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Author Topic: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)  (Read 61009 times)
John Burdick

Posts: 105

« Reply #15 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.

Nicolas Crost

Posts: 61

« Reply #16 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).
« Reply #17 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.
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 2591

« Reply #18 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:

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.


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.

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
Nicolas Crost

Posts: 61

« Reply #19 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... :)

Posts: 864

« Reply #20 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...


Current projects: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, The Suburban Crucible

Posts: 462

« Reply #21 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.

Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 2341

« Reply #22 on: February 17, 2005, 09:50:42 AM »


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.


My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Posts: 14

« Reply #23 on: February 17, 2005, 10:22:11 AM »


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,

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

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.

Posts: 284

« Reply #24 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.
Walt Freitag

Posts: 1039

« Reply #25 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

Wandering in the diasporosphere

Posts: 2

« Reply #26 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
M. J. Young

Posts: 2198

« Reply #27 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, 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


Posts: 1557

« Reply #28 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.
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.

Chris Lehrich

Posts: 1557

« Reply #29 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!
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).
- 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!

Chris Lehrich
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