On 2009-05-06, Zebediah wrote:
have any of you read any of the psychology on "Active Perception?" It's a theory about how human minds use their senses and their imaginations.
The essential notion is that, far from being passive flows of visual or auditory data, the eyes, ears (nose, skin...) are being run by a very fast process that keeps asking the world questions—far faster, but not unlike, a roleplayer asking a GM what they see in the 20'x20' room next to the orc.
This explains why people, especially given brief or spotty visual input, wind up "seeing" very different things.
Imagination, creating that SIS, is a process of using the same perceptive "schema" to build up the notion of what's there...with the side note that there's no actual there, there.
I look at a dog. I notice whether it's angry or friendly, how loud it is, how slobbery it is, and whether or not it's jaws would fit around me head. (I have a mild phobia of dogs).
My girlfriend looks at a dog, and she notices whether it's a male or female dog, what breed it is, whether it's well trained or not.
Another friend of mine is a vet. When she looks at a dog, she sees how old it is, how healthy, any injuries or signs of abuse.
In contrast, a D&D DM looking at a dog sees it's base attacks, how many hitpoints it has, and what it's movement rate is, and it's alignment.
Unless it's a dog working for the party, in which case he also notes it's carrying capacity and relative loyalty to the party.
Or at least, that's how the D&D player sees it if it's in his game. He might not even notice what color it's coat is...or he might, if he's wondering whether it can blend into the underbrush. It depends on what details feel important...on which you care about imagining or perceiving.
If there's no weight to a fact about the dog (it's a long, pointy-nosed blue-grey hound) then that fact can vanish. If there is (that means it's probably a tracker! Good if we're following someone, bad if we're on the run...) then these facts get established and matter.
Keeping up the "discipline of imagining" is a case of what sorts of perceptions matter. You can keep asking questions about what color the dog is, but if it doesn't matter and doesn't contribute, after a while you stop asking those questions.
Now for me, games (including simple let's pretend) have the nifty feature of being able to determine how things always were when you need to know. 7th Sea has the "ask, don't tell" rule related to this—your character looks around and you narrate that there's a beer stein there, and lo and behold, there is and there was. If the dog's color matters, we can agree on what color it is at the moment that it matters.
The degree that we detail the SIS depends on what drives us to do it, whether those are internal urgings, social support from our friends at the table, or the required constraints of the system we're using to help enforce consistency.
Which in turn is based on what lens you're seeing the world through...what questions your Active Perception schema ask.
The corollary to this is, systems in which many details can be made relevant by citing them, especially with consistency, help push the brain to track as many things as possible—you're never sure what will be relevant. A bandaged hand might be, even if we're not tracking "hitpoints."