2012-11-14 : Emily on Fictional Positioning

Positioning series table of contents: Where were we...?

Here's Emily Care Boss, writing in 2006 about the reward cycles she sees in freeform play:

creativity: free form play, of whatever stripe, has as its primary reward the creation of in-game events, material etc. Think about how allocation of narrative rights have become a huge part of mechanical systems: people want to be able to be creative, and giving them the right to do so is a powerful reward. How this is allotted and allocated in free-form is not as regulated by reproducible procedures, though, instead it often comes down to things like the informal social networks that Christian [Griffen] points out. Because of:

reinforcement and mirroring: what is real in a game world is what gets played/with. If everyone else ignores or doesn't know about what you've made up, it may as well not exist. So, the people who are the most "powerful" creatively speaking in freeform, are the ones whose ideas get picked up on and incorporated into the play of others. Those whose actions affect others and who end up having them reverberate around the shared creation. This can be done via any channel depending on the type of play: character action, background creation, informal discussion out of character, or "gming" (which in free-form, means setting the parameters of play, use of props, dissemination of information, creation of guidelines and intervention/adjudication. damn, online gms can do a hell of alot, more even, than tabletop ones, in a way, because there may be so many more people involved. same with large larps).

positioning: this is a wierd one that seems to arise out of the way that narrative control is not parcelled out in a regulated way in freeform. Other folks may have had very different experiences, so take it with a grain of salt. Anyway, what it is is setting up in-game events and interpretations to support your following (character) actions. For example, if I want to shoot your character with a gun, I have to first establish that there is a gun present, that it is loaded etc. If I want to kill your character, I will have to establish, and get others to collaborate with me in establishing, that my character can keep yours from escaping, that mine has the ability to successfully shoot yours, that help will not arrive in time etc. Instead of a die roll, based on various things that represent all this stuff, it has to be negotiated, or simply spoken and accepted as "what has happened" in order for it to occur. So in freeform, you may be thinking (even unconsciously) three moves down the road, in order to back yourself up on future actions.

Well, that's a couple anyway. Sorry to go on. It is a big thing for me, though, that there are systems in there, even if they are unspoken and little understood.

(my emphasis; original here)

Here, Emily's talking about the player's position: what gameplay options do I, as a player, have available to me right now? Over the course of the game, my legitimate moves change; what are my legitimate moves at this moment of play?

In freeform games, Emily says, what determines your selection of available legitimate moves is the current state of the fictional stuff in the game. If there's a gun in your character's hand, that adds certain moves to the selection available to you, the player. If there's a gun in someone else's character's hand, that changes the likely outcomes of the moves you might make.

(For now, let's politely pretend that making a move in a roleplaying game means asserting something, like "my guy shoots yours," and subjecting it to the group's assent or dissent to determine its actual in-game veracity. I think this is not true, but it makes it easier for now.)

Contrast freeform with cue-mediation. The freeform rule at play here is "if you've established that your character is holding a gun, all other things being equal, it's a legitimate move to assert that your character fires it at someone." The equivalent cue-mediated rule would be "if you have a gun on your character sheet, all other things being equal, it's a legitimate move to assert that your character fires it at someone." See the difference? Playing freeform, we look into the fiction-as-established to determine whether a possible move is legitimate; playing with cues, we look over at the cue to determine whether it is.

Everybody with me so far?

For now, I'd like to answer questions about things you don't understand, not about things you don't agree with. There'll be time to disagree later, once I've said my whole piece. Hold off on disagreeing.

Oh, unless you're Emily! Emily, I'd love a quick thumbs-up-thumbs-down confirmation that I've read you right.

1. On 2012-11-14, Vincent said:

Two notes!

1) My use of "freeform" here follows Emily's. Others use "freeform," especially "structured freeform," to mean other things, and I'm not implicating them in any way. Try not to get distracted by the various things "freeform" can mean.

2) In a given game design or game in play, freeform and cue-mediation can happily coexist. You see where I included "all other things being equal" in both rules? Often in practice that includes a quick check across the boundary between them. Like when you have a pistol on your character sheet, but in the fiction as established your character's just stepping out of the shower, right?


2. On 2012-11-14, Weeks said:

There's a thing, but I'm not sure if I don't understand or if I disagree.  I'm going to go ahead and ask and maybe I'll end up disagreeing:

What's the difference between a cue and fiction-as-established.  Is the gun-on-my-character-sheet significantly different than the gun-I-bought-last-scene?


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This makes...
GcL go "The act of checking each is different"*

*click in for more

3. On 2012-11-14, Vincent said:

Yes! One is a word written on a piece of paper that we can all look at, handle, read, erase. The other is a thing we all agreed to, even though none of us can touch or see it.

Is the difference "significant"? You'll be able to come up with any number of examples where the difference doesn't matter. That's true. I don't care about that.

The difference is simply the obvious, dumbly obvious one. One is a real word written on a real sheet of paper, the pencil marks themselves, physical, visible, persistent even if we forget about them or turn off the lights or die in a bus crash, and one isn't. Same as the difference between a die with six pips showing versus me thinking of the number six.

(No disagreements about this. Anybody who really does disagree, save it for later, or else better yet, consult a qualified professional. Don't wander into traffic thinking that the bus is imaginary, please.)


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This reminds...
VB of For instance.

This makes...
VB go "I've always been boggled..."*
EJS go "o_O"

*click in for more

4. On 2012-11-14, Evan said:

My questions:

1. How does "positioning" interface with the notion of "system," specifically the form of the lumpley principle: "Resolution systems are methods for group agreement regarding what happens in the imaginary game world"?

2. Can players become "good" at positioning? That is, does a player learn the meta-process of assessing their options in the fiction and then acting upon them, or is this largely the "system"'s job?

(These are leading questions, but that'll be my schtick here for awhile.)


5. On 2012-11-14, Gordon said:

Short version:

Say I rewrite your claim as "Playing freeform, we LOOK FIRST INTO/GRANT GREATER INFLUENCE TO the fiction-as-established in determining whether a possible move is legitimate; playing with cues, we LOOK FIRST INTO/GRANT GREATER INFLUENCE TO the cue in determing whether a move is legitimate."  Have I done meaningful damage to your point? Checking a cue or checking the fiction remain distinct acts, but the determination of legitimacy will almost always require both.

Thinking that got me there:

Isn't the option "all other things are NOT equal" ALWAYS available? While we cannot deny that it says "Gun" on the sheet, if "all other things may not be equal" is in play, we can always say "that doesn't matter, because" of some unequal other thing, right?

Which perhaps is saying "we can always choose to be freeform/look at the fiction even if we're 'supposed' to be using cues/looking at real things."  It may be that what you are building towards lives within that very fact -I guess I'm just making sure you're not trying to exclude that possibilty (and its vice-versa, where cues are used in the process of creating the fiction-as-established). If you are, maybe this is a disagreement and I'll let it go, but if not, maybe this will forestall other questions/potential disagreements.


6. On 2012-11-15, Tim Ralphs said:

At some point, I expect this conversation about fictional positioning to turn into this conversation about how you can use unreliable currency to get players to invest in concrete fictional details.


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This makes...
R go "It's weird that I have to "get players to invest" in that."*
TR go "Sure! But then..."*
R go "Which needs to be addressed on multiple fronts"*

*click in for more

7. On 2012-11-15, Emily said:

Thumbs up!


8. On 2012-11-15, Vincent said:

Emily: Sweet.

Tim: The conversations connect, for sure. It might be that you've just said everything that needs to be said about that, but maybe I'll have something to add later on.

Evan: Very good!


9. On 2012-11-15, Vincent said:

Oh, and Gordon: I'll go with "not trying to exclude that possibility," yes, for sure.


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This makes...
GcL go "On re-reading, your note 2 pointed that way"*

*click in for more

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