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Author Topic: Universalis, Entropy and the Fall of the Uniwiki  (Read 15251 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #30 on: November 11, 2005, 07:36:08 AM »

Callan, you're talking a lot of nonsense. What two year game are you talking about? I know of about 8 tries at this now, none of which have lasted more than a couple of months. The ones that have lasted longest often trickled down to three players or so playing for the last month or so (they really disintigrated after the first month or so). The lack of achievement is that none of the goals for the games was achieved - neither my goal of worldbuilding, nor anyone else's goal of having complete stories. There are now 8 stories out there just hanging in limbo, most of them just having gotten the plots set up. Still in act one, as it were. Nobody is satisfied with that outcome - the rules were a failure. Everyone who has participated has felt dissapointed that either they couldn't keep up with the game, or that they were abandoned by the other players. Not that they blamed the players, everybody knows it's a problem with the structure.

The perpetual movement goal was to have enough stuff going on that not only could stories be completed in the world generated, but, in fact, that several stories could be going on at once potentially (though later we narrowed it down to trying only one story at a time). The idea being that if you have, say, 20 players involved, and any 4 of them are active at any one time, that the story being created will have enough momentum that other players will come back in later about the same time as others drop out. So you'd always have a quorum of players neccessary to keep Universalis play going.

We discovered this doesn't work, not because we don't have informed and invested players at the start, but that no amount of starting investment can keep your attention once the game has drifted away from you after a while. Even while participating, investment drops off. To say nothing of the precipitous drop in investment one gets when they "take a break." Players who stop playing pretty much never post again.

Your notion that the investment should keep your interest, well, that's precisely what our idea has always been. Just...doesn't...work. Precisely why that happens is not absolutely clear. But it's absolutely the case. As attested to by all the players who actually did try to participate. Again, we went so far in trying to ensure investment that Trevis even made a rule that people had to basically demonstrate how they were invested to play to even be allowed to play.

We are proud that we managed to playtest the game several times (have you read the last couple of posts?). No amount of you saying that we're not is going to change that. So...I dunno, it's like you're trying to get us to wallow in some victim's group while we're trying to move forward. What would be helpful is comments on, say, what changes would increase investment over the long run. If you've got a suggestion on that, I'd love to hear it. Because this is not done. All we're doing here is throwing out the last bad plan, and trying to figure out a new one that has a better chance to work.

Mike
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nilsderondeau
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« Reply #31 on: November 11, 2005, 02:24:58 PM »

The perpetual movement goal was to have enough stuff going on that not only could stories be completed in the world generated, but, in fact, that several stories could be going on at once potentially (though later we narrowed it down to trying only one story at a time). The idea being that if you have, say, 20 players involved, and any 4 of them are active at any one time, that the story being created will have enough momentum that other players will come back in later about the same time as others drop out. So you'd always have a quorum of players neccessary to keep Universalis play going.

Erm, don't mean to harp on subjects I've brought up before, but I think this is where part of my frustration with the wiki format comes from.  I wasn't hostile to the notion of a big, big game with a lot of player, but I was dubious.  For it is work to track what is going on in a narrative and then find the right place or time to write.  Remember, I consider myself someone who loves writing and subversion so if I was searching around for a place to push the narrative along then you're just not going to get a less motivated player to participate.  (Well, that was freaking obvious.)  I think what needs to be done is to look at the structures of the failed UniWikis to understand the play that produces them.  Again, perhaps I'm being too obvious.  I'm mindful your comments about Uni being good at producing wild, kitchen sinky type stories that one could revel in but what I've seen so far on the wiki is too discursive to have any real momentum of its own.   This is assuming that we're gaming with the intention of producing a story, not a world.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #32 on: November 11, 2005, 03:02:46 PM »

Well, given that I'm not interested in making a story...I guess your comments are for somebody else other than me.

I really am not getting through here, and I'm not sure why...

Mike
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Callan S.
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« Reply #33 on: November 11, 2005, 04:14:11 PM »

Hi Mike,

The two year game was the sorcerer PBP game Travis mentioned.
Quote
Again, we went so far in trying to ensure investment that Trevis even made a rule that people had to basically demonstrate how they were invested to play to even be allowed to play.
I read that, but the investments mentioned sounded like 'I'm going to work toward X happen in the game, sometime in the future'. What was asked for in terms of investment? Was it always a question of 'What do you want to work toward having one day?' rather than 'What do you want to have right now?'

To be harsh, that comes out to "What are you invested in...okay, one day we'll get around to having what your interested in, in the game". Kind of like the D&D groups who have fun they want at tenth level, but force themselves to start at first level (and the campaign dies off).

Did anyone say what stuff they wanted to play with and played with it straight away?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #34 on: November 12, 2005, 01:24:41 PM »

To put myself on the line more here and explain it a bit more, a technique of investment I have been quite fond of is delayed gratification. Say I want a D&D wizard character who can shoot lightening out of his hands or something. But I wouldn't just let myself have that...no, I'd have to earn it by getting to the level where he can do it. Partly it is because I'd feel silly just getting excited about just doing it and partly because I want to explain away my excitement "Oh, I went through sessions of play to get this...thus I deserve to enjoy it"

But at least for myself, I've realised that it's a major issue. Play will just be about 'doing my time' until I get to what I really enjoy playing.

There's probably a social ripple effect as well, where if I don't let myself be 'silly' and invest in/get excited about something and play with that from the start, others at the table wont either. So the problem spreads.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #35 on: November 14, 2005, 07:07:06 AM »

All I can say is that I think that you're projecting. The emotional investment tenet doesn't say anything about delaying gratification or anything. It says that the tenets of the game, which are going to form the entire basis of play from scene one, have to contain something that you're "jazzed" about. I see these elements showing up in the very first scene.

That is, I can accept that, in fact, players ignored the tenet in question, and they tried to play without investment. But if they did, in fact, pay attention to that tenet, and there was at least one story tenet which they were jazzed about, then they probably found investment right in the very first scene. Which seems to me to cover more than half of the story tenets right there. Lesse:

  • Paragraph 1 sets the scene on the shore satisfying the Island tenet.
  • P 2 introduces both the "heavens" (angel/demon tenet), and the astrology idea (Stars are Right tenet).
  • The language and content of all of the scene makes it cover the "high mythology" tenet.
  • It's hard to positively portray the "restricted fire" tenet, as it's sorta negative, but nothing was done in the scene to violate it, in any scene, and I think you can feel it's spirit in action.
  • Small communities, too, were not directly represented, but you get a sense of it from the names of the characters.
Basically I'd say that there was absolutely no delay at all in this game between starting and getting to precisely the sort of stuff that the players at least said that they were invested in. In fact, I think that the play is pretty good, and that the players seem pretty excited about it, given the OOC chatter in the scene.

No, I really don't think that it has anything to do with a lack of playing right off to stuff in which players are invested. I can't say for sure in this last game, since I didn't play, but I can tell you absolutely for certain that in starts like the "Byzantine" game, that I was really, really invested in the ideas behind the game, and dove right into them from the start. Unlike other games, Universalis almost forces this. I mean, what else are you going to create other than ideas that spring right from the tenets. You have no other source of inspiration. Sure you could pick others up to delay getting to the part in which you're invested, but it would actually be harder than what Universalis promotes naturally. You'd have to swim uphill to have less fun. I've never seen that happen in any Uni play.

Nope, what happens in UniWiki is that the game aquires it's own "weight" as it goes based on the events that have happened. If you're not invested in that weight at every step, then it becomes a hinderance. Every player agrees with me that this is what happens. You go away for a few days, and when you return, you look at what's there, and every bit that everyone else has posted in the meanwhile stands in the way of your interest in what's going on. Not because it doesn't match the tenets, but because you weren't "there" when it was created. Because there's no social challenge to you to move the story onward considering what the others have put in place in the interim.

I think the problem is well identified. You can speculate about it being something else all you like, but I'd suggest that you actually try to play it before you do so. Because the problems are very specific and peculiar to the form of play.

Mike
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Callan S.
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« Reply #36 on: November 14, 2005, 07:21:59 PM »

I don't think I was dead on. But social feedback and a social challenge to move the story onward are strong incentives to invest in the way events have turned out. Without that factor involved, how invested were they in playing with their favoured idea?
For example, my 'shoot lightening from my mages finger tips' investment. Play events could mean there are no targets for it, targets are immune to it, it's dangerous to do it, or any other number of inhibitors that stop my favourite thing coming into play.

By being invested in play, I mean how invested they were in/comfortable with the idea that the game might stop them from having their fave thing at any given point? I'm reminded of the D&D advice about a character who just got fireball, and GM's shouldn't throw critters who are all fire immune at that player. No one is particularly invested in play that removes their fave thing from play that thoroughly. But players will accept a certain degree of removal. How much, in this case do you think?
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #37 on: November 15, 2005, 09:38:47 AM »

I still think you're grasping at strange straws here, Callan, and I'm starting to find it hard to even understand what you're talking about.

I think the elements of play in which the players said they were invested were never delayed, and came back over and over later in play. I could cite later scenes that had as many of the investment elements as the earlier scenes. So...I don't know how invested they were for sure, but enough to have those elements come back repeatedly. And with great fecundity. I don't think that anyone playing thought, "Ohmygoodness, I'll never be able to examine my "Stars Are Right" tenet any more.

It might interest you to know that most of the players involved play lots of other RPGs with each other over at Indie-Netgaming. So it's not like there's a complete lack of social context. We all know and trust each other pretty much implicitly (I'd play with any of the players from any of the games at any time). Further, all are excellent players in terms of ability. In fact, that might be something to worry about if the idea with UniWiki is ever to get it into wider play distribution. But what it says is that there's no worrying going on. Not, certainly from me, and I don't think from anyone else.

No, it's not worry about play getting away from what you want. Not it at all. Again, what it is, is looking at a scene that somebody else has created and feeling...eh...I don't want any part of that. It's not that the scene in question doesn't have the sorts of elements in which you're personally invested - often times the players have, in fact, used your tenets and things you like well. It's just that RPG play is about participation in the creative process. RPGs make terrible stories. All the talent of the UniWiki players notwithstanding, the idea is not to produce a readable document.

This is something that Neal's not getting either. Play of Universalis is said to be "storytelling" but that's not even precisely accurate. It's myth creation. Using the definition that ethnographers use for this activity in societies that actually have it (not ours). Meaning that the only meaning of such an activity is in the act of creation. The output is not at all the point of the activity. It's the act. If you look at somebody doing the act, but are not a part of it, not only is it disinteresting, it's actively repulsive. It's exclusionary - not intentionally, but as a result of the social act of creation, and the ritual space about the act (see Lehrich's essay).

I actually have a hard time reading any scene that I was not a part of. Hard time. I mean I have to absolutely force myself to read each word one by one, if/when I have the urge to do so. That alone is impediment enough to getting back into play. Once I understand the created content, and then try to think of something to add...total blank. I can force myself to add something, and have on occasion, but it's entirely joyless. Dull, drab work. I have more fun making spreadsheets at my job, than I do trying to add to a UniWiki scene in which I have had limited or no participation up until this point.

As long as I'm playing hard, and maintaining that ritual social space in the asynch play, and keeping up with everything that's going on, then my original creative investments are just fine. It's entirely the breaking of the ritual space to "take a break" from posting when the problem shows up. This is true not only of UniWiki, BTW, happened with me also with the IRC "Kroolian Jungle" game. I forced my self back into play after a hiatus, but no matter how much it had the invested elements that the tenets had set, no matter how the content matched my personal desires about what was interesting to play, I couldn't remain invested because there was some distinct disconnect between me and the creation in place that meant that I couldn't care for it at all.

Why is it that it's so loathesome to tell somebody about your 45th Level Half-Ogre Anti-Paladin? Is it really because the story is bad? Well, in the example that's probably part of it. But the real reason it's not just boring, but annoying, is because it's precisely like a "One Time at Band Camp" story. That is, it contains a social boundary from which you are excluded. The best you can do, if the story is good, is resent the person telling you because you didn't get to participate in what sounded like a fun time. It has nothing to do with the content of the story, but rather with the fact that it's a social activity in which you are not involved.

As Trevis says, looking at this activity that is no longer yours, any energy that you pour into it is like feeding a black hole. In fact, you can tend to feel like an interloper.

I'm not guessing about this. I've known that this is the problem, at the very least for myself, and likely for others, for quite a while now. I've been saying this since previous to the last iteration of the game. All of Trevis' work to try to ensure investment in the last iteration was for naught. Not because it failed. But because it doesn't target the problem. So please don't send anyone back down that road to nowhere again.

The (dubious) reason that I think that the WorldWiki wouldn't have the same problem is because there is no shared story to fall out of social space with. That is, the idea is not to establish the social space in the first place, and leave it, largely, a solitary activity that just happens to have other people participating in it at the same time. Like the Duelmasters game - there is no social context there. For all you know, you could be (and sometimes are) playing against the computer. This might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but for asynchronous play it would seem that the baby has left the building anyhow.

Mike
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Callan S.
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« Reply #38 on: November 15, 2005, 07:36:39 PM »

Hi Mike,

Awsome post/account! Again!

I think your actually getting to what I'm trying to convey but from a different, clearer direction. I'll quote you a few times, where you indicate some pretty heavy investment:
Quote
It's just that RPG play is about participation in the creative process.
Quote
This is something that Neal's not getting either. Play of Universalis is said to be "storytelling" but that's not even precisely accurate. It's myth creation. Using the definition that ethnographers use for this activity in societies that actually have it (not ours). Meaning that the only meaning of such an activity is in the act of creation. The output is not at all the point of the activity. It's the act.
Okay, would you say that yourself and the other players are more invested in this act, than in the tenents you all created?

I'm guessing not only yes, but you'd repeat that it's the point of roleplay. If you think I was getting nonsensical before, this is where I know I'll sound nuts: I was basically saying that you should be more invested in the tenents than in the act myth making itself.

I'll stumble over some sort of actual play example of what I mean. In a D&D game I played in, we were fighting a dragon. It was kicking us soundly and the paladin was slapped to the ground. Things were way grim and I was focused so close on every single damn five foot square, making my calculations to save him or try and do something to pull our shit out of the fire.

I LOVE those moments. The tactical angst thrills me to bits!

But what if, for some reason, I tried to get to that angst first? Let's strip out all the stuff I'm invested in: It's not a dragon, it's some numbers. It's not a well known palladin of a fellow player, it's a set of numbers designated as 'prize'. And my own character is just another set of numbers. Will I get to the same tactical angst with this? Certainly not.

What I need at first is to be more invested in these components, than I am in pursuing this tactical angst. It needs to be in that order.


In your own case, I see you invested in myth creation first, tenents second.
Quote
This is true not only of UniWiki, BTW, happened with me also with the IRC "Kroolian Jungle" game. I forced my self back into play after a hiatus, but no matter how much it had the invested elements that the tenets had set, no matter how the content matched my personal desires about what was interesting to play, I couldn't remain invested because there was some distinct disconnect between me and the creation in place that meant that I couldn't care for it at all.
You were invested in a specific creation process, ahead of any tenent. And this type of creation process, the most important thing, didn't show up in play. It can't be forced to really...you can't control this sort of thing with game currency or anything, since it consists of the other players choices in using this currency. Also, it may consist largely of a certain feeling one gets during creation at a table top, face to face game. All these sorts of things, the games rules for play can't effect, but the groups investment is in these things. And only secondarily in things the game rules can effect, like tenents.

I've drawn too heavily on my credit here and in addition probably made another foggy post. Thanks for the responce posts, they were well written and I wish I could have kept up my end of the deal, because I'm sure I've got something important here (perhaps another day it'll get written out properly).
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #39 on: November 16, 2005, 06:56:34 AM »

I see your point, Callan, and I'd say, yes, you're merely stating my POV in an obfuscatory manner. That is, yes, it is my opinion that all players are always more "invested" in the act of play than they are with the content of the game. That's what I've been saying all along. That, as soon as you lose contact with the game, you lose interest.

Where we differ, I think, is in our assessment of whether there's something to be done about this. The way you state it, apparently there was something that we could have done to ensure that people were more invested in the tenets than they were in being a part of the continuing play. Well, my point is that, in fact, we did everything humanly possible to ensure this investment, perhaps more than any other RPG group has ever done before to try to ensure this investment, with the sole exception of playing in a more social situation (which, after all, is the point of the experiment) and it still did not work.

Your solution seems to be "Be even more invested." Well, that's very easy to say. If you can show us the way to do this in asynchronous play, I'm all ears.

Yes, it's precisely the social situation in FTF that makes this work. That, too, is precisely what everyone in this thread has been saying. That this is the missing ingredient. Are you saying don't play asynchronous?  Then you're like the doctor who, when I tell him that my knee hurts when I run, tells me not to run. That doesn't solve the problem in any way. Actually, that's the prescription that I've been giving all along, anyhow. I don't think we can run on this leg without it hurting. Tell us something new.

Mike
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Callan S.
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« Reply #40 on: November 16, 2005, 06:22:31 PM »

Hi Mike,

Cool, established some mutual ground. :)
Quote
Your solution seems to be "Be even more invested." Well, that's very easy to say. If you can show us the way to do this in asynchronous play, I'm all ears.
Well, I changed my tune a little in the last post, saying there needs to be more investment in tenents than in playing. You don't have to raise your investment in the tenents to do this...you just need to lower your investment in play/the act of myth creation, until your investment in the tenants is the greater of the two investments. Then play like that.

Crappy analogy: It's like various bits of advice for great sex, which advises not to concentrate heavily on having a great sex. Instead, concentrate on, respond to and enjoy the company of your partner...and great sex just comes as a side effect of that. It might be a bit racy, but I remember an anecdote from a magazine, where the woman said something like "I used to concentrate on having an orgasm but would fail to. Now I just lay back and enjoy the sensations...and I'm coming in no time!"

So the myth creation needs to become merely a side effect of you all enjoying your tenents. I don't know how you get people to stop being so myth creation focused though...perhaps just tell them to just lay back and enjoy those tenents?

But frankly I'm new to this, that's why I started up the where investment seeds thread.
Rambling off topic side note: For ages I've tried to focus on design that get's right to the tactical angst I talked about before. But I kept throwing away idea's thinking 'Nah, that doesn't seem exciting...nor that...nor that'. Basically it's because they were just ideas of how play should procede, empty of investment. I was looking for a method of play to invest in that's exciting, but it's never exciting unless you've already invested in something that drives play. Design limbo, basically.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #41 on: November 17, 2005, 08:09:10 AM »

Quote
I don't know how you get people to stop being so myth creation focused though...perhaps just tell them to just lay back and enjoy those tenents?
I know how, you tell them "read a book."
This is what I'm trying to say. It's not optional. For me, anyone else playing, or even for you. You couldn't do it. I promise you. Go ahead and play next time. And when your enthusiasm runs out, because creating a RPG isn't fun when you aren't invested in the creation of it, you'll finally understand what I'm trying to say.

At the point you're less invested in making a myth, you read a book instead. There you can get all the same items of investment (just pick the right book out), and you don't have to do a thing creatively. To play a RPG, you have to, absolutely must be, very invested in the Creative Agenda of the group, above all else. If you're not, it's simply not fun.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #42 on: November 17, 2005, 08:57:46 AM »

Hey guys,

I think we've beaten this topic into the dirt, and very, very flat as well. Everyone's had his say, and the info will remain here for others to think about in the future. So let's call it closed.

Best,
Ron
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