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Author Topic: Mechanics as Symbol Sets (was Sim-Diceless thread search)  (Read 5378 times)
John Kim
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« on: October 13, 2004, 10:08:57 AM »

OK, so I'd like to start a thread about mechanics as symbol sets, this continued from my discussion with contracycle toward the end of http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=139186#139186">Sim-Diceless thread search.  Important reading is the article, "A Semiotic View on Diegesis Construction", in http://www.ropecon.fi/brap/">Beyond Role and Play from last year's Solmukohta convention.  It outlines a semiotic model of signs: which can be indexical (i.e. literal meaning), iconic (i.e. meaning by similarity), or symbolic (i.e. meaning by habit or convention).  

Quote from: contracycle
Quote from: John Kim
OK, so I'm pondering this and your examples of suspension-of-disbelief aiding mechanics (TROS initiative, HOL's anguish table, and Pendragon's personality traits).  I'm willing to believe that these are the only mechanics which you find help suspend your disbelief, but I also think suspension of disbelief is a personal thing.  I think your analogy of art is apt -- i.e. some people are thrilled by impressionism and are put off by the sameness of realistic perspective and detail; while others feel the reverse.  In RPGs, I wonder if having been a physicist, I don't find objective mechanics as distracting as you do.  

I doubt thats the case, given that I'm a dialectical materialist and trained as an engineer.  I alslo think "tastes differ" is almost always a useless observation.

Well, "tastes differ" might be trivial, but it's better than "my tastes are right and yours are wrong".  I think the better approach would be to dig down to what sort of tastes this...  

Quote from: contracycle
Quote from: John Kim
 A system needs to be learned, but in principle once it is learned then it becomes a part of communication.  For example, I found the basics of RuneQuest were an excellent symbol set for my Vikings and Skraelings game.  My impression is that TROS is fine for Renaissance duellists circling each other, but RQ is to me much better for the fatalistic and gory combat of the viking sagas.

RQ may well produce OUTPUTS you find suitable, but the process in which you engage to generate them is much less like the acitivity described than is the case with the TROS initiative mechanic.

Not at all.  I am talking about the process.  TROS's initiative mechanic is about tense and hesitant choice in a face-off.  Again, that's fine for what it is trying, but it is not in my opinion appropriate for viking combat.  The process here is that when it comes to your turn, you turn your life over to fate.  This is aptly represented by a fixed-order initiative system followed by a high-variability die roll with little choice involved.  

Neither of these is particularly like the activity, so they are only marginally iconic at best.  i.e. Dropping a red die or a white die from your hand is very little like a duel.  Neither is the RQ process like joining a chaotic melee.  Still, they are ...

Quote from: contracycle
And while I don't necessarily disagree that a system of code can be used for communication, this does not seem to me to be an adequate counterpoint to the suggestion that the closer the code accords to the process described the more useful it can be.  

I'm not sure what this post was meant to say; just that you don't need the help?  That may or may not be true, but its irrelevant to whether or not the idea makes any sense.  I find RQ to have many of the same inadequacies as GURPS, but let me say this: the fact that RQ includes hit locations is an improvement, in the lights of my argument, over abstracted universal HP, because it is more like the described action than simple HP attrition was.

I disagree with your principle that the code is inherently more useful by being closer to the process.  In semiotic terms, this is saying that iconic signs are better than symbolic.  By this logic, comic books are more useful communication than novels, because they look more like the thing which they are representing.  Although I am a fan of many comic books, I don't agree with that.  

In practical terms, I feel that trying to make everything iconic can be cumbersome compared to a rich, non-iconic symbol set.  I think that such symbol sets can help to the extent that they enrich communication.  I chose RuneQuest because it helped -- i.e. because as a symbol set I felt it was good at representing the kind of saga I wanted to express.
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clehrich
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« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2004, 06:32:27 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
OK, so I'd like to start a thread about mechanics as symbol sets, this continued from my discussion with contracycle toward the end of http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=139186#139186">Sim-Diceless thread search.  Important reading is the article, "A Semiotic View on Diegesis Construction", in http://www.ropecon.fi/brap/">Beyond Role and Play from last year's Solmukohta convention.  It outlines a semiotic model of signs: which can be indexical (i.e. literal meaning), iconic (i.e. meaning by similarity), or symbolic (i.e. meaning by habit or convention).  [emphasis mine]
I'll get back to the longer argument when I get a chance, but just one point of clarification here.  I don't have Beyond Role and Play near at hand, but if it says this it's wrong.

This is one of C.S. Peirce's [incidentally pronounced like a lady's handbag or "purse"] several triads (the man was sort of obsessed with threes): Icon, Index, Symbol.  Roughly, here's how it works.

Every Sign says something to someone; you might say that a Sign points to a thing, idea, concept, or structure (usually the Referent for Peirce) and does this for some particular person (the Interpretant).  Thus a Sign helps to evoke a particular Referent, conceptually, in the mind of the Interpretant.  Okay?

Now an Icon, a type of Sign, does this through some sort of resemblance.  A picture is a good example, or onomatopoeia (Bang!  Pow!  Arf!), or anything like that.  The Interpretant says, "Hey, that Sign reminds me of that Referent."

A Symbol does this through convention.  A word in an ordinary language is the most typical example; the sound (or the collection of letters or whatever) has no meaning except because you and I and all other English-speakers have agreed that "cat" is going to mean Fluffy over there.

An Index is much more complicated and strange.  There is an ontological connection between the Sign and the Referent, causing the Interpretant to follow a chain from the one to the other.  Typical examples here are labels on jars and footprints.  If I see a footprint, it tells me someone has stepped there; if I see that a jar is labeled "poison," I read this as meaning that the contents of the jar are poisonous, not that the label is itself poison.

The thing is, all of these things are commonly active at once.  Your basic label on a jar that says "Poison!" has a little skull-and-crossbones.  The indexical portion links the sign to what it is physically touching, i.e. the jar, and by extension its contents.  The symbolic portion links the sign to language and convention: the word "poison," the exclamation point, the convention that a skull and crossbones means poison in this case and not a pirate, etc.  The iconic portion represents death through bones and skull.  And so forth.

This definition as stated in the quote above gets indexes totally wrong, and you cannot believe how important that is for Peirce.  In many respects, the other two kinds of signs only work in Peirce's theory because of indexicality; it's the kind of connection that we postulate to exist among other signs and through other signs, even though this is not in fact the case.

For example, you have the old notion that many words derive from onomatopoeia, most famously argued in Plato's Cratylus.  Supposing that were true (which it isn't), what difference would it make?  It seems as though it would make symbols into icons, and that's supposed to be a good thing because people are uncomfortable with the total arbitrariness of symbolism.  But Peirce would say that what's happening here is actually a claim that ordinary language derives from sound-iconism because sound-iconism itself is taken to be indexical.  That is, the idea is to validate all language as not arbitrary by following a chain of "reality" back upwards from symbol to icon to index.

Where all this leads, in fact, is to the point that claimed hierarchical or prioritized relations among these types of signification are completely normal, and in fact probably essential.  So for example when someone says that iconism is preferable to symbolism, this is not only not meaningless but actually an essential and important statement.  It has no scientifically verifiable certainty -- it's sort of like saying that fish are better than birds -- but such preferential ordering is a big part of how languages actually function within their cultures.

And now back to your regularly scheduled program.
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Chris Lehrich
John Kim
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« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2004, 10:00:08 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
I'll get back to the longer argument when I get a chance, but just one point of clarification here.  I don't have Beyond Role and Play near at hand, but if it says this it's wrong.
...
An Index is much more complicated and strange.  There is an ontological connection between the Sign and the Referent, causing the Interpretant to follow a chain from the one to the other.  Typical examples here are labels on jars and footprints.

Oops.  Sorry about that.  I'm terribly misrepresenting the essay about indices.  Here's it's attempt at a brief explanation of indices: "Indices acquire their signhood through a relation to their dynamic object.  A moving weathervane is an index of wind; a high temperature on a thermometer is an index of fever."  

Quote from: clehrich
Where all this leads, in fact, is to the point that claimed hierarchical or prioritized relations among these types of signification are completely normal, and in fact probably essential.  So for example when someone says that iconism is preferable to symbolism, this is not only not meaningless but actually an essential and important statement.  It has no scientifically verifiable certainty -- it's sort of like saying that fish are better than birds -- but such preferential ordering is a big part of how languages actually function within their cultures.

OK, so I think what you're saying here is that different hierarchies form different "cultures" of meaning.  This is touched on by the essay, which suggests that indexical signs are more LARP-ish, while symbolic signs are more tabletop-ish; with iconic signs being a middle ground.  So LARP is one broad culture; while traditional tabletop is another.  Apropos of contracycle's original point, his vision might be a third culture which places iconic signs at the top of the hierarchy.  However, I am extremely wary about jumping to conclusions about what such a culture would really look like (i.e. iconic is Narrativist, for example).
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contracycle
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« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2004, 03:08:40 AM »

Quote from: John Kim

Well, "tastes differ" might be trivial, but it's better than "my tastes are right and yours are wrong".  I think the better approach would be to dig down to what sort of tastes this...  


Not really; nits better to argue for or against a proposition beeing correct, IMO, then to obviate discussion by defaulting to nebulous and meaningless "taste".

Quote

Not at all.  I am talking about the process.  TROS's initiative mechanic is about tense and hesitant choice in a face-off.  Again, that's fine for what it is trying, but it is not in my opinion appropriate for viking combat.  The process here is that when it comes to your turn, you turn your life over to fate.  This is aptly represented by a fixed-order initiative system followed by a high-variability die roll with little choice involved.  


Well, if THAT is what you are trying to represent, then there are probably other ways of delivering that effect as well.  For example, you might build such a game so that it dioes not resolve blow by blow at all, because it is not the decisions of combat you want to highlight but its randomness.

But I think the argument that to random initiative order is very weak myself, and feels nothing like the actuality, nor even like a representation of a cultural view of that situation.

Quote

Neither of these is particularly like the activity, so they are only marginally iconic at best.  i.e. Dropping a red die or a white die from your hand is very little like a duel.  Neither is the RQ process like joining a chaotic melee.  Still, they are ...


No, the dropping dice is MUCH more like a duel - becuase it is happening between the players... at their discretion, on their timing.  The players are not boxed in by the system being told when to take their turn; this dynamic is in my mind very reminiscent indeed of two fighters circling.  The RQ version is much more abstracted - it proposes that players take turns in order as a solution to the management of actions, not as a representation of actions at all.

Quote from: contracycle

I disagree with your principle that the code is inherently more useful by being closer to the process....  By this logic, comic books are more useful communication than novels, because they look more like the thing which they are representing.


Yes.  You can use cartoons to commmunicate to people with whom you do not share a spoken language.  Yes I can say that comics are MORE USEFUL in certain respects with implying approval or disaproval and without discussing my preferences.  Further, process-literalism is quite common in such representations - the walk/don't walk symbols for example, or the fact that the universal iconography for "play/record/stop" by convention shows "play" pointing left to right because that used to be the direction of tape spools.

All of these communicate to the reader/viewer by similarity with the action or process described.  I think this principle is operational in RPG asw well, and I don't think aesthetic preference has a great deal to do with this.  The claim that it is or is not operational is irrleevant to taste; where taste enters the picture is deciding what we want to do portray.
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John Kim
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« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2004, 11:31:38 AM »

Quote from: contracycle
Quote from: John Kim
 TROS's initiative mechanic is about tense and hesitant choice in a face-off.  Again, that's fine for what it is trying, but it is not in my opinion appropriate for viking combat.  The process here is that when it comes to your turn, you turn your life over to fate.  This is aptly represented by a fixed-order initiative system followed by a high-variability die roll with little choice involved.  

Well, if THAT is what you are trying to represent, then there are probably other ways of delivering that effect as well.  For example, you might build such a game so that it dioes not resolve blow by blow at all, because it is not the decisions of combat you want to highlight but its randomness.  

But I think the argument that to random initiative order is very weak myself, and feels nothing like the actuality, nor even like a representation of a cultural view of that situation.

Well, I agree on your final point -- random-order initiative doesn't seem like it would fit.  However, it's not a part of RQ.  As I said, I used fixed-order initiative.  Now, standard RQ3 has a somewhat more involved strike rank system, which I dropped shortly into the campaign.  Instead, I used a simple around-the-table order.  So each character is called upon in turn to commit to the fray.  

I completely disagree about the former point, though.  I felt the graphic blow-by-blow and wound-by-wound was essential to the dramatic power of the combats.  I wanted that from the start and I felt it worked well in practice.  The alternative of having abstract resolution and nebulous "victory" seemed inappropriate.  I also didn't want to remove all choice by any means.  Randomness was important but not total.  

(By the way, an outline of the rules modifications and choices are at
http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/vinland/about/rules.html )

Quote from: contracycle
Quote from: John Kim
I disagree with your principle that the code is inherently more useful by being closer to the process....  By this logic, comic books are more useful communication than novels, because they look more like the thing which they are representing.

Yes.  You can use cartoons to commmunicate to people with whom you do not share a spoken language.  Yes I can say that comics are MORE USEFUL in certain respects with implying approval or disaproval and without discussing my preferences.  Further, process-literalism is quite common in such representations - the walk/don't walk symbols for example  

I suspect you're not really disagreeing with me here, since you qualify this with "in certain respects".  And sure, I agree with that.  Comic books have strengths compared to novels, and novels have strengths compared to comic books.  Neither of them is inherently better than the other.  In the same way, I don't think that iconic signs and/or process literalism are inherently better for RPGs.  They are potentially useful tools, but not the be-all-end-all or even required.  In the same way, pictures are useful representative tools -- but that doesn't mean that a novel without pictures is flawed or incomplete.
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Sean
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« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2004, 05:17:13 PM »

Hi John -

I consider this idea of 'representative mechanics' to be one of the most important I've seen at the Forge, and heavily worth exploring.

By analogy to the problem of emotion in music, we might say the following. Music, being (like language) a system of sounds, in a certain sense doesn't contain any emotion at all. But on the other hand it is an exceptional vehicle for conveying emotion - though the nature of the 'conveyance' is obscure (since the composer need not feel the emotion he seeks to convey as he writes).

One theory, probably false in toto but correct in particular cases, suggests that music which conveys certain emotions does so by way of a metaphorical similarity to the behavior of people who possess those emotions. So sad music moves slowly, restrains chord progression, etc.

There is no reason whatsoever that we could not seek out such metaphorical connections in the mechanics we use for our RPGs. So that dice mechanics, the choice of LARPing certain scenes, the use of props, might evoke and suggest and stand in various metaphorical relations to the 'actual' experience of the physical impossibilia we contemplate.

We're only at the threshold of this right now in most designs. Some of the best examples I know of are the insistence on certain colors for the bonus dice in MLwM and the "Everything Dice" appendix in Hackmaster; but these are both essentially fetishism, though especially good uses of it.
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clehrich
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« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2004, 06:45:59 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: clehrich
Where all this leads, in fact, is to the point that claimed hierarchical or prioritized relations among these types of signification are completely normal, and in fact probably essential....
OK, so I think what you're saying here is that different hierarchies form different "cultures" of meaning.  This is touched on by the essay, which suggests that indexical signs are more LARP-ish, while symbolic signs are more tabletop-ish; with iconic signs being a middle ground.  So LARP is one broad culture; while traditional tabletop is another.  Apropos of contracycle's original point, his vision might be a third culture which places iconic signs at the top of the hierarchy.  However, I am extremely wary about jumping to conclusions about what such a culture would really look like (i.e. iconic is Narrativist, for example).
Okay, I'm going to have to sit down and read this essay carefully.  What you describe here, in terms of cultures favoring one type of representation over another, sounds simplistic but at the same time plausible.  I suspect that one could in fact find fairly consistently, through semiotic analysis of different modes of discourse about mechanics, a set of claims about different mechanics being preferentially either indexical or iconic, with the further claim that this makes them better in the sense of stronger representations.  What would be striking about this is that it puts such discourse solidly back in line with more traditional ways of talking about representation, in the sense that the assertion that such-and-such a way of representing is more "true" is an extremely common one with nearly infinite variations.

My suspicion is that straight-up Peirce-style semiotics isn't going to produce much in the way of results here.  I would think that a more clearly structuralist approach, drawing on people like Saussure and Levi-Strauss, would be more likely to yield useful material.  The reason is that the structuralist revolution depended in part on the recognition that semiosis (manipulation of signs toward meaning) is always a matter of strategies and relations, allowing us to distinguish between (let's say) LARPs and table-top games without simply having to choose one preferential sign-structure over another.  Just a guess, though.  I'll think about it.
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Chris Lehrich
clehrich
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« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2004, 06:59:21 PM »

As a follow-up point, Sean has brought up the problem of music as a non-representational art form that nonetheless powerfully conveys meaning.  I would point out that Levi-Strauss struggled with this problem at great length in many of his works, most recently Look, Listen, and Read, but running right the way back to his early career.  If we're going to delve into this seriously, it might be worth taking up some of his more straightforward and more clearly applicable analyses.  The introduction to The Raw and the Cooked fits pretty well, though the rest of the book is insanely difficult.  In short, I think Sean is dead right to be thinking music rather than poetry, theater, or literature, as an appropriate analogy to how system works in gaming (I'd say especially Sim but that's a side point), but I also think this is going to take a lot of heavy intellectual lifting to work out clearly.
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Chris Lehrich
John Kim
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« Reply #8 on: October 15, 2004, 10:10:09 AM »

Quote from: Sean
There is no reason whatsoever that we could not seek out such metaphorical connections in the mechanics we use for our RPGs. So that dice mechanics, the choice of LARPing certain scenes, the use of props, might evoke and suggest and stand in various metaphorical relations to the 'actual' experience of the physical impossibilia we contemplate.

We're only at the threshold of this right now in most designs. Some of the best examples I know of are the insistence on certain colors for the bonus dice in MLwM and the "Everything Dice" appendix in Hackmaster; but these are both essentially fetishism, though especially good uses of it.

Hmmm.  This seems like a different point of view.  To my mind, metaphoric connections are not something new and weird in RPG mechanics.  Mechanics are inherently signs for the objects and processes they represent.  They always have been, and the only new thing is using semiotic language to analyze it.  

For example, I don't think that the special MLWM bonus dice is fundamentally different in kind.  Prior precedents for that include things like the ghost die in Ghostbusters, the wild die in Star Wars, bonus dice in 7th Sea, and various others.  For those who aren't familiar, the ghost die in Ghostbusters had a ghost symbol instead of the 6.  If that came up on any roll, then something unpredictable goes wrong regardless of the total.  This is a metaphoric sign -- i.e.  the ghost being rolled doesn't indicate that a ghost appeared, but the ghost is a metaphor for the chaos that relates to the supernatural in the themes of Ghostbusters.  

But that's just making a little more explicit what is already the practice of gamers.  When a Champions player carefully shakes and rolls out a whopping handful of 15 dice, that is also a metaphorical act.  Part of the popularity of dice pool systems, I think, is making skill/power a tactile element of the game.  I think that games are filled with metaphor far beyond just dice.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: October 15, 2004, 10:56:26 AM »

Hi there,

Merely a nod of agreement on my part with John, regarding the latest post.

Best,
Ron
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Sean
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« Reply #10 on: October 15, 2004, 01:06:34 PM »

Hi John -

I guess I agree with the substantive content of your post in re the issues, but I feel that you're twisting my words around. The erotics of dice are well understood already by everyone in the discussion here; there are lots more examples than originally popped into my head, as you note.

But how much RPG design has really focused consciously on making rule-driven forms of player input and mechanics

1) Symbolize
2) Represent
3) Express

what is going on in the SIS, in the way that authorial player decisions and role-playing do? Very little, and I thought in the Sim: Diceless thread that this was the best part of your response to Chris there.

I guess when you say 'mechanics are inherently signs...' though you lose the most important thing (again, to me) about your observation. The problem here as I see it isn't the logico-semantic one about how a mechanic gets tagged to its referent; it's the psychosemantic one about reducing the distance between real-world player cognition and the experience of exploration. That's where metaphor becomes useful, because strong metaphorical connections decrease the psychological distance between our minds and the imaginative stuff we're exploring.

I apologize if that's useless to the thread though.
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #11 on: October 15, 2004, 03:14:51 PM »

Since LARP has been mentioned and speculated on here, I'll suggest a few examples and experiences from that domain, some of which affirm the benefits of strong metaphorical connections between the real objects and actions of play and the imagined domain, and some of which suggest that those benefits have limits, pitfalls, or diminishing returns.

The most striking positive example I can think of is the mechanism I used for handgun fire in modern settings. The rule was that to shoot someone, you placed a 1" diameter red self-adhesive paper dot onto the target's body or clothing. (The gun consisted of an utterly un-gun-like paper card indicating possession of the weapon, and a limited supply of the adhesive dots representing the ammunition.) Once used on someone, the dot of course represented the bullet entry wound, and its placement indicated the location. This meant handguns could only be used at point-blank range, but that compromise, which one might think would be a gross violation of realism, was not a problem at all. The rest of it was just so powerful. Players who were shot would stare at the dot(s) in absolute stunned disbelief if not shock, eerily similar to how people who are really shot are often described as reacting. For both shooter and victim, it "felt" like a brutally violent act, perhaps in part because unlike all other expressions of attack or hostility in play, it involved touching another player's person. Also, there was no metagame warning of what was about to happen. In IIEE terms, usually by the time the victim player was aware of the event, it was already time for the final E.

Interactions involving tangible money also tended to be powerful, no matter how crudely printed or minted the currency actually was. Of course, money is a complex symbol in the real world to begin with. It translates into the imagined world more effectively in physical form than when described in numbers in tabletop role playing.

On the other hand, the idea that acting things out is always better than using spoken keywords or other abstract signals fails miserably in practice. For instance, having players chant, sing, or gesture when casting spells does not bring the reality of playing and the imagined event closer together than just calling out the name of a spell does. If anything, it pries them farther apart. And this appears to be as true for the spellcasting player as it is for the other players present.

If I were designing LARP rules for magic today, rather than attempting to portray the manner in which the magic is performed (such as incantations or gestures), or its effects (such as tossing beanbags for magic missiles or laying down red yarn for walls of fire), I'd look for real-world player actions that symbolize something about its deeper nature instead. I'd probably try to draw on universal ancient symbols, such as putting on masks to represent the compromise of identity inherent in invoking supernatural entities, weaving cat's-cradle string figures to represent manipulating arcane forces, or destroying something intricate that takes the player a long time to create (during out-of-game time, perhaps?) to represent its emotional cost.

All LARP designers including me have spent too much time focusing on physical representations and not enough time searching for really good metaphorical representations of the important aspects of the SIS. No amount of acting out "ouch, I'm wounded" can convey the smell of blood or the sight of splintered bone that a few well-chosen descriptive words can evoke in tabletop play. I haven't yet found a metaphorical alternative rule or action or token that can close that gap, but there very well might be one out there.

- Walt
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John Kim
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« Reply #12 on: October 17, 2004, 10:36:22 AM »

Quote from: Sean
But how much RPG design has really focused consciously on making rule-driven forms of player input and mechanics
1) Symbolize
2) Represent
3) Express
what is going on in the SIS, in the way that authorial player decisions and role-playing do? Very little, and I thought in the Sim: Diceless thread that this was the best part of your response to Chris there.

First of all, sorry if I was twisting your words -- it wasn't intentional.  I'm not sure which response from the prior thread you're referring to, but I think I may not have been clear.  Let me try summarizing:

On the one hand, I do think that there are a host of possible improvements and innovations in RPGs -- and in particular how mechanics function as symbol sets.  And I think that mainstream RPG design has been in a bit of a rut for the past few years.  However, I don't think that conscious focus on symbolism is required for good symbolic design or even necessarily an improvement.  In general, I feel that the act of artistic design is to a fair degree subconscious, and isn't necessarily improved by conscious theoretical analysis.  Conscious pursuit of metaphor may help create cool, powerful symbol sets -- but it can also result in labored, over-designed attempts.  So it should definitely been pursued as another artistic approach, but I don't a priori regard it as the only or best design approach.  I would be interested in seeing what it produces (which could change my mind).  

I'd like to throw in more cases of existing metaphor.  For example, I think that the bookkeeping, mechanical work in Ars Magica is a good metaphor for the pseudo-scientific research that the magi are engaged in.  Another powerful example is chases in James Bond 007, which are based on a bidding mechanic -- bidding lower Ease Factor vs your opponent.  I don't know whether or not these resulted from conscious pursuit of symbolism, but I think they work regardless.  

Quote from: Sean
I guess when you say 'mechanics are inherently signs...' though you lose the most important thing (again, to me) about your observation. The problem here as I see it isn't the logico-semantic one about how a mechanic gets tagged to its referent; it's the psychosemantic one about reducing the distance between real-world player cognition and the experience of exploration. That's where metaphor becomes useful, because strong metaphorical connections decrease the psychological distance between our minds and the imaginative stuff we're exploring.

OK, I agree with that.  However, just as iconic aren't the only type of signs, metaphor isn't the only type of psychosemantic approach to emotional meaning.  While I appreciate the psychosemantic problem, please note that the topic I was taking on was about semiotics.  i.e. Just because it wasn't the explicit topic of the thread doesn't mean I think it (psychosemantics) is not important.
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- John
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