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Author Topic: [Timestream] Bricolage In Action  (Read 2455 times)
Nathan P.
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« on: September 15, 2005, 01:54:23 PM »

I've been playtesting my materials for the Timestream game I'll be running at Southern Exposure at the end of the month. Todays game was very fun, and provided some examples of the bricolage that I think is so central to rewarding Sim play. If people want more on bricolage, shout out and I'll dig up the links.

Anyway, Timestream is pretty much impossible to play with anything resembling a set storyline. The character creation and R-map creation mechanics create a set of played characters linked by a web of Anchors, and play tends to end up revolving around one or two central anchors that bind the characters across time. Thus, the process of bricolage is critical to the actual production of plot/story/events/what have you. For Timestream in particular, the key question to "unlocking" the kind of bricolage that needs to happen in play is "What, right now, right here, would be cool?"

Now, for this game I pre-generated a set of characters and their Anchors. The players select characters, choose some options (their actual time-affecting powers, and their primary goals and obstacles to those goals), and are ready to go. One of my regulars was unable to show up today, so it was myself and two players. We're all college students and experienced role-players. I don't think its particularly relevent to my point here, but I'll be more than happy to fill out our RPG histories and personal backgrounds if need be.

Weldon picked up the artist character (Victoria), a "bleeding-edge" media artist and Temporal Manipulator from 2002 NYC. Pat chose the end-of-his-rope dock worker Thrall (Joe) from 1990 NYC. The most central Anchor to the overall R-map (6 characters in all) is Daniel, who is Joe's son and a possible patron for Victorias as-yet-unknown art.

The point during play that really "clicked" for me in terms of bricolage was this: Victoria has just saved Daniel's ass from being hauled off by Mafia polookas for an as-yet-unknown reason. Joe is being forced by his Master to track down someone named "Lambetti" in Victoria's timeframe. I cut from a scene with Victoria to Joe walking down the street, still unclear on what his Master wants him to do and trying to be proactive in some manner. I asked myself "What would be cool, right now?" I decided that a car pulled up next to Joe and a Mafia-looking palooka yells "Hey Dan, where the hell you going? We need to get to the meeting!" Over the course of the scene, we determined that (young) Joe looked just like Dan, that Dan was apparentely quite the joker ("Come on Dan, drop the act, this is serious) and that the guys in the car were going to meet Lambetti.

Click, click, click. A connexion was forged. I knew it, and I'm pretty sure the other guys knew it - of course Joe looks like Dan. Of course Dan was going to get Joe in trouble with Lambetti, whoever he was, and Lambetti would send thugs after the real Joe.

Now, this was cemented with the next scene with Joe: "Lambetti leans across the table and asks you what you're going to offer him in way of apology for what you've done to him." Ding! Obviously Pat now had to have Joe do something to piss of Lambetti. It was a good moment.

Continuity was created, not by an overarching story, or even by plot points or prepped bangs. Continuity was created, I would argue, by the process of bricoling our knowledge of the current situation and these characters with the sense, given by the game text, that these characters should and will be connected, in play, through their Anchors. This process was supported by system, both the cascading effects from character creation and actual mechanics having to do with Anchors.

I think this kind of thing happens frequently in role play, but usually on the Technique level - i.e., this GM is so good, he totally links everything that happens. I'm not going to know for sure until I see some actual play reports, but Timestream absolutely requires this kind of bricolage in order to be...well, coherent is the word I would use, but not necessary in the  Forge sense of the word. Continuous, perhaps.

As for a specific question, I would ask that, given this example, does anyone know other games that reliably support or create this kind of process of bricolage? I'd love to check them out. Other discussion questions or topics stemming from this post are totally kosher as well.     
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Nathan P.
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Arturo G.
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« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2005, 03:24:52 PM »


Nathan P.:
Quote
If people want more on bricolage, shout out and I'll dig up the links.

I have read some things about bricolage but I'm still not well acquainted. I was trying to do the dig on myself. Thus, I would really appreciate the links.

Thanks a lot,
Arturo
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2005, 09:09:52 PM »

Arturo,

Cool.

Here's the big one: Bricolage APPLIED (finally!). The groundwork is in the Ritual Discourse in Role-Playing Games article.

Also: Bricolage and Continuity and Bricolage and Play at This Is My Blog.

Also, do a search for Silmenume in the Theory and Actual Play forums for the last year, and pretty much everything that Jay posts about has something to do with bricolage.

Any other core threads that I'm missing, feel free to post.
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Nathan P.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2005, 09:58:38 AM »

Nathan, I'm very interested in this meme of conscious, iterative, collaborative creation.  I've got two games of my own which explore parallel tracks: first, my microgame testing ground Conquer the Horizon.  All players throw in content, and figure how to manipulate that content towards their own goals.  There's also a similar element of play in Dynasty's Freeform Setting, even though it's "just" a card game.  It looks like you've got similar principles applied to the plotline, and that's incredibly intriguing!

Capes also ends up doing this, as well: the only thing the published rules supply are some chunky archetypes, and there is no 'game prep'.  Therefore everything is developed in play, building on what's already been established.

The mental gymnastics around temporal causality loops (that is what the game is about, right?) sounds like great fun, although I wonder if everybody is "up" to doing such stuff.  Have you tried out the game with a broad range of people?  I'd be interested to know how people react to a game that more-or-less demands that they make up both cause and effect while sitting inbetween both of them.
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Emily Care
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« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2005, 11:05:14 AM »

One of the things our monkey minds are best at is making sense out of whatever we encounter.  Patterns & order get created out of whatever we see: hence, the Rorshach test, as well as movie continuity--carrying meaning over from one image to another. 

The above games, as well as Primetime Adventures, Universalis, Under the Bed, Snap,  Polaris and Breaking the Ice all benefit from & take advantage of this aspect of psychology. Collaborative games thrive upon it. We want to imbue meaning, and when everybody gets to add their input we will often plain old want to move in the direction of making connections between what we see.  It's satisfying, and sort of natural to the eye, from a creative perspective.

This is a powerful approach to game design. When you hook up the engines of everybody's creativity to the cart, we can really go places. 

Quote
The mental gymnastics around temporal causality loops (that is what the game is about, right?) sounds like great fun, although I wonder if everybody is "up" to doing such stuff.
The real trick is making it easy to come for anybody to come up with stuff.  It's not easy coming up with this on the fly.  I got to do a demo of SNAP with Gordon, and he talked about writing the game with Universalis in mind: wanting to give more support to people in coming up with stories & weaving a plot out of their shared collaboration.  (Note to Gordon: talk more about SNAP!)  In the Mountain Witch the Trust/Fates combo creates an opening for everyone to intertwine the lives of their Samurai.  In Polaris, the elements you are jamming on & their relative connections are mapped our for you, right there in the Cosmos, to give everyone cues about what to poke at and play with.  Some games, like Primetime Adventures & Conquer the Horizon draw on the players' shared knowledge about a given trope: tv shows, colonization. How is this handled in Timestream?

best,
Emily
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« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2005, 02:08:51 PM »

I've never run across this word before. Bricole - to tinker (says the online French dictionary)

I would have used Gestalt Psychology terms to get at the same idea. Give people half a picture and they construct the other half out of their imaginations.

This collection of mental artifacts described in Bricolage seems a lot like what I call the matrix of information about the world that players use in Engle Matrix Games. I used to use an actual set of cards to shoe the matrix of the world until I found that I could make any argument I wanted out of the dregs of cards left over. I realized that if I could do that then why have the cards at all. People's brains supply the matrix - the scenario information I provide is the bare bones of a cue so they know where to find what they already know.

I see that I'm more influenced by German thinking than French. Kant and Hegel.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
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Silmenume
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« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2005, 12:06:49 AM »

Hey Nathan!

Congrats on your play test.  Much of what you described in your first post certainly jives with my experiences.  For the last several months as I have gotten an ever increasing understanding of Sim I have finally begun to wonder (or despair - depending) if it was even possible to create and publish Sim facilitating tools/Mechanics/games.  While the idea of a relationship map is not particularly new, I find that your inclusion of it within your system to be very exciting.  Finally a Sim “design” that doesn’t focus on Mechanics but instead turns that focus to relationships.  The whole thing of mythic bricolage is observing the inherent/latent relationships and bringing them out into play while expanding upon them at the same time.  The key is that once a relationship is “made” in the SIS it cannot be “unmade” as though it never existed, however the relationship can be highly mutated.  What’s interesting to me in your efforts isn’t just the inclusion of R-Maps as an entity or thing, but rather that you’ve introduced a technique into your design that starts to facilitate the change of the thinking behaviors of the players.  IOW how things interact (what their relationships are) is what mythic style bricolage focuses on.  Right on!

The notion of Anchors is also a very good idea.  I have a friend of mine who runs occasionally who just doesn’t get the vital importance of “backstory” so we have these Characters who basically float about and are without Anchors.  Bricolage can’t start in a vacuum; it needs preexisting structures to “seed” the process.  The “seed” structures are essentially the first principles, as it were, of the process.  No structures, no bricolage.

Now, for this game I pre-generated a set of characters and their Anchors. The players select characters, choose some options (their actual time-affecting powers, and their primary goals and obstacles to those goals), and are ready to go.

I can’t tell you how important each of those three types of options are!  That they can input on their powers allows that very important player input.  Starts their investment into the Character and thus the game as a whole.  Choosing primary goals gives the Character/Player an initial momentum which was something that was utterly lacking in such games as D&D et al.  “What am I supposed to do?  Go to a dungeon, butcher everything inside, grab loot and buy nifty cool stuff so we can do all that again.  Why would my Character do that?  Beats me – isn’t that what Fighters are supposed to do?”  Finally having obstacles to their goals ensures that they then have a “reason” to bricole.  That is mythic bricolage is tool used to solve social problems.  No problems – no bricolage, but one can’t run into problems unless one has goals that can be frustrated.  You have managed to highlight some very important but frequently, or nearly always, lacking elements in most “Sim” facilitating game designs.  Its almost no surprise your game went as well as it did!

The point during play that really "clicked" for me in terms of bricolage was…Click, click, click. A connexion was forged. I knew it, and I'm pretty sure the other guys knew it - of course Joe looks like Dan. Of course Dan was going to get Joe in trouble with Lambetti, whoever he was, and Lambetti would send thugs after the real Joe.

Nice!  What was an act of creation felt like you discovered something.  It made sense that Dan would look like Joe, but that was not established until that moment!  Someone created a discovery!  It makes perfect sense that a son would look like his father – but what happened is that you saw the relationship been Joe and Dan as among other things as biological father and son.  Biological children frequently do look like their parents and you applied that relationship (structure) to your fictional in game structures.  It was a close fit and it felt exhilarating!  It felt like it should have been that way all along, except that it wasn’t explicit/concrete until that moment (though it could have been different.)

Continuity was created, not by an overarching story, or even by plot points or prepped bangs. Continuity was created, I would argue, by the process of bricoling our knowledge of the current situation and these characters with the sense, given by the game text, that these characters should and will be connected, in play, through their Anchors. This process was supported by system, both the cascading effects from character creation and actual Mechanics having to do with Anchors.

“Bricoling your knowledge” is the extending of your “knowing” of the world – just like myth!  However, near as I can tell, you didn’t set out to “increase your knowing of the world,” rather you went to work on "What, right now, right here, would be cool?"  Yet the result of that process lead to an increased “knowing” of the world.  Just like one’s addressing Premise leads to Theme even if the Player is not interested in the least in Theme itself.  I should also note that the mythic bricolage process inherently creates continuity (by always being mindful of the past), but I think you know that.  I support your argument!

I am curious about the actual Mechanics – both those dealing with the Anchors and your resolution systems.  I’m developing the opinion that what are all lumped under “resolution systems” have very different roles in the various CA’s.  In Nar they are called conflict resolution system.  The problem is that the different roles of resolution Mechanics in G/S have not yet been discerned.  I do think that task resolution is the role of resolution Mechanics in Gam.  I do not think it is useful to continue to regard Sim resolution Mechanics as task resolution, for that paradigm hides what I think their true purpose.  I believe the role of resolution Mechanics in Sim is to establish and maintain norms of fictional world behavior such that the Players can develop a reliable “feel” for the world and thus can anticipate and build on that “feel.”  So – do tell about your Mechanics!

…but Timestream absolutely requires this kind of bricolage in order to be...well, coherent is the word I would use, but not necessary in the  Forge sense of the word.

"…in order to function"?

…As for a specific question, I would ask that, given this example, does anyone know other games that reliably support or create this kind of process of bricolage?

None that I am aware of – at least none that prioritize the process.  Other than the one I play in, but that is homebrew and is not in a publishable form.  In fact its very creation was analogous to the process of the bricoleur!

Hey Chris,

You might want to read the various links provided above.  While “bricole” is denoted as “to tinker” its connotative meanings are vastly larger and subtler.  I’m not saying your take is wrong, rather the topic is very much richer than it seems you indicated – especially when one considers that we are talking about a type of bricolage that is employed in myth creation.  It’s actually pretty interesting stuff if you can wade through it!
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Bret Gillan
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« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2005, 01:34:27 AM »

Nathan,

As someone mentioned already, a Capes campaign seems to have this sort of bricolage in play, also.  The sessions I've played in have had more in the way of setting exploration bricolage than plot-explaining bricolage as yours seemed to have.

An example: In a session I was recently in, we were in a scene where a group of government agents with superpowers were investigating a scene where a scarecrow came to life and attacked a group of teenagers and a farmer. One of the government agents theorized that this was perpetrated by the Martians. We then, through an argument between my character and his, established that there was a war against the Martians in the 1920's in which the Earth beat them back and hasn't heard from them since. This was a major plot point, and it all arose because of an argument between my character and my friend's about whether the scarecrow was a Martian creation or not.

Now, I'm not totally up on bricolage and it's meaning, but does this sound like what you're looking for?
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2005, 05:06:30 PM »

I finally have some time to respond - thanks everyone for your comments!

Joshua:

Capes also ends up doing this, as well: the only thing the published rules supply are some chunky archetypes, and there is no 'game prep'. Therefore everything is developed in play, building on what's already been established.

Cool. Capes has been on the wishlist for a while, hopefully I'll get to play some and/or pick it up at Southern Exposure. I've been following your posts about CtH as well, perhaps I'll get a chance to check it out at some point in the near future?

The mental gymnastics around temporal causality loops (that is what the game is about, right?) sounds like great fun, although I wonder if everybody is "up" to doing such stuff. Have you tried out the game with a broad range of people? I'd be interested to know how people react to a game that more-or-less demands that they make up both cause and effect while sitting inbetween both of them.

Mmm. It's actually based on sidestepping the gymnastics that rise around temporal issues (loop, restarts, whatever) and exploring the fallout that they have for each character and their Goals and Anchors. So yes, you do have to make up cause and effect, but you're given tools (Director Stance, in-game time powers, various forms of currency) to essentially create any connection that you feel is appropriate, be it from effect to cause or cause to effect. I've played it with two groups of people (one person overlapping the groups) and had playtest reports from a third, and haven't really had a problem with anyone feeling like they don't "get it" or aren't up to the task. That is still a small sample, though.

Emily:

The above games, as well as Primetime Adventures, Universalis, Under the Bed, Snap,  Polaris and Breaking the Ice all benefit from & take advantage of this aspect of psychology. Collaborative games thrive upon it. We want to imbue meaning, and when everybody gets to add their input we will often plain old want to move in the direction of making connections between what we see.  It's satisfying, and sort of natural to the eye, from a creative perspective.

This is a powerful approach to game design. When you hook up the engines of everybody's creativity to the cart, we can really go places.

Totally. I'm familiar with enough of those games to grok what you're saying. I would say, though, that a game designed specifically to facilitate bricolage goes a step farther - not just making connections between what we see, but actually creating new things to see in order to make those connections. Does that make sense?

Quote
The real trick is making it easy to come for anybody to come up with stuff.  It's not easy coming up with this on the fly.

This relates to Joshua's last point, as well as getting into Jay's request for mechanics. I'll get to that at end of this post!

Chris: Ditto Jay. I've done some (not a lot) of my German reading, though, and Gestalt I think relates to process that we've been referring to as Bricolage, which is pretty much because of Chris Lehrich's views on Myth and role play (one of the links in my above post). If we wanna talk more about it, it's probably an appropriate topic for Theory.

Jay: My next post will be in response to yours (except about mechanics), just to keep everything organized.

Bret: Thats two people telling me to check out Capes, so who am I to argue. Your example gels with my understanding of Bricolage very well. Thanks!

---

Okay. Jay asked

Quote
I am curious about the actual Mechanics – both those dealing with the Anchors and your resolution systems.  I’m developing the opinion that what are all lumped under “resolution systems” have very different roles in the various CA’s.  In Nar they are called conflict resolution system.  The problem is that the different roles of resolution Mechanics in G/S have not yet been discerned.  I do think that task resolution is the role of resolution Mechanics in Gam.  I do not think it is useful to continue to regard Sim resolution Mechanics as task resolution, for that paradigm hides what I think their true purpose.  I believe the role of resolution Mechanics in Sim is to establish and maintain norms of fictional world behavior such that the Players can develop a reliable “feel” for the world and thus can anticipate and build on that “feel.”  So – do tell about your Mechanics!

I would be hesitent to assign categories of mechanics (task res, con res, whatever) to CAs, so I'm not really going to go into that. But, here's a brief rundown of how Timestream works.

In character creation, you come up with a number of paired Goals and Obstacles for your character (like, "Discover secret to eternal life" opposed by "Lost secret", or "Hook up with Jessica" opposed by "Her dad hates me", etc). You also come up with a number of Anchors, people who you have an emotional connection with and that you want to see involved with your story. As the last step in character creation, everyone choose another characters Anchor as one of their own, and creates a new Goal/Obstacle pair that relates to that character. Thus, characters are all connected via their Anchors in some fashion, regardless of time and place, and have Goals that involve those connections.

The cool effect of this is that the plot that is generated out of play tends to end up being centered on one of these Anchors, and everyone gets invested in that non-played character.

Anyway, the basic resolution mechanic is conflict resolution, using an opposed dice roll modified by your characters appropriate Arena (basically very broad attributes/skills/whatever). If the conflict involves an Anchor, you get a bonus. If the conflict is towards acheiving a Goal, you face its Obstacle as a penalty. Why would you get into conflicts towards Goals? Because when you acheive a Goal, you get more cool time powers. Conflicts are tied into the reward system on every level, so you literally cannot advance or change without getting into conflicts. The winner of the conflict gets to narrate the outcome, giving the players input in order to connect things.

Does that answer peoples (Jay, Emily?) questions?
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Nathan P.
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #9 on: September 19, 2005, 05:20:28 PM »

Hey Jay! I hope I can answer some of your questions. Thank you for the exhaustive response.

You have managed to highlight some very important but frequently, or nearly always, lacking elements in most “Sim” facilitating game designs.  Its almost no surprise your game went as well as it did!

Thanks, I'm glad you think so. I'm waiting to hear about others play before I'll be satisfied as to whether I've managed to communicate the process effectively *shrugs*.

Quote
“Bricoling your knowledge” is the extending of your “knowing” of the world – just like myth!  However, near as I can tell, you didn’t set out to “increase your knowing of the world,” rather you went to work on "What, right now, right here, would be cool?"  Yet the result of that process lead to an increased “knowing” of the world.  Just like one’s addressing Premise leads to Theme even if the Player is not interested in the least in Theme itself.  I should also note that the mythic bricolage process inherently creates continuity (by always being mindful of the past), but I think you know that.  I support your argument!

Thanks. In Timestream, "knowledge of the world" is necessarily "knowledge of what's different from our world/knowledge of these characters world", as its essentially set in the "real world". A subtle distinction, perhaps, but I think one worth pointing out - we all have a common baseline from which to pull material (like, biological children tend to look like their fathers) and bricole it into our game world. As opposed to a shared world thats been built essentially from the ground up (like it sounds like your Middle Earth game is), or a world from sourcebooks or game text. It focuses exploration on Situation and Character (and Color), and not necessarily on Setting.

Quote
…but Timestream absolutely requires this kind of bricolage in order to be...well, coherent is the word I would use, but not necessary in the  Forge sense of the word.

"…in order to function"?

Essentially, yes. To qualify a little bit, I guess I could say "In order to function properly". I can see a game played with a set storyline (for example), but I feel like it would involve relentless Participationism/Illusionism in order to see it all the way through. Personally, I would think that that would be cancelling out what makes the game fun and worth playing.

If I've skipped over anything else you'd like to talk about, don't hesitate to point it out.
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Nathan P.
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