2012-11-15 : Positioning: the Big Model vs Emily, reconciled

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

Well, the Big Model Wiki says as little about positioning as it can get away with:

A Character Component. Behavioral, social, and contextual statements about a character. See also Currency.

When you see also Currency, it just quotes me:

Characters take effective actions that (a) deplete, restore, build, or otherwise change their resources, and (b) change their circumstances, sometimes only immediately, sometimes profoundly. Characters' resources (a) provide breadth and depth to their ranges of effective actions, and (b) can also change their circumstances, immediately and/or profoundly. Characters' circumstances, of course, (a) constrain and provoke their effective actions, and (b) can change their resources.

A warrior kills his enemies, gaining experience and looting their wealth, but suffering exhaustion and wounds. For a while he's able to stay ahead of the curve - his experience does him more benefit than his wounds hamper him - but that time comes to an end. He uses his accumulated wealth to buy a wife and a home, and he turns his battle-cultivated experience to politics, to good effect. Now he's mayor.

Cycles of effectiveness, resource, and positioning, all trading off one into the next. That's currency. (So however it happens in play, that's your game's systemic currency, whether you have character sheets or dice or whatever or none.)

(original here)

Yesterday I said let's just go along with something that's not true, because it makes other things easier. It was the idea that "making a move" in a roleplaying game meant asserting something, to be affirmed or rejected by the group. That'll come back to me someday and I'll have to make it right.

In 2010, we just went along with something else that's not true, because it made other things easier. Ben flagged it at the time, here, but I pushed it on downstream anyway. Now it's come back to me and I have to make it right. It's this precise idea, the idea that positioning is a component of character.

The Big Model is and has always been too simplistic about GMs, players, characters, and rules. Back in 2002, the Big Model was about what is your relationship with your character ("actor, author, or director," was the answer), how does the GM treat your character's actions (in our naivete, "gamist, narrativist, simulationist"), and what kind of mechanics do you use to represent the in-game fiction ("drama, fortune, karma," but usually fortune). This presumption of one GM and several players with one character each, all mechanicallly represented, is convenient, but it's lazy and complacent. It means that if a piece of theory works under that circumstance, it's good enough for the Big Model, even if it doesn't work when you have co-GMs, solo games, no GM, freeform, troupes of characters, LARPs, diceless, or any other arrangement you might design into a game.

Emily of course labors under no such presumption!

So take the Big Model's "positioning" - behavioral, social, and contextual statements about a character, available to the game's currency systems - and strip out the presumed GM/player split, the presumed one-player-one-character association, and the presumed mechanical representation. Now:

1. We aren't talking about a character, we're talking about all kinds of fictional stuff. Every significant fictional thing in play, not just the characters, might have behavioral, social, and contextual features that are available to the game's currency systems.

2. We aren't talking about a character's components, we're talking about a player's. Those aren't my character's hit points, they're my hit points for that character. That's not the monster's number of attacks, it's my number of attacks for that monster. We're talking about what I'm able to do as a participant in the game.

3. We're still talking about currency systems. That is, we're still talking about the ways that what you do here affects what happens there, the ways that the process of play change the landscape of play, the gameplay options available, moment by moment, interaction by interaction.

4. But we aren't only talking about a player's numbers, dice, ratings, traits. We're talking about those, PLUS all the non-mechanical things that direct, constrict, and expand the current gameplay options available to the game's participants.

What do we get? Taken all together, here's a new, less parochial definition:

A player's position is the total set of all of the legitimate gameplay options available to her at this moment of play. Positioning refers to the various factors and processes, including in-fiction, cue-mediated, and interpersonal, that determine a player's position.

From here, we can see (I hope!) that Emily's "fictional positioning" is the in-fiction part of this new definition, and the Big Model's "positioning" is what this definition becomes if you consider only GMed, one-player-one-character, mechanically-representing games.

Again, for now, I'll be very happy to answer questions about things you may not understand, but I won't answer disagreement. Please hold your disagreement for later.

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

A couple of days ago I was in a pretty heated conversation about whether I'm opportunistically and self-servingly bashing the Forge. That accusation's off-topic for this thread and I'll treat it severely.

However, if you'd like to register your objection to the way I've characterized the Big Model here, I understand, and I offer the marginalia of this comment as the appropriate place for it.

Keep it brief. Keep it to this comment's marginalia.



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This makes...
VB go "Parochial?!"*
GcL go "DISCUSSION about the Big Model"*
R go "I am unhealthily curious"*
Moreno go "One can't copy-and-paste your definition..."*
TMC go "The Forge was a good start. Time to upgrade."*
GcL go "and just for the record"*
GcL go "I can't believe I let this slide!"*

*click in for more

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

That looks like a good marriage of the two definitions. Are you looking to supplant the conception of positioning as a character component with the concept of player positioning? Or are they parallel, one referring to the other?


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

An interesting, kind of sensitive question.

In my personal thinking, the new definition here replaced the Big Model's definition long ago, it's just that I've fallen back on the convenience of "me and my character" when I've talked about it. So: I'm looking for this to supplant the Big Model's definition, utterly and finally, with the Big Model's conception surviving only in the provisional "me and my character" case.

But I'm not the editor or arbiter of the Big Model.

So either the Big Model will change to agree with me, by its own processes and following its own needs and interests, or else this represents a break with the Big Model. Either way, it's fine with me and it's not my call.


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This makes...
ET go "Yes! This is helping reconstruct the Big Model in far more interesting ways. I'm eager for this kinda paradigm shift, ev"
VB go "Don't cut yourself off, ET!"*

*click in for more

4. On 2012-11-15, Gordon said:

Can you say a little more about what is and isn't a "legitimate gameplay option" in this context?  Does it require interaction with currency?


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

I think that'll need to be the next installment. It's the same as Evan's question about system here, and it gets into the wet, wet wilds of whose turn is it when it's my turn?


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

Is it intentional that the definition of positioning makes no reference to it being the consequence of other prior things? This definition seems really forward looking! For example, at the end of a campaign that we're not continuing I'd say that all players have the same total set of legitimate gameplay options available to them. Do the player whose warrior retired to become a mayor and the player whose warrior's died in action really have the same position?

I mean, I can see how if positioning is all about currency then it has to be forward looking, but it feels like a drift away from what I would have intuited the term to mean.


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

Causality is being invoked in fictional positioning. However, (and this is a big however), what it makes available to you is what is acknowledged by the other players. Cues, especially mechanical ones, have the great virtue of clarifying and simplifying the resources available to a player or a character based on the players' shared understanding of what those might be. And those are likely completely separate from any causality (it may or may not exist, it may be something you make up as you go along etc.).

But, also, whether and what type of causality is upheld varies from group to group. Fictional positioning is essentially a narrative rhetorical device, which is invoked to make stronger an argument that something later can or cannot be established. Having said you have the gun makes it harder to argue against you being able to shoot it later.


8. On 2012-11-15, Ben Lehman said:

@Tim R.

I'd say that the mayor's player has additional options available to them, simply because they still have some authority over that character in the game world in a way that the dead player's character does not.

Similarly, if this is a world with the ability to raise and speak with the dead, the positions are quite separate.

Re: Campaign ending, that seems to be a weird question. When we are no longer playing the game, obviously we have the same positioning with respect to that game (i.e. none at all.)

As far as forward or backward in time, I don't suppose it matters much. I see the broader definition (vesting positioning in the player, not the character) as including past actions as much as the narrower definitions. The consequences of past actions bit is hiding in the word "legitimate."



9. On 2012-11-16, Tablesaw said:

So "positioning" can be boken down into axes like "fictional positioning," "cue/currency positioning," and "interpersonal positioning." It might be possible to think about "gamer types" in terms of what kind of positioning is most comfortable for a player.

I feel like there's still a need for a corollary term that describes position from the point of view of an element (particularly, but perhaps not exclusively, a fictional element); that is, the total set of all legitimate moves that any player can make re a given element. This would be something like "passive position" (moves that can be done to a thing) instead of "active position" (moves that a player can do).

Because I usually think of fictional positioning in terms of modifying the things that can be done to an element, rather than modifying the things that other players can do (including to that element). They are one and the same, of course, but it's not an intuitive frame of reference for me.


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This makes...
R go "It sure is possible to think about 'gamer types' in any terms"*
BL go "I agree w/ R."*

*click in for more

10. On 2012-11-16, Josh W said:

This strikes me as something in a gray area between clarification and disagreement, but:

Isn't it possible to have positioning without a position?

In other words, what if you flip that definition backwards, saying:

A player's positioning is the set of factors and processes (including in-fiction, cue-mediated, and interpersonal) that act towards creating a set of defined and legitimate gameplay options available to her at this moment of play.

'Cos like rhetoric, these things don't always coaless into an argument, with a defined and coherent point, but arguing is still happening.

I think this view preserves your argument in a slightly more nitpicky form (with positioning acting to construct that set of options, to clarify as much as support or negate), so hopefully it looks basically identical to you.


11. On 2012-11-16, JLeigh said:

Does thinking about fictional positioning in this way provide concrete support in your process of game design?

Or, is this an abstraction / extraction to theory from your practice of game design?

And, I recognize the reality is their inter-relationship is more dynamic than my question implies, just wondering if it weights heavily more one way than the other.


12. On 2012-11-16, Tim Ralphs said:

Thanks Ben! (and Josh for your further clarification.)

I've found a much better way of expressing my confusion than an appeal to forward and backward perspectives. It's this: Are we saying that if a fictional element does not give rise to gameplay options then it's not a part of our position?

The whole campaign end question is me struggling to think up an example of this happening. But having written out the question like that, I'm quite satified if the answer is "Yes, that's exactly what we're saying."


13. On 2012-11-16, Ben Lehman said:

I'd certainly agree with that statement.

I'd elaborate further that if a fictional element does not give rise to gameplay options it is an indicator of a flawed design.


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This makes...
R go "A strong statement,"*
TMC go "Or, it could just be Color, Ben."
cw go "Doesn't color yield gameplay options?"
JC go "Everything yields gameplay options"*
R go "Some games are designed (or played) to effectively include resolution-lowering filters"*

*click in for more

14. On 2012-11-16, Vincent said:

Tim, Ben, TMC: Let me jump into this and say that since we're including freeform, "legitimate gameplay options" just means "you say something and people agree that it's true, or consider it a legit thing to have said even if it turns out to be false, or they use it as a jumping-off place to say something else that turns out to be true instead, or whatever."

We could probably put our minds to it and come up with cases where there's a fictional element that doesn't give rise to gameplay options - that is to say, something's true in the game's fiction but nobody can ever possibly build on it in any way. I'm comfy saying that such a thing wouldn't be part of anybody's position, but it's kind of an unusual case. "If somebody says something that nobody can build on, nobody can build on it."

To me, then, Ben's saying that "if somebody can legitimately say something that nobody can then build on, it is an indicator of a flawed design," which is kind of a weird direction to me to take the question, but sure, I can see that. It doesn't seem like a very strong statement to me at all, though, since something must be going pretty wrong if people are saying things that they can't follow through on.

It's not the same as the case where something's true in the game's fiction and we could build on it, but nobody happens to do so. In that case, it IS part of our positioning, just like the opportunity to castle in Chess can be part of your current position even if you don't, then, castle.

Josh, too: don't add "defined" to your thinking about a player's selection of legitimate gameplay options. In roleplaying, the selection's almost never defined.

(Otherwise, yes, your construction reads as identical to me.)


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This makes...
GcL go "Bad design=encouraged to say things that are difficult to build on?"*
VB go "Maybe?"*
GcL go "Agreement on Maybe, then!"*

*click in for more

15. On 2012-11-16, TMC said:

When I talked about Color in my Marginalia, I was refering to detail in description.  For instance, how many times has a GM gone on describing a tavern by saying stuff like "The countertop of the bar is made from oak."  The fact that the countertop is oak never comes into play.  He's just painting the scene for the players.  Sure, someone could somehow make the oak important, but 999 times out of a thousand, it's just setting Color and quickly forgotten.  It's not an indication of design quality, IMO, at all.


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This makes...
R go "As soon as somebody's face forcefully hits the counter..."*
TMC go "But how does oak matter vs. hickory vs. maple etc.?"
cw go "It might or it might not matter..."*
cw go "er..."*
JC go "What CW said."*
TMC go "And when it doesn't, is that b/c of bad design?"
VB go "Hey TMC-"*
TMC go "Vincent,"*
VB go "No, but..."*
TMC go "Okay, I'm with you."*
VB go "Cool!"
BL go "Oh I get it"*
TMC go "Me too :)"*

*click in for more

16. On 2012-11-16, Vincent said:

JLeigh: Dynamic and interrelated, right on, but right now this is theory, not design, yeah. A way to examine game designs that already exist, not a way to create new designs.


17. On 2012-11-17, Ben Lehman said:

TMK: I'd argue that detail matters but also I'm not really willing to defend my statement re: game design. It's probably wrong, for reasons you point out.


18. On 2012-11-17, Emily said:

JLeigh: Absolutely 100% this is about design for me, for thinking about new design or analyzing existing games and game play. I wouldn't ascribe value to one design over another simply based on how they use the fiction vis a vis the mechanics, but I would say that this element is often overlooked and is more important than people realise.


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