Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Game Chat: Procedures, Part II

A follow-up to this post inspired by Scott's comments - thanks Scott!

Here's something else about games with clear procedures in the text vs. games that assume you'll have your own set of procedures.

Games with clear procedures:

different games with different procedures lead to different play experiences

A corollary (I found is out the hard way): with games that have clearly laid out procedures, it doesn't always work to mix 'n' match. That is, Trollbabe (1) breaks down responsibility over the various scales of game play in a certain way and (2) makes sure that its mechanics "fit" within this set procedure, but the way Trollbabe does (1) might not work for a game with a different set of mechanics: they won't fit.

Example: I tried to port the Trollbabe Stakes/Consequences scenario creation procedure to a game of The Shadow of Yesterday and the result was a game that fizzled. Trollbabe has a great set of procedures for setting up games of Trollbabe, with all that entails in terms of setting, characters, and system. The Shadow of Yesterday requires different scenario prep procedures - ones that are tied more directly into the characters, their cultural backgrounds, and their keys.

Games where you use your own set of procedures:

different games with the same procedures lead to the same (or very similar) play experiences

When playing AD&D 2nd ed. back in the early 1990s, as a group, we stumbled upon procedures for making the game work for us. Like: as GM I'd have responsibility for framing scenes, creating adversity, moving things along; players had responsibility for playing their characters (of course), but also creating subplots and pushing the action forward. Once we settled into these procedures, the game worked and we had fun, but two problems spring to mind: (1) it took some time of us fumbling around, (2) because these were emergent, unarticulated procedures there was always the looming danger of social grief caused by stepping over the invisible lines (for instance, when I would make a decision that screwed up a player's idea for their subplot), and (3) as our ad-hoc procedures developed we started ignoring/altering part of the game's rules that didn't really fit (i.e., we started drifting the game).

Now, issue (1) wasn't really a big deal at the time (because we had lots of it), but, nowadays, I prefer less stumbling. Issue (2) might always be a problem in any kind of social activity, but having something explicitly laid out means it's easier to avoid "grief landmines". Issue (3) isn't really a problem (especially if you're always playing with the same group of people), but...

Later, after we had wrapped up the AD&D 2nd ed. game, we started playing Amber DRPG and we brought the same procedures we had developed playing AD&D with us. We started playign Amber by trying to fit it into how we already played. It turned out this worked really well, but it also meant that we ended up ignoring lots of the Amber DRPG rules, right from the beginning.

Hey - the posts by Ron Edwards in this thread go into a lot more detail about some of these issues and brings up another good "question I want the game to answer": "What is the relationship between the group of players and the group of characters?"


Scott LeMien said...

Initially the premise seemed: game-chat examples are good, and should cover as many scales/framing of adventure-talking as possible.

My counter is: game chat examples can be limiting, but I didn't really go into any kinda abstract 'why'-- I'm really not sure I have a problem, but I have a sneaking suspicion of one, though.

So, on with the potential 'problem'.

Games are kinda their own worlds, so I'll use a philosophical model to cover the metaphor/simile/whatever.

In a philosophy (game), there's:

Metaphysics--which, for brevity's sake, I'll define as 'what IS' and apply that to the game world elements and it's mechanics. this crap is definitely 'in the book' or on 'the character sheet'.

Epistemology-- how we know what we know. good luck on finding this. At present, it's limited to the player's existing knowledge base, no new knowledge is added.

Ethics -- the application of the previous two to doing stuff specifically by a character. examples of gameplay/gamechat,etc.

Game chat to me, is really a very specific 'ethics' issue really only addressing a finite, teeny tiny moment in time.

People (I'm guessing/lamenting) grok the game basically by mimicing the gamechat pattern with changes of specifics.

Game design discussions seem to jump from metaphysics to ethics, without enough talk about epistemology, or what kind of variations of gameplay are possible, beyond the discussion of director/author/immersive stances. The frontier doesn't seem as 'thought through'imo.

I just think game design is MISSING some kinda doorway to reaching beyond those kind of associations. guys like Jared and Ron seem to have a handle on it, but there has yet to be a 'game' that really cracks open this philosophical nut (maybe just for me!) to reveal a multitude of play options.

Rechewing my point, hoping for clarity: divining play options from the metaphysics of the game and gameplay fails to reveal sufficient possibilities. We basically wait for someone more creative to post a more creative actual play to show us a few more options, while we all know we're missing a wider spectrum that exists.

I don't HAVE this kinda understanding, wish I did, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it, lol. I seem to know enough to know something's missing, and little else.

The spectrum of gameplay examples will only open up on a higher understanding, somewhere of the game's conceived epistemology. It's almost like it needs a textbook all its own.

Does this example show my 'hole' better? What can be done about it?

I'm sorry to make such a rambling post, Jon!

Jon Hastings said...

I'm all in favor of rambling!

And I think you're making lots of good points:

(We already talked a lot about this last night, but for the people reading at home...)

I also have a suspicion that there're "holes" when it comes to filling in the spectrum. Sometimes, this intentional on the part of game designers: Ron Edwards has talked about different levels of Sorcerer mastery, so, like, you're only supposed to be able to figure things out after going up through the ranks (he usually uses a martial arts metaphor, "Green Belt Sorcerer" vs. "Black Belt Sorcerer"). Prime Time Adventures has a different approach: the spectrum is defined by our experience with serial television shows.

A big issue though is that these games work partly because you are creating content for your group - that is, thematic material that is especially relevant to you and your friends. Designers can provide procedures, but they aren't necessarily going to be able to fill in the blanks. Ron Edwards talks about this in Sorcerer: the idea that he can provide an example of what he did with the game, but what he did might not be what your group should do.

Personally, I think looking at what other groups have done may be necessary, but it's just a start. IME, nothing beats actually playing. Before I first ran InSpectres, I read a bunch of AP threads at the Forge. But it wasn't until I had run the game a number of times before I was able to really make it sing - to really get comfortable with it, internalize it, etc.

Also, you write:

"We basically wait for someone more creative to post a more creative actual play to show us a few more options, while we all know we're missing a wider spectrum that exists."

I grasp the idea here, but I'd change the phrasing a little. That is, someone might read the AP of our Dictionary of Mu game that James posted on RPG.NET and see us as the "someone[s] more creative". That is, I think we can all learn from/teach other people with regard to these games, because each group is going to approach them with their own perspective.

In practice, though, and speaking for myself only, I've found it best to let go of trying to be super creative or trying to make sure the game session will make a rocking AP post. It has helped me to focus on (a) the things that jazz me & (b) the things that jazz the people I'm playing with.

Another big thing for me has been getting rid of the assumptions I inherited from all those years of playing drifted AD&D 2nd ed. and Amber.