thread: 2009-04-27 : Dice & Cloud: a Symmetry

On 2009-05-07, Josh W wrote:

Vincent, how frequently do you play a specific game, and how long does it take to warm up? We've been playing pretty freeform for a bit and my characterisation is seriously shoddy, or at least inconsistent, whereas somehow when I have rules, even D&D 3e, because I have made them symbols of my own alphabet, they remind me of my characters mannerisms, of his history, and allow me to get back into their skin. If you don't use the character sheet as a reminder, how do you get back in character?

When you talk about the cloud, I picture it as when people go glassy eyed, staring off into the distance for a second, because the world they are imagining has taken up their visual attention. It's like they are expending effort to inflate this balloon of a world in front of their head. And what for? Well if they are a dreamer, it's because that is awesome, but for other people, it's doing something else. Now working out what that other thing is and making it concrete, making it supported by the rules is what "rightwards pointing arrows" should be about: What things do players wish mattered? What parts of the imaginary world do they want to activate? Now by activating, in a sense I mean they are co-opting them as a part of their sphere of influence just as much as their character is, and they are being used as a vehicle for their purposes in the same way. In a way the character has temporarily gained the trait appropriate to that element, or more abstractly the player's store of agents has been expanded to include this new element, whether it be a hill, a guilt or an empire.
But what is the appropriateness of this appropriation? Does it fit the game element to be used in this way? The player character is the main game component designed with this in mind, if it turns out not to be any good for what the player wants they will generally retire, replace or rebuild them through events. I would say that character generation is probably the only source of rightwards arrow in IAWA: You create them based on fiction, give them appropriate stats, and then try to use them to do your thing. I think the dice on one side are a bit confused, I would suggest that instead of being identified by being physical they are about mechanical power. If there is player opposition, it appears here. Actually that is I would say the core of the picture, on one side players can fight like mad, because it's a world of discrete resources set up in that way, and on the other side players have to share the same imagination. On the right-hand side players don't need to co-operate.

If I'm right, all your saying, in terms of order of events, is that you narrate first. And it is a condition, a cost if you like, for the bonus, or for the mechanical event. By this I mean it must be justified first as a appropriate part of the setting, and then it has competitive function, rather than something being created in the setting to fit your allowance of competitive advantages. It means that setting information becomes a resource, something that people use to do stuff. Now the moment you make that happen, people can fight over that resource. So what do you do? Well your method seems to be to make the GM the guardian of that resource, rather than a participant in the struggle. It's his job to insure that the fictional element doesn't get swallowed up into player competition land, and instead remains anchored and justified by it's links in the imaginary world.

And you do that by putting that into the "how to GM" part of the game, making it a serious code of conduct "GM's oath" type thing. Now in Dogs you encourage him to stay in that role by explicitly making him the audience of the players, in that his real creative activity happens before play, and by virtue of appearing in his world the PCs are expressing it. So during play he's just playing out what he has already created, and players are doing up to the minute "course changes", being protagonists and all the rest of it. The course of the world is set out in advance, and the GM trusts the game's mechanics to respect his creation. Once he does this, and gets all zen about his characters, then he has sufficient detachment to play that role.

Now that's just one game, and I've pretty much paraphrased your podcast explanation, so what if GM as an actual player wants to make course corrections of his own? What if he is trying to decide "how things turn out" at the same time as the players? Now at this point he is completely able to run head-first into that old conflict of influence, because truth now has functional value to him; he's like a ref with money on the game. If I'm right, by the distinction you have created, he has to keep his roles separate with extreme integrity, so that on one hand he is trying to get everyone to see the same picture in their head, and on the other hand he is trying to make best use of that picture to his own advantage. And that advantage is classically represented in physical objects, because as a disputed item, it can't be entrusted to memory. Now that last bit may sound bizarre, but what I'm talking about is that concrete bit where an disagreement gets all heightened and you can point to a physical object that holds the answer and that you can both see, or where you entrust a fact to something outside of yourself so you cannot fudge by accident.

Would you agree that the two defining characteristics of the left hand side are consensus and imaginary consistency, and on the right hand side are competition and physical representation of resources?


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