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Author Topic: SIS: Beyond the Glossary (Help!)  (Read 11297 times)
Jonathan Walton
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« on: September 28, 2005, 11:32:10 AM »

Emergancy theory help needed!

I'm in the middle of finishing the first draft of an article called Negotiated Narratives: Roleplaying and the Aesthetics of the Middle Ground, which is a sort of "first salvo" in my efforts to build a foundation for the aesthetic study of roleplaying.  And I'm about to talk about SIS (Shared Imagined Space) in the context of similar concepts in other disciplines, such as Richard White's "middle ground" and the "between space" talked about by Nicolas Standaert.

The problem is that I don't agree with the way Ron characterised SIS in The Provisional Glossary, which reads:

Quote
Shared Imagined Space (SIS, Shared Imagination)

The fictional content of play as it is established among participants through role-playing interactions. See also Transcript (which is a summary of the SIS after play) and Exploration (a near or total synonym).

This surprised me a great deal when the glossary was first published because, after two years of SIS-related discussions, I didn't feel that SIS was at all equivilent to Ron's "Exploration."  Exploration (v.), the way Ron uses it, means "imagining stuff" or "participating in the imagination process," and Exploration (n.) means "that which is imagined."  And the "space" in SIS, in my understanding, does not refer to the collective daydreams that accompany roleplaying, but a metaphorical space within which these daydreams occur, something that is both the means by which Exploration occurs and a product of the group coming together to roleplay.

In other words, I always viewed SIS as a kind of mental "in-between space" within which the players (being distinct individuals) come together to collaborate on imaginary stuff.  SIS, in my mind, was something created by a group of people coming together to roleplay.  It was the stage on which roleplaying happened, a set of normalized expectations that created the context within which Exploration was possible.  SIS, in my mind, was more an outgrowth of the Social Contract, which lays the groundwork for how players interact with each other.  SIS was the Social Contract painted across the imaginary landscape.  It was the way in which elements of personal Exploration became group Exploration.  It was what made it possible for me to say, "In the land of Gunther dwelled the most beautiful woman who had ever lived," and for you to begin imagining that without any prompting.

In any case, my understanding (or misunderstanding) of SIS isn't really the point.  The point is that I would like to be able to talk definitively about SIS and it appears that I don't have the same understanding of it as Ron.  So what I'm asking for is:

1) Am I just completely off my rocker, here?  Should I go with Ron's definition and assume that everyone else pretty much though SIS pretty much was Exploration?

2) Have there been other attempts to define SIS that were more like what I'm describing or at least significantly different than Ron's definition?  I poked around The Forge a little bit, but couldn't come up with anything that really caught the eye.

In any case, thanks for whatever aid you can provide.
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Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2005, 12:26:29 PM »

In The model as seen by Valamir I dedicated a section to the Shared Imaginary Space and how it relates to Exploration which may be of some use to you.

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talysman
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« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2005, 01:48:11 PM »

Emergancy theory help needed!

I'm in the middle of finishing the first draft of an article called Negotiated Narratives: Roleplaying and the Aesthetics of the Middle Ground, which is a sort of "first salvo" in my efforts to build a foundation for the aesthetic study of roleplaying.  And I'm about to talk about SIS (Shared Imagined Space) in the context of similar concepts in other disciplines, such as Richard White's "middle ground" and the "between space" talked about by Nicolas Standaert.

The problem is that I don't agree with the way Ron characterised SIS in The Provisional Glossary, which reads:

Quote
Shared Imagined Space (SIS, Shared Imagination)

The fictional content of play as it is established among participants through role-playing interactions. See also Transcript (which is a summary of the SIS after play) and Exploration (a near or total synonym).

This surprised me a great deal when the glossary was first published because, after two years of SIS-related discussions, I didn't feel that SIS was at all equivilent to Ron's "Exploration."  Exploration (v.), the way Ron uses it, means "imagining stuff" or "participating in the imagination process," and Exploration (n.) means "that which is imagined."  And the "space" in SIS, in my understanding, does not refer to the collective daydreams that accompany roleplaying, but a metaphorical space within which these daydreams occur, something that is both the means by which Exploration occurs and a product of the group coming together to roleplay.

In other words, I always viewed SIS as a kind of mental "in-between space" within which the players (being distinct individuals) come together to collaborate on imaginary stuff.  SIS, in my mind, was something created by a group of people coming together to roleplay.  It was the stage on which roleplaying happened, a set of normalized expectations that created the context within which Exploration was possible.  SIS, in my mind, was more an outgrowth of the Social Contract, which lays the groundwork for how players interact with each other.  SIS was the Social Contract painted across the imaginary landscape.  It was the way in which elements of personal Exploration became group Exploration.  It was what made it possible for me to say, "In the land of Gunther dwelled the most beautiful woman who had ever lived," and for you to begin imagining that without any prompting.

In any case, my understanding (or misunderstanding) of SIS isn't really the point.  The point is that I would like to be able to talk definitively about SIS and it appears that I don't have the same understanding of it as Ron.  So what I'm asking for is:

1) Am I just completely off my rocker, here?  Should I go with Ron's definition and assume that everyone else pretty much though SIS pretty much was Exploration?

2) Have there been other attempts to define SIS that were more like what I'm describing or at least significantly different than Ron's definition?  I poked around The Forge a little bit, but couldn't come up with anything that really caught the eye.

I'm not sure I see a difference between how you define SIS and how Ron defines it, other than a shift in focus from the content of the SIS to the social contract establishing the boundaries of that content. I don't Ron ever claimed the Exploration applied to personal (not shared) imaginings; it's always the share imaginings as they are played out, within the concept of the group and following whatever social contract is in effect. breaking the social contrct always results in some of the players not sharing the imaginings offered, so it results in the breakdown of the SIS.

to put it another way: when the group comes together, they decide on an imaginary gameboard ("Tolkein's Middle Earth, but re-imagined as '40s Noir") and on imaginary tokens to use on that gameboard ("no cops or outright criminals, all elves are lotharios or femme fatales",) plus any restrictions on moving the tokens ("no PC death unless the owning player agrees".) all of this together, as well as the approved events of play, is the SIS. what "actually happens" to evolve the SIS in play is the Transcript; anything that happened only in one player's head or that was rejected by the group in play doesn't make it into the Transcript.

the only way I see your understanding of SIS as being in conflict with that definition is if you are defining SIS as excluding the imaginary content; but in that case, the SIS would be the social contract, and there would be no need of a separate term (plus, defining Simulationism in contrast to Gamism/Narrativism would be more problematic.)
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2005, 02:24:01 PM »

Hiya,

This might help: Shared means shared among us via communication, not common to us in terms of known or unknown overlap.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2005, 02:54:45 PM »

For big picture purposes I don't think there's enough functional difference to worry about.

I tend to think that Ron's definition is unnecessarily narrow.  In my earlier article I defined the SIS precisely as the areas of common overlap.

By my thinking this enables us to compare for broader discussion the shared imaginary space as it exists in movies, books, and plays vs. how it exists for roleplaying games.

For me the key difference is that Roleplaying = Shared Imaginary Space + Exploration.  Whereas watching a movie has Shared Imaginary Space but no Exploration.

This to me seems a more useful construct than to say SIS = Exploration which then begs the question of why have two terms for the same thing.

But...in actual practice, if one is primarily discussing Roleplaying Games, the definitions wind up being so similar as to cause to fundamental break regardless of which perspective you prefer.  However, if you're going to draw upon other media forms in your examination of aesthetics in roleplaying you might find my broader interpretation more useful to that purpose.
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Silmenume
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« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2005, 03:27:28 PM »

Hey Jonathan,

I've actually done a fair amount of thinking and some posting on this very topic. I would love to discuss this in depth with you, but I am pressed for time at the moment. However I have found a couple of links that might be of some interest to you...


This was a quick search, but I hope that the links I have provided have enough relevance to be helpful.
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Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

Jay
Josh Roby
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« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2005, 03:46:07 PM »

If you're looking for a "definitive" answer, that answer is only going to come from Ron, so I'm not going to touch it.

In answer to your #2, I had a whack at what's happening in roleplaying that I put here with extra clarifications in later posts.  I don't know how useful it will be to you, though, since I pretty much reject the SIS as having any sort of reality that isn't virtual.

That said, should this thread be in the GNS Model Discussion forum?
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John Kim
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« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2005, 09:59:34 PM »


1) Am I just completely off my rocker, here? Should I go with Ron's definition and assume that everyone else pretty much though SIS pretty much was Exploration?

2) Have there been other attempts to define SIS that were more like what I'm describing or at least significantly different than Ron's definition? I poked around The Forge a little bit, but couldn't come up with anything that really caught the eye.

Well, I don't think you're off your rocker, but I'm opposed to definitional wars. If there is an established definition of SIS, then I see no good reason for arguing that it "really" is something else. Coin a new phrase! "Shared Imaginary Space" was coined by Fang Langford in a reply on The Conflict Is Yours. Also check out the TheoryTopics Wiki on Doyce's site for its "Shared Imaginary Space" entry. Also, I'd encourage you to add notes to the definition there.  It makes the wiki more useful. 

As a term for something larger, I think you might want to look at The Process Model of Role-playing which defines a "Shared Space of Imagining" which is larger than the Shared Imaginary Space. I also recently commented on this on my RPG blog, in a post Thoughts on RPG Models.

In short, I can completely understand the desire to define a space which is larger than the purely imaginary space. However, I think it should have a new term rather than trying to redefine ones which currently mean something else.

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- John
Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2005, 09:12:25 AM »

Ralph, John L., Ron, Jay, Joshua, and John K., many thanks for your posts and links.  I think I have a much better idea, now, of how the term arose, how it's been used, and what people are doing with it now.  I also had additional help from Ben Lehman, Dev, and re-reading Vincent's animated gif model of roleplaying.

Seems like people are struggling to talk about the complex relationship between:

1. The Physical & Historical Context of This Unique Play Experience (which effects everything)
2. Individual Physical & Historical Context
3. Individual Imagination
4. The Social Contract/Discourse Community/Community of Practice, which enables...
5. Interplayer Communication/Production & Reception
-- 5a. Unproductive Communication (a dead end, but still vital to the experience)
-- 5b. Productive Communication, which creates...
6. Somewhat Normalized Individual Imagination/Shared Imagination

I'm leaving the whole idea of "space" out of this description, since I think it confused matters.  Do you folks consider that to be a fair summery of the different pieces involved?

As a side comment, Ralph, I think this model would apply to all media, but many would cross out the "Production" part and just deal with "Reception."  Still, theatrical acting and the actual creation of artistic works would, I believe, include production, at least on the part of the artists, if not the audiences.  So the actual performance or creation of media (if you were the performer/creator) would be modeled like roleplaying, but being an audience member, just like being a non-participating observer of a roleplaying session, would have to be modeled differently.  However, as my actor friends are quick to tell me, audiences actually "perform" too, to a certain extent, affecting the overall performance experience.  It's just that the degree to which they are actual producers of the experience is far less than the actual actors.  So maybe the model doesn't change.  The focus of it just shifts.

Quick example: seeing Serenity on opening night with a enthusiastic crowd is very different from watching it in an empty theater months later.  So saying that there's no Exploration involved in a group activity like movie watching?  I don't know.  There is certainly a degree to which the crowd can perform along with or even "talk back" to artworks that seem static, totally changing the way the experience feels.  But these questions aren't necessarily what we're talking about here and don't even necessarily involve roleplaying.  Just something to consider.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2005, 09:28:43 AM »

Your summary of all the many layers of what goes into articulating what roleplaying is looks good, Jonathan. It's a lot more complex than we often give it credit for!

As for your comparison with other art forms, I'll agree and disagree. Roleplaying is somewhat unique because its audience is its producers far more than in other art forms. However, strictly speaking the audience is always involved in the creation of meaning and I can make a pretty compelling argument that the audience is in fact more important to the creation of meaning than the original "artist." While this can certainly tangent off into not-remotely-roleplaying-land, some day I really want to take a good comparative look between RPGs and other art, because I think that conflation of audience and artist is the compelling and essential thing that makes roleplaying what it is, and marks roleplaying as a rather revolutionary medium.
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John Kim
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« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2005, 12:07:03 PM »


I'm leaving the whole idea of "space" out of this description, since I think it confused matters. Do you folks consider that to be a fair summery of the different pieces involved?

That seems fair, but note that interpersonal communication isn't the only channel by which imaginations can be shared. i.e. Both people read the same book (which could be a game book or a novel or a non-fiction book), and thus they have an overlapping vision of what, say, Queensland is like. So does your #6 Shared Imagination include the full overlap or only what has been directly communicated in play. This distinction is important for the differences between high-detail background games (like HarnMaster) versus less-detailed background games where almost everything is invented during play.

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- John
Josh Roby
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« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2005, 01:01:42 PM »

If you'll allow me to sharpen your point a little, John, this becomes especially puissant in "collectible" RPGs with supplement after supplement after supplement, and different players in the same game may have read a different set of books before beginning play.  Therefore, their impressions of what a certain vampire clan might be like may be very common or wildly different.  How does this material become shared?
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2005, 05:50:48 PM »

I think this is a misleading direction to head.  Let me try to explain why.

Example: Red is a social construct. Your mommy pointed at something when you were a kid and said, "Honey, that's red."  When you play a game and one player says, "The ork's wearing a red scarf," each player references what they know about red, scarves, and orks.  They know about red from their mommies, they know about scarves from personal experience, and they know about orks from reading the game book.  Sure, having all the players read the game book did something to normalize what they think about orks.  But if you want to talk about pre-game, uncommunicated, but still shared knowledge, then we have to talk about red and scarves too.

So, in my model, uncommunicated shared knowledge is just part of Individual Histories or Socio-Historical Context.  The players share a lot of common information.  About what swords are, for instance.  This didn't come from the game book.  They learned about swords before they knew what roleplaying is.  They also share a language and all sorts of other cultural traits and information.  This all helps the players by making them not have to communicate every little thing.  You don't have to explain what red is or what an ork is.

I don't think HarnMaster requires more references to pre-existing knowledge than other games.  It just requires references to knowledge that most people don't already have.  Which is why it requires a bit more effort to pad everyone up before play begins.

Does that make sense?
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2005, 08:40:14 AM »

Sure, Jonathan, and I think that's a tidy little solution to the question.
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John Kim
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« Reply #14 on: September 30, 2005, 12:24:46 PM »


So, in my model, uncommunicated shared knowledge is just part of Individual Histories or Socio-Historical Context. The players share a lot of common information. About what swords are, for instance. This didn't come from the game book. They learned about swords before they knew what roleplaying is. They also share a language and all sorts of other cultural traits and information. This all helps the players by making them not have to communicate every little thing. You don't have to explain what red is or what an ork is.

I don't think HarnMaster requires more references to pre-existing knowledge than other games. It just requires references to knowledge that most people don't already have. Which is why it requires a bit more effort to pad everyone up before play begins.

Just to be clear -- you're saying a lot of information (like all sorts of details in Harn) is imagined in common between players but not part of the Shared Imaginary Space. Rather, it is just part of Socio-Historical Context. Is that right? If so, I would like to question this.

Particularly in the case of a detailed background, this makes the "Shared Imaginary Space" only a small fraction of the players' Individual Imaginary Spaces. In particular, taking myself as an example, I often don't keep track of where and when I learned something about the fictional reality. i.e. How the city watch works, say -- Was that something from the written background, or something we discussed out-of-game, or did it come up and get established in a prior session? Depending on the answer, this might or might not be a part of your definition of Shared Imaginary Space.

To me in practice, what I most often care about is what the players all imagine. So, for example, if I want to use a known location -- I will go with a location that all the players are familiar with, i.e. that they all imagine. It might be something established in the background, or in a prior session, or that the players just all know from other sources.

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- John
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