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Author Topic: Stance Theory: The Hegemony of One Character  (Read 15358 times)
Paganini
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« on: October 12, 2004, 08:25:34 PM »

So, Ben Lehman said this tonight:

"It cleaves to close to the hegemony of one player corresponding to one character only, so much that only one category is made for exceptions, and it is made for all exceptions."

What that means is that the four stances:

Director
Actor
Author
Pawn

Are really kind of hacked together and incomplete. Two of them (Author and Pawn) are really two versions of the same stance. Three of the four assume that a player may only interface the SiS by means of a single agent (i.e., a character). All other (non-character) agents are lumped together into one super-duper vague "Director Stance" category.

Also, the term "stance" is kinda misleading. What is that supposed to mean exactly? "My Actor Stance will defeat your Pawn Stance!"

Anyway, so, let's work from the ground up and discuss the framework of possible agents and limitations involved in manipulating the SiS.
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2004, 08:38:11 PM »

I am going to go ahead and reiterate my position from the discussion Ben brought this up in: The three stances that seem to have grown out of One Player -> One Character are all focused on Justification of Action.  That is: each one deals with why you choose to put something into the SIS.  As Ben said, Director stance is independent of justification and is basically a catch-all term for agents other than the Player Character.  As such Director Stance is a misnomer because it does not deal with Justification.  In fact i would suggest that Director "stance" is really an application of one of the other three Stances.

There was a discussion about this: Is Director Stance Real? back in 2001 which i found very informative.

Anyway, i think that we would benefit from classifying things on a matrix of Justification and Agent.  Though in all honesty there may not be a need to classify Agents at all...  So i guess i would suggest that there are three stances:

Actor - Deciding based on SIS justification regardless of non-SIS considerations.

Author - Deciding based on non-SIS considerations while providing SIS justification.

Pawn - Deciding based on non-SIS consideratons without a SIS justificaton (i am not sure if this indicates that there is a specific non-SIS justification or not).

Director Stance is just a red herring!

Thomas
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2004, 10:23:48 PM »

As far as Thomas's breakdown of Justifications, I think that's pretty reasonable.

I wouldn't necessarily say that we don't need to classify what he calls "agent."  I'm not sure if agent is a good term, but we can use it for now, as well as "have agency over" being a term for having an agent in the SIS.

(I call this Authority in Polaris, but that has another meaning here.)

So, in this case, we can say that in most traditional play, the GM has Agency over nearly all the SIS, with the exception of the the PC's conscious decisions, intentions, and emotional state, over which the respect players have agency.  Right?

In fact, as I see it now, agency maps pretty directly to credibility.  As in, you are said to have agency over things that you can likely make a credible statement about.

Do we want / need to divide up agency distribution methods into classifications?

yrs--
--Ben
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Alan
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« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2004, 01:57:38 AM »

Hi Paganini,

The GNS and other Matters essay says explicitly that Pawn is just a special case of Author stance.  This isn't news.

The term "Stance" is a metaphore for the ideological position the player takes before making a given decision of play.  

Actor - the player asks "what would this character do?"

Author - the player asks "what do I want this character to do?"

Director - the player asks "what do I want to happen?"

I think the three stances are fully adequate to categorize all decisions in play, relative to any character or element.  We just have to understand that stance is separate from control.

I'm taking the concept of Control from Universalis, where, at a given moment, different players can control the right to speak and declare for given elements of the story (from characters to locations to props etc.)  When a player has control, he has final say on decisions for an element.  _How_ he makes that decision is determined by stance.

Traditional play normally restricts every player except the GM to controlling one element - the PC.  The stances do not require this restriction, it's just an assumption we bring from common rulesets.  (And perhaps Ron made this assumption when writing about them the first time).

In traditional play, the GM can take Actor, Author, or Director stance for multiple characters (though usually not the PCs), and may even mix and match to formulate events for the SIS.   In less traditional games, like HeroQuest and Trollbabe, you'll see every player having some control over more than one character.

Just separate stance from control and your concern is answered.
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- Alan

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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2004, 06:19:14 AM »

Thomas's  of Agency made me take a good look over my own assumptions about what can and can't be done in an RPG.  Despite my instincts, I must conclude that acting through an agent (whether your character, another character, or a suddenly introduced falling anvil) is not the only way to effect the SIS.  

A player could say "The Red Claw should die by the end of this scene, it's a dramatic imperative", and if the other players accept that then it's now a part of the SIS.  That seems pretty agent-free to me.  Does it fit in with Stances as we understand them?
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Alan
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« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2004, 07:00:42 AM »

Quote from: TonyLB
A player could say "The Red Claw should die by the end of this scene, it's a dramatic imperative", and if the other players accept that then it's now a part of the SIS.  That seems pretty agent-free to me.  Does it fit in with Stances as we understand them?


Can it be the answer to any of the three stance questions?  

What would this character do?  No

What do I want this character to do?  No

What do I want to have happen?  Yes.

This suggestion was made from Director stance.

We can see, too, the separation of control (or authority, if you prefer) from stance.  The statement is clearly a proposal rather than a decision.  The player doesn't believe he has complete autority to make the decision himself.
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- Alan

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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2004, 07:07:46 AM »

So Director (under these questions) is any time you effect the SIS by... effecting the SIS?  Doesn't that mean that Director encompasses both Actor and Author?  Or do you exclude them by definition?
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2004, 07:21:41 AM »

First, at the risk of drifting from the topic I want to touch on Tony's point.  Is an agreement for something to happen later actually an input into the SIS or is it a modification of Social Contract?  I am not sure...

Second, Alan, you make an excellent point that Stance is not a matter of control but a matter of how you make a given decision.  Unfortunately, I believe that your own definitions are non-exclusive.  The difference between "what do I want to happen?" and "what do I want my character to do?" is completely artificial and, as I see it, exactly what started this thread.  Due to the focus on One Player -> One Character we have generated a seperate Stance (Director) which does not deal with how one makes decisions but rather what one makes decisions about.

As things stand in the Provisional Glossart all four stances begin their definitions with "The person playing a character..." again evidencing a focus on One Player -> One Character.

Again, I would say that Author/Actor/Pawn Stances are used to reference how a decision is made while Director Stance is used to reference what a decision is made about.  This disconnect, especially if tied to the idea that Stances are exclusive (i.e. at any given moment you are using only one), makes Stances as a whole far less useful than they would be otherwise.

You are also correct in pointing out that Pawn is a subset of Author, thanks for the reminder.  So I am going to return to my earlier proposal.  If Stance is an indicator of how you make a decision then one way to classify them is one what information you consider while making the decision.  Actor Stance utilizes in-SIS information only for decision making while Author (and Pawn) Stance(s) utilize non-SIS information.

Does the above make sense to anyone else, or am I just off in my own little dream world?

Thomas
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: October 13, 2004, 07:47:42 AM »

Hello,

Quote
As things stand in the Provisional Glossart all four stances begin their definitions with "The person playing a character..." again evidencing a focus on One Player -> One Character.


This is incorrect.

The definitions say "a" character. They have nothing to do with one character per one player. They have nothing to do with distinguishing GM from player.

The definitions refer to any person at any time playing any character. Whether the game happens to restrict a given person to a single character is irrelevant.

People make Stances way harder than they have to. I consider the current definitions as they stand to be complete, sufficient, and necessary. I haven't seen a proposed modification yet which does not represent a misunderstanding.

Best,
Ron
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timfire
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« Reply #9 on: October 13, 2004, 07:54:48 AM »

Quote from: LordSmerf
If Stance is an indicator of how you make a decision then one way to classify them is one what information you consider while making the decision.  Actor Stance utilizes in-SIS information only for decision making while Author (and Pawn) Stance(s) utilize non-SIS information.

I would agree. But I might change the focus. You focus on how decisions are made, but I would change it to to why. I would rephrase it to say that Actor stance makes decisons based on internal cause or in-game concerns, while Author stance makes decisions based on meta-game concerns. (I think this is what Vincent said in that older thread.)
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
LordSmerf
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« Reply #10 on: October 13, 2004, 08:11:03 AM »

Ron,

Two points, one rather minor, and one more significant (to me at least).

One, is it possible for a player to be playing something other than a character?  What if I have the "Director Role" or something and all I deal with is scene framing and setting and camera angles and whatever?  Is that a valid option or would you say that that is just another form of character?  Alternatively, would you say that you are using a different definition of character than I am which is broader in scope?

Two, given the above I assume that you would say that I misunderstand Stances in my claim that Actor/Author/Pawn are about why you make a decision while Director is about what you make a decision about.  If so could you point me in the right direction?  Your post has a somewhat exasperated edge so I assume that this has been discussed to death, but I have not seen the threads in which it has.

Thanks.

Oh, and Tim, I can see where you are coming from.  I think I agree with you.

Thomas
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #11 on: October 13, 2004, 08:29:08 AM »

Well, Ron, the definitions may be as you describe them, in logical terms.

In practical terms, the definitions are problematic! If this thread and the discussion-to-death of Stances in the past (that LordSmerf suggests exists) is any indication, then the definitions in the essay and provisional glossary fail to communicate the meaning that they contain.

Now, personally, I find it problematic that all three Stances require that the person be playing a character, creating confusion with the common usage of the term (a personlike entity that is able to take actions in the imaginary space). Apparently, according to Provisional Glossary, "a character" is any entity which may perform actions in the imaginary space. If this is the (needlessly obfuscatory) meaning intended by the Stance definitions, then it does clarify some issues of stance theory significantly.

However, it doesn't solve the problem that the entire glossary and essay are written circularly, with definitions referring to other terms defined in the same work, when common language ("entity", for instance) would not only suffice but improve.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2004, 08:40:00 AM »

Hello,

Stance is an ephemeral feature of role-playing. This means two things.

1. It may not be involved at all. Theoretically, if stuff in the SIS is occurring which has nothing to do with whatever a character is doing (or "is") then Stance isn't involved.

However, for instance, most scene framing does refer to characters in some way, and assumes a thing or two about what the characters have just done or are about to do, or what they are perceiving. When it does, then Director Stance is involved, at least in terms of someone providing propositions.

2. Stances in action shift around all the time, both from Stance to Stance and also in terms of who is playing the character. "I show up!" is Director Stance. So is "All right, you're all looking at the dragon-headed ship coming into port." Both of them are usually not acknowledged as "playing characters" by anyone at the table, but they are. Both of them are Director Stance because they move "the world" or immediate environment into a new orientation around the character.

Note that the first utilizes an enormous amount of power about the environmental-SIS in the non-GM player's hands, although (in many cases) that same group would swear to God and his angels that the "GM controls the world."

Note also that the second utilizes an enormous amount of power about the character-SIS in the GM's hands, although (ditto) that same group would similarly swear that "the players control their characters."

So the whole idea that any kind of one-to-one correspondence of player and character exists at all is absurd. Always has been, always will be.

Thomas, now to answer your direct questions.

1. I think that my concept of a character isn't especially broad or unusual. If it's an agent which can be said to move and make decisions in a way that you and I can sympathize with, it's a character. I do think that many "objects" in the game world are characters, and some of them are technically inanimate objects, but these are not that common, and for the most part, it's not a big deal. When I say "the crate full of bat guano falls on your character's head," it's not a character, even if it uses the same roll-to-hit that an NPC would.

2. Here's the very best way to look at Stances that I've been able to figure out. It goes in a little sequence.

a) Start with a character in an immediate environment.

b) Are you talking about the character doing stuff, or the environment doing something to [about, around, for, etc] the character?

If the latter, then it's Director Stance.

If the former, then it's either Author or Actor Stance, and then:

c) if the decision/action is being made strictly from the perspective of the character, usually through excluding certain elements of real-person understanding, then it's Actor Stance.

and:

d) if the decision/action is being made from the perspective of real-person understanding which the character does not share (e.g. the monster is right around the corner), then it's Author Stance.

e) Within Author Stance, if the role-playing additionally includes an in-character justification of the action to "mask" the real-person decision, then we say "Author" (some say "Author/Author"), and if not, then we say "Pawn" (some say "Author/Pawn").

TAKE-HOME POINT

Actor and Author Stances are distinguished from Director Stance because they restrict themselves to character action/decision, rather than environmental ones.

Author and Director Stances are distinguished from Actor Stance because they do not rely on in-character knowledge and perspective for justification.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: October 13, 2004, 08:45:54 AM »

Ah, cross-posted with Shreyas.

Bluntly and simply, we disagree. I consider the plethora of discussion on Stance to be a historical artifact, in that decades of texts and vocabulary for discussing role-playing have left most of us in a haze of confusion and habit. If everyone comes to the discussion with their heads full of this haze, then we can expect the discussion continually to be about clearing it. There's no reason to cite this as evidence that the topic itself is in disarray.

That's my perspective. It is also possible that you are right and that the topic is in disarray, hence we have hazy discussions. Reader's choice.

Your point about tautology belongs in the GNS forum, I think, in a thread of its own.

Best,
Ron
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #14 on: October 13, 2004, 08:51:09 AM »

Thanks Ron,

I am going to have to think about this for a bit.  I understand what you are saying, but I have this sort of nagging sense that the Stances are disjointed.  That is they are somewhat non-intuitive to me.

Again, thank you for your clarification.

Thomas
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