2012-12-28 : Positioning: Disagreements?

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

Here are my points!

1. Positioning:

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.

2. Positioning & Effectiveness:

Positioning establishes (proactively or retroactively) the legitimacy of the group's various moves.

Effectiveness establishes (proactively or retroactively) the outcomes of the group's various moves.

Both positioning and effectiveness include who-knows-how-many factors, some in the form of cues, some interpersonal, some purely fictional.

There are cause-and-effect relationships between the many various factors, some formal, cue-mediated, "mechanical," some purely interpersonal.

3. The Big Model:

This isn't the Big Model's construction of positioning, effectiveness, resource, and currency, but a new construction. The Big Model's construction works for relatively conventional rpgs: GMed, action- and violence-oriented, strongly cue-mediated, one-player-one-character games. This construction is compatible with the Big Model's but works for unconventional rpgs as well.

4. Moves:

"Gameplay options," or "moves," just mean any person's participation in their game's system, per the lumpley principle. There are active and passive moves. Asserting a fact is a move; so is assenting to it, challenging it, withholding assent to it, taking time to think about it, or any other gameplay-significant thing you might do.

5. Two Timelines:

Fictional positioning is how the game's fictional stuff affects real-world gameplay. The lumpley principle is how real-world gameplay affects the game's fictional stuff.

6. Occult co-ownership:

When you say that your character does something, no, she doesn't. Not until every person at the table agrees that she's done it.

Fictional positioning can give legitimacy to other players' assertions and challenges about "your" character, thus showing the character to be not your own at all, after all.

7. Retroactivity:

Fictional positioning is only and always retroactive. You can guess what your position is, and you can plan for your future position, but it's only when you test your position by making a move that you learn whether the move is legitimate. (It usually is.)

8. Reward:

Fictional positioning can and does provide functional reward cycles in games without reward cycles in their designs.

9. Conclusion:

Fictional positioning and the lumpley principle imply one another. The lumpley principle makes fictional positioning happen; the fact that fictional positioning happens shows us that the lumpley principle is in action.

Disagreements welcome.

Warning: If you say that you disagree, but in fact you've misunderstood, I know it's troublesome but please expect me to say so. I'll be as patient as I can be, but I will refer you back to the thread or threads you've misunderstood and ask you to ask me questions there. Thanks!

1. On 2012-12-28, David Berg said:

No disagreements here.  This entire series made perfect sense to me.  Nice to have a cleaner version of the language all in one place!

If you're interested in optimizing the above numbered list for reference purposes, I'd be happy to suggest a few tweaks.

I'm curious to see if you have any takeaways from all this regarding what games should/shouldn't/can/can't do, but perhaps that'll come later.


2. On 2012-12-28, Threlicus said:

Okay! I'm not really sure whether this is a disagreement or just violent agreement, but I have some more commentary on number 7, retroactivity.

First, I think the degree of ante-move uncertainty is on a spectrum, not a qualitative, binary difference between boardgames and RPGS. To make my point, consider making a move in several different game systems: Chess; a complex, counter-based game like Squad Leader where the 'rules' might be unclear or require interpretation or close inspection of a map with a ruler and string; a Gygaxian-era sandtable wargame with an 'impartial' referee; D&D 4th Edition; an abstract 'social conflict' in Diaspora; Apocalypse or Dungeon World where the fictional triggers are 'defined' but in natural language which requires interpretation; Universalis; making a post in a freeform PbP RPG with 'no god-moding' as an agreed-on tenet.

I think the level of uncertainty you have in the legitimacy of your move pretty much increases as you go from the more rigidly defined systems at the start of the list to the less rigid ones at the end. Feel free to quibble with the details, but I think the point that there is a spectrum is pretty clear, even if it's not well-ordered, and may change depending on circumstances—D&D 4e is much less rigidly defined in Skill Challenge mode than in tactical combat, for example. Even in Chess, though, the legitimacy of your attempted move may be challenged—"You can't capture en passant! Don't you remember, my last move was only one forward", or even "Wait, no, your bishop couldn't have been on that square, remember? Did you bump it?"

So I think when you put '(it usually is)' in parenthesis there at the end of number seven, you collapse a whole range of degree of uncertainty about legitimacy down into a single 'usually'. Whereas I think it's really a matter of System (in the comprehensive sense, including the other players' sensibilities and interpretations of the agreed-upon rules), operating on the fictional positioning—some of which may be specified in mechanical, mathematical terms, I think—that determines the legitimacy of a move. Depending on how well you understand that System, your ante-move confidence in its legitimacy may range from very nearly certain to "I dunno, guys, do you think it's legit for me to do 'X'?"


3. On 2012-12-28, Gregor said:

I'm just wondering if there's any point to think about positioning other than fictional positioning in the context of a roleplaying game.

"Vincent stands up and walks away from the table." is a technically a legit move, available to the group, sure.

But it's something that can happen in pretty much any game or social situation. From what I understand it's precisely the fictional positioning, ergo, the way in which the imaginary, made-up details that we share limit or inform the legitimacy of our moves that makes a roleplaying game a roleplaying game?


4. On 2012-12-28, Dan Maruschak said:

I don't get why you want to tightly couple "positioning" and "legitimacy" into a single concept and then have a different independent concept of "effectiveness" that touches on a lot of the same things as your positioning. It seems to me that it would make more sense to think of positioning as a concept which feeds into the process of determining both legitimacy and effectiveness. To me this has the advantage of having analogs to other games: your position relative to the basketball court impacts both what moves you're allowed to make ("You're on the bench! You're not allowed to touch the ball!") and how effective various moves are ("A successful shot from your current position will get you 3 points rather than 2!" "Taking a shot with that opposing player standing in the way is probably not going to work out very well."). I agree that you can incorporate resources into positioning, though: a spendable resource is just another dimension in the game-space.


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DM of Games and idea-space

This makes...
RQ go "That's what I was trying to say"*

*click in for more

5. On 2012-12-28, Vincent said:

Threlicus: Yes, rule-uncertainty creates an uncertainty that's like or identical to the positional uncertainty in roleplaying.

I find it significant that all rpg play is as uncertain as Chess play is when you're trying to do one of those complicated weird maneuvers and you don't remember the rules.

Gregor: In addition to the fictional and the interpersonal, there's also cue-mediated positioning, which super matters a whole lot of the time.

As a designer, I don't pay much attention to interpersonal positioning at all, but as a player, I pay much more.

John Stavropoulos' X-Card mechanic is based on interpersonal positioning.

Dan: Interesting. Let me think about it.


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MVH go "So can you design things about interpersonal positioning? Or not?"

6. On 2012-12-28, Roger said:

I desperately need to hear how this model approaches one more thing:  conflict.

Is conflict just:

"I drive out to North Adams."
"No you don't."

Or is it perhaps something with more dimensions: there can be conflict over the validity of a move, but also conflict over the effectiveness of a move.  I haven't decided yet if that's the same conflict or two orthogonal things.

If the answer is "conflict isn't actually as important as you think it is" that works for me too.


7. On 2012-12-28, David Berg said:

I'd add to Roger's example:
"My character knows how to hotwire this car."
"What?  No he doesn't!"
"He grew up in a tough neighborhood!  He was in the military!"
"That's not relevant!"
"It is so!"

I have a feeling, though, that conflict is outside the scope of this model.  That's a "how" issue, while this model is basically a "what".


8. On 2012-12-28, Dan Maruschak said:

I don't think this rises to the level of substantive disagreement, but I also wanted to say that the emphasis on uncertainty and objections in this model still doesn't make sense to me, so maybe I disagree in terms of focus, issue-framing, or terminology. The potential objections from other players don't spring up spontaneously, but are based on the other players' perceptions of the current game-state (e.g. positioning, etc.), so it seems weird to me to categorize them as "uncertain" in some absolute or objective sense. (I would also find it weird to frame everything a lawyer says in a courtroom as "potentially objectionable" even though there's some sense in which an opposing lawyer is theoretically allowed to object to anything). A functioning RPG is a multi-agent system, so it's important to understand what the system looks like from the perspective of individual agents but also to remember that it's not a complete picture.


9. On 2012-12-28, Judson said:

Here's a thing that came up in conversation elsewhere:

I think a big question that's made clear by this discussion is: can a rules text (or any system beyond a Popcorn Rule) control positional retroactivity?  In other words: no rule in a book, and maybe no concrete explicit agreement of players, is going to make "It usually is" into "It always is" for any particular action.

For example, one of the reasons I've always been a little turned off by Sorcerer I'd frame in this language this way: Sorcerer presents this dice and currency thing that I feel like is attempting to substitute system for positioning.  Sorcerer's got mechanics like "when <fiction> you carry the dice over to the next roll" as if that can only happen in crunchy mechanical ways - but there's just as much room in that gap to invalidate the move as there is in a complete freeform game.?


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DB go "Agree on the end result in Sorcerer, though not the attempted sub."

10. On 2012-12-29, Ben Hamill said:

I am a total newb to all this (literally, I have been reading posts on this blog for the last day and a half or so and that's it), so forgive me, please, if I'm making any... weird assumptions or whatever. I'm not sure I understand currency any more. Or yet. I read the Unreliable Currency series from before this conception of what positioning and effectiveness mean and... I kind of get the idea of reliable vs. unreliable. But I'm not sure about currency.

Sometimes, people (in comments) seem to be using it the way that you'd use it if you were talking about money: "spend currency" and the like. But I get the impression that's not quite right.

So, is currency the, uh, system(?) that manages the flow between position and effectiveness (or between p and p or e and e)?

Like... someone succeeds some disarm maneuver on you and you lose your club (Effectiveness, right?). Then, you can no longer bonk someone with your club (affects your Position, right?). Is the word "Then" the currency, more or less? Or... is it the rule that describes the "then" part or... something? I am really uncertain. Thanks.


11. On 2012-12-29, silby said:

a) All through this series, as you told folks to save disagreements for the end, I was wondering when you were going to get to the controversial part. Here we are at the end and I'm still not sure what the controversial part is! A lot of this seems to organize and elaborate on ideas that fall out kind of naturally from the mere positing of "fictional positioning" as a way of understanding games. Is there something here that you expected Ye Olde Forge-ites to take particular issue with?

b) The lumpley principle (constructed as "However you and your friends, moment to moment, establish and agree to what's happening in your game, that's your game's system.") seems contingent on "You and your friends, moment to moment, establishing and agreeing on what's happening in your game, is your game." which seems fine to me.


12. On 2012-12-29, Ben Lehman said:

Currency is another terrible Forge-era term which—while apparently perfectly clear to Ron—is totally confusing and causes huge stupid internet fights.

What you're looking for is the secondary definition of currency, "general acceptance." (See here). It is a pretty uncommon usage and this is why I prefer "legitimacy" or really anything.


13. On 2012-12-29, Ben Hamill said:

Wow. I totally did not get that "currency" and "legitimacy" had anything to do with each other. Thanks for that, Ben. So one could say that position is the set of moves that have currency available to a player... but, as you point out, that's sort of confusing, so sub in legitimacy: "position is the set of moves that have legitemacy available to a player"?


14. On 2012-12-30, Josh W said:

Ben, your forge history is significantly more substantial than mine, but isn't Ron's definition about something very different?

IE currency is all exchange rates and information passing between different character representations.

So "This much damage gives you this much stress points which you can spend to do this or that."

The mathematical loops of character representations influencing one another, either "automatically" in that players carry the changes across without any choice, or with choices built in about the transfers.

That kind of idea of currency, grounded originally in champions style "points for character traits", and spilling out into any chains of interaction and influence, that might be better represented as feedback loops or other systems theory jargon, seems to be what Ron meant by the term.


15. On 2012-12-30, Ben Lehman said:

Josh: It's possible. It's not how it was explained to me.


16. On 2012-12-30, Josh W said:

Hmm, how annoying! Wait, this is what the forge is for!


17. On 2012-12-30, Josh W said:

Anyway, to do something more helpful than being pointlessly technical, my understanding of the value of "currency", is that you can do some cute mapping of the tradeoffs and patterns of change that a game assumes by it's structures, and how those interact with choices.

In the less interesting cases, stuff like optimal builds/trap choices etc, and in more interesting cases, death spirals, run away victories, growing specialisation, sunk cost investments, tipping points etc. All that cool stuff about how someone can implement a system and express a kind of meaning about the game world just by how those different representations feed back into the game world they're representing.

So there's that idea, and one of the categories of stuff that can change is positioning which is all the stuff about characters around the obvious "how much x" "how well can you y" that shapes play but isn't directly about more about implication and soft logic.

And Vincent has blown that last category up to eat everything!

So to try and answer your example, your inventory is a character resource that changes your positioning, in that new actions are possible that weren't possible before. It might also change your effectiveness, allowing you to do things better or worse than before.

Currency would then be exactly that thing you described, the passing of changes from
is being disarmed->looses club->it no longer makes sense to do things with the club

but to get into more detail, perhaps that only lasts for a certain amount of time, because you don't have a very rigid inventory resource in the game, and so later on a conversation happens like

"ok I hit him with the club"
"but wait a minute someone disarmed you earlier!"
"yeah but he had a few minutes to pick it back up again"
"fair enough"
and the game continues

"yeah but you didn't say at the time/write it down on your sheet"
"ok I rugby tackle him to the floor"

This also makes me wonder about these long chains of positioning affecting positioning:
Call that currency?
Restrict currency to more explicit game operations?

I favour the latter just on the basis of preserving too different ways of thinking about how things change in games.


18. On 2013-01-02, rabalias said:

Ben Hamill:

"position is the set of moves that have currency available to a player"

I think currency just means "have an in-game impact".

For instance I might say "I move five feet forward". In D&D that's a move with specific in-game effects, which might officially put you in melee reach of someone, or move you out of same, or trigger a trap or whatever. In Apocalypse World it's not a move at all, for the most part. Sure, I can construct a scenario where we have declared my character to be five feet away from something important, but mostly saying "I move five feet forward" doesn't amount to anything in game terms.

So I think in this context that's what currency is about. The second post in this series sort of spells it out (but could be confusing to a newbie... and indeed I'm a newbie so maybe I'm confused too).


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RQ go "But in both games it still has a fictional effect"*

*click in for more

19. On 2013-01-02, Vincent said:

"Currency" is the Big Model's name for the cause-and-effect relationships between factors of positioning and effectiveness, especially cue-mediated ones. (The Big Model doesn't very effectively recognize pieces of game design that aren't cue-mediated.)

Knights get +2 to hit.

Spend a hero point for a reroll.

If someone hits your character with a weapon, lose hit points equal to their weapon's damage roll.

These are examples of what the Big Model calls "currency," and what I'm calling "cue-mediated cause-and-effect relationships between factors of positioning and effectiveness," and what a sensible gamer might call "mechanics."

The idea is just that something happening here changes things there.


20. On 2013-01-02, Vincent said:

Roger, from way up at #6: I don't have anything special to say about conflict here, nope. Players can disagree about stuff, which sometimes becomes a conflict. Characters can too. The former means suspending play until the players chill out, or else somebody going home and taking their YooHoo with them, or else whatever else. The latter is a fun part of play.


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21. On 2013-01-03, Gordon said:

In an attempt to set the context of my comments... there's so much of this that I think is basically sound, plus often INCREDIBLY important and/or amazingly well put.  But I'm left feeling like something's missing, either in my understanding or in what's covered by this overview.

In 1, "position is the total set of the legitimate", and in 2, "positioning establishes the legitimacy". That seems to create a circular definition of "position" and "legitimate" that is, um, un-useful in sorting out how these issues influence our play and design.  Maybe I'm looking for a definition/use of one or the other (maybe both?) that doesn't reference the (each?) other?

There seem to be some permutations of the "casue-and-effect relationships" of positioning and effectiveness that make one essentially the same as the other - i.e., if you manage to fix the outcome as "fail" (in a context where having a chance at some other outcome is important to someone in the group), you've effectively de-legitimized the move, haven't you?

Jumping forward - I love illuminating occult co-ownership, 'cause, well, it is. But it's not obvious to me that the "agreement" from other players MUST happen at the moment of play.  We can pre-agree to many methods of managing this essential co-ownership, some of which would leave an in-the-moment disagreement as a leave with-or-without your YooHoo maneuver.  You mean to include more than just that option in "Not until every person at the table agrees" - or not?  And I guess that implies my disagreement/misunderstanding of the absolute nature of retroactivity...

On 8, I suspect this is a very minor point - can't a game be "designed" with the fictional positioning reward cycle as intentionally "the" reward cycle?

My only concern about the conclusion is its' circularity, which would be fine if there was an exit earlier on - but if there is, like I said, I missed it.


22. On 2013-01-03, Simon C said:

A lot of this becomes clearer when you remember that "The Fiction" is a convenient metaphor, not a real thing (remember 'shared imagined space'?)

There's no single, canonical, external 'thing' called "The Fiction" that you can point to. There's just ideas and memories and half-formed ideas in a bunch of people's brains. All of the things that all of the people at the table (and anyone who didn't turn up this week but might show up next week) think about the game might be relevant to play at some point. We simplify and call all the things these people think and remember "The Fiction", but it's really a big mess!

That's why retroactivity, that's why you're never sure of your moves (even after the fact), that's why occult co-ownership.


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GcL go "Yeah, but this stuff is for cleaning up the mess, right?"*

*click in for more

23. On 2013-01-05, Josh W said:

I haven't got around to saying my concerns about the concept yet, but here they are:

Although I like it a lot, I feel like it's a little broad. I feel like positioning is a restatement of your older ideas about credibility but with more of a focus on the arrows through time, and with more person-independence in the definition.

To put that another way, I think that when players angle so as to put themselves in a position of having a lot of "credibility", there can be a kind of hollowness to their use of other people's contributions, a functionalness that weakens their ability to truly listen to their fellow players, even if they are using their ideas in interesting ways.

So positioning as an idea improves on that, because it's not that an idea is said by "someone with credibility", it's that the idea is supported by group convention and clearer patterns of support and rejection. This means that clarifying the world state so that people come to an agreement is just as much a contribution to system as setting yourself up as GM apparent for a certain area.

But of course, an element of functionalism is still baked into the model, in that you still think first in terms of people angling for things, rather than trying to build group consensus about the nature of the game world and the structure of the game itself.

In the context of your "...revelations" reward cycle, that makes sense; people are explicitly angling to set up hidden agendas, and so it makes sense that you would describe it in those terms.

The problem there is that if you've ever had to be in frequent conversations with people who are just trying to bring up their favourite topic again and again.. It's annoying, and it means that the depth of the conversation actually reduces.

So here's what I would do to go further; (and really this needs a diagram, but whatever) the most important part of positioning is structuring causality

it's saying that because of A, B now leads to C.

This means that the relationship between the bit I find interesting about "positioning" and currency is actually that of the relationship between acceleration and velocity, or the relationship between a building site and a building, a second order relationship.

Both are activities in the game, but saying things that inspire connections, that build system is a more powerful way to act in the game, and in doing so you structure the field of play. You create direct implications and trade-offs that make us want to make mechanics.

To put it another way, the very thing that encourages people to be game designers powers freeform play; certain situations suggest certain patterns of change. Our capacity to abstract systems from examples allows us to build a form of consensus and naturalness about where a game is going, because it allows us to fill in the blanks given what is already there, it gives us what might be called rules of inference (in another context), and part of the support a designer gives to freeform players is when they give them a quick way to represent a certain causal structure that they knew should be there based on what had happened in their games, and now slots smoothly in.

Conversely, understanding what kind of examples and situations can imply the structures of your game allows you to get people on board with it much faster. This is one of the reasons that it can be so interesting looking for a mix of inspirational content and system.

Now this is very specific again, it's not about the broad features of who gives legitimacy to what, up to and including who's house you are playing in, it's about how we decide how a fiction should develop in a way that can be principled.

Just like talking about "system" intuitively leads people to some very fun things about roleplaying games, talking about positioning in the sense of evoking structure pushes things the same way, into the principled, collaborative, game-respecting, and emergent.


24. On 2013-01-06, Gordon said:

OK, I reread a bunch of this series, and I'd like to refocus my comments.  Basically, I'm going to rewrite/expand bits and pieces of Vincent's points, and then check to make sure I haven't broken something.

I like the approach (mentioned by a commenter, I think) of turning position a bit inside-out - that is (in my words): game rules and past game play create a large set of constraints upon and opportunities for ongoing game play.  A player's current position is given by those constraints and opportunities.  Positioning [italics as per Vincent] refers to the various factors and processes, including in-fiction, cue-mediated, and interpersonal, that determine [my change] those constraints and opportunities.

To keep consistent with Vincent's usage, I'll add that player moves consistent with their current constraints and opportunities can be called legitimate moves.

In an RPG, the fiction is constantly created and re-created by the agreement of the group as a whole.  As such, it's possible to alter the understanding of the entire fictional past, present and future at any time in play.  That means that it is possible to add, after a move has been attempted, a fictional constraint that makes the move in some way inapplicable, or illegitimate.

Vincent:  Have I done any damage to your principles here, or simply reworded it in a way that bothers me less?

Aside: Why does this bother me less?  Well, three things come to mind: 1) A somewhat direct definition of legitimate; 2) A clear "added constraint, therefore now illegitimate" step, and 3) More "room" for noticing that design and play-style can enhance - though admittedly not ensure - understanding of what is and isn't likely to be legitimate.  Or reduce problems that might arise from unknown legitimacy (because really, unknown legitimacy is NOT always bad!)

(BTW, for anyone following along (ha!): my Mirror Mage example from other threads?  Add to the fiction another Mage capable, say, of the move "block any move involving transport."  If there's been nothing establishing that such a mage could reasonably exist and be present, you may have an argument that potentially escalates to chair-sliding and door-slamming, but - its' roots remain fictional, not directly interpersonal.  "Directly interpersonal" was the claim I was making earlier, I think, but now I guess I'd see that as vanishingly rare, given the huge range of creativity applicable via retroactive introduction of a constraint.  Or maybe you could argue that the move remains legitimate, it's just that the outcome is pre-empted, but that's near enough semantics to my eye that I'm not inclined to quibble.  Not that I'm opposed to a stronger delineation of legitimacy vs. effectiveness/outcome...)


25. On 2013-02-12, Josh W said:

Thought of a deeper construct for legitimacy/effectiveness too:

The functional reason to distinguish the two, it seems to me, is in the conversational nature of the game. People will take your move as legitimate, but will generally want to add something to it.

A lot of established game groups have this structure, that you can say something happens, but others have the right to fill in certain details of what happens.

Except in something like microscope, there isn't a sort of "action, your turn, action" structure, as even within your turn, you are taking on other people's input, implicitly or explicitly.

And so in that context, "yes you do it, but how does it turn out" is a way of respecting other people's contributions in the whole while putting a twist on them, and the idea that contributions will often be accepted but still take a twist is vastly important (at least when introducing people to roleplaying games).

If you add on to that details about where we expect someone to have less or more control, where there are different expectations of following someone exactly and checking what they meant, vs jumping off it and seeing what it inspires, or where the dice or counters get involved and we adjust something automatically, you can get back to the conventional definition of "I drop two cards to avoid the danger" "as I do this tension increases by one" etc.


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