2005-03-15 : Definition: Engaged

I was talking to Emily last night and I need to ditch my use of the word "collaborative." "Collaborative Role-playing" has been in use as a term since the late 90's, Emily tells me, referring to ... Ian Millington's Ergo? Correct me, Em.

So I'm going to switch here to "engaged."

Engaged play is play in which everyone's meaningful participation is explicit, assured and unabridged. "Meaningful participation" means that you're contributing to what matters (whether you are or are not contributing to what doesn't matter, doesn't matter).

Non-engaged play, then, is play where your meaningful participation is blocked, undercut, problematic, or uncertain. It may be that your participation is limited to meaningless stuff, take it or leave it - picture gears spinning fruitlessly, non-engaged. It may instead be that to secure your ability to participate you have to resort to real-world manipulative tactics like cheating, bullying, playing favorites, kissing up, pulling rank, crap like that - picture gears grinding.

As always, this is something that happens between the real human beings at the table, not in a rulebook. Formal rules can make engaged play easier or harder, more or less reliable, depending on the particulars of the ruleset.

Especially note that I don't mean that the players are emotionally engaged. They may be even if they're just spinning their wheels. I mean that they're creatively engaged.

Make sense?

Oh and in keeping with my new style guide: only engaged play is worth the time, to play or to design.

edit: When I posted this I used "up-front" for engaged, and "contested" for non-engaged. The first couple of comments reflect this.

1. On 2005-03-15, Chris said:

Hi Vincent,

I agree with you on the use of Up-Front vs. Contested, and it nicely addresses my question about needing explicit rules for protecting player input...

But that still doesn't quite address what collaborative play(as you were using it) is...  I mean, if we play Participationist, then you as a player know your input is pretty minimal, and its all Up-Front... but its still not "collaborative" in the sense you were using it.

Perhaps instead of collaborative, we should use Centralized vs. Shared Input?  Centralized Input would include all forms of "non-collaborative" stuff on your chart, while Shared Input means everyone gets some "in" on what happens?




2. On 2005-03-15, Vincent said:

Chris - I was reconsidering this post! Now you've commented and I'd feel wrong about just making it go away.

Well, so no, I've never meant anything by "collaborative" that I don't now mean by "up-front." Everybody contributes to what matters, that's all.You may have very limited power over the people, things and events in the game, but still contribute to what matters.

Emily's centralized vs. decentralized goes beyond that. It's about power over the people, things and events in the game.

Anyway you're right, Participationism is a case where "up-front" and "contested" make no sense at all. In Participationist play you don't contest your inability to contribute, it's all very up-front - so when I call it "contested, not up-front play," it sounds like gibberish.



3. On 2005-03-15, Vincent said:

Oh duh on me, the word is engaged. For non-engaged play, you can picture gears spinning fruitlessly for Participationism and effectively-maintained Illusionism, and gears grinding and crunching for genuinely contested play.

I'm going to edit the post accordingly.


4. On 2005-03-15, Vincent said:

Ron's been using "engaged" this way right along, by the way, which is why duh on me.


5. On 2005-03-15, luke said:

love the semiotics, and the imagery. Engaged seems to a have slightly more meaningful implication and definition than collaborative.

good luck scrubbing collaborative from your vocabulary!


6. On 2005-03-15, Chris said:

Hi Vincent-

Ok, I get you now.  Cool.


7. On 2005-03-15, Ben Lehman said:

I'm adopting this.

Note—would be fun to talk about what sorts of things one can engage in.



8. On 2005-03-15, Tom said:

In every game though, there comes a point where my participation is amended or overruled.  I'm dis-engaged.  This has to happen.  If it didn't, then all RPGs would involve sitting quietly in a corner and telling yourself stories.  We can't all have explicit, assured, unabridged participation at the same time.


9. On 2005-03-15, Judd said:

But participation can be watching someone else play through their scene, jaw dropped, shaking one's head in disbelief and/or gasping in shock at the power of the moment.

Participation can be jumping up and down while someone does something and telling them they rock.

How players handle their scenes when they are NOT playing is at least as important as the scenes when they are.

This is why I dig Shadow of Yesterday's bonus dice system.  Neat stuff.


10. On 2005-03-16, Chris said:

Hi Tom,

There's a two fold thing to it-  first, as a player, do you know when and under what conditions your participation will get amended or overruled?  And second, is there a way to get your participation back into the game?

Engaged play means that the group at the table all know what those two questions are about.

If I know that my input will get handed over to someone else under certain conditions("He rolled higher than you, so he narrates..."), then it's not "over-ruling" as much as it is me agreeing to hand over my input according to the rules (and Social Contract).  I also know that there are ways for input to come back to me.  If the group's not clear on when or how input gets passed around, then all kinds of problems can occur(which is Vincent's argument for formal rules over freeform).

The thing is, I don't have to be engaged in every single moment of play, I just have to be able to have the opportunity to become engaged on a regular basis.

An analogy to consider- boardgames assure engagement by giving each player "turns"- what would you say about a game that allows one player to choose how many turns anyone gets, in what order, and there's no guarantee that each player will even get one turn?  That would be disengaged play, there's no guarantees of input, and input can be blocked at a whim.


11. On 2005-03-16, John Kim said:

I don't agree that such a boardgame is necessarily disengaged.  What you're describing is a refereed game like free kriegspiel.  The referee has final say, and so there is no guarantee that the referee won't rule against your move.  So yes, if the referee [i]does[/i] in fact block each players' input, then the game would be disengaged.  However, that's not necessarily the case.

If the referee does [i]not[/i] block players' input, but instead considers them fairly (as he is directed to do), then this can be engaged play.  I've only done one free kriegspiel-like game, but it seemed fine to me.

Now, you can also play games which don't have or need a referee.  However, there are a lot of advantages of using that position (plus disadvantages as well).


12. On 2005-03-16, Tom said:

Chris writes:
"An analogy to consider- boardgames assure engagement by giving each player "turns"- what would you say about a game that allows one player to choose how many turns anyone gets, in what order, and there's no guarantee that each player will even get one turn?"

I'd probably say it's some funky German game and I've probably played it.  :)

No, I see your point.



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