, I think bricolage a basically self-policing mechanism.  Once it gets rolling as a social process of thought, it handles itself just fine, thanks.  Derrida's sly shot that the engineer is another invention of the bricoleur is very, very telling.  Practically speaking, I think a lot of this bricolage damage-control in game design is unnecessary and potentially limits the range of possibility undesirably.  As I say, if you want a game that's engineered, that reliably produces X with a minimum of fuss and trouble, you engineer it.  But I think a lot of gamers like the fuss and trouble, and even find that among the most fun bits of gaming, and engineering may be counter-productive for that.


      But you want my honest opinion?

      I think there is very good reason for why AD&D was such a success.  Sure, Ron is dead-on about the cultural situation, and Xero has made some lovely additions to that with his remarks on the rise of the popular notion of the auteur in George Lucas and such.  But I don't think that's a full answer.

      Honestly, I think AD&D has an enormous learning curve, and I don't mean what you think I mean, or rather, I don't mean what people would usually mean if they said that.

      I'll start again.

      I think AD&D has a steep learning curve, because you have three quite independent things to learn, and only one of them is in any way explicit in the texts.  

      First, you have to learn the rules as a system of messy and not entirely coherent or cohesive bits and pieces.  This is sort of explicit, though I think the idea that players should not read the DMG and so on undermines this; I do think a lot of players went right ahead and read it anyway, sensing somehow (from their neolithic minds, perhaps) that this rule should be observed in the breach.

      Second, you have to learn how your group plays, and the ethos of the group and its context of other groups, and how all of that works as a social system.  Nothing about this, that I know of, is explicit.

      Third, you have to learn how to bend the system.  In other words, you need to learn how to do bricolage with it.  Not only is this not explicit, I'm pretty sure it's explicit that you shouldn't do it.  Again, it sounds anecdotally as though an awful lot of gaming groups, probably including the very first originating groups, observed this in the breach.

      The thing is, there is just so goddamn much to parts 1 and 2, and they are so powerfully riddled with fractures and intricate weirdnesses that just beg for exploration (how do you use the magic item creation rules, anyway?), and there are so many inconsistencies just waiting to be put to good use somewhere.  And so once you get to stage 3, it's like a whole world opening up.  And I think that because there were so few other choices, and those groups had a social structure that kept their core players bound tightly, a surprising number of players did reach stage 3.

      And I deeply believe (I hope I am never proven wrong!) that players who got to stage 3 of this process, with that game or those sort of like it, are the tiny but fabled minority who played those endless, year-after-year games, the ones that people still tell stories about.  They genuinely did create something disturbingly similar to myth, in a ritual process.  And that is so powerful that it created a legend of its own, without which this hobby would long since be dead.

      I love seeing all this cool engineering and cleverness going on in design around here.  It's fantastic.  It keeps the hobby vital and vibrant and exciting.  But those guys were doing something very different, and I think we are painting ourselves into a corner---a very exciting and fun and valuable corner---from which we can barely even see that stuff.



      If the preceding two post article is as awesome as  this response, you get major props =)

      I do think RPGs are a very good way of understanding primitive science and religion.  People spend a great deal of t ime builidng up complex systems that bear no intrinsic relation to reality; and when it comes time to actually use the system, they ignore the system and simply make it up as they go along.  Those gamers who actually take the system seriously in all its detail often look a little weird to the rest of us.  I imagine it was the same way with primitive religions and medical traditions.  

      "Holy shit, that guy just put leeches on that other dude!"

      "But arn't you a doctor, didn't you say that would work?"

      "Well yeah, but that guy's fucking HARD CORE"

      Or something


      Title: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)
      Post by: GB Steve on March 04, 2005, 02:08:20 AM
      Loads of good stuff here, firing ideas all over the place.

      I'm reminded of the IT dictum that "no system survives contact with users", which is often mimicked in RPG terms as "no scenario survives contact with the players".

      Although there is a subtle difference here, I'm starting to think that Game Design/Engineering seems not to be a social activity whereas Bricolage/Play does. And then we get caught in a deconstructionist loop that says "hang on, but engineering is a social activity too. It's not really performed in ivory towers but against a social context". I don't think this loop necessarily destroys the thought process that attempts to separate engineering and bricolage, design and play, but it is very chicken and egg.

      Even in well engineered systems like MLwM, there always seems to be some bricolage. Most of it that I've encountered is about Sim issues. And I think that this is because most players are used to Sim and feel deprotagonised when moving away from it. There is a strong association between ownership and identification with the PC and control over each action. Rolling the dice is often a physical proxy for whatever the PC is doing. In these cases, reference to the original design intent, which is strongly stated in MLwM, usually prevails.

      But it's not always about Sim issues. Sometimes there are worries over the boundaries of deprotagonising in a Nar sense. Local arrangements then come into play.

      So can Game Design exist without Bricolage? Je pense que non.

      I also get the vague uneasy feeling of a tautology lurking somewhere in the midst of this discussion, something along the lines of "roleplaying, that is a social activity, is always resolved socially." But as with any equation, the terms usually need much more explanation before we can all nod our heads and say, "well, it's obvious really."!