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Author Topic: Not Lectures on Theory [LONG!]  (Read 18161 times)
clehrich
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« on: March 18, 2004, 10:23:06 AM »

There are several threads running concurrently that I want to respond to, and I have an awful lot to say, so I thought it would be best as its own thread.

The threads in question:
    What is the text?
    On the term “interactive”
    Real life
    And earlier,
    Jason’s Unified Theory[/list:u]Please note that this is emphatically not the “lectures on theory” that Eero asked me for.  First, I’m not convinced that anyone would read them, and second, I think it’d be more than a little arrogant for me to speak as some sort of authority.  Yes, I do have advanced training in these things, but the argument from authority is weak in any context and exceedingly dangerous and unpleasant on the Forge.

    My suggestions and arguments here should in no way be taken as “authoritative.”  I know a fair bit about these things, but there are certainly others who know more.  Furthermore, the application of such theory to RPG’s is something about which nobody can be an authority, because it hasn’t been done.  And even if it had been, one could only be an authority on what had already been done, not on what should be done or who’s right.

    I’ve broken all this into four posts.  This one is just a brief outline, so that later searches (if any) can find things more readily.  I’ve given headers along the way for navigation purposes.

    Outline
    1. Useful readings in theory
      a. Hermeneutics
      b. Structuralism and poststructuralism
      c. Semiotics
      d. Ritual[/list:u]These are some suggestions for what you might read and why, broken into 4 categories.  I have tried to indicate the general difficulty of any given text; as is well known, some works in these areas are sort of impenetrable, and while I’ve tried to steer around them there are a few that are unavoidable.  So when I say, “Very difficult,” I mean (1) the book is going to take a lot of work to get through and understand, and (2) it’s unfortunately important to do so for whatever reason is at hand.

      2. On deconstruction and RPG’s
      Mostly a response to the “What is the text?” thread.  I put a bibliography of “how to get the hang of it” at the end.  I am of the opinion that deconstruction may never be useful to us, but if we’re going to talk about it we need some basis for discussion.

      3. On semiotic logic and RPG validation
      In both the “interactive” thread and the “text” thread, as well as earlier in “Jason’s Unified Theory” thread, the question of validation of statements has arisen, explicitly or implicitly.  I thought I’d explain some of the basic terminology a bit more clearly than I did before, because I think semiotic logic has a lot of potential for us.

      Here’s hoping somebody finds some of this useful.  Please feel free to ask questions, disagree, add things, and so on.  If you want to take up something, though, like for example you want to discuss semiotic logic and RPG’s in detail, I think it will be easier for future readers if that becomes a thread unto itself.

      Note that this stuff was written quite rapidly, so there might be some confusions or errors here and there, though I have proofread.  If you find something here that doesn’t make any sense to you, please ask: I may have explained badly, or explained erroneously because of a typo, and I also might be just plain wrong.

      Thanks for reading whatever you decide you’re going to read!

      Chris Lehrich
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    Chris Lehrich
    clehrich
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    « Reply #1 on: March 18, 2004, 10:25:05 AM »

    Useful Readings in Theory

    There’s nothing comprehensive about this.  These are some things I like that I think could be useful.

    My suggestions, for those interested in theoretical tools for (1) examining Shared Play as text, and (2) examining how that text is produced, reproduced, and interpreted, would be the following:

    Hermeneutics.
    This is essentially the philosophical study of interpretation.  Hermeneutics has the disadvantage for us that it is primarily focused on textuality in particular, but the idea of the hermeneutic circle is one that could very profitably be applied to RPG’s.  In short, you have 4 objects: the reader (player), the reader’s self-projection (in immersive actor-stance, the character), the world in front of the text (the shared imaginative space), and the text itself (notes, rules, system, etc.).  The reader, through the self-projection, enters the world in front of the text and attempts thereby to make inferences about the text itself; the self-projection then returns to the reader for reflection, as it has changed by the experience and will need to be re-integrated, changing both reader and projection in the process.  Then you go and do it again.
      Paul Ricoeur,
    Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences.  The idea of the hermeneutic circle could be very helpful here for understanding the productive and dynamic relationship between player-as-author and player-as-reader.  Not, overall, a difficult book.

    Manfred Frank, What Is Neostructuralism?.  A very difficult book; a collection of lectures on post-structuralist philosophers.  Frank's rebuilding of the subject and the issue of "style" could be very valuable for thinking about players as independent authors, often working through projected characters, in a sophisticated fashion.  You’ll need some background in philosophy, esp. Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.

    Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method.  I don’t like Gadamer myself, but some may find his discussions of art useful.  Difficult, but not all that bad.  Read Ricoeur first![/list:u]
    Structuralism and Poststructuralism.
    The nice thing about structuralism is that it’s rigorously logical, a nearly mechanical methodology that can be particularly appealing for those trained in the sciences or engineering.  I don’t mean that as a slam; it’s both structuralism’s glory and its primary failing.  But while seeking underlying structure in RPG’s is useful, it is far more interesting to understand how and why such structures are manipulated by actual players in-game.  This is where structuralism is brilliant – as always, outside of literary criticism.
      Claude Lévi-Strauss,
    The Savage Mind.  A very difficult book, but genius.  The idea of players as bricoleurs seems to me the starting point for any really serious understanding of RPG manipulation of concepts and texts.

    ——, The Raw and the Cooked and its three sequels.  Insanely difficult, really some of the hardest books you might ever read.  Note that I don’t think pure jargon constitutes “difficult,” it constitutes “pain in the ass” most of the time; this book is flat-out HARD.  But if you want to see how structuralism gets applied to improvisational construction of stories, which I think is obviously relevant to RPG’s, there is no substitute.

    Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," Writing and Difference.  Derrida on Lévi-Strauss.  Lucid and devastating.  But remember always that Derrida essentially begins by saying, "We are all structuralists now" -- anyone who thinks he or she is a postmodernist or poststructuralist who hasn't mastered structuralism is deluded.[/list:u]See the next thread for more on Derrida in particular.

    Semiotics.  
    To my mind, the conclusion of all that brief gesturing toward deconstruction at the start of this post indicates that what is most important for RPG's is the issue of validation: how do we evaluate a statement, how do we decide to validate it, how do we validate it, what statements or propositions do we use to do so, how are those evaluated, and so on.  To examine these questions, such classic issues as Icon-Index-Symbol, Sign-Object-Interpretant, Deduction-Induction-Abduction, and It-Thou-I will be useful.
      Umberto Eco,
    The Limits of Interpretation.  Eco is not at all hard to read, most of the time (A Theory of Semiotics is uncharacteristically turgid.)  These are fascinating essays that give a good sense of the range of semiotics.

    Jonathan Culler, The Pursuit of Signs.  A good introduction, very clearly written.

    Thomas A. Sebeok, The Sign and Its Masters.  Another very good introduction.[/list:u]See the next-but-one thread for more on semiotic logic.

    Ritual Theory.
    As I’ve said in my article on the subject, I think that ritual theory is among the most profitable possible directions for RPG theory.  I’m not going to reiterate those arguments here.  I haven’t yet found a good intro text on the theory of ritual, but I’m looking.  Here’s a brief list that might in a sense bring you up to speed.  That is, if you read these texts through, in this order, you’ll come out with a pretty strong understanding of the basics of ritual theory as it currently stands.  My opinions are stated overtly, but you needn’t agree by any means, nor are they “standard” in the disciplines in question.
      Sir James Frazer,
    The Golden Bough, chapters 3 & 4.  What you need to understand is the types of magic and their relationship to religious ritual.  Frazer’s definition of religion as compared to magic simply doesn’t work, but his insights are not trivial.

    Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. Carol Cosman (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000).  Cosman’s translation is slightly abridged, but enormously superior to both of the other translations.  It’s worth reading the whole thing through, but you can certainly skim here and there.  Durkheim is very good about making clear what he’s doing where, so you’ll know if you’re skipping over essential arguments.

    George Homans, “Anxiety and Ritual,” American Anthropologist 43 (1941), 164-72.  Reprinted in numerous anthologies, including William A. Lessa and Evon Z. Vogt, eds., Reader in Comparative Religion: An Anthropological Approach. 4th ed., which is a wonderful but very expensive anthology.  Homans neatly summarizes the entirety of the functionalist approach to ritual.

    Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind.  A very difficult book, but genius.  The idea of players as bricoleurs seems to me the starting point for any really serious understanding of RPG manipulation of concepts and texts.  His analysis of ritual is fantastic, if occasionally bizarre; the discussion of Hidatsa eagle-hunting in chapter 2 is the clearest example of how structural anthropology works, and if you master it you’re a long way toward getting what he’s on about.

    Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane.  Not Eliade’s best book, but his best introductory one.  If you get the concept of ritual reactualization, you’re pretty much home free.  Note that Joseph Campbell is mostly a knockoff of Eliade with a more overtly theological bent.

    Victor Turner, The Forest of Symbols.  Includes “Betwixt and Between,” which will get you going on liminality and whatnot, but the whole book is excellent.

    Jonathan Z. Smith, “The Bare Facts of Ritual,” Imagining Religion is wonderful and clear, and a distinctive approach almost unique to Smith.  His book To Take Place is also about ritual, but less helpful.

    Ronald Grimes, Research in Ritual Studies (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press and The American Theological Library Association, 1985); Ritual Criticisim: Case Studies in Its Practice, Essays on Its Theory (Columbia: U of South Carolina Press, 1990); and Beginnings in Ritual Studies (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982).  I dislike Grimes’s work, which I find naive and romanticizing.  So I give fuller references in order not to prejudice things.  Note that Richard Schechner is very much like Grimes, and particularly interesting to people who like theater and ritual as a concept.

    Stanley J. Tambiah, "The Magical Power of Words," Man, n.s. 3 (1968), 175-208; "Form and Meaning of Magical Acts," in Robin Horton and Ruth Finnegan, eds., Modes of Thought: Essays on Thinking in Western and Non-Western Societies (London: Faber and Faber, 1972); "A Performative Approach to Ritual," Proceedings of the British Academy 65 (1979), 113-69; and Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990).  An important approach to performance on a linguistic/semiotic basis.  Unfortunately, Tambiah is a moron who completely misunderstood the theories he borrowed, the criticisms leveled at those theories, and the rituals he studied in the first place.

    Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. If you’ve read all of what I’ve just reeled off, Bell is comprehensible but dense.  If you haven’t, stay away!  The book is a brilliant attempt to rethink ritual on a “practice” basis, founded on a very slick concept called “ritualization.”  I don’t agree with her, but I think this is certainly the best thing yet in the field.[/list:u]For what it’s worth, in my own work, I’m trying to go one step further than Bell by employing a textual approach founded on Derrida.  I see this as a corrective to the “practice” approach which, without having a textual polar opposition, deconstructs itself.  But that’s my shtick, and it’s not done yet.  Don’t hold your breath.

    Anyway, there are some readings in various sorts of theory that might potentially be useful to RPG’s.  I don’t think anyone particularly has to read any or all of this.  It’s just that if you do want to delve into other modes of theory for doing RPG theory, the vast library of stuff can be kind of daunting.  I’m just trying to clear out some of the undergrowth and point out a few nice specimen trees along various paths, if you’ll pardon an overextended metaphor.

    Chris Lehrich
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    Chris Lehrich
    clehrich
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    « Reply #2 on: March 18, 2004, 10:26:12 AM »

    On Deconstruction and RPG’s

    In What is the text? the subject of deconstructive approaches has come up.  First of all, I should note that I like Derrida’s early work very much—I’m a fan, even—although I find his later work on religion dull and misguided.  Still, I do not think that we are ready for a deconstructive revolution in RPG theory, nor am I convinced that one will ever be necessary.
    Quote from: pete_darby
    ...we're still going down the route of focussing on the relationship of reader to text, the construction of an intertextual space by the reader, and the infamous death of the author. Which puts the relationship between these theories and RPG's in play in a bit of a bind, because we have far more in common with the author than the reader.
    ....
    Now, if someone can point me to where Derrida etc address the actions of an author rather than a reader, that may hold more gold for us than reader-text centred lit crit. I get the feeling that the absence of this in modern lit crit is perhaps why I'll get better ideas for a theory of roleplaying from Stephen King "On Writing" than Derrida "Of Grammatology."
    Pete, you're both dead right and dead wrong, if I may.  The lit-crit appropriation of Derrida's work, particularly in the 1970s (J.Hillis Miller, Paul DeMan, Gayatri Spivak, etc.) emphasized the reader's role to the exclusion of all else, partly because, as literary critics, they were always in the position of examining a "given" text in some sense.  This movement is pretty much dead now, and I'm not at all convinced that we learned much from it, apart from the fact that a lot of pretty smart people can get so excited about mucking with language as to make themselves well-nigh incomprehensible.  But this isn't what Derrida was actually up to.ą

    In the introduction to a volume I'm co-editing, we wrote:
    Quote
    In the nearly forty years since the first publication of Jacques Derrida’s De la grammatologie, deconstructive sensibilities and approaches have waxed and waned in the fashions of various academic disciplines.  And yet, the programmatic conception of grammatology itself remains largely unexamined and unexplored.  Without staging yet again the by now well-rehearsed critique of Derrida’s overwhelmingly literary reception in this country, we may nonetheless attribute part of this neglect to the institutionalization of literary deconstruction. For by subordinating grammatology to the disciplinary program of textual theory, literary deconstructionism has, ironically, served to found a new and no less reified institution of “literature.” The deconstructive gesture, underscoring the insistence of the graphic in the literary “voice,” then emerges as a thinly-veiled homage to a (post)modernist literariness, the “text” qua autotelic movement of écriture.˛
    That may be so much Greek, I realize; you might read "autotelic movement of écriture" to mean the notion that writing inscribes itself and formulates its own end, that the inscriber (author) has no real power in the relation, that there is this death of the subject/author, and so on.  It's jargon, but for people into this sort of thing it's shorthand for the whole "death of the author and liberation of the text" notion -- which is confused.  It’s also deliberate baiting of morons who think jargon indicates intelligence.

    I'm not going to give a whole lecture on Derrida here, but you have to understand that he's a philosopher, not a literary critic.  As a bit of background, post-Kant, there were really only three ways to find data with which to do philosophy: (1) pure logic [cf. analytic philosophy], (2) scientific fact [cf. Karl Popper & others], and (3) history [most everyone else, e.g. Hegel].  Then Nietzsche comes along and suggests that historical/cultural products amount to data as well, because they are linguistic and also historical, such that literature and the arts can become a major grounding-point for the relentless uprooting of metaphysics in philosophy.  Derrida is one of a number of important philosophers of the 20th century who take this up directly, combining literary-critical methods with philosophical purposes and tools, in order to do philosophy (Gadamer, Ricoeur, and the other big hermeneutics folks would be another good example of this).  But the goal, ultimately, is the usual philosophical one: explain and understand the human situation, furthermore moving away from the various failings noted and/or manifested by previous philosophers.  The fact that this might be useful for literary criticism is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant.

    Now having said all that, the point is that Derrida is very interested in the authorial situation as well as the reading one.  What he suggests is that at an ontological level (at the level of things as they are), there really isn't any difference.  The traditional claim that there is a difference is, in fact, a metaphysical claim, used to support various types of authority structures (I am the author, so I control the text; I swear by the Bible; I have a PhD in literature [I don't, incidentally -- wrong field] and you don't so I control how the text is read; etc.).

    How does all this apply to RPG's?  As I have said on various occasions, I'm a bit leery of doing this, but it seems to keep coming up.

    I think "the text" is John's #4: Shared Play.  Certainly all the various forms of background, including the total cultural background of everyone in the room, are hauntingly present, but Shared Play is the text in question.  If you're interested in intertextuality, the question is the relation between Shared Play and the other texts; I think to read Shared Play as itself an entirely intertextual object is valid but makes things exceedingly complicated without much productive result.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the text is the SIS (Shared Imaginative Space).

    What's nice about SIS as text is that everyone is simultaneously author and reader, which is precisely what Derrida thinks ought to be the case with any text; it's just a little more apparent with RPG's.  So let's look at a few of the possible implications:

    1. Autonomous text: The idea that texts are not firmly attached to authors, leading to "the death of the author."  Every time you speak in an RPG, you act as author, in the sense that you add to the text directly.  But every time you speak, your statement requires validation outside of you.  So insofar as you are accepted as an author, it is on the basis of some external validation; it appears that in order to be an author, you can't be the author-ity, if you see what I mean.  So everyone is always the author (as author-ity) but never the author.

    2. Pre-Inscription: One of many possible terms suggesting that as soon as you write, what you have written was always already written, before you.  The point is that the total coding of prior possibilities so constrains what you say that you have a finite range of choices (large, but finite).  Once you speak in the game, and do so within the finite range, the external validation acts to say that (1) what you have said is valid on exterior grounds, and (2) what you have said is now truly part of the text as it stands.  So in that sense, anything you might say that might become valid must have already been said in potentia, because only on that basis could it be validated by someone other than you.

    This sort of analysis barely scratches the surface, but if you are interested you probably do want to read Of Grammatology.  The whole issue of logocentrism and the metaphysics of presence as it affects the issue of text is quite relevant, and really about how authors and readers are ontologically speaking the same thing, always, but are culturally/ideologically speaking seens as never the same thing.

    Personally, I think that a hard Derridean read of RPG's could be interesting, but I'm not convinced that it would yield a whole lot of meaningful product.  The reason is twofold: (1) the ordinary situation of logocentrism shifts in RPG's to an issue of shared validation, and so much discussion of this in RPG theory and practice has emphasized that we don't need a singular validator (a GM, for example, or an absolute set of rules) that the "text" of RPG's simply doesn't have the sort of radical authority that would be worthwhile to deconstruct; (2) unlike philosophers, RPG players and theorists are not particularly committed to undermining metaphysics -- one could even argue that a lot of GNS-type work seeks to restore the illusion of the metaphysical -- and thus the first postulate of almost any post-Nietzschean philosopher would have to be first constructed and then acted upon within RPG's (a massive undertaking).

    Readings
    If you really want to read up on deconstruction, start by forgetting for a minute that it’s usually associated with literature.  Second, you will need to do a preliminary block of reading before you can evaluate what’s going on with early Derrida; while you read these things, set aside any preconceptions or prior opinions.  If you’re going to get the hang of this, it’s important initially to be totally convinced.  Then you can disagree later on.  IMO, this is the best way to read any real philosophy anyway: you have to allow yourself to be convinced, then go back and be critical.  Nietzsche once wrote (I’m paraphrasing) that you wouldn’t understand anything he’d said until you’d responded to each and every sentence with both total worship and absolute hatred, and I think despite the exaggeration it’s a good point.  So...

    1. Jim Powell, Derrida for Beginners.  An excellent and very accurate introduction.
    2. Christopher Norris, Derrida.  Once you have the gist from Powell, this is a more serious, in-depth introduction, and carefully deals with Derrida and not his would-be acolytes.
    3. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology. Do not read Gayatri Spivak’s introduction, which is worthless, badly-written, wrong-headed, and has done more damage to the reception of Derrida in the English-speaking world than any other single text.
    4. Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy,” in Dissemination.  Very clever, famous article.  Among other things it demonstrates that Derrida does not discard traditional criticism or philological care; he is if anything more careful than most of his detractors, and certainly than most of his worshipers.
    5. Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction, the single most intelligent introduction to literary deconstruction, clearly and carefully written.  By the time I got to the end of this, I was totally convinced that literary deconstruction couldn’t work, although that wasn’t Culler’s point.  I have since seen nothing to change my opinion.

    Once you’ve read all this, you will know a great deal about the basics of Derrida’s work.  You will also, I suspect, realize that it’s not at all what you expected.  You may not agree with all his arguments, and you certainly may feel that they are not readily applicable to RPG’s, but the guy is nothing like he’s usually painted.

    Chris Lehrich

    Notes
    1. One of the most annoying things about Derrida, IMO, is that he doesn't like to respond directly to things that don't interest him greatly.  So for example, when Miller et al. went and restructured deconstruction into deconstruction-ism, Derrida never went ahead and said, "Um, interesting, but not what I meant, just so you're clear on that."  The effect, in the long run, has been to attach Derrida's name to a lot of crap that has nothing to do with his own work, and he does have to take considerable blame for the misunderstandings.

    2. Christopher I. Lehrich and Hajime Nakatani, eds., Margins of Grammatology (in progress).  Derrida couldn't do an essay for the volume, as he's very ill, but was positive about the project, so I feel reasonably confident that we didn't misread him too badly.
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    Chris Lehrich
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    « Reply #3 on: March 18, 2004, 10:28:12 AM »

    On Semiotic Logic and RPG Validation

    I said some things about C.S. Peirce’s logical categories in the thread on  Jason’s Unified Theory, but I wasn’t entirely clear.  In fact, I think I wasn’t quite clear on all of that myself!  Recently, I’ve been fighting with this stuff in my own work, so I’m going to give a little breakdown.  I’m going to start with Peirce, then move to Sherlock Holmes, then move to RPG’s.

    Peirce’s Categories
    I’m only dealing with the big 3 logical-inferential categories, the means by which statements can be produced on the basis of other statements as a logical process.

    Peirce has this example case he likes.  There’s a bag of beans and a pile of beans.  Now there are three types of statement: Rule, Case, and Result.

    Deduction
    Suppose we know that all beans in the bag are white, and we take some beans out of the bag.
      Rule: All beans in this bag are white
      Case: These beans are from this bag
      – Result: These beans are white[/list:u]Deduction is certain, given that the Rule and Case are valid.

    Induction
    Suppose we take some beans from the bag, and they’re white.
      Case: These beans are from this bag
      Result: These beans are white
      – Rule: All beans in this bag are white[/list:u]Induction isn’t certain, but it’s plausible.  You can test Induction by inserting the Rule into a Deductive structure, and producing more cases, i.e. taking more beans from the bag.  You can never be absolutely certain that your Rule is accurate, but it does get more certain the more times you get white beans.

    Abduction
    Also called Guess, Hypothesis, and lots of other things, but Abduction has gotten pretty well known by now.  Suppose we have the bag of white beans and some white beans.
      Rule: All beans in this bag are white
      Result: These beans are white
      – Case: These beans are from this bag[/list:u]Abduction is very slippery, and exceedingly uncertain.  In particular, it can’t be tested within this limited framework; you need additional data.  If you use an Abducted Case to produce an Induction, you get circular logic, which happens very fast indeed.

    Abduction-Induction Circularity
      Rule: All beans in this bag are white
      Result: These beans are white
      – Case: These beans are from this bag
      . . . .
      Case: These beans are from this bag
      Result: These beans are white Navy beans
    [note added data, necessary]
    – Rule: All beans in this bag are white Navy beans[/list:u]If you look, you’ll note that we have exactly zero evidence that there are any white Navy beans in the bag.

    Sherlock Holmes, Semiotician
    In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes discusses “reasoning backwards”:
    Quote
    Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be.  They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass.  There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result.  This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backward, or analytically
    As he demonstrates time and again, Holmes works by Abduction.  Here’s how:
      [*]Holmes is faced by a complex set of data (Result).
      [*]Holmes has a very wide range of knowledge, of human behavior in general and of the details of crime, tobacco ashes, and so forth; these are principles from which he works (Rules).
      [*]Faced with Result, he makes a preliminary assessment of which Rules apply.  He then goes Result + Rule => Case, Abducing the chain of events that produced the Result.[/list:u]Now given that Holmes has a lot of Rules to apply, and that he has an Abduced Case, he can legitimately make Deductions about other facts; that is, he can pick an appropriate Rule, apply it to the Case, and get a definite and certain new Result.  He then checks to see if that Result actually appears in the world.  If not, it means that there is an error in his Abduced Case; if so, it strengthens his theory that the Abduction was correct and that the Case is what in fact occurred.  He can never be entirely certain, but if he finds Result after Result as predicted by the Case, and which otherwise were not even noticed or seemed irrelevant, he can become certain enough to act upon the situation.

      What Holmes cannot do is to change the Rules or the Results on the basis of the Case.  This is what he means when he says that “it is a capital error to reason without facts” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s close).  And this is what Lestrade and so on always do.  They look at the Result, Abduce a Case, and then when they find further Results that do not fit they explain them away.  This mistakes the point that Abduction is the least certain form of reasoning.

      Semiotic Logic and RPG’s
      The whole question is how statements are validated and entered into the SIS (the text).  First of all, a player reacting to a situation necessarily Abduces the Case.  He then creates logical Results, and tests them against the validation method (the GM, the rules, the other players, etc.).  This may be expressed as, “Do I find a stapler in the drawer” (yes/no), or “I pull out the stapler” (silence/“no you don’t”).

      Furthermore, presumably everyone else (who controls the validation process) must also be making a series of abductions and deductions, checking the Results proposed by a given player against their own understandings.

      All of this means that the SIS (=text) has no certainty, as it is collectively abduced, but it becomes increasingly certain as more statements within it are validated.

      One could go on indefinitely with such things, but there’s just one final point I want to make.

      Peirce said that all objects and statements are Signs, and he’s been borne out by more recent work in several fields.  Signs refer at once to Objects and to Interpretants (“signs say something to someone”).  The trick is that the Interpretants can’t get to the Objects directly, because all they encounter are Signs, which continually defers the process of getting to the Objects.  In RPG’s this is obvious: there are no objects, after all, only imaginary constructions.

      This means that the attempt to validate abduction is a process of creating Signs but treating them as Objects, from which one can then make both Deductions and Inductions.  Which means that the logic of communication, at base, is circular: you can never get out of the circularity except by reference to Objects, which you can never have.  So to the extent that an RPG (or a conversation, for that matter) successfully produces a sense of certainty, where you can “count on” your sense of meaning being accurate and will take risks on that basis, you have allowed the duration of the Abduction-Induction to substitute for the fact that it’s actually a totally invalid logical procedure.  This is what Derrida calls the logic of the Supplement: you have something uncertain, so you supplement it with something else that doesn’t make it more certain but makes you feel as though it is, distracting yourself from the uncertainty at stake.  In RPG’s, I think this is something celebrated and taken to an extraordinary height in Immersive Illusionism (note that this stuff isn’t bad: it’s part of human nature and the nature of human language).

      Anyway, enough on semiotic logic for the moment.

      Chris Lehrich
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      Chris Lehrich
      Eero Tuovinen
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      « Reply #4 on: March 18, 2004, 03:35:34 PM »

      I'll just post to say that this is the kind of content I like mixed in with my Forge experience. We'll all have to take our time to work around the material you represent (I've read some of these, but it's been over five years for most), but I've no doubt that this will become a popular reference if the continental trend catches on.

      Anyway, there's many interesting viewpoints here; I wrote yesterday somewhere about some of these, and here they come again. Pre-Inscription (which I've known as validation of genre/architextual expectation, incidentally) especially is interesting, as it focuses on the discussion about the RPG text we had; rules and genre are essentially predating expectations that limit possibilities in adding to the text (or deny validation from a given text as intertext, as I parsed it yesterday).

      I like Gadamer... might be I'm misremembering something, but would you care to elucidate on the matter? Being I'm only half literate on these matters, I've still some trouble pinpointing your exact allegiance ;)

      Roleplayers as bricoleurs (been thinking about this myself, actually): isn't that the same thing Doctorxero intimated in his theory here? VoInt players are explicitly bricoleurs, working with the elements presented to produce their art. Depending on your take on bricoleuring it could be that the other kind aren't bricoleurs (I seem to remember that it's possible to produce art sufficiently independently to not be a bricoleur).

      I'm feeling you have something interesting going with semiotic logic there, but I'll have to let it get processed before formulating anything. The same holds true on the other points as well. I just wanted to post and tell that I at least appreciate the effort of educating us.
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      clehrich
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      « Reply #5 on: March 18, 2004, 04:30:48 PM »

      Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
      I like Gadamer... might be I'm misremembering something, but would you care to elucidate on the matter?
      It's been a while for me, too.  I remember being quite convinced by Ricoeur and Habermas about the "horizon" of interpretation, but I'd have to go back and slog through my notes to remember why.
      Quote
      Roleplayers as bricoleurs (been thinking about this myself, actually): isn't that the same thing Doctorxero intimated in his theory here? VoInt players are explicitly bricoleurs, working with the elements presented to produce their art. Depending on your take on bricoleuring it could be that the other kind aren't bricoleurs (I seem to remember that it's possible to produce art sufficiently independently to not be a bricoleur).
      Well, I think if you're going to talk about roleplayers as bricoleurs, you can't really have non-bricoleurs.  The independence argument you mention, which is implicit in the "Overture" to The Raw and the Cooked and the "Finale" to The Naked Man (that's vols. 1 and 4 of Levi-Strauss's Mythologiques, BTW), but I think it's exactly where Levi-Strauss goes wrong.  He's trying to insert the anthropologist as independent observer, so as to preserve objectivity, but I think Derrida and others have pretty convincingly destroyed this.  So in Xero's terms, you have VoINT and nothing else: everyone's a bricoleur.  Which collapses the distinction.

      Thanks for the comments!  Nice to know this stuff wasn't just rambling but actually useful to someone.

      Chris Lehrich
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      « Reply #6 on: March 19, 2004, 02:46:30 AM »

      Oh, I'm finding it enormously useful... I always go into these discussions with the attitude that I'm probably wrong about something, perhaps everything, but I really need help to see where.

      I think I'm finally seeing where Doctorxero was coming from, and that, as was said in blunter terms on his thread, VoInd play cannot exist, but in a completely different sense to what was emerging there.

      Chris, as you're probably guessing, it's been over 12 years since I engaged with this area (and, if you listen to my lecturers, you may not believe I engaged with it at all), at that was at undergrad level, which basically amounts to arguing loudly in bars. This was while I was doing a Drama & Philosophy degree, and, creatively, I was hearing a lot more sense from the drama courses than where the philosophical theories touched on the arts.

      I think that a derridean reading of role-play would be an interesting excercise philosophically, but I think it would be more interesting for what it said about Derrida than role-playing, hence not for here.

      But, from me at least, a hearty thank you... for at least saying I was both right and wrong (I was talking about the Derrida wannabes, not Derrida, wasn't I?)
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      « Reply #7 on: March 19, 2004, 05:54:49 AM »

      Hello !

      Thoroughly readable set of essays - nicely done.

      I particularly liked the last section, which was quite convincing, as to the logical structure inherent in RPG.

      However, it has occurred to me that I'm not really willing to do the work to be able to meaningfully discuss RPG theory from this angle. I'm not saying it's not worth the effort; it probably is. Just saying that under the current circumstances I can't make the effort.

      However, there is one thing that has struck me strongly about this type of discussion; it's about as far removed from practice as you can get, and still be meaningfully discussing RPG.

      - James
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      clehrich
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      « Reply #8 on: March 20, 2004, 11:30:26 PM »

      Quote from: james_west
      However, there is one thing that has struck me strongly about this type of discussion; it's about as far removed from practice as you can get, and still be meaningfully discussing RPG.
      Depends on what you mean by "practice."  If you mean that such discussion and analysis is unlikely to have a direct impact on game design, I agree with you.  I also don't see that as a problem, though -- as I've said on numerous occasions, I think that an analytical perspective on RPG's can be valuable for its own sake.

      Chris Lehrich

      Edit: More on this in a minute... it got me thinking deep thoughts about ritual and RPG's
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      « Reply #9 on: March 21, 2004, 12:49:56 AM »

      Ritual and RPG's -- A Follow-Up

      In the brief discussions of my article on ritual in RPG's, I mentioned that there isn't really a good introduction to the subject of ritual.  But thinking again about the question, I want to point to a valuable text:
        Catherine Bell,
      Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997).[/list:u]Catherine and I just had a very lengthy conversation about ritual, and I was struck to find that we are on very much the same page.  For years, I totally misread her book Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, as did just about everyone I know in the field.  The problem with that book is that it's incomprehensible without a good deal of background.  Catherine has noticed that people seem to be assigning it in classes, however, and so she wrote Perspectives and Dimensions as a more appropriate substitute.

      The book isn't exactly a light read, but then she's covering the totality of discourse on ritual in 270-odd pages!  So if you are interested in ritual (for whatever reason), you should definitely check out Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions.  Among many other fine qualities, the book not only discusses everyone quite evenhandedly, but also presents one of the best bibliographies of ritual ever constructed.

      For what it’s worth, I’ll point out that gamers who like to think about theater and improv. might find Richard Schechner’s various works useful.  I don’t like his work, but that doesn’t mean it mightn’t be useful for practical purposes.

      --

      Now as to the application of ritual theory to RPG's in particular, I was drawn to say a few more words by james_west’s remarks about practicality.  I know what he means, don’t get me wrong.  But it’s funny it should be put this way, since I actually think the best theory of ritual is in fact what’s called “practice” theory — it’s by definition practical!

      Bell, in Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, makes an extraordinary and brilliant move, one which I think few if any scholars have even recognized, much less taken up.ą  She suggests that the practice of analyzing ritual is in fact a kind of ritual activity, and analyzes this correlation in some detail.  In a sense, this is the whole point of her book, but nobody noticed.  Okay, so it’s not the clearest book, but she did assume that her readers would already know a lot about ritual, and was surprised that anyone else bothered to read it.

      Now what I’ve been up to in my own work reverses this move, and when I discussed it with Catherine, she seemed quite struck by the simplicity and potential value of this switch.  What I suggest, in fact, is that we can read ritual as a mode of theorizing, a way of thinking and analyzing in relatively abstract terms.

      Why do I mention this, though?

      Well, if we think about James’s remarks on practicality, or in fact the whole drive to make RPG theory a practical art rather than an analytical science, what we see is a demonstration of my point (and Bell’s, indirectly).  In RPG theory, “the natives” (that’s you – and me!  How does it feel to be one of the natives?) theorize what they do in practical terms.  How can that be?  Well, note the fundamental discomfort with my tendency to shift over to an analytic remove.  Why should that exist?  Because gamers do not want to distance themselves from what they do; the proof is in the pudding, after all, so whatever theorizing gets done is done for the purpose of improving the activity.

      Now traditionally, scholars have wanted to avoid this.  They want to avoid being this involved, because that’s what scientific distance is all about.  But these days, such objectivity is generally accepted to be impossible anyway.  As a result, a number of major scholars have decided to go whole hog in the other direction: they jump into the discourse and participate.  It’s as though somebody you never heard of who’s writing a book on the theory of gameplay in general decided that he should not only participate in Forge discourse but also try to change the gaming industry from within.

      I have a real problem with that.  As a gamer, I’m happy to stand in both positions, but under normal circumstances the scholar has to project himself as a “native” in order to do this.  This trivializes the natives: it makes them into simpletons whose shoes you can imagine yourself into quite easily.  And furthermore, the same is not actually on offer to the natives: they can’t join in on academic discourse.

      What I suggest, instead, is that ritual is itself a kind of theory, a way of thinking about all sorts of things analytically.  Similarly, RPG theory, Forge-style, is a legitimate mode of theory, an analytic method suited to a specific object (which shouldn’t be news around here, right?).  The procedure is actualized, made into effective thought, under specifically ritual (i.e. gaming) conditions, which marks it as a ritual mode.

      All of which then suggests a further, somewhat more radical proposal.

      If you recall, in the ritual article I talked about the old initiation-rite model, made most famous by Victor W. Turner: Separation, Liminality (or Margin), Aggregation.  This is really a specific version of an older division: the Sacred and the Profane (on which see Durkheim especially, but also Eliade’s book of the same title).˛  The idea is that “ritual space” and “ritual time” are in some sense different, distinct from other kinds of space and time.  Now that notion of “sacred” shouldn’t be taken to mean “holy” — as A. R. Radcliffe-Brown pointed out, it really just means “marked” by special interest; Lévi-Strauss drew an analogy to terms that are “stressed” in language.ł  Okay, so the three-part model is really a means by which we get from one stage to the other and back:
        Ordinary — Separation — Ritual Time — Aggregation — Ordinary[/list:u]The total process from separation to aggregation can be taken as the totality of the actual ritual.

        All clear so far?

        Okay.  The problem is that everyone fights about how to define ritual, how to define sacred, and so on.  There’s no agreement at all, really, and everyone just picks examples that support their points.

        Bell makes this very slick move of making “ritual” in effect a verb: she calls this “ritualization.”  Ritualization is the process by which a group, culture, or even individual projects some form of practice as somehow different from others.  In particular, it is a means by which people reify (make objects out of) practices not inherently distinct from other practices.  In short, ritual is not a thing; it doesn’t have a different ontological status
      [status with respect to being or not being a thing] than any other practice.  But people treat ritual as though it had a radically different ontological status than other practices.  That is, it’s the natives who make ritual into a thing; by treating ritual as a thing in scholarship, we simply sign on to local ideology and power structures, and don’t actually analyze the world as it is.  Furthermore, by then debating the “right” meaning of the term, we perform our own ritualizations!  We’re not just parroting native ritualization, but doing it ourselves in our own special way.

      So back to RPG’s, what does this mean?  Well, it means that from an exterior standpoint, there isn’t any absolute way to define “play” as something inherently different from other modes of behavior.  This is why, for example, nobody has yet come up with a workable and fully accepted definition of RPG’s or “play”: there’s nothing there to define!  Sure, lots of folks are happy to propose working definitions for the purpose of argument or whatever, but an absolute category hasn’t been arrived at satisfactorily.  This is because “play” isn’t a thing: it’s just practice, like all other practice.  Why do we think of it as different?  Ritualization.  That’s precisely what makes RPG gaming fundamentally ritual action: we are quite deeply invested in the idea that such practice is distinctive and different, and are even willing to go to considerable lengths to prove this.

      This gets us into “the logic of the supplement,” as Derrida calls it.  (For those who care, I’m now moving well beyond what Bell is up to.)  Given that there is no inherent ontological status to ritual or gaming (or text, quite importantly, or to take another example, law), that is, there is no absolute difference between these things and other modes of practice, why do we see them as so different?  Furthermore, how do we keep them distinct and discrete, to such a degree that in fact we will stake identities and other things on this dubious basis?  For example, in law, the status of legal conclusions as certain is so strong that we’re willing to kill people on its basis, but logically speaking there’s no justification for this.  How come we’re willing to behave this way, and how do we protect the law (or text, ritual, gaming, etc.) from the possibility that we ourselves might begin to doubt its differential status?

      A couple posts back in this thread, I talked about semiotic logic, and a circularity that arises when you move from Aabduction to Induction.  Let me recap for a sec:
        Abduction: Given a Rule (x -> y) and a Result (y), we Abduce a Case (x)
        Induction: Given a Case (x) and a Result (y), we Induce a Rule (x -> y)[/list:u]Now this becomes circular if done in this order, because:
          Abduction: Given a -> b and b, therefore
        a
        Induction: Given a and c (some other present factor), therefore a -> c
        But we’ve never actually established certainly that a is actually true.  We now have a rule that associates an uncertain Case with a potentially random, unrelated fact about the current example.[/list:u]The thing is, we’re not stupid.  We recognize, not exactly consciously perhaps, that this logic is dubious.  So what we do is go look for d, e, f, and g – further factors that occur in the present instance.  If we get lots of these, we feel justified about our logic, although it’s totally invalid.

        For example:
          Rule: All the beans in the bag are white
          Result: These beans are white
          Case: These beans came from the bag
          --
          Case: These beans came from the bag
          Result: These beans are Navy beans
          Furthermore: they’re wrinkly, and they’re dry, and they smell funny
          Rule: All the beans in the bag are wrinkly, dry, funny-smelling Navy beans
          --
          But we haven’t established that there are
        any Navy beans in the bag at all.  So what we’ve done is to add more conditions (wrinkled, dry, funny-smelling) to make ourselves feel more specific and certain about what we’re doing.  What we’re not doing is checking this against the contents of the bag[/list:u]Getting back to ritualization, this is how we reinforce our feeling that a given mode of practice is special and different.  Ritual is special and different, for example – I can tell because I have all these examples of ritual that are special and different.  But how do you know they are really ritual?

        I would argue, in fact, that GNS (for example), and indeed the whole Big Model, is a supplement for uncertainty.  That’s not to say it’s not useful!  It’s very useful, given that you accept the division in the first place.  In fact, what it produces is an authoritative discourse about the nature of gaming.  Which is all very well, but it’s never been established that gaming is a thing about which one can argue in the first place!

        Again, this isn’t a slam.  I’m happy saying that ritual or law or text are real things, just like gaming, and thus have their authoritative discourses.  But they are only real things because their practitioners, the cultures that depend upon them, project them as such.

        So coming full circle to james_west’s remark on practicality...

        I think it would be worthwhile to think about the techniques – yes, this should be added to the list – by which we actively demarcate gaming from other spaces and times.  What do you do before the game starts?  Is ordering pizza a separating factor, for example?

        Hypothetically, let’s suppose that your gaming group meets weekly at 6:00.  Most of us don’t eat a lot of pizza at other times; that’s a special gaming treat, along with the other special snacks and whatnot.  So at 6:00, the GM orders the pizza.  Some chatting happens, some discussion of what’s going to happen shortly.  The pizza arrives.  Everyone gets a slice or two, the boxes are put somewhere where everyone can get at them without trouble.  Meanwhile, a table has been set up.  Books are out and ready.  Dice are in bowls or whatever.  Pencils are distributed (nobody ever brings their own, have you noticed?).  Mood music, if any, is put on (see OctaNe).  Now the GM goes into some sort of intro speech that in effect says, “Ordinary time has now ended; we are separated from it.  We are now in special gaming-time.  Outside considerations are no longer valid; we are focused on the game.”

        Among other things, this explains the annoyance factor of players who insist on talking about favorite TV shows during the game.  Again, it makes almost predictable the normative nature of Immersion and Illusionism in traditional gaming: these techniques enforce the separation of spaces.

        Now how do we move to aggregation?  One common method, when it seems like time is up, is to distribute experience points or their equivalents.

        Why is this practical for game design?  Well, it might be useful to think about the separation and aggregation stages formally, and design to produce those effects very strongly.  This might go some way toward avoiding frame-breaking behaviors.  Not that this hasn’t been done, of course, in various games, but it’s worth recognizing that this isn’t something special and distinctive about gaming, and that it might be useful to learn from other ritual techniques for how to slice up space and time to produce the desired effect.

        Anyway, as long as I have this thread of heavy-duty theory, I thought I’d spin some of this out.  Thanks for reading – anyone who’s gotten this far!  (Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?)

        Chris Lehrich

        Notes
        1. And I’m very proud of myself, actually, because I took a big chance in summarizing what Bell was up to when talking to Bell herself.  Not only did she say I had it right, but she also said, “It’s about time somebody got that!”  So here I am tooting my horn.  Toot toot!

        2. Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. Carol Cosman (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000).  Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harper, 1959 [I think!]).

        3. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, Taboo, The Frazer Lecture (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1939).  Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966 [I think!]).
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        « Reply #10 on: March 21, 2004, 08:22:43 AM »

        Quote from: clehrich
        I want to point to a valuable text:
          Catherine Bell,
        Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997).[/list:u]


        For reference' sake - Amazon has this book in paperback for $21.95, or used for $13

        ---

        I don't know if it was meant to be obvious and I didn't get it, but I find fascinating the discussion of the fact that there's really no objective difference between ritual and ordinary life, except in the minds of the participants and (I suppose) the researchers.

        A corollary to this, I suppose, is that whatever you're trying to accomplish through the ritual isn't going to work if you don't establish separation into the ritual space.

        I was particularly taken with use of the law as ritual - for me, it was particularly evocative. I participate in the legal process on a fairly regular basis, but somehow the separation phase doesn't work so well for me. This means that I'm frequently appalled not so much by the outcomes (which are usually reasonably just) as by the process by which they are reached.

        However, in discussion of RPG, I think that Chris has done something fundamentally useful for us; he has taken something that we were all aware of, in a vague sort of way, and by stating it explicitly, made it blindingly obvious.

        We've probably all had this experience; same set of people as always, same game as last week, but for some reason it just doesn't work; you spend all night talking about mystical traditions within Islam (or whatever) rather than playing the game. In fact, whenever you do get back to the game, you feel mildly foolish and self-conscious.

        I think it is very useful to be able to say about this situation; seperation has failed, for most of the people present. Being able to say this allows one to be able to think about how one goes about achieving it, and how to improve the process.

        - James
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        « Reply #11 on: March 21, 2004, 11:35:45 AM »

        Quote from: clehrich

        Ritual and RPG's -- A Follow-Up


        Great to see you parse this more clearly - I think that the idea of focusing on the social context play necessitates is an interesting one, and I'll be using in in the future. However; didn't you already say all this in the article itself? I'm asking this because I apparently have a habit of jumping to conclusions, and if you are saying all this now, it implicates that I was just imagining the whole separation-aggregation thing and it's relation to the social frame of roleplaying earlier when reading the article. Not that it's a bad thing if you restate this - it takes time for ideas to penetrate, and you'll be wanting to bring this up in different words for many times yet, just look at Ron explaining for nth time his stance on this or that.

        Anyway, I agree totally that this is an observable phenomenon. It's a traditional job of the GM to 'force' players by main willpower to assume the ritual frame (or accept the immersion, if you prefer). I've met several different situations concerning this, and your interpretation (here, if I was just imagining it in the article) clarifies the social process immensely.

        Actually this feature of playing was pre-article something that had bugged me personally quite much. I had been looking for an efficient way to start the session for a while, you see. It's sometimes surprisingly hard to get the play started when the players are on different wavelengths. I had previously parsed this as a credibility/coherence issue (in a literary sense, where the book/movie has to establish credibility behore the main action) as relates to "projection" in theatre sense, which is of course just the same thing said differently. After reading the article I understood that what I'd have to do is to intentionally clarify and formalize the game starting tasks, to make the transference easier. One example: nowadays I don't give the players their character sheets before recapping (with player help) the situation we are in. For some reason the most sophisticated player only wants to have his character sheet, so this is a strong symbol of separation: no sheet, no game, but when you get the sheet, you start to blather about your IC plans instead of your new computer. Works quite finely, thank you, and means I'll probably be adding sections and "rules" that manipulate the social construct in my new designs that much more vehemently.

        Although I cannot say that it revolutionizes my thinking (I've worked on these things for a while now), mr. Lehrich's article certainly gave me an useful new model to work with (remember, you physicists: a human science like rpgs needs many models, if only one theory). To take this back to the topic, this is all the proof I need for the usefulness of ritual theory and human sciences in general for rpgs. The proposed model gives insight and enables techniques, and that's all one can hope for.

        One should remember that I approach the topic as an artist and a philosopher first, so I have no objectivity problem with synthesis from analysis. The worst that can happen is that my game fails disastrously when someone doesn't like something, as we are not restructuring a whole indigeneous people here. I understand where mr. Lehrich is coming from, though.
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        « Reply #12 on: March 21, 2004, 01:50:13 PM »

        Chris, this is all looking like solid gold to me... and, you'll note, getting down to some pratical tips on how to make a game, well, nore immersive is not by definition better, as some would no doubt argue, but it explains why so many of my sessions fizzle, why they "go up to 11" when they do, and why it's so damn important to get a regular slot for a long running game. Also, to an extent, why convention gaming can feel "heightened" (you've already built up the ritual journey, the weeks of planning, etc).

        It also explains why the rehearsals for the play I'm in sometimes fizzle and sometimes fly, but that's another matter!

        One thing I know your saying, but could make certain folks jumpy, is the association of ritual and "sacred space/time" with religion per se. But the act we're talking about is the act of putting aside a space and time and saying "In this space & time, things are not mundane, especially not me." This is done, I think, by most succesful game groups, pretty much all succesful acting groups, and many succesful writers. It's not the preserve of religions, it's a basic human act of removing yourself from the everyday by concious effort. Some great actors, as well as some mystics, can acheive this with a simple act of, for example, moving onto a stage, or just refocusing their vision. Paul Scofield, for example, could famously start telling a dirty joke to a stagehand as he was waiting to enter for Lear's last scene, walk on stage and capture the whole theatre, bringing grown men to tears, stagger off, and as soon as he was out of sight and earshot, stand up straight earshot and continue "...so the Nun says..."

        So, to get to the practicality: like a chaos magician, create your own rituals for your group, a certain day, a certain time, a certain room, a certain soundtrack, a certain food. Maybe even get in the habit of getting the GM to start in a certain fashion (a recap from last week, a cinematic "teaser" sequence, a new job offer on the system bulletin board, whatever).

        And, ripped from Johnstone, a simple excercise to place your head into "ritual space/time": look around the room you're in. Point to random objects and say, out loud, the wrong word for it. Do that for about a dozen items. Most often, you'll find that colours seem brighter, and everything in clearer focus (I've just done it and noticed my spectacles are filthy, and must have been for some time, but I didn't notice). It works by forcing the brain to rely a little less on "passive processing," "that's 'a desk', that's 'a TV', that's 'a picture of your son'", and more on actively, conciously processing the signals you're receiving.

        Psychologically, I think that's what "ritualising" does, it forces the brain out of reliance on the world being mundane and easy to rake for granted, and into a place where it can forget the assumptions and concomitant hang-ups of the everyday. Which is why it helps with role-playing and acting, because, thinking about it logically, both are "crazy" or at least unacceptable behaviours: pretending to be people we're not, and acting out stories that probably never could happen, never mind never did happen. And, to add another level of craziness, both have to achieve a level of internal consistency, and perhaps what actors like to call "emotional truth", in order to be satisfying. Which is where ritual time/ space help: as Chris noted, analysis of oour pastime as ritual helps to see those nights where it falls flat, and, in the most perceptive phrase there, you start feeling silly when you try to play. That's because you're not in ritual space/time, you're in mundane space/time (I prefer mundane to profane, but I don't have to get any papers published about this!), where your self esteem is tied to your self image which values your normality, the fact you don't act like a crazy person who pretends he's a hill barbarian or starfleet officer.

        Again with the cross medium example, I just came out of a very long rehearsal for a musical this afternoon, which involved a lot of dancing. Did I mention I'm over 250 pounds, and very little of that is muscle? So I go to see the in-laws after, and they're teasing me that I should do them a bit of the routine. I felt embarassed, and in these terms, it's because I'm outside of the ritual space of the rehearsal room (and outside the protective pack of the chorus!), and into the mundane space of the in-laws house. I'll be in front of 2000 people within a month, and won't be embarassed ("you'd be crazy not to be scared, though!"), because I'll be in the ritual space of the theatre, I'll have gone through the ritual of make-up & costume, the audience will have gone through the ritual of ticket buying, queuing, uncomfortable seating and overpriced confectionary, and we'll all be in a ritual state of mind where 250 Lb men dancing is not forbidden or censured.

        Anyway, this is hugely ramblling, and Chris is saying this stuff much better, so I'll go practice my steps.
        Logged

        Pete Darby
        clehrich
        Member

        Posts: 1557


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        « Reply #13 on: March 21, 2004, 02:19:03 PM »

        Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
        Great to see you parse this more clearly - I think that the idea of focusing on the social context play necessitates is an interesting one, and I'll be using in in the future. However; didn't you already say all this in the article itself?
        Thanks Eero, and yes, I did more or less say that before.  In theoretical terms, the primary shift here is that I'm moving forward with the notion of textual projection (cf. Bell's "ritualization") and its relation to authority.  In practical terms, the shift is to talk a little more concretely about the implications for actual gameplay and its improvement.

        Basically what I'm trying to do is to keep theory and practice distinct for analytical purposes, but then to suggest some implications.  What I don't want to do is to say, "Because I can suggest some interesting practical things to you as a gamer, my theory is good."  That's an invalid inference.  But it's probably worth considering that if I talk in theoretical/analytical terms only, there's quite a small audience even at the Forge.

        In short, I'm trying to move forward analytically in a way I find intellectually valid and satisfying, while at the same time taking into account the more practical concerns and critiques that get mentioned in response.

        Glad to see it seems to be working!

        Chris Lehrich
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        Chris Lehrich
        montag
        Member

        Posts: 172


        « Reply #14 on: March 21, 2004, 05:47:17 PM »

        please keep this up, better still, make an article from it so it stays around. I'm getting a lot out of this discussion, though I can't yet nail it down for myself, apply it or anything. Still, I'd like more of these "dangerous new ideas".

        Just wanted to let you know that while I can't contribute I'm reading/listening and benefiting (and I guess that goes for others as well.)

        ... and I'd like to invoke etiquette rule III G in my defense ;)
        Logged

        markus
        ------------------------------------------------------
        "The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do."
        --B. F. Skinner, Contingencies of Reinforcement (1969)
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