2012-11-21 : Positioning: Some Looly Pooly Groundwork

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

My super casual "2nd construction" of the (so-called) lumpley principle down here threw David B, so here's some history and expansion.

One construction of the lumpley principle is a definition of the Big Model-specific jargon term "system":

System (including but not limited to 'the rules') is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play.

In conversations here and elsewhere, I'll often say this as:

However your group decides what happens in play, that's your system.

Since this is the more prominent expression of the lumpley principle, we can call it the 1st construction.

The 2nd construction of the lumpley principle happened to precede the 1st chronologically, but doesn't have the prominence of the 1st. It isn't a definition of "system" at all, but a statement of the principle itself:

When someone declares that something happens in the game, it becomes true when everyone assents to it, and under no other conditions.

This is what Emily and I hashed out back in the late 90s, and it contradicted a prevailing view at the time that "the rules are the physics of the game world." It spawned a lot of fights and it still does, in occult form.

This image, which some of you have probably seen before, is another expression of the same principle:
the looly pooly
It shows the fictional stuff of the game, the game world, as the cloud; the real things like dice, rulebooks, and numbers on character sheets, as the die; and the players as the smiley faces. The arrows show that the fictional stuff can affect the real stuff, and the real stuff can affect the fictional stuff, only through us, the players.

A more complete graphic would show arrows between the players as well. For most of a decade I've left interpersonal positioning unsaid. Is this why we have such nonsense in the conversation about lines and veils? Possibly so.

ANYway, "roleplaying is a social act." This is just some wicked shorthand for "for something to be true in the game, it's both necessary and sufficient that all the players agree that it's true." Rules schmules, authority schmathority, dice schmice; these are only and precisely tools that a group of players can use to organize, elicit, and sustain their ongoing social consensus about what's happening in the game.

Questions welcome! Hold your disagreements for later. Thanks!

1. On 2012-11-21, Vincent said:

So now I hope this is more clear:

The fact that in a roleplaying game, what happens in the game depends upon the agreement of all the players makes fictional positioning happen. Fictional positioning shows us that in a roleplaying game, it's the agreement of all the players that determines what happens.


2. On 2012-11-21, Kirk Mitchell said:

No disagreements. RPGs share this feature in common with other collectively agreed upon fictions like money, and gender. If you don't assent to it, you're not playing the same game. And that, for me, is where things get really interesting.


3. On 2012-11-21, Vincent said:

Kirk, I don't disagree! But I'm not qualified to take all that on here at my little blog. If you write more about it, please plus me in!


4. On 2012-11-21, Gordon said:

Longer than I expected.  Two questions in here:

1) Interpersonal positioning - any more to say about that?
2) Agreement is complicated, right?

I think arrows amongst the players actually clean up a lot of stuff. First, for completion: in that most of a decade link, you say that in Chess, there are no right-pointing arrows out of the fictional cloud.  The "my people will avenge their Queen" story I talked about in the last post would seem to refute that - a fictional thing that acts on a player.  But actually no, because that story is best characterized as an exchange between players that happens to include imaginary stuff but does NOT hit the cloud (ah, our old friend synechdoce, confusing the part/something imagined with the whole/the cloud.) As you say, what happens in Chess does not depend on the agreement of players about that kind of imaginary stuff.  It may have an effect on play, but play does not require it, so - not a trip to the cloud.

I'm thinking this might have impact on RPGs, even, with stuff happening in the "amongst players" arrows that doesn't get in a "to the cloud!" arrow.  But my tries to write about that got all twisty (If it's fictional but play doesn't depend on it, it doesn't get into a cloud-arrow? But with RPGs, if it affects a player, doesn't that mean it must affect a cloud-arrow?), so - waiting until you say more about interpersonal, I guess.

Finally - I've no real doubt you're all over this issue, but maybe my understanding isn't quite the same as yours.  Hidden in "the agreement of all the players" is a lot of messy detail, right?  Partial agreement, misunderstood agreement, retracted agreement, provisional agreement ... not just "hey, we need 100% happy consensus to play - and look, we've got it! Yay!"

Arrows between/amongst the players (to me) helps reveal this important complexity, which I might otherwise think was missing from a statement like "RPGs are composed of and revealed by agreement amongst all players about fictional events."


5. On 2012-11-21, liam liwanag burke said:

"For something to be true in the game, it's both necessary and sufficient that all the players agree it's true."

This is my favorite restatement of the Lumpley Principle so far.


6. On 2012-11-21, Alex D. said:

Following on from Gordon, and arrows between players...

There is one large cloud, the group fiction (SIS?).

But, also, each player has a cloud and also each possible set of players has a cloud. (In some, maybe all, cases these are irrelevant!)

I'm going to call clouds fictional spaces from here on out! Ya'll know what I mean, I hope.

In my mind (fictional space), I envision my warrior drawing his dagger. So it's in my head, that's it, and if I say "Well, my warrior has his dagger drawn.", maybe people will accept it (as a thing that happened but wasn't explicitly stated) or maybe they won't!

If Joe Gamer leans over, says "These guys look angry. Better get your weapon drawn.", and I'm like "Oh yeah, I'll whip out my dagger.", but no one else hears or notices... well, it exists in the fictional space shared between Joe and I.

Maybe someone (Jane Gamer) steps away from the table, I declare dagger drawn. Now that fact exists in the fictional space shared between everyone except Jane.

Finally, we get back to the biggest, most important cloud, the whole group fictional space. Maybe I'm wrong! Maybe this isn't news. I'm not sure.

Oh, sure, also each different cue is it's own thing, of course, but the distinction between dice VS written things isn't as interesting to me as the distinction between my & Joe's cloud VS the group cloud. I think the latter is more contentious, too?

And, at the risk of going into Ramble Country, I think putting something into a partially shared fictional space (say, my & Joe's cloud) is a sort of social positioning that can then push something into the group shared fictional space.

Am I wrong? Maybe!
It's curious.
Do any games rely on or allow a partial shared fictional space?

- Alex


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7. On 2012-11-22, Piers said:

Kirk: "No disagreements. RPGs share this feature in common with other collectively agreed upon fictions like money, and gender. If you don't assent to it, you're not playing the same game. And that, for me, is where things get really interesting."

Vincent: "Kirk, I don't disagree! But I'm not qualified to take all that on here at my little blog. If you write more about it, please plus me in!"

One of the things that I've been finding fascinating about your restatings of the lumpley principle (as well as your theories of how games work) is how, as the theory becomes broader, you have started to encroach on and replicate sociological theory. Given the differences necessitated by talking about games specifically, you are now getting close to the positions of social constructivist theories of knowledge. They'd go even further than Kirk does above and say that not only things like money and gender are constructed, but everything we know about the world. If you haven't already read any, I think you'd find some of that sort of work, particulary Actor Network Theory really interesting.


8. On 2012-11-22, Kirk Mitchell said:

Piers, precisely. This line of thought opens RPG theory up to all sorts of constructive theoretical overlap. Since you mention Actor Network Theory: I am totally secretly hoping for an Object Oriented Ontology take on RPG Theory.

Vincent, Evan mentioned something about a book. Are we looking at an inchoate section of another collection like Immersive Gameplay?


9. On 2012-11-22, David B said:

I see now. Thanks!

I gotta say, though, Vincent. "Roleplaying is a social act" and "for something to be true in the game, it's both necessary and sufficient that all the players agree that it's true" are not the same meaning.

Some alternate and slightly less wicked shorthand (if such a thing is desired), might be: "Roleplaying relies on collective agreement," or "Roleplaying is collaborative imagination," though I really agree with Liam up above. Maybe it's better (though slightly less convenient) not to use shorthand for it at all.


10. On 2012-11-22, Evan said:

Hi Kirk,

Thanks for your interest!

(If I may reveal a small amount about this, Vincent...)

In its final form, the book will be a two-author (Vincent and Emily), one editor (me) non-fiction monograph on the structures of tabletop role-playing.

It's more or less a book many of you have already been reading ? in the form of Vincent's blog, Emily's articles, Ben Lehman's posts, etc.

This'll just be consolidating it and nailing it down in print form, so designers, gamers and academics alike have a chance to cite and debate it.


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11. On 2012-11-22, Ben Lehman said:

I would like to talk about structures of assent and consent. Is this the right place for it?


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12. On 2012-11-22, Vincent said:

Ben: You know it!


13. On 2012-11-22, Ben Lehman said:

So it's actually a pretty short observation.

"Mutual consent" means a lot of different things. It's totally possible to have a game where your only nod to mutual consent is any player can say "fuck you I'm not playing this I'm leaving." Even that might get complicated by real-world concerns such as bus schedules or whatever.

So, for instance, a classic rule zero-only freeform game has one rule: the GM says what happens. A non-GM player, disagreeing with what the GM says, doesn't really have an option to negotiate with part of that and keep playing the game (or, rather, you can, but it's breaking the rules: poor form.) Consent in this case is reactive and binary, and only exists inasmuch as it can be revoked.

On the other far end, we have structures of unanimous assent. I do this sometimes for PTA pitch sessions: if someone introduces an idea, and anyone has a problem with any part of it, we throw out the whole thing and start over.

Player 1: "I want to do a romance show."
Player 2: "You know, I'm kinda not interested in romance, maybe we could..."
Me: No, we're trashing that idea. No caveats. How about we do a military show?

In this case, negotiation is also anathema, but from a collective rather than singular case.

I feel like Care-Baker often leads people down a false path of believing that all roleplaying is about negotiated consensus on every point, as such:
GM: The dragon hits you. Take 9 damage.
Player: Yeah, I don't think I'm okay with that. How about 5 damage?
GM: 7.
Player: I'm holding out at 5.
GM: 6 final offer.
Player: Done.

This is not actually the case, though. Games and rules are both socially enforced, so in some groups the above play might be acceptable and in other groups it will make people look at you like you've just pissed in the oatmeal. Establishing these social dynamics is a huge part of any group activity, and seeking them out is a huge part of joining any social group.

So here's things that matter, and vary, and are worth thinking about:

1) What is the "unit of consent?" This can vary from "the whole game" to "any particular game event / outcome / detail" to anything in between.

2) Is consent negotiated, binary, or structured in some other way? (Polaris plays w/ this a lot).

3) Is it negatively defined (consent, which is assumed until revoked) or positively defined (assent, which is absent until given)?

A theme of this series has been digging into the details. They matter, here, a great deal.



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14. On 2012-11-22, Vincent said:

Agreed in full.

Another thing that happens a whole lot in roleplaying games is that the game proceeds without full informed consent. It's a little like Roborally or, I dunno, Texas Hold 'Em or something: you play the game without knowing yet what's really true. You commit to your play on provisional knowledge.


15. On 2012-11-22, Ben Lehman said:

Yes! Informed + uninformed consent is totally a thing.

One of my favorite rules in Bliss Stage is that a mission can have secret goals or secret consequences, but you have to inform the players that it has secret goals / consequences. Unless they are very secret goals / consequences, in which case you don't.


16. On 2012-11-25, Greg Pogor said:

Okay, not to derail the discussion and all, but

The arrows show that the fictional stuff can affect the real stuff, and the real stuff can affect the fictional stuff, only through us, the players.

If that's so, aren't the smiley faces redundant? Couldn't they be left out of the diagram if the arrows were simply representing what the players say and do? Aren't the smiley faces also the arrows?


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17. On 2012-11-25, Kirk Mitchell said:

Greg, I don't think so. The arrows show lines of influence on positioning, which is your range of options available in play, rather than actions that you are actually performing. If you took out the smiley faces, you'd get this rapid cycling between the mechanics and the fiction, which isn't accurate. You need to show that things can in the fiction that influence your options in play without actually going all the way to the "dice".

Fr'instance, a character gets thrown in the dungeon. There's no rule in this game for "being in a dungeon", but I'll be damned if I do anything other than narrate that character being tortured in the dungeon, or trying to get out, or talking shit with another prisoner. I don't get to do anything with that character but stuff that happens in or because of a dungeon until circumstances say otherwise.

"Circumstances" here will generally mean something happens in the fiction that makes leaving the dungeon a natural causal progression. How that happens is also determined by your positioning. Maybe there's no "being in a dungeon" rule, but there's a "rescue a friend" rule. If that rule kicks in when a friend is in trouble, we've got the fictional circumstances reaching up through the smiley faces to trigger the "rescue a friend" rule. It doesn't bypass the smiley faces, because they're the ones that decide when and where to implement the "rescue a friend" rule. Maybe there's no direct communication at all between the "rescue a friend" rule and causality of the fiction, because you only get to use that rule when you have five Awesome Points. You only get Awesome Points by rolling Highlighted Stats, and that's just the dice and the smiley faces talking to one another with no interaction with the fiction needed at all. Well, shit, I've only got three awesome points, and I'm the only one with "rescue a friend". Crap. Better roll those Highlighted Stats if I want to get you out of that dungeon...

Draw a big circle around the diagram: that is what the players say and do.


18. On 2012-11-25, Vincent said:

As it happens, later on I did use the diagrams without the smiley faces: The Dice & Clouds series from 2009.


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