2011-04-08 : Freeform
I've been thinking hard and talking to my friends about this ever since Paul T. drew the distinction (perhaps inadvertently) here between principled freeform and structured freeform. Talking with Markus Montola (of Nordic LARP fame) and Sanna Koulu, who've been visiting around here, crystallized it.
Here's to start: designing a game means changing people's normal social system.
Luke and Jared call it mind control. When you design a game, you do it to supplant the normal, natural interactions, relationships and considerations of its players with new, unnatural, designed interactions, relationships and considerations.
I don't mean anything complicated or strange by this. When you play a game, you adopt its rules and objectives, is all. For instance, I don't normally, naturally compete with my 14 year old son. I value his best interests, normally, at least as highly as my own. Sit us down to play Zero, though, and within the bounds of the game I don't consider his best interests at all. Or say that Eppy and I are talking normally about a fictional character I'm creating. He's interested and curious, but he respects my creative integrity, he doesn't try to insert his own vision into my creation. When we're playing Human Contact, though, the opposite!
You can change people's normal social system with content. "Your character is the captain of a space ship; mine is her first mate."
You can change people's normal social system with principles. "Your right to say what your character does ends at my character's skin. You can say your character punches mine, but I get to say how it affects my character."
You can change people's normal social system with procedural cues. "We roll dice. If you have the highest sum, you get to say what happens." Procedural cues tell you how to interact, without reference to the content of the fiction you're creating.
You can change people's normal social system with mediating cues (popularly, mechanics). "When your character does something that would expose her to danger, stop! Roll dice for her 'I'm craven.' If the high die is 1-3, she's too craven to do it." Mediating cues DO refer to the content of the fiction you're creating.
The distinction between procedural and mediating cues may seem pretty fine, but it's been a lively topic of debate in indie rpg design since 2005 at least. Start a thread called "how do you play Primetime Adventures?" and watch this distinction bloom.
So then, freeform:
"Freeform" VS "non-freeform" means no mediating cues VS mediating cues.
"Freeform" VS "structured freeform" means content only VS content plus principles, procedural cues or both.
"Principled freeform" VS "structured freeform" - hereafter, "procedural freeform" - means content plus principles VS content plus procedural cues, with principles optional.
So "principled freeform" would mean a game - or a subsystem of a game - that changes its players' social system by using only content and principles. "Procedural freeform" goes one further, using formal structures like narration trading, time limits, counters, non-representational pieces on a board, improv games, and who-knows-what-else, but never crossing that line into mechanical mediation.
There's lots and lots of procedural freeform in indie rpg design. Screen presence in Primetime Adventures, the owe list in In a Wicked Age (except when you cash it in for a bonus die), all of 1001 Nights except when you roll to see if the sultan beheads you.
And that's what I've got! Questions or comments welcome.
1. On 2011-04-08, Vincent said:
2. On 2011-04-08, Liam Burke said:
3. On 2011-04-08, Paul T. said:
4. On 2011-04-08, Josh Hall-Bachner said:
5. On 2011-04-08, Chris Chinn said:
6. On 2011-04-09, Larry said:
7. On 2011-04-09, Simon C said:
8. On 2011-04-09, Emily said:
9. On 2011-04-09, Ben Lehman said:
10. On 2011-04-11, David Berg said:
11. On 2011-04-11, Vincent said:
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14. On 2011-04-12, Ron Edwards said:
15. On 2011-04-12, Alex Abate Biral said:
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17. On 2011-04-13, Jaywalt said:
18. On 2011-04-13, Vincent said:
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20. On 2011-04-13, Simon C said:
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24. On 2011-04-13, Alex Abate Biral said:
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28. On 2011-04-14, Jaywalt said:
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31. On 2011-04-14, Simon C said: