2005-04-04 : Participant vs. Author?

Hello Sailor:

Player-as-participant is when the player interacts with the game. Player-as-author is when the player creates the game. I'm simplifying those definitions for the sake of brevity.

Current design theory says that both those player roles are required (often simultaneously) for a good RPG. Player-as-author is a part of the foundation of ideas that raise current design theory above conventional RPGs. In other words, it's a known and accepted thing. Is there really a need to continue distinguishing between the two?

Now somehow I've miscommunicated about this. My original intention, here, was to shed light on two different points of view from which you can examine resolution rules. You can look at what the rules do among the players, and you can look at what the rules do to the fictional events in the game. You can examine the rules for their role in mediating participation, their procedural content, and you can examine them for their role in constructing the game's fiction, their imaginative content.

So no, it's not two different player roles between which you switch off, or anything like that. Given functional play you are always simultaneously participating and creating in-game stuff, for the simple, obvious reason that creating in-game stuff is what you're participating in.

So now, this underlies the Strong Stuff Indeed conversation, and that's where I want to go with it, but first let's make sure everybody's here. Everybody, speak up if you aren't with me!

1. On 2005-04-04, Emily Care said:

You can look at what the rules do among the players, and you can look at what the rules do to the fictional events in the game. You can examine the rules for their role in mediating participation, their procedural content, and you can examine them for their role in constructing the game's fiction, their imaginative content.
Thanks, Vincent, I think that makes it crystal clear. This is a great way to analyze rules & techniques.

An example I'd think of would be how our (eventual) use of the scene framing rules in PtA helped us more easily author by clearing up the problems we had with coordinating our participation.


2. On 2005-04-04, xenopulse said:

So the rules guide the process of who-when and what-how? :)

Lisa gave me a copy of PtA for my birthday yesterday, so I can now catch up with those AP issues you guys had. PtA is one of those games that makes me want to spread it around, because so many people who aren't into traditional RPGs could get so much out of it.

I think the strong element of player authorship and actual cooperation is probably the main reason for that.

- Christian


3. On 2005-04-04, Ben Lehman said:



4. On 2005-04-04, TonyLB said:

It's not just about who-when, though, is it?  The rules structure the choices that players qua players make.  Not just what they can do, but what they want to do.

Is that still player-as-participant interaction?


5. On 2005-04-05, ethan_greer said:

I think I'm coming with you, but I'm having a hard time visualizing how to look at a rule from these two different perspectives. Can you give an example, where you take a rule and look at it from both sides? I would be most grateful.


6. On 2005-04-05, Vincent said:


From Dogs' Fallout. The rule is: choose something from the long-term fallout list and justify it by reference to the conflict you've just finished.

Procedurally, you the player choose a thing from the list, write words based on your choice onto your character sheet, and say some stuff out loud. Fictionally, your character's arm is broken and your character is struggling not to scream and bawl.

Easy! You know the difference between real-world procedure and in-game events? That's all I'm saying.


7. On 2005-04-05, anon. said:


Thank you.


8. On 2005-04-05, ethan_greer said:

Er, that was me clicking.


9. On 2005-04-06, Hello Sailor said:

And this is me clicking.


10. On 2005-04-06, Vincent said:

Sweet! Here's the next step:

You get it for individual rules. Do you get it for all the rules together, over the course of sessions of play?

The individual rules contribute procedurally, moment by moment. Over the course of sessions of play, patterns emerge; the game as a whole has a procedure. Looking at the individual rules, you may or may not be able to see what the whole procedure looks like.

Similarly: the individual rules contribute to the made-up events in the game, moment by moment. Over the course of sessions of play, patterns emerge in the fiction too: the game as a whole has a shape. Looking at the individual rules, you may or may not be able to see what sort of shape the whole game will have; you certainly won't be able to predict its exact shape.

Still with me?


11. On 2005-04-07, ScottM said:



12. On 2005-04-07, xenopulse said:

Yeah. Quick question in between: Is the shape something any observer can see, or is it depending on the perception of the involved parties? Related to that, is it a matter or interpretation, or is it pretty much a certain thing once it's constructed?

- Christian


13. On 2005-04-07, Vincent said:

Christian: the shape is, like, these three guys go over here, and have this fight, and one of the screws the others' sisters, and then they have this other fight, and then one kills another, and the villain rejoices, and everybody dies. Just like the shape of any fiction.

Because we're talking about roleplaying, everything happens RIGHT NOW and then is gone, so there's not really a "once it's constructed," more an "as it's constructed."

What I want to make sure everybody gets, though, is that the shape of it arises from the procedures, thus the rules. The villain rejoices and all the rest because of the rules the group is playing by.


14. On 2005-04-07, xenopulse said:

Ah. See, I was already heading into theme territory. But sure, the rules contribute to the "story of events" that develops over time.


15. On 2005-04-07, Vincent said:

Well a preview then: I don't consider theme to be a matter of interpretation, but a matter of observation. (Given cultural similarity between author and audience, which in an RPG you always have.)


16. On 2005-04-08, Hello Sailor said:

Got it. Ready for step 3, cap'n!


17. On 2005-04-08, Hello Sailor said:

Or is "The Whole Point" step 3?


18. On 2005-04-08, Vincent said:

Nope, that's step ... 5.

Step 3 identifies particular sorts of RPG procedures and particular shapes of RPG fiction. Like so:

Some RPG procedures, taken over the course of whole sessions, foster full participation from everyone playing, others cut people out of participation in various important ways.

Some RPG fiction has, in common with all good movies novels plays short stories and other fictional forms, a particular structure. I recite it like a litany: passionate character, turning point, dynamic situation, conflict across a moral line, a problematic human line, with fit opposition, escalating smoothly and inevitably to crisis, climax, resolution.

Consider now only the games where [i]procedurally[/i] everyone contributes to what matters and [i]fictionally[/i] the game has that structure. Those are games where the players create theme; the theme is defined by the problematic human line across which the characters conflict.

I have lots and lots to say about all this, of course. I'm just outlining.

Step 4 is a doozy. It says: people enjoy creating theme together, it fulfills them in an uncommon and desirable way, and it brings them closer together. It says: creating theme together makes spending time together meaningful - not just in RPGs, but in RPGs as well, and furthermore RPGs can be uniquely suited to creating theme together effectively, efficiently and powerfully. It says: we love and respect and take care of and are drawn to the people we create theme with.

Why? I have my random speculative explanation, involving the words "storytelling monkeys," but what really matters is that it's so, whatever the explanation. Try it and you'll see.

Step 5, then, the whole point, just draws the chain: the game designer creates the game design, which mediates the procedure of play, which gives shape to the game's fiction. When the procedure allows everyone meaningful participation and the fiction is thematic, the players grow together and interact functionally, inside the game and outside of it. Thus the game designer too is answerable to the group's social dynamics.

Or, if you're an evil game designer (like Eddie Izzard's giraffe) you can design games to alienate people and undermine their friendships. Generally when I see such a game I attribute its design to ignorance not malice, as you oughtta, but you never know.


19. On 2005-04-08, Vincent said:

Oh, and: "strong stuff indeed" is when the game design really does foster meaningful participation, with "meaningful" meaning "to the point of the theme."

Let's say that the moral line across which the characters are in conflict is violence. At the end of the game, the theme will be about violence: "to protect something with violence is to destroy its value," "violence without love is fruitless," "our souls are violent, try as we might," or some other concrete statement. (A theme is a judgement.) In the midst of play, we're busy saying this - we aren't enacting a known theme, we're creating one, we don't know what it will be. My character is caught up in these compelling questions about, like, can violence be fruitful without love? Can violence be fruitful with love? Can violence serve love or will violence always betray and destroy love? I mean this is serious stuff that I care about a lot, as a person; by playing my character I'm up to my elbows in honest human problems.

And I write on my character sheet: I've learned how to shoot people. Or Firearms ****.

That is strong stuff. It's the feedback between fiction and procedure. It changes everything that matters.


20. On 2005-04-08, Ben Lehman said:

Step 4 is a doozy. It says: people enjoy creating theme together, it fulfills them in an uncommon and desirable way, and it brings them closer together.

Will there be a thread on this later?  'cause boo-howdy, you just tangentially nailed a point I've been trying to make about GNS for years.



21. On 2005-04-08, Vincent said:

Ben: "Will there be a thread on this later?"

Count on it.


22. On 2005-04-08, Hello Sailor said:

Rephrasing the entire thing, it's not about rules saying you _can_ write "I've learned how to shoot people" on your character sheet, it's about rules saying _why_ you can write that.


23. On 2005-04-11, Vincent said:

H.S.: yes! I'd have it, the rules saying what writing it _means_.

See how, if the game isn't about violence, but instead it's about (say) trust: Does trust create love? Does love create trust? Will love trust even the untrustworthy? See how, if the game isn't about violence, writing "I've learned how to shoot people" or "Firearms ****" on your character sheet doesn't mean the same thing? It still means something, but now what it is is, like, the playground in which the play happens. Shooting people is the backdrop for the issues of trust; substitute "I've learned how to give jaw-dropping backrubs" or "I've learned how to run a 4-minute mile" and the game can still be about trust, cast against a different backdrop.

And then, see how, if the game isn't about anything, writing "I've learned how to shoot people" doesn't mean a damn thing?


24. On 2005-04-12, Chris said:

Hey Vincent-

So, would it be fair to say that Stakes are simply an example of moment to moment "things that matter" that reflects the larger shape of theme as "things that matter"?

That is, I can shoot someone doesn't mean nothing- but the Stakes of what is gained or lost, what is at risk based on whether I shoot someone- that means something.  And on a larger scale, repeated use of setting it against various Stakes also can form a theme, as I make statements about what I'm willing to shoot someone over or not, right?


25. On 2005-04-12, Vincent said:

Ah, yes! Yes exactly!

To create a theme, you take a dynamic moral situation and escalate it through crisis and climax to resolution to stability.

The relationship of stakes to theme is the relationship of conflict to story. What's this conflict about? its stakes. What's this story about? its theme. What's this story made of? its conflicts.


26. On 2005-04-12, Chris said:

And, with that, it also shows how if the low level techniques work towards something else, how hard it is to change the shape(or direction) of things in the larger scale...  Which shows Mike's "Can't sneak up on mode" rant in effect.

So could we look at Techniques being nested as follows:

(Pacing & Scene Framing(Conflict-"Introducing & Stakes"(IIEE-"resolution")))

So, we'd have Pacing & Scene Framing, inside that box, Introducing Conflicts & Stakes, and inside that, IIEE- with each one's shape having an effect both outward and inward?

This would explain why traditionally it has been easier to introduce Nar play to Sim/Gam folks by habit, when the players are guaranteed input on the smallest level(Inspectres' resolution) compared to ones that guarantee it on an outer layer(Sorcerer's Kickers).



27. On 2005-04-13, Vincent said:


A story is made of dynamic situations transforming into new dynamic situations, until they land at a final stable situation. Each situation's transformation into the next plays out over the course of one or more scenes. Each scene contains one or more conflicts*. Each conflict has stakes which we resolve. The resolution of the stakes directs the scene; the resolution of the scene directs the transformation of the situation; the resolution of the situation directs the story; the story emerges way up here from the resolutions of all its stakes, taken as a whole.

* A scene with no conflict in it reveals or constructs situation, doesn't transform it. (This is no shame on them; revealing situation is essential too.)


28. On 2005-04-13, Chris said:

Any ideas on what would go outside that nested Technique Box?  I bet if we think about it, we can work it all the way up to the Big Model Boxes :)

Maybe the next box up would be Situation?(and maybe above that, Setting?)

I'm seeing a useful analysis in checking out some things with this idea of Technique boxes:

-Where players get input, and how(GM, also included as player)
-Where, When, & How Reward happens
-How all the above creates a sum total of "direction" in play.

More later.


29. On 2005-04-14, Chris said:

More now.

Example of Technique analysis:

Scene Request- Player input at Scene Framing
Conflict Declaration- Player input at Introducing Conflict & Stakes
Rerolls & Narration- Player input in IIEE, potential set up for later Scene Framing & Conflicts
Relationships- Player input into Stakes & IIEE

The focus of this is to look at input amongst the people at the table- so we're really just breaking down and analyzing specifics of Lumpley Principle through mechanics.  Who gets input, where, and how- total that, and you get a strong "vector" for how CA is supported.  Player input is vital for both Gamist and Narrativist play, and so it makes sense to look to it to see how the "shape" of things turns out.

I am very interested in seeing how the Techniques box links into Big Model, plus any other connections it might have.  I would probably say that Situation is next up.

Any thoughts?


30. On 2005-04-14, Vincent said:

"Techniques" is already a box in the Big Model; I'd say that it fits right where it already fits. Is there something else going on that would displace it?


31. On 2005-04-15, Chris said:

I wasn't thinking of displacing it, but I was curious if there's any other subdivisions in Techniques that might be worth noting, or if there's anything that links between (Scene Framing) and further up on the Model.


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