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Author Topic: Participationism?  (Read 13660 times)
Marco
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« on: September 06, 2002, 02:48:16 AM »

From a quote by Mike Holmes in the Actual Play group.

Quote

Oh, if this was not participatinism, then I think that most likely it was Illusionism (but, hey, who knows). Yes, this is what I'm getting at. There was no possible outcome that wasn't prepared for prior to play. And it seemed pretty obvious as well. That combination is Participationism. I am along for the ride to a Predestined end, even if one of many.

So, if I've misjudged anything, I apollogise. If my bias against Participationism has made it seem invalid, again, I apollogise. But I've noted this phenomenon, and believe that it needs a taxonomy. Perhaps so we can begin to understand it more.


If I understand this right, Mike is classifying a game where the PC's have no real decisions to make as participationism--and sees it in an example of play that I wrote up.

I guess maybe it exists--but I'm calling into question here whether or not it's a meaningful classification in any real sense.

The game that I experienced (and wrote up) was a starting condtion (an evil ex-government agent working for Gnostic religious fanatics and looking for the characters) and a psychairtriast who believed in a sane world.

With these two agencies the players were exposed to two world views and, in the end had to make a choice:

To risk death to live in a sane world or to live in a nightmare reality.  The choice was *very* real (as continually pointed out in the write-up and, I think, acknowledged by Mike) as the players didn't know for sure if choosing to "live in a sane world" would mean their deaths--and we had real reason to think it might.

Now, Mike sees lack of "plot altering choice" in the players hands.

He cites one example "could the PC's kill the bad-guy?" (at least before the end). He notes that the badguy was well protected (and security teams and such). I submit that a low chance of killing the badguy due to him employing realistic security measures is neither particiaptionism nor even illusionism.

In the end the characters were faced with a fork:

1. Flee Manhattan (maybe make it, maybe not--the city was flooded and the tunnels closed and the bridges choked--but we considered stealing a boat which the GM said would have worked.)
2. Behave as though the world wasn't going to end (even though we really, really thought it might and the GM kept throwing hints that it might at us)--choose to live in a sane world.
3. Go to a shelter and enter Gothe's nightmare reality.

1, and 3 would have resulted in additional plot. Choice 2 ended the game on a high note (the one we chose).

Mike concludes that the three "end conditions" means a pre-determined set-up and participationist play. I submit that given any premise (especially in a 2-day game) there will be a finite number of end conditions that I can choose and, as a GM prepare for under a Simulationist premise.

Another way of putting this:
If there are NPC's in motion and events in play that the PC's will have to react to and the GM will, during play conclude that some solutions are better than others, is that Participationism? Illusiuonism? A judgement call that's part of all Sim-GMing (I believe this is true and to say otherwise is to advocate a game where nothing but the PC's move and all their suggestions work as well as THEY believe they will).

So my question is this:
From a write-up of a game how would you determine illusionism from "straight" sim play from participationism? I just don't see it here and I don't think it can be deduced from a write up (if you go looking for it you'll see it--if you don't you won't).

So I don't think it's especially useful save as a dysfunction taxonomy.
-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 06, 2002, 05:49:23 AM »

Hi Marco,

I agree with you.

I think this term serves fine as part of the crude "unofficial" lexicon of the Forge, which is to say, it describes something, but how that fits into the framework of any theory structure (mine, Fang's whoever's) isn't an issue.

Plenty of terms get proposed, chewed over, and tossed around. That seems like a worthwhile process to me. I don't think there's any danger of "terms bloat" going on, because most of them don't get picked up or turn out to be redundant.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2002, 06:19:41 AM »

Let's say that I totally misread Marco's transcription. Which is very much a possibility as I keep pointing out. Then what about the other post that was the inspiration for me beginning to speak about this? Namely the vampire game that Jesse had at the Con.

Does that qualify?

I do not care so much to qualify any particular game as being Participationist or not. I'm just trying to point out that it seems to me to exist, and that some people think that it's a valid form of play.

Quote
If there are NPC's in motion and events in play that the PC's will have to react to and the GM will, during play conclude that some solutions are better than others, is that Participationism? Illusiuonism?

Yes, your example is Participationism, or Illusionism. It is the former if it is obvious, and the latter if it is hidden. In either case the result is the same. Note that either mode could be used to do a more IntCon sort of plot as well (no prep).

Quote
A judgement call that's part of all Sim-GMing (I believe this is true and to say otherwise is to advocate a game where nothing but the PC's move and all their suggestions work as well as THEY believe they will).

Not true. Not all Sim GMs play to a plot at all, or have any idea of where the game is going. Take for example, a Sim dungeon crawl. The players go in. They roam about. They kill things, maybe. Or maybe not. They get treasure, or maybe not. They just do whatever they think their characters would do. And the GM lets the dice fall where they may, and if they die, they die, if they live they live. He plays a completely neutral arbiter of the world. What I refer occasionally to as pinball Sim. The world is the pinball machine, and the players are the ball. Only their choice of what to do and where to go has any effect on where play is taken. Does that mean that the pinball machine is "static"? Hell no. The targets are moving, and the NPCs are doing whatever then are doing. The world progresses as any real place progresses. Plotlessly, and by the whim of individuals. Does the "Equality" priniciple apply? No, players will fail if the dice say they fail, and it "makes sense" according to the setiing and system. Usually physics.

Does this sort of play exist? Yes, I've GMed this way quite a bit myself, and have seen it everywhere. It's what you get when Gamists decide that they want to play "In character" etc. instead of using similar concepts but playing "to win".

OTOH, I siuppose one could also speculate as to the existence of play like you think I was describing with Static and Equality options. Certainly I think some people play Pinball Sim "staticly"; that is, as in the dungeon crawl example, the world just waits there for the PCs to encounter it. This is not very "realistic" but would still count as Sim, and is probably at least a bit easier to pull off. As far as players always getting their way, however; that sounds more like Narrativism than anythig, and an extreme form of it at that.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2002, 06:28:26 AM »

Hey,

I'd like to ask both Marco and Mike to slow down in posting to one another. I'm seeing a touch of the "Clinton and Raven" effect, in which two guys who are perfectly reasonable turn into plain poison in concert. I'd hate to see this thread turn into a "I said that you said when you said that I said" kind of defensive situation.

For instance, above, I posed what seems to me to be an equitable and socially-pleasant interpretation of the topic. I'd like some feedback from both folks. Guys, use the Moderator (me) as a buffer; it's what I'm here for.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2002, 06:48:27 AM »

Ron,

Social, smocial. I'm not seeing the problem, but then, that's probably what's wrong with me.  :-)

As to your reply, I'm not sure that I disagree with you much; not that you said a lot. You say you agree with Marco. But you don't say about what specifically. Well I disagree with a lot of waht Marco said, but until I know what you agree with, I cannot speak to it.

Then you say that Participationism describes "something", but that how it fits into a model is not an issue. Well, we are talking about modes of play here. Specifically one that I think that I've discerned as a subset of Simulationism. Characterized by certain specific things. It's like GNS was about Cars, Trucks, and Motorcycles. And I have discovered what I think is a subclassification of Trucks called Panel Vans. If I can point to the specific things that make a truck a Panel Van, and not a dump truck, then the only question is whether or not a) my observations were correct, and b) there is any usefulness to the subclassification.

Once we have decided that issue, then we can move on to other things like whether Panel Vans should be allowed on the road.

The odd thing to me in all of this is that I proposed Participationism as a valid form of play in order to point out to one poster than it may be just that: valid. That although we dislike it, perhaps it's just a matter of taste. Then I made the apparent accident of claiming that Marco's games were of that subcategory as an example.

Well, according to him they're not. Which is fine. Perhaps I am all wrong, and Jesse's example was just an aberration, an example of a dysfunctional form of Sim play, perhaps. Which is fine, too. But I've heard no arguments about that. Merely that Marco's game wasn't Participationist. Which only speaks to item a) above, but doesn't discount Jesse's observation, or my general experience.

So, I'll rephrase the general question.

If you were to observe a session such as Jesse describes in which the players were not empowered to affect the direction of the game in question much, if at all, and play proceeded in an obviously directed format to an end predestined by the GM, and the GM alone, would you say that the session in question was a valid form of play, or not? What if the players all claimed that they had a great time playing? Would that change your perception? Do you think that the latter is possible? Are there players who would enjoy such play?

Mike
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« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2002, 06:57:39 AM »

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your re-phrase, because it throws the exact issue into a spotlight: "validity" of modes of play.

I don't see any point to discussing validity, for these things. We can discuss preference, which I can speak to quite solidly (as can anyone). We can discuss business-viability (which is the topic of a thread in the GNS forum right now). We can discuss coherence and our experiences regarding coherent or incoherent play and/or design.

But "valid" doesn't work for me as a topic, when it comes to game-play. It is perilously close to "good," which means confounding preference with universal value.

Points or claims may be evaluated for their validity, in terms of rigor. Game-play may be evaluated for its success in terms of enjoyment. But I don't see anything at all in evaluated game-play (or design) in terms of validity.

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2002, 07:24:46 AM »

Hey Mike,

It might be a real phenomena and I'm sure someone would enjoy it (wouldn't a LARP session where people wetn and hungout in character be something a little like that?)

OTOH--what Jesse described (we wanederd around ... nothing happened) seems awfully, wildly different from what I described. To me at least (how is a decision that truncates hours of play and several scenes not a plot-altering choice?). So if the two modes of play seem indistinguishable to you then I'm not sure it's a good tool for categorizing anything.

And the crux is why the two *seemed* the same to you--and that's what I started the thread to try to get at. If the answer is "they seemed the same because, hey, that's how it hit me," I'm cool with that.

I assumed you had some metric for telling illusionism from straight sim from participationism. I understand the concept of a "tell" (i.e. "When the GM had the bodyguards grab me before I could draw my gun I realized I was being rail-roaded").

In the absence of someone who was there making that determination, I don't think it's possible for a reader to.

-Marco
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contracycle
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« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2002, 08:19:52 AM »

With the caveat that I think plot is "called into being" by the players:

Quote from: Mike Holmes

If you were to observe a session such as Jesse describes in which the players were not empowered to affect the direction of the game in question much, if at all, and play proceeded in an obviously directed format to an end predestined by the GM, and the GM alone, would you say that the session in question was a valid form of play, or not?


Yes
Edit:  I said yes and then I noticed "proceeded in an OBVIOUSLY directed format"... to which I say No.  It only works if it is not obviously directed IMO.

Quote

What if the players all claimed that they had a great time playing? Would that change your perception? Do you think that the latter is possible?


Yes

Quote

Are there players who would enjoy such play?


Yes
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contracycle
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« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2002, 08:23:20 AM »

Quote

OTOH--what Jesse described (we wanederd around ... nothing happened) seems awfully, wildly different from what I described.


Sure, to me too.  Thats where I think the difficulty arises; it really does not feel as passive, as inactive, as the criticism implies.  In this mode of play, I don't feel that I am "powerless to affetc the plot" even if that is in fact the case in an objective sense; becuase the character is not aware of plot and hence the question is meaningless.  I as player can affect anything that it would be plausible for me to affect.  But the world is much bigger than I am, and it seems reasonable to me that it should have its own "destiny" that cares not a jot for what I do, or say, or think.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2002, 08:40:56 AM »

Quote from: Marco

I assumed you had some metric for telling illusionism from straight sim from participationism. I understand the concept of a "tell" (i.e. "When the GM had the bodyguards grab me before I could draw my gun I realized I was being rail-roaded").

In the absence of someone who was there making that determination, I don't think it's possible for a reader to.


Hmm. I've tried repeatedly to describe exactly that metric. It's not tells because that would indicate that the GM is trying to be Illusionist, but failing. Which might end up being Participationist by default, I guess. But the intentional form of Participationism involves explicit control of the action and complicity on the part of the players (at least if a non-dysfunctional form exists).

So, say I want to set up a scene where the Players encounter a particular NPC. I can a) gice the PCs information that the NPC in question has something they need, thus requiring them to go to the NPC (presumably nothing ewlse happens if not; AKA Bobby G or whatever Ron calls it), or b) I can ask them what they want to do, and have them "Discover" Bobby G through their own decisions.

The first case is Participationist. The only way it works is if the players say, "OK, we go see Bobby G". The second is Illusionist. The players can decide to do anything, and the result is still an encounter with Bobby G. If done well, the Illusionist method may (not may, as in possibly), if done well, leave the players thinking that it was their action that led to the plot turning to Bobby G.

Again, these are just modes and as such shifting will be common. Another participationist method is just aggressive scene framing. In that case, the Gm says, "you find yourself at the appartment of Bobby G". Note that this is also what you use in a lot of Narrativism (as Ron pointed out earlier). The point of difference is that the Participationist GM has no intention of ever allowing any decision. The scene with Bobby G will be established such that there can only be one sensible course of action for the players.

This is, of course becomes a problem as soon as you have a non-participationist player. For example, if that player is expecting Illusionism, he will feel free to do anything he pleases, knowing that the GM will have tricks up his sleeve to pull things back on course in case the player's action threatens to "ruin" his plot. The Participationist GM must either then resort to Illusionism, or the dysfunctional case occurs, and he forces the characters action through GM fiat, which we know as railroading. Dysfunctional here because the Player has been defined as expecting to be able to do whatever he wants (Illusionism).

Note that I'm not saying that railroading equals participationism. In non-dysfunctional participationism, the player sees where the GM is going, and plays along to the best of his ability. The GM doesn't have to railroad, per se, because the player is, as I've said, already "along for the ride". Railroading defined as using GM fiat to contramand player statements is probably dysfunctional in all cases. If there was such a style, it would be very close to pure one-sided storytelling, just with suggestions from the peanut gallery.

So, as Ron points out this is, of course, a "valid" style. As is any style where the players are having fun. Invalid must equal dysfunctional. The only real question is whether or not any players like this form of play. If not, then forcing Participationism on players is always dysfunctional. There are certainly GMs who are of the opinion that this is an entertaining form of play...

Anyhow, the point of all this is that, for Jesse, this was dysfunctional. A constant hazzard of Con play is that you will end up playing in a game that has a mode that you are not fond of. What you must do in this case is either detach from the game, which is sort of rude, but understandable, or just change you're mindframe, and try to enjoy the game for what it is.

Further, as I said before, I'm now intrigued to see what a clinical examination of this form might reveal in terms of possibilities.

Mike
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« Reply #10 on: September 06, 2002, 09:12:19 AM »

This brings up an interesting question.  A while back I ran a number of games closely set in and based on The Phantom Menace.  The players required very strict adherence to the plot of the film¹.  Every attempt bounced back and forth between what has been described here as Illusionism and Participationism (heck, at points I was just a 'participant').  And that brings up a couple of interesting points.

In some situations, wouldn't getting involved in intractible meta-plots (what I finally came to see the movie as, in hindsight) be a form of Participationism?  I mean, there it is, everyone knows that they can't do anything about 'em, so aren't the players 'just participating?'

And secondly, every single time the game got to the climactic battle scene between Maul and the Jedi, the game broke down, sometimes catastrophically.  I finally figured out the reason for the games¹, but it made an interesting point about just exactly how far you can go when the meta-plot functions as a really 'low ceiling.'  When does willful Illusionism become Participationism?

Just thought I'd throw the meta-plot/Participationism idea out there, I haven't reached any conclusions myself, yet.

Fang Langford

¹ One of my players had the biggest crush on Quigon (not the actor) and just couldn't accept his death.  It took at least 6 of these games before she opened up and we could begin to discuss how railroady the movie was in how it handled the battle and the point in its conclusion.  (I mean really, Quigon can force Maul to 'fence backwards' faster than Obiwan can run, full out?  And since when does a cauterized hole through the gut kill so quickly?  It's just a movie!)
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #11 on: September 06, 2002, 09:50:09 AM »

Sure, adherence to meta-plot is exactly what I'm talking about. This also explains the corresponding difference of opinion that Gareth has about the usefulness of Metaplot and his belief in the effectiveness of Participationist or Near-Participationist play (which it is, if you consider that players can do the "willing suspension of disbelief" thingm or Immersion; thus eliminating the belief problem in the definition as Gareth has it above).

Another important note is that Ron seems to me in previous posts to be of the opinion that, since Illusionism is known to exist to all players, or fails occasionally making itself known, that all players are to an extent "Participating" in when a GM attempts Illusionism. I think this is not entirely inaccurate, but the perception of a difference in these things seems strong enough to me to merit a different categorization. Namely that the player's play either tries strongly to follow the GM (participationism), or players are encouraged to "do what the character would do", and ignore actively trying to follow the GMs plots.

Some players want more apparent control, and some want less. Again, this is going to be a sort of spectrum, where some games have a lot of Participationism, and some have more Illusionism (and some have more of less control from the GM at all, as well). This depends on the mix of 'Instances of play" that are one or the other, just as with the description of the mode of any play.

One place that Participationism can become problematic is where Fortune systems get in the way. In the case of the "Climactic Battle" that Fang mentions, if you want it to come out with a specific outcome, you either must use Drama, or Illusionism, or risk the "unsatisfatory" ending.

-----
Interesting. Relatively speaking I see several different types of Sim as being defined by these different metrics. Especially with regards to control of events on the scale that they affect what would otherwise be called plot.

Illusionism: Low Actual Player control, High Player Appearance of Control, High GM control

Participationism: Low Actual Player control, Low Player Appearance of Control, High GM control

Open-Ended: High Actual Player Control, High Player Appearance of Control, Low GM Control

Random:Low Actual Player Control, Low Appearance of Player Control, Low GM Control

This last is speculative (the product of extending the model). It would look like Sim play where events were randomly generated, requiring the PCs to address them.

Note, again, there will obviously be times where the mix of decisions produces play somewhere inbetween these poles. They are not absolutes. Anyhow, just a simple stab at a model.

Mike
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« Reply #12 on: September 06, 2002, 10:51:38 AM »

I've been thinking about the terms illusionism and participationism. They seem to me to be used in a rather strange context.

What I mean is the players aren't necessarily aware of what is going on and usually, with a skilled GM, cannot tell how their game is being run.

Roleplaying is about as subjective an experience as you can have and I find it difficult to talk about it in terms that are distanced from the individual experience.

Given this, how useful are these terms in describing the players' experience?
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damion
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« Reply #13 on: September 06, 2002, 11:06:49 AM »

I think a difficulty here is Participationalism is needed to a small degree for Simulationism. Simulationism/Illusionism requires a bit of work to create all the detail and it would be fairly impressive for the GM to do it all in realtime and be able to track it to prevent inconsistancies. If players totally ignore all GM plots, the  GM will feel their work is wasted and sessions will be less fun as it is more difficult to preserve Illusionism without preparation. Also small amounts are necessary to make play work. A GM might say 'You've all been hired by X to do Y'. Now everyone knows that this is basicly a way of getting the group together. If charachter has a strong objection to this, the GM should have taken that into account, but if a characther rejects this offer for no particular reason, it hurts play. Illusionism requires a 'unspoken social contract' between the GM and players  to the effect  'I will present you events in the world and you will react to the in a ractional manner'.  

Mike:I think Participationalism is a valid term, but difficult to use since it low quantities it seems necessary and in high quantities it is railroading(which we have a term for). Also, the point between low and high is debatable.

Quote from: Mike Holmes

Random:Low Actual Player Control, Low Appearance of Player Control, Low GM Control


Perfect example:Old DnD modules. The GM was basicly an interface between the module and the players.
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James
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« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2002, 12:10:49 PM »

I'd just like to mention again that I sometimes suspect there may be an element of a trance state involved here.  I am conscious of a moment when the "illusion" moves from me to the players and sort of becomes self-sustaining.  Further, one of my "deepest" immersive experience included a moment of "waking up" or "returning to reality".  If it were a sort of trance state, then the attention to subjective continuity makes sense as avoiding breaking the trance.
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