2014-07-18 : Objects of RPGs

Following from Procedure, Components, Object, Strategy, Style and Strategy vs Style.

The procedures of a game supplant* your normal interactions. For instance, in normal life I never put a 2 of clubs on the table and turn to Meg expectantly but without saying anything.

The object of a game supplants* your normal interests. For instance, in normal life I never care whether I'm the first one to empty my hand of cards.

* Supplant, that is, for purposes of gameplay. You still have normal interactions and normal interests as well, outside of the game, and into which your gameplay fits.

Given that, here's the object of a game from my game shelf:

Human contact is a set of tools designed for you to use to create science fiction in the universe of the Academy... Those tools are there for you to build people and societies and then help them change. You'll create situations that will resolve into new situations, from chapter to chapter, often taking unexpected turns as you explore with your friends.

(In normal life, I never care what's going on in the universe of the Academy or how situations are resolving there.)

Here's another:

In the game, players take on the roles of characters inspired by history and works of fantasy fiction. These characters are a list of abilities rated with numbers and a list of player-determined priorities. The synergy of inspiration, imagination, numbers and priorities is the most fundamental element of Burning Wheel. Expressing these numbers and priorities within situations presented by the game master (GM) is what the game is all about... The in-game consequences of the players' decisions are described in this rulebook. The moral ramifications are left to you.

(In normal life, I never care whether I'm expressing numbers and priorities within situations presented by the GM, nor do I care what their in-game consequences or moral ramifications are.)

And another:

Pendragon presents an on-going story. It is a campaign roleplaying game in which time progresses, unique events occur, and characters age. If the players play through the whole Arthurian campaign the players' characters at the end will be the grandchildren of the original characters.

(In normal life, I never care whether time in the Arthurian campaign progresses or whether my character at the end is a grandchild of an original character.)

These are all perfectly legit objects for games to have. They do precisely what they have to do: supplant our normal interests for purposes of gameplay.

How about now? Everybody still with me?

1. On 2014-07-18, Levi said:

When I hear "the object of the game", I immediately think of an objective - that is, a desired *final* state rather than a desired *ongoing* state.

So, playing Fiasco, I'd naturally point to a finished story (loose word use) as being the object of the game; it's what I'm seeking through play.

In games with no defined endpoint (as many RPGs are), that view of the "object of the game" becomes muddied.

Now, that said, the thing you're talking about is obviously a real thing, and obviously in the same realm, even if it's not what the phrase evokes for me.  So, still along; just stretching a little semantically.


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This makes...
Rickar go "the difference between objective and drive."

2. On 2014-07-18, Grysar said:

Makes sense to me. The exact meanings weren't intuitively obvious to me as of the first post. However, as you've elaborated a bit I've nodded along and got more of a feel for what it means and I'm seeing increasing elegance. Solid examples really help.


3. On 2014-07-18, Vincent said:

Levi: Good enough!

Grysar: Great!


4. On 2014-07-18, AsIf said:

I feel your pain with the word "supplant" because it implies a total replacement, whereas we are speaking more of a shift of focus in which both centers of attention exist but the primary locus is fixated - or wishes to be fixated - on the second order rather than the first.  We need a better word, but alas, I think only a longish string of words will do the job right now.  I shall continue to use the word "supplant" but with your caveats, and meanwhile hope to find a better single word.

I like Bernard Suits' definition - "Playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles."  This is a definition broad enough to include both RPGs and golf.

In playing golf (or making up a story by yourself) there is only one level of play.  This is "first-order difficulty".  It is the physical, literal you, engaging in an interaction with "first-order reality".  (Note: On this level it can be difficult to tell the difference between a "game" and an "exercise".)

In RPGs, however, a new simulated difficulty is added which takes place in a "second-order reality".  At this point there are actually 2 games going on.  In the first-order reality, you are challenging the real-world unnecessary difficulty of playing a character, modifying your imaginary model in realtime in response to input from others, remaining conscious of the rules and following them, creating fictional output, etc.  In the second-order (simulated) reality, your fictional character faces fictional difficulties which you (and or the others around the table) attempt to adjudicate resolution of in varying degrees of style (genre/tone/custom), depth (bit-depth of resolution), and gravitas (seriousness, character-identification, bleed).

IOW, beyond this point, our distinctions between different types of RPGs and playstyles have a lot to do with the question of whether, and to what degree, the second order supplants the first one.
- A "Gamist" approach remains very much on the first order, for instance, and the second order is viewed in a way similar to passive entertainment (for instance, everyone knows that a game of chess simulates a war, but the emergent fiction - the story of that war - is almost always totally ignored). 
- In "Author Stance" and "Director Stance" it is a varying blend of first- and second-order difficulties which supplants normal consciousness, but the first order remains the dominant one. 
- In "Actor Stance" the first-order difficulty (you playing the game itself) is abstracted to the level of an "exercise" and/or offloaded to a set of "GM" functions, while the second-order difficulty (your character interacting with the fictional world) becomes your intentional focus and aims to supplant nearly all normal consciousness.

(Am I being exactly challenging enough?)


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This makes...
Rickar go "I recognize that definition... ;)"

5. On 2014-07-18, Vincent said:

No Forge jargon please!


6. On 2014-07-18, AsIf said:

I know.  It's just shorthand.  I think you know what I mean.  And that's worth a lot in such fuzzy territories as these. 
You may ignore the last paragraph completely if you wish.  My thesis precedes that.


7. On 2014-07-18, Vincent said:

Groovy. I'm thinking about your thesis.


8. On 2014-07-18, Davide said:

Are you saying that we take Components, we use them according to Procedures (which are not "normal life" procedures), we make Strategies to use Components to reach the Objective; we play with Style (here's where the personal touch/choice comes in strongest - perhaps in selecting which Procedure/Component to take and how...), but that in the end it is all done for an Object which is not a "normal life" Object?

In other words, the Components are arbitrary, the Procedures even more, the Strategies somehow often limited (by the permutation of Components/Procedures/Object).

So to play - and design - we need to care about Style.

Everything else should be designed to favor the emergence of a certain Style (or set of Styles). A game is good when you play with a Style that is your own Style (which is not your "normal" self).

A game is good when throught the Style you put into it, it makes you do stuff you otherwise wouldn't do and care for stuff you wouldn't care for?


9. On 2014-07-18, Ben Lehman said:

For instance, in normal life I never put a 2 of clubs on the table and turn to Meg expectantly but without saying anything.

Interesting idea for a performance art piece, though.

Still with you.

Davide: I'm skeptical about the things you're saying about Components and Procedures. I think that they're much more mushily related. There are games without components! (even, maybe, games without much/any procedure. Like "ball") But that's a tangent from the main point here, so let me just note my skepticism and then we can both move on with our lives.


10. On 2014-07-18, Brendan said:

I think you need to nuance object here, at least differentiating between short term and long term goals regarding play. Take B/X D&D:

Short term: defeat monsters and recover treasure to earn XP.

Long term: achieve the endgame by building a stronghold.

Which is the true object of the game using your terms? Do you recognize multiple levels of simultaneous objects?

So, not with you as to the clarity if this definition.


11. On 2014-07-18, Vincent said:

Brendan: Multiple levels of simultaneous objects, yes, absolutely. Objects that change over the course of play, objects that you create for yourself while groping toward an understanding of how the game works, objects that are mutually incompatible or otherwise defy you to meaningfully pursue them, yes. All kinds.


12. On 2014-07-18, Ben Lehman said:

Just thought I'd share this, since on the G+ thread some people were tripping over your examples.

Polaris is a game, but it is more like a game that you would play with a small child and her toys than a competive game like monopoly, chess, or soccer. The goals of playing Polaris are no more and no less than the goals of a child?s play-pretend ? to create a good story, to explore an imaginary world, and to have fun doing it.


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This makes...
VB go "yep!"*

*click in for more

13. On 2014-07-18, AsIf said:

A screenwriter friend turned me on to the words "objective" and "superobjective".  Objective and Superobjective share a dynamic similar to "Text" and "Subtext" - i.e. the Text changes scene by scene, and understanding it cumulatively drives the viewer toward understanding the Subtext. 

Likewise, a character's Objectives may change scene by scene, but the resolutions of these Objectives cumulatively drive the character toward reaching or realizing their Superobjective (perhaps fractally, perhaps heuristically, perhaps tragically too late - it's a matter of style

).  Note that the Superobjective is often not a conscious thing for the character.  In game terms we often consider it to be "emergent" even if it is "predestined" or implied by the rules.


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This makes...
PC go "+1"

14. On 2014-07-18, Ereshkigal said:

This discussion reminds me of an old topic in a rpg forum made by Vincent about the design values of rpgs.


15. On 2014-07-18, Vincent said:

Ereshkigal: Do you have a link? I wonder what I said!


16. On 2014-07-21, Brendan said:

Vincent: okay, seems reasonable then. Curious to see where you go with this.


17. On 2014-07-21, Davide said:

Vincent - sorry to bug you. I wonder if I am getting where this is going or if I am completely lost, here. Was my previous comment completely out of track?

Can I say that as an RPG designer you have control over Components and Procedures (you decide what to insert... and sometimes also what you leave out means a lot!), and you state clearly an Objective.

Strategies, on the other hand, take form in the head of Players (you should try, as designer, to predict them and address them...) and the Player's choices between various possible strategies become the Player's Style.

As a Player, - if you did your job right as a designer - I live through my Style some kind of experience that you envisioned as the author.

Am I on the same planet with you guys or floating into outer space with no chance of being rescued? :-)


18. On 2014-07-21, Vincent said:

Davide: You're good!


19. On 2014-07-24, Gordon said:


So I found (one of?) what's bugging me, and this thread is where it seemed to belong. I'm not sure if it really matters in the context of what you're driving towards. But for the record ... "Supplants," I think, is bad. Inaccurate and misleading - misleading in the worst possible way, pointing towards something that seems promising but ultimately bites you in the ass. Because gameplay is a "normal interest" - there is no keeping normal interests outside the game, as something into which gameplay fits. Normal interests are the very bones and tissues out of which gameplay is assembled. The game procedures/objects/etc. can only ever, um, "supplement"(?) other interests.

I think believing/expecting that procedures/objects/etc. supplant normal interests is a mistake. On the other hand, taking those procedures/etc. (interests provided/amplified by game design?) seriously *is* kinda required.

So like I said, not sure yet how much it matters. Maybe I mentally replace every "supplant" with "supplement" and we're golden. I mean, a claim that normal interests have no place in considering gameplay/game design might start me a-growlin', but I don't think anyone's saying that at the moment.

More, um, poetically, this thought came to me upon reviewing this for posting: Games are never "just games". Depending on the game, it can be easier or harder to ignore that fact. With RPGs, it's often harder.


20. On 2014-07-25, Vincent said:

Gordon: Try this. When you play Hearts, the object of the game - to have the fewest points when somebody hits 100 - fills in your normal interest in winning games. When you play Knaves, the object of the game - to be the first to 20 points - fills in for the same interest. You can't pursue your abstract interest in winning games, except by pursuing instead the particular game's object.

Supplants, stands in for, replaces, overwrites, fills in; whatever. Like a mail merge, you know?


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