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Author Topic: Reality in flux: illusionism or not?  (Read 2588 times)
Walt Freitag
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« on: November 13, 2002, 02:49:03 PM »

On this thread Marco wrote:

Quote
I see Illusionism as a practice of creating an illusion of perfectly logical non-story driven world, when, in fact, the reality is in flux as the GM makes decisions about the reality to fit his idea of the dramatic. I don't see Ron's "GM-Oomph" as part of the deal.


That depends on the breadth of what is considered GM-Oomph. Either the practice Marco describes is just another form of "GM control over player decisions," in which case the practice does fall under Ron's definition of Illusionism; or it's not, in which case it's something else.

What does it mean to say the reality is in flux? Let's assume that no other Illusionist technique is being practiced. What it all means comes down to this:

- The GM does not influence what the player-characters decide to do, in any overt or covert way.

- The GM does not influence the resolution of player-character actions, in any overt or covert way.

- The GM does influence the meaning of the results of player-character actions.

- The GM does this by adding information into the outcome.

- The GM can do this immediately after (close to simultaneously with) the player-character decision, or at any later time as long as the necessary added information is still consistent.

Here's an example. For the sake of clarity the example is on the crude side. Most real examples involve more subtletly.

Rosencrantz (a PC) is discussing strategy with Hamlet (an NPC) in a castle room. Unknown to anyone, the fair Ophelia (an NPC), fascinated by Rosencrantz, is eavesdropping from behind an opaque curtain.

The GM says, "make a perception roll." The roll succeeds, so the GM says, "You notice a small movement of the curtain." (Why did the GM call for this roll? He might have been tempted to do so because he knows it would be interesting for Rosencrantz to discover Ophelia's eavesdropping. But because I'm hypothesizing a complete absence of conventional GM meddling, let's instead assume that he's being scrupulously impartial here. Perhaps he was obeying the dictates of the "chance of detecting eavesdroppers" table on page 2,432 of the GM's Guide.)

Says Rosencrantz, "I silently move toward the curtain and very slowly and stealthily draw my sword."

That action resolved, the GM says "you hear soft breathing behind the curtain."

(Okay, the GM succumbed to a little temptation by providing a clue that was not strictly objective in-game-world. Only females, for God only knows what reason, are ever said to "breathe softly." In fiction men can only pant, I suppose. In any event, the player misses the clue.)

Says Rosencrantz, "What ho, a rat! I stab the bastard through the curtain, aiming right for where I guess his midsection to be."

Resolution indicates an ultra-spectacular-success-with-sprinkles-on-top.

(Now, a brief time-out here to observe that the GM does not want Ophelia killed. Why not? Let's assume that it would just dramatically suck to have that happen. Maybe because there's been some foreshadowing that Ophelia will be involved in some as yet undefined future events of importance. The GM is not trying to bring about any specific storyline, but he doesn't want the outcome to go in this particular bad direction.)

The GM says, "Your sword passes clean through the body and for a moment sticks its point in the wooden partition behind the curtain. Then the body slumps to the ground, dragging sword, curtain, and all down into a heap on the floor."

Rosencrantz: "I pull out the sword and lift up the curtain, being careful to avoid getting blood on my clothing."

GM: "Lying dead on the floor, in a big pool of blood, is Polonius, your uncle's foolish old retainer."

This description of the event is a bit distorted. Obviously, Ophelia was never behind the curtain, only someone (or something) that was breathing, who later (when more information was added) turned out to be Polonius. The GM thought it was Ophelia for a while, but changed his mind, and what goes on inside the GMs mind cannot really concern us, only his visible actions in play.

There's clearly illusion involved, but is this Illusionism? That appears to depend on the answer to the question: was this GM-oomph in action?

On the one hand it obviously affected the course of the story profoundly. (Or did it? The alternative possiblity that didn't happen existed only in the GM's unknowable thoughts, so what change ever actually occurred?) And also, there's a clear continuum between this case and the simple GM technique of deciding what's behind a door when the players open it, which has already been classified as an application of GM-Oomph. There's no fundamental difference between that example and this. On the other hand, the player's decision (to stab the person behind the curtain) was neither forced nor nullified, and the resolution process was not tampered with. I don't believe it's valid to say that the player's decision was to stab Ophelia and the GM's decision changed that outcome, because the player didn't know it was Ophelia and therefore couldn't have decided that. If anything, the GM's decision (in this case, though this isn't always the pattern) made the outcome more similar to the outcome the player expected.

Establishing or changing or deepening the meaning of an event by adding information into the outcome extends into realms far beyond this crude example. It's fundamental in all kinds of storytelling and goes back a long way:

- You killed a man
(add information)
- You killed the King
(add information)
- You killed your father and married your mother
(subtract eyeballs)

A whole constellation of GNS-related concepts (Illusionism, IntCon, RetCon, GM-Oomph, possibly vanilla Narrativism) and the place of a popular and successful play style within the prevailing model depend on how this type of use of "reality in flux" is categorized.

- Walt
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Marco
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« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2002, 12:34:16 PM »

Hi there,

The question is this:

I say: Illusionism is the creation of the illusion that the reality of the game is fixed and being guided by logic and a concrete (or reasonably concrete) backstory. I.e. what Mike calls "pinball-sim." The reality is that the GM is altering things *behind the scenes* to keep the action in line with what s/he thinks will be a satisfying story.

Ron says: Illusionism is the creation of an illusion that the PC's have any/all say in the outcome of the story.  The GM won't let them deviate but isn't "telling them that."

The difference is this:

In Ron's case, when the GM blatantly intercedes to keep a PC on course in a way that is appearent to all it's still "illusionism." There is no "breaking of the illusion"--it's just a more obvious technique than some others.  I think, then, that illusionism is a bad choice of words for that.

Furthermore: the "it's not dysfunctional if that's the kind of thing you go for" makes more sense for the latter case--litte for the former (where breaches of the illusion will probably be seen as a failure on the GM's part by all involved, GM included).

Also when someone says "I don't mind illusionist play" in the latter case, they aren't really saying anything (they're saying that somewhere, sometime the GM might either subtly or overlty take some part in somehow changing things). They might be saying they expect pure-pinball-sim action from their perspective. They might be saying that as long as they show up to the gaming session they're happy if the GM runs everyone, PC and NPC alike from then on.

If they use the term I'm using they more or less (to a great degree, possibly allowing for minor slips) expect the GM to run a game that is consistent with logic and doesn't hijack their characters (i.e. the GM can throw any obstacle s/he wants at them so long as seems reasonable given the context and backstory). Now, *that* isn't saying so much either--but at least in that case, there is an "illusion" to be maintained--and possibly broken.

-Marco
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Valamir
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« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2002, 01:36:11 PM »

Actually Marco I think the two things you're identifying are actually identical...or at the very least completely inseperable.  They are saying the exact same thing, the difference is merely one of perspective.  In Ron's case, the perspective is of one who's turned player behavior and control issues into a science, so its no surprise that that is the angle he addresses the issue from.  In your case, the perspective is of a died in the wool simulationist, so its no surprise that you describe the same feature in terms of the world.

But consider:

If the world truly did exist as an absolute reality and the GM was merely relating conditions as they exist to the players as the characters encounter them...then the players really would be able to have their characters do anything they desired.  They would go to X and discover what is there, they would decide they didn't like that and would go to Y to discover that.

On the other hand if the world does not actually exist as a preestablished reality and the GM is actually making it up as he goes...then the players don't really have the ability to have their characters do anything they desired.  They would go to X to discover what is there, but all that is really there is something the GM just invented.  They would go to Y and again just uncover something the GM just invented.  They don't really have any control over the direction of the story because they aren't uncovering any existing reality.  That's the illusion.

Its sort of like playing a game of concentration.  In a "real" game the players select the card, turn it over and discover what's there...and so on.  They have "control" of the story (i.e. in this case the game) because its their choices and ability that influences the outcome.  Imagine instead a game of concentration where the player selected the card, but the GM simply tells them what's there.  Assuming the GM is good at maintaining continuity (in this analogy, remembering what it was he told them the card was) the players have an honest to god illusion of playing an actual game of concentration.  But the GM is in full control of which player wins and when because he is actually manipulating the "deal" during the game.

Point being...that defining Illusionism in terms of the reality of the world, or defining it in terms of player control leads to the exact same place.  They are completely tied up in each other.
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Marco
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« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2002, 01:46:00 PM »

Val,

I'm talking about the obviousness of the GM's influence. Ron considered at one point (I'm not sure if he still did) the GM simply assuming control of a character to be illusionism.  I'd remove that element from the definition--since any overt control by the GM breaks the illusion I'm talking about (and, I think, breaks any illusion period).

You're missing the issue. I'm not saying that the GM altering the gameworld isn't impacting player options. I'm saying that the this:

Player: "I shoot him."

GM (no roll or anything): "Your gun jams. He gets away."

Breaks the illusion that the game is being run in a pinball-sim fashion.

In Ron's definition (of which my definition is simply a subset) the play is still "illusionist" even though no one involved would be fooled as to what happened.

clearer?
-Marco
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Valamir
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« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2002, 01:57:58 PM »

I didn't get that from Ron's write-up at all.  Can you offer a quote or a link to where you get that idea from?

It seems to me that Ron's definition had overt and covert as being the black curtain which measured whether the GM's "oomph" was visible or invisible.  His definition of Illusionism then was one which had the black curtain down...i.e. that to be illusionist it had to be invisible.  

He then commented that Mike's idea of Participationism as an extreme form of Illusionism, might best be described as occuring when the black curtain is up...and no one cares.
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Marco
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« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2002, 02:38:18 PM »

My bad--he specified covert. I had a lengthy IM discussion with him where that came up--I read about the black curtain but missed the line where he limited it to "covert."

-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2002, 02:40:17 PM »

Hi Marco,

You wrote,
"Ron considered at one point (I'm not sure if he still did) the GM simply assuming control of a character to be illusionism."

Nope. That's not what I'm saying. Nor, to my knowledge, have I ever said that as a definitional phrase. I also agree with Ralph that your distinction between my and your use of the term is not a distinction, but a paraphrase from another perspective.

At this point, a broad range of activities in which the GM controls a player-character's actions and decisions (and Walt's curtain example is a very, very good example of doing this reactively) are the foundation for Illusionism. In other words, this range of activities does not, in and of itself, constitute Illusionist play/techniques, but Illusionist play/techniques do happen "on top" of such activities.

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2002, 09:26:21 AM »

Hey Ron,

I read your final public post and somehow missed that you were specifiying that illusionism was "on the covert' end of the GM intervention scale--which I agreed with. Which does make us in agreement--I wouldn't have posted if I'd read correctly ...

-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2002, 09:28:23 AM »

Hi Marco,

Whew. That is a relief, actually. We've been through a lot of discussion about this stuff and I was worried that square one was looming ahead again. But all's well.

(looks like we cross-posted up there, too) (moving along)

Back to Walt's initial post, then, I think that he's provided a fine example of an Illusionist technique in action (one of many). I don't think it's a problematic or borderline instance at all, but square in the definition. Walt, was there any other aspect to your post that needs discussion?

Best,
Ron
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #9 on: November 15, 2002, 10:41:32 PM »

I am suspecting (I might be totally wrong mind you), that Walt is bringing up this because it's very different from the strategy associated with illusionist play.

I agree with you Ron that this is clearly a use of illusionist techniques. As far as its strategy and goals are concerned it is clearly different from the type of game often associated with "illusionism" where illusionist methods are are used to cover up a pre-loaded plot.

But maybe I'm projecting my own thoughts here. I had problems and feeling misunderstood until I recently understood that illusionism isn't a comprehensive description of a style of play, but only it is only labeling a game employing certain techniques. Describing a game as illusionist is only really saying it is employing illusionist techniques.

So what I wanted to discuss was not illusionism per-se but a style of games in which illusionist methods is a prerequisite. Walt does a pretty good work in his first post describing this style.

Sorry all for not understanding that until now.
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2002, 09:26:13 AM »

Sorry this response was delayed. I somehow missed the last two posts for several days.

A consensual answer to my initial question"...illusionism or not?" was what I was looking for, and I've got it, along with some good arguments to support it. Thanks, all. Ralph's Concentration analogy is a very effective and interesting one, in my opinion.

A few comments on the apparent upshot of that answer:

- The wording of the new Illusionism definition, because it focuses on GM control of player-character decisions (which sounds specific to the actual decisions themselves) does not make the breadth of Illusionism clear. A wording change in the "GM-Oomph" description to the effect of "GM control of player-character decisions and/or the import of player-character decisions" might be an improvement.

- Ralph's Concentration analogy might explain why I've always felt that dungeon crawls and their equivalents in other genres (derelict alien spaceships, supervillain hideouts, secret Nazi research facilities, etc.) have an intrinsic appeal that's not entirely attributable to nostalgia, habit, or facilitation of Gamist play. A dungeon is an artificial environment created, as typically described, for unusual purposes. The expectation of the "fair deal of the cards" from the Concentration analogy just isn't there. (A dungeon would be more like one of those "What should South bid next?" Bridge column puzzles that deliberately present unusual distributions of cards.)

- However, I dispute one point in Ralph's post: "that defining Illusionism in terms of the reality of the world, or defining it in terms of player control leads to the exact same place." Not exactly. Both lead to GM authoring, but different Illusionist practices facilitate very different methods of GM authoring. As I said in the concurrent thread on GNS and Illusionism, different methods of GM authoring may make no difference to participants who desire no GM authoring at all, but I believe it can make a big difference in all other cases.

- I wonder about the prospects for Intuitive Continuity other than Illusionism. It seems like intCon pretty much has to be used for Illusionism under the clarified definition.

IntCon without the "black curtain" sounds possible but rather useless. What benefit would be gained from having the GM say "I'm going to make something up now?" every time he does so? (Overt GM decision-making about the world-in-flux is part of many pervy Narrativist game systems, but pervy Narrativist play is pretty much excluded in this context.)

IntCon without GM-Oomph also sounds possible but it appears to no longer be IntCon. To do it, I'd apparently have to make things up on the fly while being scrupulously careful to pay no attention to the significance of those things to the player-characters. In play that's indistinguishable from conventional pinball Sim (and in fact, is exactly what's done in pinball sim when exploration verges into elements not prepared in advance).

Any comments on these issues are welcome. But if correspondents prefer to let this thread expire (now that it's main question has been answered), I'll bring some of these points up later in new threads, after some further thought.

- Walt
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: November 17, 2002, 06:02:15 PM »

Hello,

I would prefer that this thread be closed. Illusionism discussions have a tendency to metastatize quickly, so if Walt's satisfied with the answer to his question, then we're done here. Other related issues should be taken to their own threads.

Best,
Ron
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