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Author Topic: Personal Agenda vs. Social Agenda  (Read 5774 times)
Marco
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« on: September 09, 2004, 10:23:42 AM »

In another thread I discussed the case where a player is "playing Gamist" but not getting props from the group. The group is okay with him doing that--but they aren't ralleying around his victories or encouraging him--he simply takes some time during each gaming session and, when he finds a challenge, addresses it.

I presume that he does this for the same reason that I play first-person shooters: I enjoy the activity, the challenge, and a personal sense of accomplishment when I win. I don't (usually) brag to my gamer-friends and I'd do it even if I were the last person on earth and there was no possibility of social feedback.

MJ Young had hypothized that an imaginary audience in the player's head was the group that was cheering. That is (paraphrase) the player is going "I dunno what's wrong with these guys--but any normal people would dig my mad ork-slaying skillz" (or whatever).

To this point Ron wrote:
Quote

I'd say that in this case, the person is playing Gamist, but at the risk of some incoherence among the group. As I've said earlier, incoherence does not necessarily mean less fun or no fun.

I guess it depends of how they tolerate it. If the "tolerance" you're referring to is friendly, it means that the other people in the group are also acknowledging the imaginary audience's validity to the one player, they just don't really feel part of it. If the "tolerance" is instead a matter of "shit, must put up with Bob" and involves a lot of tuning out and maybe bitching about it when Bob's not there, then the Gamist player is a source of some dysfunction (i.e. not fun).


Now, I have a few further digressions to explore--and I have a belief:

MY BELIEF: I think that a creative Agenda (either an acording to hoyle GNS agenda or even a less stringent meaning of the term) is not defined by social feedback. I think that's just what makes it functional or not. It may add to the energy (fun, functionality) of play--but it does not define the agenda.

EXCEPTION: Someone's agenda in play may, indeed, be to impress the group. When I play online IRC, I make a specific point to (as a player) do as impressive dialog as I can muster (and I'm careful not to monopolize time, I'm attentive of the GM's hooks and play to them ... I want to provide other players with straightlines or play to theirs, etc.)

In this case, the social-component is turned up high because I don't know these people in real life, because I'm pleased to be invited to their games, and because I want to be a valued member of the particular online-rpg community (#RPGnet). However, that 'agenda' is not nearly so prevalent (in some cases not prevalent at all) in my normal group on a conscious level.

NOTE: Before someone says it, I acknowledge that positive social feedback is a big part of any social activity and is necessary for persistence in that activity. What I don't think is that positive social feedback is a definitional part of an agenda. It's just a major factor in whether the play is functional.

So here are my observations.

OBSERVATIONS
1. A GM who has a commitment to letting the players do what they want and providing a moderately rich environment may wind up facilitating agendas that he or she wouldn't choose as a first-pick.

I believe that the GM apointment in a traditional game requires a pretty strong commitment to doing this: this may be a strong anti-Emulation bias. But I've never seen in or out of gener games survive long with a GM who used "plot force" (either overt or badly disguised covert) to manipulate people against their will.

Whether this observation is ultimately meaningful or not, I think that it's possible to discuss a GM who facilitates player agendas without giving them positive social feedback. In this case we are certainly talking a matter of degree: if the GM scowls at and mocks the player then it's pretty dysfunctional--but if the GM simply "allows this" then the observed play on the GM's part will, I think, be said to be in a CA the GM doesn't prefer.

In the case of the GM--the player who runs the universe--I would make some distinctions about what "observed CA" means or implies. I'll save those for later, however.

2. Although I don't like analogies for gaming, I want to dabble in one. Playing with someone who has a CA you don't socially validate may be a little (and in some ways) like eating lunch with a good friend who smokes (when you don't). So long as he doesn't blow it in your face, it's all cool because you like his company, conversation, pick of restaurants you both dig, etc.

In this case you give absolutely no support for the smoking other than agreeing to eat at a smoking table. You don't go to restaurants that have no smoking sections. You might both agree to eat outdoors when possible. But other than allowing the activity itself, you aren't supporting it--but you still jump at a chance to eat with your friend whenever you can.

2. In a group I know there is a player who never wants to lose (that's the GM's interpertation). The game that they're using is good for that. The player is pretty integral to the group (it's his apartment, some of the members of the group, for example, sleep on his couch). The GM is dedicated to running things "by the book" (if the player can successfully manipulate the system, he wins--opposition is run at "fair and expected levels.")

This has been a problem in the game from time to time. Other players have complained. The GM has mediated disputes. The GM has been annoyed by the player from time to time.

But the GM, when presented with the player pulling out a rule that allows him to insta-defeat a foe (and this doesn't always happen--often examination of the rules shows the player has misinterperted something ... sometimes badly), the GM asks himself "Okay, what's going on with me that I'm so wrapped around this conflict being important or satisfying or challenging to him*?"

This approach (which I commend--although I have noted that sometimes the GM has a legitimate wish to have some input into the game as well--something that is somewhat prevented when the player doesn't want to face any significant challenge) however, doesn't prevent the player from pursuing his agenda (in the face of lots of negative feedback and a GM who finds it annoying).

Now: the play is functional. The game is said by the players to be fantastic-awesome. The GM is proud of what he's done with it. Despite the systems fobiles, he generally likes it (it's Mutants and Masterminds).

3. I am not sure how you would go about analyzing the "group's play" under such circumstances. I believe that you would rightly say there is a lot of step-on-up going on but I'm not sure that one could disasociate the less supported gamist play from other player's theme or character oriented play.

I believe it might be a better tact to reserve group-analysis for points where everyone happens to line up and instead focus on individual ratings (i.e. one would not generally say "The play at the table was Gamist" but rather "Fred, Sid, and Marry seemed to play with a gamist agenda and the GM seemed happy with that.")

-Marco
* This is the GM who ran After The War, the game I wrote up in Actual Play. I wouldn't say he's a Gamist.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2004, 05:24:14 AM »

Hi Marco,

Walt just dropped a solid little bomb in his post to Are we as cool as Shakespeare? concerning Creative Agenda:

Quote
In my way of seeing it, which differs a little from the canonical presentation of the Big Model, Creative Agenda isn't the characteristic of an instance of role-playing that makes it worthwhile (or "fun") for the individual. "Worthwhile for the individual" is too varied and for the most part too hidden to infer or compare. Creative Agenda is the characteristic of an instance of role-playing that makes it social. So any answer to questions about the interaction of role playing with society (whether the immediate society of participants, or some larger group taking on an audience role) should fundamentally involve the play's Creative Agenda.


This doesn't differ too much from the current written version of CA, considering that CA is an arrow that "holds the Big Model together" during play, with its base in Social Contract. It's definitely a very powerful way to state it, though. Although Walt presents this point in the context of art and society at large (as per the thread), it seems especially relevant here in the more enclosed social space of a role-playing group.

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2004, 07:34:54 AM »

It's an interesting point--and certainly one that's highly relevant to functional play. I'm not sure I agree with Walt on the idea that internal rewards are necessairly too varied or too hidden.

To infer? Perhaps.

But I have a pretty darn good idea of what I like.

What I need is a good way to tell people what I like--and if I like playing DOOM and want to re-create that feeling or "scratch that itch" in an RPG then having a term like Gamism is a good way to start with that.

If I like front-loaded thematic situations with moderate challenge where the GM runs the game under a mostly virtualist social contract (which means that genre conventions are either built into the game-world physics or are given only secondary attention) and I want medium-high levels of player input in the meta-game (which will be pre-game, under the virt-social contract) then that's even better.

When I can specify that I'm okay with non-disempowering dramatic timing (but, clearly cooler on dramatic situation manipulation) and expect IIEE to be based on discrete timing or game mechanics (i.e. if another player tries to stop me from shooting the "Bobby G" guy we were sent to, I bloody well expect an Initiative roll) that's getting closer.

And so on ...

I'm not sure hanging a singe CA-label on that is of great value to that use of game theory--but I suspect that a part-by-part breakdown of the way player input, the game-world (as run by the GM), and GM preferences are related will, in fact give us something like "Player Gamism" in a way that isn't directly tied to social feedback.

I'm not sure (precisely) how the taxonomy would change, if at all.

Maybe "Player Gamism" would be seen as a player-initiatied technique that is either functional under a context of social Gamism ... or not so functional?

-Marco
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contracycle
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« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2004, 11:30:57 PM »

Quote from: Marco

If I like front-loaded thematic situations with moderate challenge ... ([jargon snipped) under the virt-social contract) then that's even better.


and...

Quote

I'm not sure hanging a singe CA-label on that is of great value to that use of game theory


Well, no - in that the theory of CA's does not of course describe all those constituent components that comprise a game.  I'm not sure why one would expect GNS to do so, though: none of the thr threefold models have attemted a universalist description of all RPG in practice.

Terminology which identifies specific TECHNIQUES, and any sets in which they may occur, has yet to be articulated.  The CA theory will necessary be a part of such a terminology, but I see no reason to expect the CA theory to be so universalist by itself nor a that the failure to be this descriptive is a weakness.
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Marco
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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2004, 06:52:54 AM »

Quote from: contracycle

Terminology which identifies specific TECHNIQUES, and any sets in which they may occur, has yet to be articulated.  The CA theory will necessary be a part of such a terminology, but I see no reason to expect the CA theory to be so universalist by itself nor a that the failure to be this descriptive is a weakness.


The reason I think the 3D model has a head start is because it *does* fold in some (or even a lot) of that stuff.

You were (IIRC) the guy who argued that Virtualist play was just definitive bog-standard Simulationism--if that's where CA theory starts us then, yeah, I think a lot of work needs to be done since we don't even agree what a technique is under that framework.

-Marco
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contracycle
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« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2004, 11:11:53 PM »

Quote from: Marco

You were (IIRC) the guy who argued that Virtualist play was just definitive bog-standard Simulationism--if that's where CA theory starts us then, yeah, I think a lot of work needs to be done since we don't even agree what a technique is under that framework.


Who's this "we", kimosabe?  That is, you claim confusion but it is not clear to me this is widespread.  It seems to me we have wasted an awful lot of time discussing GDS instead of getting on with discussing techniques.
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2004, 01:11:47 PM »

Let me try to amplify and put into more context the paragraph of mine that Ron quoted above.

Ron is right, this isn't a break with the Big Model. Since Social Contract is the base, the model's Creative Agenda has to be pretty specifically what Marco calls the Social Agenda.

The key to functional role playing, from a self-centered point of view, is to understand: "What are all those other people doing here?" Are they giving me something I want? Am I giving them something they want? If they're not Stepping On Up relative to me, not adding something I want to the Dream I'm experiencing, and not expressing themselves about a Premise, then why did I bother dragging my lazy ass into the same room with them?

This leads me to speculate: Creative Agenda isn't what I (or they) get from play. It's what I get from them through play (and they from me). That's my little bomb. Creative Agenda is, and is the entirety (not just a portion) of, what makes play itself a social process.

(That doesn't mean that Creative Agenda subsumes the entirety of Social Contract. Ordering pizza isn't an expression of Creative Agenda because it's not play.)

Now, there might be other things I might get from play without another player necessarily providing or contributing to them. I associate these things with Marco's "Personal Agenda." And Marco is right, these things aren't inscrutable as I implied in the quote. (What I meant was, these things are outside the scope of the Big Model, if they're not shared socially). Three of the most common are:

- Challenge. I want to measure myself against adversity and feel personal satisfaction if I succeed.

- Aesthetics. I want the imagined outcome to have certain qualities, such as the dramatic structure of a good story or be a compelling vision of a fictional universe.

- Emotional engagement with a character. I want to care about a character and (probably) I'd like to guide the character to a predominantly happy resolution of his or her problems.

Can someone enjoy the Challenge inherent in situation and mechanics even if no one else at the table recognizes, acknowledges, reciprocates, or rewards it? Certainly! Ditto for seeking aesthetics or emotional engagement. These are all goals one can achieve without anyone else contributing to them. In the case of aesthetics, someone else could also provide it for you without your help in building it. Of course, there is risk in all cases that other participants will do things that interfere with those goals -- unless the Social Contract says not to, in which case it's once again become part of the "Social Agenda."

You can also achieve these goals in solo pursuits including (respectively) solitaire games, writing or reading fiction, or viewing motion pictures. While to replicate the Big Model's Creative Agendas outside of role playing, you need a group activity: a game for Step On Up, some sort of shared storytelling activity for Story Now, or -- what, shared daydreaming maybe? or a seminar? -- for The Dream.

Which brings me to that eternal pit of despair called "what is the Sim Creative Agenda?" Consistency, verisimilitude, causality -- they whiff. I don't need them from you, and you don't need them from me, the best we can hope for is not to screw it up for each other, and what kind of reason is that for me to drag my lazy ass to your place for an evening? Learning, discovery -- they're closer, if I want to learn from you and you from me. But a bit too specific. In the bottom line, what I want from you at my Sim table is for you to bring things into the Dream that I wouldn't have thought of by myself (while still fitting within our mutually expected constraints such as consistency etc.). "The unexpected," as I've put it before. If that's what I want most from you and you from me, then we can call the Creative Agenda Simulationist.

- Walt
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Marco
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« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2004, 01:39:39 PM »

Great post, Walt.
I very much like the idea of Social and Personal Agendas (so much so that I would consider seeing Creative Agenda broken down into those pairs). It  might be clearer and, possibly valuable.

Along those lines I have an observation:

I am seeking emotional engagement with the situation (not, necessiarily the character) from the game.

I have a friend who, Walt's terms, brings "the unexpected" to the table. Now, sometimes it does conflict with what I think should happen--and some of those elements have been dysfunctional--but I'd rather game with him than game without him--and he doesn't do much for my emotional engagement with the situation (he's the player in my recent game write up who addressed the question of Justice vs. Mercy with the statement that a demented form of Justice was "Not American.")

I would say that my Social Agenda with him is "The Unexpected" (in this sense) while my Personal Agenda is "Emotional Engagement."

That is: the GM provides the emotional traction for me while he provides the "unexpected" (and, mostly, in a good, satisfying way).

Are these allowed to be separate? I'd think so--which is why I suggest splitting them.

Also: I note that "The Unexepcted" is pretty close to my "Intellectual Engagement" observations about the Sim-CA. I think the benefit that one gets from someone else stirring the pot (so to speak) is intellectual stimulation.

-Marco
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Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2004, 08:31:16 AM »

Quote from: Marco
I note that "The Unexepcted" is pretty close to my "Intellectual Engagement" observations about the Sim-CA. I think the benefit that one gets from someone else stirring the pot (so to speak) is intellectual stimulation.


I like this, generally. There are a few quibbles I'd have to generalize it beyond Marco's experience. What is it that we expect the other players to bring to the table in Sim mode? I don't think it's just "unexpected" input - heck, in some play groups, not much is a surprise after a while, and in highly stylized genre-play the unexpected is really not all that welcome.

I think it's distribution of the creative workload. If the other people at the table are adding to the Dream, I can focus more on my own experience of whatever I'm trying to Explore - immersion, setting, whatever. They provide the necessary elaboration of the SIS that creates the ground against which I do my exploration of whatever element is most engaging me. To the extent that this input is novel ("unexpected"), it can either DECREASE my ability to Explore (assumption clash, blocking, etc) or INCREASE it. The gating mechanisms we've talked about in connection with Sim play are a filter that tries to up the synergetic effect - as is Virtualist technique. Less Virtualist Sim play uses management of input to make it LESS unexpected. If I'm working alone, without the support of my fellow players, I have to imagine everything from an Author/Director stance much too often to really engage deeply with it. Distributing the responsibility for maintaining the SIS broadly (or delegating it to someone else in the Centralized mode) reduces my imaginative overhead costs. So do things like genre convention, rules, dramatic structure, and other gating mechanisms.

Best,

Mark
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