On 2009-04-28, Jono wrote:
Vincent: this is a really, really important topic. Thank you for bringing it up. It's a problem that I've run into lately in some of my indie game play, but I haven't had a good way to describe it until reading this series of posts.
I've definitely encountered the lack-of-rightward-arrow problem in PTA, Polaris, and Shock. (I haven't yet played 3:16 or In A Wicked Age.) It hasn't happened in every time I've played these games, but it's happened often enough that I believe I need to find a solution.
I very much love all three of the games I mentioned, and I'm not claiming that PTA or Polaris or Shock lacks in rightward-pointing arrows. But I have a theory that in these games, the rightward-pointing arrow can easily be ignored if you do not discipline yourself to use it.
E.G. in Polaris, there have been times where my guy, a senator, gets into a political argument with a rival senator. We invoke the conflict system... and when it's done, my wife is dead. She wasn't in the scene, the political argument had nothing to do with her, but my Mistaken thought that would be a good price to ask for. How did she die? Who killed her? I don't know. I just know the Mistaken said "But only if your wife dies" and I said "that was how it happened".
Conflicts like this damaged my immersion, because they introduced events that didn't flow in any logical way from the events of the scene.
Is Polaris "...a game system that works perfectly well without investing much in the SIS"? I don't know. I don't think it is. Polaris is a weird case because even when you're resolving a conflict, you're doing this thing with fictional statements. Where does the "but only if your wife dies" belong in the cloud-dice diagram? It's not a physical cue on the table, but it's a statement with mechanical weight just like "Make a save or lose 10 hp". Anyway, it was a case where "...the minute details of your game's fiction don't contribute meaningfully to your play", as Vincent said, because "your wife dies" didn't come out of anything in the game's fiction up to that point.
As a result, my "...imagination of the actual in-game situation gets rather blurry" and it felt "...like reading a good book way too fast.", to quote Frank again.
Our Polaris play was enjoyable in direct proportion to how much we imposed on ourselves the discipline of asking for consequences that could plausibly flow from the current scene. Analagously, I've found that PTA is enjoyable in direct proportion to how much my group chooses stakes that plausibly flow from the current scene, allow Trait use only when it really fits the fiction, etc. In proportion to how much we honored the rightward-pointing arrow.
I've also noticed that in games where the other players were more experienced with indie games than me, honoring the rightward arrow was never in question, and we never had the disconnected-fiction problem. In games where the other players were less experienced with indie games than me (and I am a relative newbie), our rightward arrow was more hit-or-miss. So I think "honoring the rightward arrow" is a skill that needs to be studied and learned and taught.
Cuz if we don't, then the danger is not just that our fiction is failing to influence our mechanics (who cares?) but that our fiction is failing to influence our subsequent fiction (and maybe it could be said that the mechanics exist as a proxy for how earlier fictional events affect later fictional events). Like Moreno said, the fact that your hand is bandaged has to have an effect on later play, or else you're just narrating a series of disconnected events instead of telling a story.
"...Where your character's standing, what he's doing with his hands, how his eyes move when she comes around the stone fence, whether clouds pass in front of the sun or it glares down unmitigated - these things come to be like the character sheet that you leave in a binder in the drawer."
Describes a good bit of my play lately, and I'm sad about it.