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Get Emotional!

Started by Le Joueur, August 10, 2001, 05:09:00 PM

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Le Joueur

This is what I understand.


I think role-playing gaming is thinking within the context of the narrative; nothing more is necessary.  Anything that fails to have that does not appear to be gaming.  While some things outside of gaming elicit contextual thinking, nothing that is gaming fails to do so.

Let me illustrate with what I call the 'behind the bar' effect; let's say you're playing a game set in a bar described with patrons, tables and their contents, and let's also say a fight has broken out.  This could easily be a card game, a war game, or even a role-playing game, there's no way to tell at this point.

What makes it a role-playing game?  The instant you decide that a character goes behind the bar and gets something.  It doesn't matter what, as long as the player is thinking about what ought to be back there, they are working within the context of the bar and the fight and the role-playing game.

Emotional Investment

If contextual thinking is the 'what' of gaming, then here is the 'why:' I believe that one plays role-playing games only for the emotional value they have for that player.  Not limited to simply enjoyment, gaming can evoke intrigue, curiosity, or virtually any other emotion, but I'll just refer to the whole package as emotional investment.  This is a bit of a simplification, but I think not an unclear one.

What is gained through this emotional involvement?  I think impact and payoff are some of the things that result from 'feeling' involved in the narrative.  This is not about good or bad narratives, only the dividends of the emotional investment.  I say that the problems with any game are those that impede the emotional payoff the way inconsistency or loss of engagement do (to list a couple of examples).

For an example, all game settings I have seen have dynamic backgrounds or grand conflicts.  When involved, I believe they heighten the return on a player's emotional investment.

The Scattershot Model:

Here are our two main frames of reference, personal (things that exist only at the character level) and the game (everything that includes the character in it).

Personal Level

The most basic 'contact point' of play involves what you are playing (even when not the traditional player character).  At this level the overall game is of reduced importance because it only serves as the vehicle for the personal identification substance within it.

This is the reason character generation can be so important in many systems.  The player character is the entity in the game that you will have the most affinity with.  The sophistication and detail of the character creation mechanics of a game system reflect the degree and specificity of emotional investment in things created with them.  When you 'make them work for it,' the player is likely to care more about their character.

The most basic component of the personal level of emotional investment is in its intrinsic value.  In this frame of reference, what matters is what goes on for the character.

This is 'where it all happens' at the most personal level and this can lead to varying levels of immersion, such as thinking or feeling as the character.  It can also be about watching what a game does to one's character from a personal, yet external point of view.  The value stems from what goes on 'inside' the character or at their level.

The game becomes a vehicle for the expression of value of the character to the player.  The focus is on how the game affects the character and by extension, the player.

While still being personal, one can place more emotional investment in the extrinsic value of their character.  Finding value in the things the character can do or what the player can do with the character.  Measuring characters against one and another.  This can include a certain amount of self-consciousness in the activity too.

The character can become a tool for the player, what they do to the game is the source of value.  This is about first-person value based on what you can do as opposed to who you are.

This is also about how the player affects the game, the rush of power over the game in the most immediate and visceral fashion.  Consistency can become an issue of high value because without it, the extrinsic personal value can appear illusory.

Game Level

What exactly is 'game level?'  Not a just the setting, genre, or narrative – it is a living entity consisting of this and more, it is the whole, shared experience ranging from (but not limited to) the game system all the way out to the retelling of the narrative and all points in between.

Much like the personal frame, the most immediate form of gratification stems from a game's intrinsic value, of what makes play so fun.  Whether it is the setting, play within the resolution system, or something else, the value is within the game itself.

What the character does, as a part of the game, is where the emotional pay-off is.  Unusual situations, new experiences, discovery, these are reflected in the intrinsic value of a game.  The character becomes a window to what the game has to offer.

This may seem to place central value in the experiential world of the game, but then that would mean that the world is all there is to the game.  It isn't.  There's the tone, flavor, and atmosphere; there's the feeling of a game hard-played, the feeling of let down after the fact, and more; this all stems from finding the intrinsic value of the game.

Above this is whatever the extrinsic value a game may have.  Usually this also includes a fair amount of self-awareness.  Not only does play 'know that its just a game,' but it is also willing to 'work with it' on that level.

This often includes an external perspective of the game.  Many literary and theatrical devices are used but only for the effect of enhancing emotional impact of the narrative.  Many lofty things are often ascribed to this type of play and it can be a heady experience after spending a lot of time restricted to the personal extrinsic level by a strict division of powers.

Many newer games invite the players to take a larger part in, if not partial ownership, of the game.  One hidden problem this poses is the loss of connection with primary point of contact, their character.  It scores well in terms of getting players to care for more than their character alone, but many times the value of the character can get lost in the new vistas.  And when the players cease to think in the context of their characters, in context of the game, it stops being role-playing and becomes 'writing.'

Another thing this perspective includes is comparisons of systems and genres between games.  When one game tries to 'out do' another in any fashion, this is the frame that is being applied.  Convention tournament games have a lot of this too, as do a lot of demos.

Explaining All This in Terms of the GNS Model

Allow me to draw some parallels to the GNS model.  Superficially, if you generalize this scheme it comes out very like the GNS model (provided immersion is split from Simulationism).

The combination of immersion and Simulationism only works if the players find value in both the intrinsic value of their character and the intrinsic value of the game simultaneously.  Since I do not believe one can make a priority out of self and the world at the same time, I fail to see how they can be clearly lumped together, one must take a back seat.  This is not to confuse a Simulationist world with Simulationistic consistency, though.  Most losses in consistency result in failed emotional payoffs.

From what I have read, I believe immersive players do not require as much Simulationist detail in the game, so long as it still creates a venue for their character in the absence.  I do see how one could think of immersion as 'simulating' a character, but I do not think this is what most people idealize when they use the word Simulationism, especially when it does not seem like one can focus on simulating both character and world simultaneously.

These frames of reference also suggest a problem with one of the other GNS comparisons.  It seems to me when comparing Gamism to Narrativism, it is like comparing oranges and IBMs.

The comparison between Simulationism and Narrativism would be the difference between the intrinsic and extrinsic value of what the game evoked.  (I think this would be like comparing apples and oranges.)

The comparison of Gamism and Simulationism shows relation by subject.  The extrinsic value of a personal frame of reference has value based on the game and the intrinsic value of a game obviously stems from itself, making these values relative to the same thing, the game, only from different perspectives, personal versus game.  (This might be like comparing Apples and IBMs.)

Therefore comparing Gamism and Narrativism relates the extrinsic value of the personal frame and the extrinsic value of the game.  These, I think, are unrelated.  (This would therefore be like comparing oranges and IBMs.)

(I include these references to the GNS model only as a convenience to those whose work is primarily with it.  Consider it a starting point to my explanation of the frames I use.)

Fang Langford
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!

Ron Edwards


I think the emotional investment you describe is related, or even identical, to what I called "imaginative commitment" earlier, when discussing Exploration.

To review: Exploration is the starting point or act for role-playing. GNS represents applications/foci/goals for the act.

This is not to undercut or refute any of your post, but rather to agree with and reinforce it.


Le Joueur

QuoteRon Edwards wrote:
I think the emotional investment you describe is related, or even identical, to what I called "imaginative commitment" earlier, when discussing Exploration.
QuoteThis is not to undercut or refute any of your post, but rather to agree with and reinforce it.

Excellent, "imaginative commitment" was what go me started, thanks to you.  I just felt that a sense of 'committedness' was the emotion at the root of character identification and emotional investment.  And the "imaginative" part was too vague on the contextual scheme of things.

Fang Langford

[ This Message was edited by: Le Joueur on 2001-08-11 08:56 ]
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!