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Author Topic: Zilchplay [split from "Understanding: the "it"  (Read 9528 times)
Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« on: February 13, 2004, 10:04:11 AM »

I'm splitting my response to several posts about so-called "zilchplay" in the thread Understanding: the "it" of Simulationism to a new thread, since the topic is a bit of a swerve from original thread topic. (And my apologies, I should have done so sooner.)

Quote from: Silmenume
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Jay, that's always been part of the model, as I understand it. Agenda only becomes notable in certain circumstances.


There’s something very important in the above quote.  One of the main arguments that has been promulgated in these threads recently is that whenever G/N isn’t being addressed we are immediately defaulting into Sim.  The above clearly implies that Agenda is NOT always notable.  If that above is true then there are times or instances of play that are not Agenda identified.  For lack of a better term those interstitial moments of play have been referred to as “Zilchplay.”  Maybe this particular argument is circular, but something is amiss.

I think there are some conflicting ideas about what Exploration means in roleplay.  As roleplay is a creation enterprise, we have more when we are done than when we started, and that the basis of roleplay is Exploration, I believe that Exploration must, by extention, be a creation activity.  If you’re not creating you’re not roleplaying.  I know the word create has all sorts of built in explodo buttons but hang with me for a moment.  Any player action that makes it into the SIS is a creative in that something new, that which was not there before, has been added to SIS.  However just because something was added to the SIS does not mean the goal/agenda of a CA have been added to.  In other words if the action taken by a player does not add to the body of material that is building towards the goal of CA then that act is not CA specific, it is Zilchplay.

In Gamism the player is taking steps, adding to the body of actions that will hopefully bring said player ultimately to victory.
In Narrativism the player is taking steps, adding to the body of actions that will hopefully bring said player ultimately to theme/story.
In Simulationism the player is directly adding new pieces to the body of the Explorative elements.

A player merely walking around is himself not directly adding to the Explorative Elements.  The DM who in response to the stated players stated intent of walking around adds to the SIS by describing setting, but the player has not.  Zilchplay.

Thus if a player adds to the Explorative Elements directly, if this is his goal and this is what he is jazzed about, then said player is playing Sim.  This can happen under two circumstances.  When a player has a choice about an action that will prioritize one agenda over another, or vitally important to the idea of Sim as a stand-alone agenda, when the player steps out of Zilchplay and directly into Sim.

To employ the much used example, said character walks across the street.  Zilchplay.  However the player could while walking across the street stop, go to a knee, pickup a handful of earth and say, “This is good soil.  I will build my farm here one day.”  The player in this example was not under pressure to avoid Gam or Nar choices, but freely of his own creative inclination created an opportunity where none existed before to add to the Explorative Elements.  He chose to play Sim as an Agenda.  Like Walt said earlier, this creative bit must be “unexpected” or new to the circumstances.

So in order to see Creative Agenda in operation, something new/unexpected must be “created” and it must address the goals of that Agenda.

I believe the additive goal of Simulationism is adding to the Explorative Elements.  The players are collaborating in the creation, maintenance, and social reward delivery for living the Dream.


Jay, your ideas are exactly in line with mine. My only quibble is the condition "directly" when you say "In Simulationism the player is directly adding new pieces to the body of the Explorative elements" and in related sentences that follow. I don't believe the directness is required, though directness does make the player's contribution to the Dream easier to perceive. But indirectly can be good enough for me -- and because of that, sometimes a PC "just walking around" is enough to express a Sim creative agenda. In no-myth play, for instance, where a player decides to walk to next can convey a great deal about how the player believes the situation could evolve, catalyzing whole new unexpected elements being introduced into the shared imagined space. Sure, it's the GM doing most of the heavy lifting, but the player is contributing ideas to the process that wouldn't be there if the GM were inventing the outcome by himself. Thus, a player can engage in creation, self-expression, the unexpected, whatever we want to call it, without ever being visibly out of Actor stance, under the right circumstances.

Overall, you've captured my meanings perfectly, right down to the deep connection between "the unexpected," the many-explody-buttons of creativity, and player self-expression through play. I'm not saying you're right, because I'm not certain I'm right about all this, but so far it's working for me.

Quote from: Silmenume
I don’t have any issues with games with ‘weak attention to Creative Agenda’ or perhaps what I think is a better term, ‘weak expression of Creative Agenda’ on any level.  I don’t think I made any value judgment about such games other than to say they are difficult to quantify behaviorally in regards to the diagnostic portion of the model. I think it is interesting to note the idea that as intensity of engagement decreases the greater the probability that multiple modes of play can exist side by side as the players just aren’t all that fired up so the annoyance factor isn’t that likely to be an issue either.


One more quibble: I think "weak epxression of creative agenda" is a useful concept, but in your earlier post you made it sound like it could be a synonym for "incoherence." I don't think that's the case (and it might not have been what you meant to say anyway). Weak expression of CA is probably more closely related to Congruence, which might perhaps be describable as enforced (even if only by tacit social contract) weak expression of creative agenda. I'm seeing Congruence as more an more a matter of limiting conflicts of self-expression by limiting the scope of self-expression. Corollary: perfect Congruence = zilchplay.

Quote from: Sean
So at this point I'm sort of torn. On the one hand, I believe that people playing this way will probably be at least roughly diagnoseable with some kind of overall preference within any given game, G, N, or S. On the other hand, if they're happy with what they're doing, they might resist an intensification along any of those axes: they might make decisions not to explore intensely, or not to step on up, or not to get too hard-core into the story, because they just want to keep floating along. And in this sense, because they make negative decisions about the intensity of any of the three modes, it might make sense to talk about Z as a fourth preference - this one really defined negatively, as Sim should not be in my opinion. It's the creative agenda that says 'hey, let's not focus on any overall creative agenda, let's just bop around in the shared space and focus on whatever butters our muffin at the time, with the understanding that if your muffin gets too heavily buttered consistently in one direction you either need to lay off or find a new game'.

So: decisions in play are always understandable as little-g, little-s, or little-n, at least barring finding some new form of focus. And many games will have a creative agenda which involves focusing on one of these and making play more intense: the capital letter modes. On the other hand, there's also an overall creative agenda which is explicitly aimed against heavy focus, which we're calling "Zilchplay", but since that's negative and implies to me an absence of player desires, which is incoherent, I'd prefer C, "Casual Play", as the title, if this exists.


Sean, I think Z play as you described it does exist, in functional forms (where everyone's happy with it), in dysfunctional forms (where someone possibly the GM is unhappy with it, something that gets reported occasionally in the Actual Play forum: "I asked my players for character backgrounds and they didn't want to bother; I offered a tough challenge but they refused to take the risk; I asked what kind of situation they wanted their characters to get involved in next and they said I'm the GM so I should decide; how can I get them to be more proactive?"), and in an in-between truce-in-a-powder-keg form, where players go along to get along, muting their expression of their own creative agendas as a way of avoiding known conflicts with other players' differing preferred CAs.

In the little-big parlance, those are all big Z. Little z, individual moments of idling play in which no particular creative agenda is being expressed (and/or when no one is making any unexpected decisions), is pretty universal and not usually dysfunctional or even undesirable. (Though I doubt you'll see many z moments in well-conducted sessions of Sorcerer, Tunnels and Trolls, My Life with Master, or other games with strongly focused facilitation of a single Creative Agenda.) Little z becomes big Z only if (1) there's no s, n, or g mixed in, or not enough to clear some reasonable minimal threshold for expression of a creative agenda; and (2) the apparently idle moments aren't actually adding up to an expressive whole in the way that apparently innocent words can add up to a meaningful statement.

"Casual play?" I don't think that works. The way I see it, there's no way to avoid the phenomenon I'm describing as zilchplay being seen as second-class play, even if we name it "greatplay." I don't believe it is, but I'd rather have to repeatedly argue that "zilchplay isn't always a bad thing" than deal with the objections of those who see their play as being "casual" and solidly Gamist, etc. at the same time. I'm not real thrilled with "zilchplay" either (it started as a placeholder intended to be replace-all'ed by something else, in an essay I was writing, but it proved to be too catchy to get rid of). But if it's a bit perjorative, at least it doesn't smear anything or anyone else in the process.

Quote from: Earlier in the thread, Mike
Walt, I think you're explaining a phenomenon, but not one that's important to GNS per se, but more Creative Agenda overall. That is the GNS portion of CA is about coherence. So, unless you can show that this is a point of potential conflict, I think you're describing a subset of a mode - as you say splitting Sim. This doesn't create another mode, however, it just further subdivides one that already exists in a manner that it needs to exists for the model.


The importance to Agenda theory remains to be seen, though I think there's a lot of evidence for zilchplay as a potentially dysfunctional player behavior mode in some Actual Play accounts.

Is Z really just a splitting of Sim? I know I described it that way originally, but yikes. I'm describing play with consistently no player expression of any creative agenda. If that's a split of Sim, then it can only be because Sim has heretofore included play in which players consistently express no creative agenda. For some reason we don't look at a player who's drifting along for an entire session and say, "he's playing Gamist but he's just not particularly engaged in Step On Up right now," or "he must be a Narrativist who's taking a vacation from addressing Premise," but it's somehow reasonable to say "he's a Simulationist who's just not been grooving on Exploration Squared tonight." Or in other words, when we describe Simulationism we say "exploration squared," not "going through the motions," but when we try to characterize the CA of "going through the motions" we throw up our hands and say "must be Sim" with no justification.

Quote from: Earlier in the thread, Emily
What I'm hearing is that zilchplay is exploration without intent, so to speak. Or role-playing that neither engages nor expresses any creative agenda and is in fact reactive to the catalyzing input of another player's expression of their creative agenda, though it may not appear to be so.

Sounds good, and I'd love to see sim split up into something managable that people could agree exists. But can play really be unmotivated? In the model, as soon as two or three come together and play, you've got creative agenda. You're positing a world where (perhaps) the most common situation is a game where one person (the gm) has a CA, and most others (the players) don't have one, or at least may get on just fine without one. That's a very different world than the one that gns has been thought to inhabit.

When do you cross out of zilchplay? Is that a personal decision? Is it based on the other players' interest in what you do? If not, how do we discern whether an action is "expected" or not? A player may put a lot of care and thought and hold attachment to an action that another would judge to be formulaic. This reminds me of the concept of pastiche, also. How attached to the concept of expected/unexpected are you? Do you see zilchplay as being limited to actions that seem formulaic?

Just trying to get clearer. Hope it's of use.


Excellent questions, Emily.

Motivation is a tricky issue in Agenda Theory; Ron has repeatedly said that the theory doesn't address motivation, though people are free to invoke motivation by way of interpreting the things the theory does say. However, going the other way and trying to use motivation to prove the necessity of a CA is trickier. I can assert that I have a motivation for reading a book that I am in fact reading, and psychological theories might confirm that that must be true or I woudn't be reading the book, but that doesn't mean reading a book must involve a creative agenda.

However, if you rephrase your question to "can there be role playing without a creative agenda?" then the existing theory answers it with a clear no. That is, it says role playing requires exploration with a creative agenda, the logical implication being if there's no exploration it can't be role playing, and exploration without a CA either doesn't exist or is not role playing. Since imagining the SIS that's being described by others constitutes exploration, and everyone at the table is imagining unless they're asleep or staring blankly or watching TV or something (not role playing at all), everyone must have a CA. Players who are idling or going through the motions (but not comatose etc.) must therefore be either not role playing at all, or playing with a CA that by default gets called Sim.

I'm proposing that we have no more justification for calling that behavior Sim just because they're imagining (exploring) than we have for calling it Gam just because they're occasionally rolling dice. We say over and over that exploration and dice rolling can occur in any CA and that they don't prove any particular CA. But if going through the motions isn't Sim, what is it? It could be not role playing at all -- I suspect that that's how Ron would resolve the issue -- but lots of people seem to think it is. I suggest that going through the motions, or zilchplay, is role playing without expressing a creative agenda.

Where to set threshold between Z and Simulationism -- or between Z and any creative agenda -- is also a good question. There is probably no "perfect" zilchplay. Players are always going to express something, somehow. So is there always CA, however muted? My feeling is that if CA is muted to the point where it doesn't make any difference, where the players cannot or do not express anything of interest, it's zilchplay. (Perfect absolute zero cannot be achieved, so all matter must have some heat, but that doesn't mean it makes any sense to say all matter is hot.) As a GM I might ask, "am I getting any more help in creating the shared imagined space than if I were reciting an account of events to an audience?" Note that even if the players are getting much more out of playing the game than they would from being in that audience, the answer can still be no. (The GM might also consider, "Do I want such help?" Some GMs don't; they choose the game as a medium only because it helps supply them with an audience.)

- Walt
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Jason Lee
Member

Posts: 729


« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2004, 12:13:40 PM »

I've moved the following post from the parent thread, and made some edits.

My question is: are the zilchplayers engaged in what they are exploring?  Are they enjoying it?  

If something about the exploration is exciting them, there is a CA here somewhere.  If they are just going through the motions, just exploring because they need an excuse to tumble little plastic dice across the table, then I'd say no CA is at work - Sim or otherwise.

I'm not certain that I've ever witnessed zilchplay, so I can't answer this question for myself.
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- Cruciel
ScottM
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Posts: 221

Fresno, California


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« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2004, 02:31:15 PM »

Quote from: cruciel
I'm not certain that I've ever witnessed zilchplay, so I can't answer this question for myself.


I suspect the trick to this is distinguishing what people want. I suspect a lot of zilchplay comes about due to lack of spotlight or a distracted player.  Is a lack of spotlight really a choice of that player though?

For an example of a distracted player, I've probably gamed in a way that resembles zilchplay.  I enthusiastically accept that D&D can be a great deal of gamist fun (and I urged and try to educate our DM in ways to make "challenges" rather than walkovers).  In fact, that may be a large part of my personal challenge-- as the local D&D 'rules expert', I spend a lot of time helping the DM interpret the nasty side of our opponents, figuring out what all those abilities do, etc.  Often my character falls into the background (automatically healing the wounded, etc.) while I help the DM get his end straight.  Does this qualify as zilchplay?

Depending on the duration of an instance, other events seem similar.  For example, a priest or (in my case) druid often makes his decisions well in advance of a fight and there's often little "challenge" involved in those decisions.  If he decides to "buff" his allies before the combat, then during the actual combat there are few real decisions to make (due to lack of remaining spells, lack of useful attacks, etc.)  If the instance examined was the battle alone, then I (the druid's player) probably look like a zilchplayer, but looked at in context, the spell (etc.) decisions are more clearly dedicated to beating the foe-- a kind of "no personal challenge, but group facilitating gamist" kind of decision.

Of course, that's another question... does zilchplay cover the _____ist facilitating roles? Should it?
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Hey, I'm Scott Martin. I sometimes scribble over on my blog, llamafodder. Some good threads are here: RPG styles.
Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2004, 02:54:55 PM »

[Edit: cross-posted with ScottM; this answers Jason (Cruciel)]

Are they enjoying it? Usually.

Have I inadvertently conjured up images of zombie players, sitting around tables with dice, paper, and nachos all covered in dust and cobwebs like Miss Havisham's wedding feast? Not the idea at all. Think instead of the lucky volunteers called up to the stage during a glitzy Vegas magic show. Cool, I get to participate! Are they involved? Sure. Are they excited? Quite possibly. Does any of what transpires depend on or reward their own self-expressioon in any way? No.

So, are they engaged in it? Depends on what you mean by "engaged."

Nothing wrong with it. I don't read novels or participate in friends' wedding ceremonies to express myself creatively, and I don't always role-play for that reason either. (But I don't usually prefer to GM in zilchplay style. If I'm going to be doing all the creative decision-making myself, I prefer to work in text interactive fiction or computer game form, where there's a good possibility of getting paid for it.)

I don't accept the idea that if play doesn't express a creative agenda, then it must be just an excuse to throw dice (or some other similarly unrewarding reason). Going to the movies isn't self-expression, so is it just an excuse to walk on a sticky floor?

- Walt
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Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2004, 04:33:37 PM »

Quote from: ScottM
I suspect the trick to this is distinguishing what people want. I suspect a lot of zilchplay comes about due to lack of spotlight or a distracted player.  Is a lack of spotlight really a choice of that player though?


Not necessarily. The lack of any spotlight at all is certainly a sign of zilchplay. For instance, in the example of play in the 1979 AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, all but one of the players are almost completely silent for the entire three pages of play transcript. Zilchplay can't be much more obvious than that. However, a player can have the spotlight (be "doing stuff") and still be zilchplaying, if the player is only making expected sterotypical decisions. So, in that AD&D example transcript, even the party "caller" who's doing all the talking is zilchplaying. "There are stairs in front of you." "We go down them." And so forth, all the way through. (Not all dungeon crawls are zilchplay, by a long shot. But this one, or at least the portion of it depicted, was.)

The concept of zilchplay doesn't specify whose choice or fault the situation is. It could be that the GM constantly urges the players to be proactive, and they refuse. It could be that the players constantly try to express themselves but all but the most "expected" of their attempted contributions to the shared imagined space are refused by the GM (this being the familiar railroading). These two cases are both dysfunctional. But it could also be by mutual consent.

Quote
For an example of a distracted player, I've probably gamed in a way that resembles zilchplay.  I enthusiastically accept that D&D can be a great deal of gamist fun (and I urged and try to educate our DM in ways to make "challenges" rather than walkovers).  In fact, that may be a large part of my personal challenge-- as the local D&D 'rules expert', I spend a lot of time helping the DM interpret the nasty side of our opponents, figuring out what all those abilities do, etc.  Often my character falls into the background (automatically healing the wounded, etc.) while I help the DM get his end straight.  Does this qualify as zilchplay?


As best I can tell, this is far from zilchplay. It doesn't matter what your character is or isn't doing, if you are expressing a creative agenda through play, in this case apparently by being a sort of assistant GM. To figure out what creative agenda, ask yourself what effect your actions are having on the others' experience in the shared imagined space. If the effect is to increase the challenge so as to facilitate the other players stepping on up, then you're likely expressing yourself in a primarily Gamist way. But that's just a guess. (For instance, if your main concern when you provide your input is to see that the opponents are portrayed in a consistent, complete, or "correct" way, then your expressed agenda would be Sim; your ideas about how that particular aspect of the shared imagined space should behave would be being put into play.)

Quote
Depending on the duration of an instance, other events seem similar.  For example, a priest or (in my case) druid often makes his decisions well in advance of a fight and there's often little "challenge" involved in those decisions.  If he decides to "buff" his allies before the combat, then during the actual combat there are few real decisions to make (due to lack of remaining spells, lack of useful attacks, etc.)  If the instance examined was the battle alone, then I (the druid's player) probably look like a zilchplayer, but looked at in context, the spell (etc.) decisions are more clearly dedicated to beating the foe-- a kind of "no personal challenge, but group facilitating gamist" kind of decision.


I find that those old AD&D cleric classes, as often played, tend to hover dangerously close to zilchplay, for some of the reasons you mention. Which may be why of all the standard character classes, playing clerics is for so many either the most preferred or the most despised choice. How is the decision to buff up other party members, or to heal other party members after the ensuing combat, made? Is it "standard operating procedure" and/or driven by the other players' request, or is it a decision that you put thought into because doing so expresses your own creative agenda (which implies the freedom not to buff or heal without that decision itself being seen as a disruptive social transgression)? Is their expectation of your character's support a part of the arena in which they challenge themselves when they Step On Up? How much of your own social esteem is on the line in the process? I doubt the question of whether this is zilchplay can be answered by looking only at what spells you're casting or what weapon you're swinging. What influenece are you having on the imagined situation at other times? Are you involved in strategic and tactical decision-making, such as what goals to pursue, which side to take in conflicts, when to withdraw instead of press on? Are your actions ever "unexpected" (not out of character, but outside of predictable routine)? And if they are, are you rewarded or punished for that?

Quote
Of course, that's another question... does zilchplay cover the _____ist facilitating roles? Should it?


I'm not sure what you mean here. If by "facilitating role" you mean "acting as a doormat so as not to distract from another player's ___ist enjoyment," then perhaps yes. If you mean "pulling shoulder to shoulder with other players to express an ____ist agenda in play," then probably not.

- Walt
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Jason Lee
Member

Posts: 729


« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2004, 07:30:58 PM »

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Are they enjoying it? Usually.


Ok, then I'd say you have some kind of Creative Agenda in zilchplay (if by "it" you mean Exploration).

Quote
So, are they engaged in it? Depends on what you mean by "engaged."


Lemme see if I can explain.  By "engaged" I mean interested, motivated, addressing, emotional invested, or wanting something out of Exploration.  I'm very specifically talking about Exploration here.  By my definition the motivation to Explore is Creative Agenda.  

You've used movies and books as examples, but they lack Exploration (being not-RPGs).  I definitely won't argue about not needing a Creative Agenda to enjoy books or movies, but I think you do to enjoy Exploration.

Looks like my 'excuse to roll dice' line came off too harsh.  I'll reword it:  Is the Exploration interesting, or is it simply a necessary act to facilitate something else, like hanging out and eating pretzels?
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- Cruciel
Silmenume
Member

Posts: 467


« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2004, 09:12:50 PM »

Quote from: Walt Freitag
One more quibble: I think "weak expression of creative agenda" is a useful concept, but in your earlier post you made it sound like it could be a synonym for "incoherence." I don't think that's the case (and it might not have been what you meant to say anyway).

It was never my intention to equate “weak expression of creative agenda” and “incoherence.” You are correct in saying that is not what I meant at all.  Point of fact, in the entire time I have been at The Forge “incoherence” has never been of particular interest to me.  On a side note I find it is fascinating that twice has the idea of “incoherence” been attributed to one my writings when it wasn’t part of the discourse at all.  The situation kind of reminds me of a verbal Rorschach’s inkblot test!

Quote from: Walt Freitag
I don't believe the directness is required, though directness does make the player's contribution to the Dream easier to perceive.


I wrestled with the term “directly” before settling on it, precisely for the reason you listed.  It was easier to use as an example, but unfortunately the term "directly" falls short of adequately representing the idea over all.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
But indirectly can be good enough for me -- and because of that, sometimes a PC "just walking around" is enough to express a Sim creative agenda.


I agree as well, but the context surrounding the act of “just walking around” is vitally important.  In other words, if a meaning has been attached to the act of walking around, then the implementation of the choice to walk around then generates a meaning.  For example if the character walks across the street to be the first one there, or it represents a finishing line then that act would addressing an agenda goal (victory – Gamism).  If the character walks across the street to answer the question, “Is it possible to come home again after losing one’s innocence,” then that act would be addressing an agenda goal (premise – Narrativism).  If a character crosses the street because the character has a phobia of passing a store that has mirrors visible then he would be addressing an agenda goal (Exploration element/character – Simulationism).  If a character crosses the street for now discernable reason (either the act in isolation or the act in context – if there was any context) then he would not be addressing any particular agenda goal.

In the “just walking around example,” it would add to the body of knowledge about a character in the beginning if the act were “unexpected” or new to the situation.  If the player does this continually without modification then he has stopped creating anything new about the character and said act would eventually fall into “zilchplay.”  The difference between roleplay and reading is that in roleplay we are creating new things.  Just walking around all the time is little different from reading a book.  The Exploration elements are being employed, but the player has not contributed/created to the Exploration elements.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Thus, a player can engage in creation, self-expression, the unexpected, whatever we want to call it, without ever being visibly out of Actor stance, under the right circumstances.

Not only can they, but in the game I play in, it is virtually the only way!  In most of writings about Sim, unless specifically stated otherwise, I assume that players are mostly in Actor stance.  I say this not to say that is the only way to play Sim, but rather to give a frame of reference for my writings.

Let’s go back to the idea of indirectly addressing a Sim Creative Agenda, specifically character.  I believe that in RPG’s, like other narrative forms, character is best (not only) revealed (indirectly addressing Sim CA) rather than stated (indirectly addressing Sim CA).  IOW character is best observed/created through behavior.  This is clearly evident in the model itself where the behaviors of the players must be observed for a lengthy period of time before anything conclusive can be said about the player’s agenda.  The model clearly states that the verbally stated agenda of a player is frequently not an effective gauge of player motives (character stated) as is their real actions at play which then reveal real/operational motives (character revealed).  Even the hoary old adage “actions speak louder than words” supports this.  Thus in game it is almost impossible or extremely difficult for character to be directly addressed as a CA by a player.  A player might make a mindful choice about how to act in a situation, but that situation must arise first before said choice can be made.  For example in order to show a character as brave, he must first find himself in a situation where bravery is being tested.  If the player does pass the bravery test he has added, indirectly, but consciously (or not) to the body of the explored element of character.

Zilchplay would not add any information to any of the explored elements.

I think this is where Sim nearly always falls into trouble.  In Sim, Players have the most input over situation, in other words they can address it directly.  Traditionally most Sim DM’s are loath to allow the players this freedom and frequently actively work to constrain such control.  In Sim, as character is revealed by action, it is incumbent upon the DM to create situations that allow for character personality traits to be tested, revealed and then added to the body of information of Exploration/Character.  This means that players can only (or at least primarily) address Sim agenda character goals indirectly.  Players must rely on the DM to provide such opportunities, yet traditionally most Sim DM’s are very poor at this; frequently character is vastly under unexplored.

How does this pertain to Zilchplay and its confusion with Sim?  Simply because if both the above situations are in effect, then players have little freedom or opportunities with which to creatively add to the Exploration elements.  Most traditional avowed Sim GM’s run games that become Zilchplay games with color thrown in by the players whenever possible.  This is why I think that Sim play and Zilchplay has been confused as one style of play.  Gamism and Narrativism, with their overt metagame drives and the ability to override the GM’s wishes can put an end to Zilchplay easily (though the DM maybe unhappy about this).  Sim play requires the DM’s and the players have to cooperate fully or it all falls apart.  You might get dysfunction in a game while the players have taken over the asylum, but for those few moments when the players are getting to do what they want to do, they are enjoying themselves.  IOW it is possible to run a Sim game and have the players be affecting another agenda stealthily on a metagame level.  The players could agree outside the game to compete to see who can get to 10th level first, while in game seem to be abiding by Sim Agenda.  It is virtually impossible to do stealth Sim while the GM is running another agenda because such choices will stand out in game.  IOW it is easier for a player to run stealth G/N in a Sim game that it is for a player to run stealth Sim in a G/N game.  Why?  Because, Sim requires cooperation between player and DM.  This has almost never been talked about in Sim game texts.  The net result is that players either drift to G/N, punch out and play Zilchplay or walk away from roleplay all together.

If roleplay can be said to be roughly equated to a form of conversation I would say that G/N conversations would be structured in a way to establish a point.  Sim conversations would perhaps lead to poetry, i.e., the very tools of language would be employed in a way that is satisfying in and of itself.  This is not to say the Sim play is poetry, but I use the example of an activity that utilizes its own tools to explore said tools.  Zilchplay would be idle chatter.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Little z, individual moments of idling play in which no particular creative agenda is being expressed (and/or when no one is making any unexpected decisions), is pretty universal and not usually dysfunctional or even undesirable.


I would say that little z is probably even necessary as it lies at the base of roleplay.  To quote Mozart, “Silence is very imporant. The silence between the notes are as important as the notes themselves.”  If the conversation analogy holds, and CA oriented conversations are moments when points are being made, then the z moments can be the equivevalent of pauses in that conversation or moments when the laying the groundwork for the next point are being made.  However a whole night of z, idle chatter, would hardly be called a converstation though talking did take place and all could have enjoyed it thoroughly.

As I close here let me throw out some possible other names for Zilchplay –
nullplay
neutralplay
baseplay
idleplay
inertplay
interstitialplay

Aure Entaluva,

Silmenume

edit: some minor clarifactions
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Jay
Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2004, 02:45:49 PM »

Hi Jay,

You're right about "incoherence." The comment I was referring to wasn't yours at all, it was Sean's. Sorry about that.

Other than that, about all I can say is I agree with every word. It's almost frightening. Just as what I said about players adding to the explored elements indirectly had already gone through your mind when you decided to keep things simple by saying "direct," what you said about the significance of the context in creating meaning for "just walking across the street" had already gone through my mind when I decided to keep things simple by saying "sometimes just walking around is enough to exress a Sim creative agenda." (And you're right, too, in that the possibilities aren't limited to a Sim creative agenda.)

Of course, even with such context, most likely walking across the street will express at most a slight hint toward the player's creative agenda, a little bit of information to be incorporated into an even larger context over a longer period of time, rather than being the sort of "hey look, that street-crossing was Narrativism!" moment you refer to. I assume you're already aware of that, and were presenting exaggerated examples to make the important fundamental point, but I mention it for others' benefit.

Your comments about applications to Sim play (applying theory to improving play -- woo hoo!) are very perceptive and interesting. The idea that it is almost impossible for Sim players in traditionally structured games to address character (and easier to address Situation) is just the reverse of what one might expect, given the usual understanding that players "control their characters" while GMs tend to exercise "control of the situation." Yet I think, I think, you're right. Your explanation makes sense and it accords with my experience. I'll have to think about how this might figure into the "my world vs. my guy" problem and its solutions.

Your mention of "zilchplay games with color thrown in by the players" reminds me that I didn't directly address where play focusing on "exploration of color" falls with respect to zilchplay. "Just contributing color" sounds at first like a description of zilchplay or at least close to it, but it's not necessarily so. Exploraiton of color is subject to the same acid test as other kinds of exploration. Is the color the players provide filling in prior expectations of what the color should be, or are unexpected color elements being introduced and appreciated? Possible zilchplay in the first case, not in the second.

- Walt
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Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2004, 03:04:12 PM »

Jason, "I want to see what happens" or "I want to see how it comes out" is sufficient reason all by itself for enjoyment of reading a novel. Why is it not sufficient reason all by itself for enjoyment of exploration, if by means of that exploration one is learning a story that one happens to find interesting? Is exploration that much more difficult or onerous that it universally requires some additional attraction?

My contention is that enjoyment of exploration does not require a creative agenda. Enjoyment of self-expression by means of shared exploration reqires a creative agenda -- that is, something to express oneself about. But not all exploration in role playing involves self-expression. Sometimes exploration is listening, or going through the motions, while imagining. (Like turning the pages of a novel -- yes, it's an observable action on the reader's part and it's absolutely necessary to the act of reading, but it doesn't make the reader a contributor to the content.) That's zilchplay.

- Walt
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Jason Lee
Member

Posts: 729


« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2004, 03:30:25 PM »

Walt,

Ah...  I think I see where our disconnect is.  I'm using Exploration differently.

You appear to be using Exploration as synonymous to experiencing, while I'm using Exploration as synonymous to creating.  So, if I'm right here, then you and Jay's 'adding to Exploration' is synonymous with my 'Exploration'.

How many times do you think I can use the word 'synonymous' in this post?

Then using your wording, my question becomes:  "Are zilchplayers interested in adding to Exploration?"  Which I think you've already answered as negative, so then no Creative Agenda.

Walt, am I right?
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- Cruciel
Silmenume
Member

Posts: 467


« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2004, 09:17:37 PM »

Hey Walt,

No worries!

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Of course, even with such context, most likely walking across the street will express at most a slight hint toward the player's creative agenda, a little bit of information to be incorporated into an even larger context over a longer period of time, rather than being the sort of "hey look, that street-crossing was Narrativism!" moment you refer to. I assume you're already aware of that, and were presenting exaggerated examples to make the important fundamental point, but I mention it for others' benefit.


Exactly.  In almost all cases there is no discernable/observable Agenda behind such actions.  This does not mean there was no player Agenda driving said action, but rather we cannot discern, given the data at hand, what or whether Creative Agenda was being addressed.  I think this is an important point to make.  Because we cannot, by observation of the ambiguous player behavior action, determine which or whether a CA was involved we can draw no conclusions from said act other than to say it was ambiguous to us observers, i.e., Zilchplay.  What the player’s Agenda was at that moment remains a mystery, and though context can help, it is by no means definitive.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
The idea that it is almost impossible for Sim players in traditionally structured games to address character (and easier to address Situation) is just the reverse of what one might expect, given the usual understanding that players "control their characters" while GMs tend to exercise "control of the situation."


At best players can only do things.  This is the extent of player control over character.  That the player wishes his character to be recognized as brave (addressing Exploration/character) requires more than the controlling player just saying that he is brave.  The character must “act” brave and thus reveal his bravery via his reactions to a specific kind of situation that tests bravery.  Players, in Sim, have no meta-game control over situation, so they must either rely on the DM to create such a circumstance or said player’s character must create such a circumstance.  The problem is if that the character creates the circumstances (creates Exploration/situation) that action of creating the circumstance paints his character as well.  He ceases to be viewed as brave and is then seen (possibly) as a glory hound or a character who has a hero complex.  Much like the firefighter who set fires so that he could be the first to call them in, put them out and thus be regarded as a hero.  Thus if a player wishes to explore certain aspects of his character’s character (persona) he is at the mercy of the DM.  The player has control over how the character re/acts, but has no or extremely limited control over the Exploration process (creation of a character/persona element) of character (persona).

Because a player can act in fashions he chooses a player has much more control or input over situation.  He can create a fight by walking up to an NPC and applying fist to face with great velocity.  Conversely he can calmly walk away from a situation where an NPC applied fist to character’s nose with great velocity.  This control/input over situation is by no means absolute, but it is more direct than any other Exploratory element available to players.  The player can accept or reject the story hook laid in front of him by the DM thus effecting, in a profound way, how situation unfolds.  In most cases though, the DM strictly limits player input/reaction to situation thus severely limiting player exploration of character.  This has resulted in what I had mentioned earlier as Zilchplay games with color thrown in by players.  Players, because they have little control/input over situation then also lose much control/input about character exploration, are frequently limited to character “affectations;” accents, costume, what the character looks like, etc., i.e., color.

This is why, long ago, I described Sim play as a very intricate dance between DM and player.  Each side must highly tuned to each other and be willing to cede a certain amount of control to the other if they are seeking the richest possible Exploratory (creation) process.  The DM must allow the players the freedom to respond to and effect situation as they see fit (while holding to the internal causality clause!) as this allows for the greatest freedom and opportunities for character exploration.  Outside of game the DM may even solicit input from his players, though just listening to the post game conversations is a great way of doing same without tipping the DM’s hand about upcoming situations.)  This response by the DM to player interests (gleaned by whatever means employed) allows the player’s, in an indirect way, to have some input on how they would like to Explore their characters.  The DM can then present situations to the players in game that allow them the opportunity to explore those aspects of their characters’ persona that they were interested in.

All these acts reveal something about the character even if most of revealed things about the character are so trivial or mundane as to remain unnoticed.  Thus, and this is where I got into trouble before, those situations that allow for the sharpest relief for persona are just those situations that are also interesting from a Narrativist point of view.  The difference here is that in Sim we are interested in Exploring the character (process) under such difficult circumstances (situation), not the theme (product) that may arise later.  Difficult circumstances make for interesting character exploration, which is why they also make for great premises.  The more difficult the situation, the more challenging the play is for the player, the more that is revealed about character in the process.  In the game that I play in the difficult situations are not the ones that are about choosing good over evil, but choosing between two equally important but incompatible goods.  For example, you are in a town being over run by orcs.  You are in the middle of the street, to your left a building is on fire and trapped inside is your young daughter, to your right another building is on fire and trapped inside is your wife.  You only have a few moments to decide which one you will save and act upon your decision, as both buildings are about to collapse.  There is no right or wrong action, but the action (or the lack of action!) reveals something about character and does effect situation.  There is also the input the players might wish to exercise in choosing which game level situations that would like to explore that the DM should pay heed to as well.

When I say, “must,” in the above, I should clearly state that I do not mean that this is the only way to play Sim, nor do I mean that this is the best way to play Sim.  If players are happy playing Illusionism then by all means that is the perfect way for that group to play.  I am merely saying that if certain aspects of Exploration are going to be allowed the same “freedom” of self-expression that Gamism and Narrativism enjoy then these types of reforms are required.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Just contributing color" sounds at first like a description of zilchplay or at least close to it, but it's not necessarily so. Exploration of color is subject to the same acid test as other kinds of exploration. Is the color the players provide filling in prior expectations of what the color should be, or are unexpected color elements being introduced and appreciated? Possible zilchplay in the first case, not in the second.


I agree.  If the player’s exploration input is effectively limited to color I would still technically call that game Sim, if it meets your acid test, but barely so.  Even Illusionism allows the players to have some very limited latitude over the Explored elements (those Exploration elements that the players can add to), even if the concourse of the events and the conclusion of the situation are never really in question.

Quote from: cruciel
You appear to be using Exploration as synonymous to experiencing, while I'm using Exploration as synonymous to creating. So, if I'm right here, then you and Jay's 'adding to Exploration' is synonymous with my 'Exploration'.


I am not sure that my use of Exploration (I can’t speak for Walt – so I’ll let him answer for himself) is synonymous with experiencing per say.  My take on Exploration is more of the act of employing the elements of Exploration without adding to them (at least in a meaningful way).  Sim is employing the elements of Exploration with the specific intent/purpose/agenda of adding to said elements (excepting formalized system).  All players “experience” acts of exploration whether they were adding to the Exploratory elements or not.

Quote from: cruciel
Then using your wording, my question becomes: "Are zilchplayers interested in adding to Exploration?" Which I think you've already answered as negative, so then no Creative Agenda.


I think it would help to distinguish between the act/process of Exploration from the collective noun referring to the Exploratory Elements.

To rephrase your question, if I may be so bold –

"Are zilchplayers interested in adding to the Exploratory Elements?"

The answer is, it depends.  If the players are squelching the expression of their CA’s so that their game may continue and not be torn apart, then the answer is yes.  If zilchplayers are truly happy, just floating along, consuming and not adding much of anything to the Exploratory Elements, then the answer is no.

Aure Entaluva,

Silmenume

edit - critical error in last paragraph.  The yes and no parts are now in their intended places.  Also cleaned up a sentence or two for greater clarity
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Jay
clehrich
Member

Posts: 1557


WWW
« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2004, 01:02:26 AM »

I've only been skimming all this, and now I'm coming in late (though now I've read the whole thread), so I want to ask a small question for clarification.

As Walt mentioned, in Actual Play we get a lot of "I want my players to be more proactive."  If I understand correctly, one classic version of this would here be phrased, "I want my players to stop playing zilchplay so much."  The advice offered will amount to:

How to get the players to express a CA more rapidly (or at all);
How to get the players to speed through necessary zilchplay;
Or both.

In other words, to take the 1979 DMG example, which is pretty much all zilchplay, the question (if you want your players to be proactive) is how to get them to run through that stuff really fast -- sort of handwave it or otherwise get a move on -- so that CA can happen.

Thus zilchplay isn't a bad thing as such, for the same reason that reading a novel is hardly a bad thing, but when it comes to dominate play time it tends to provoke, "Why can't my players be more proactive?"

Have I got that more or less right?

Chris Lehrich
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Chris Lehrich
Ron Edwards
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Member
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« Reply #12 on: February 15, 2004, 07:25:00 AM »

Hi Walt,

What I guess I don't understand is why you consider zilchplay to have been lumped with Simulationist play. Given your definition (and especially your clarification to Emily above), it seems very straightforward to me that:

a) zilchplay is not play, but at most a sort of Social-Contract-only presence among the other people; and

b) thus not involved with Creative Agenda at all; and

c) hence not Simulationist specifically.

Is there some particular post or thread that you're working from, in terms of the conceptual problem that you're correcting? I mean, I agree with the correction-concept, but I guess I don't see it as correcting anything - just stating something .... well, if not obvious, at least not controversial.

Best,
Ron
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Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #13 on: February 15, 2004, 08:59:45 AM »

Quote from: Jason
You appear to be using Exploration as synonymous to experiencing, while I'm using Exploration as synonymous to creating. So, if I'm right here, then you and Jay's 'adding to Exploration' is synonymous with my 'Exploration'.


The GNS/Agenda model describes Exploration as "shared imaginings." The "shared" part means that the imaginings are being shaped by communication about those things between the participants. (This is a pretty close paraphrase from the "The foundation: Exploration and more" section of Ron's Narrativism: Story Now article.)

So, the way I see it, experiencing alone isn't sufficient to meet the definition of Exploration, but introducing anything new or unexpected into the communication (one possible definition of "creating"*) isn't required to meet the definition of Exploration. That's not to say "creating" is not a strong expectation in some, even most, social contracts for actual play, just that without "creating" it can still be Exploration and still be role playing.

Picking up a die and rolling it when cued to do so by the system or the other participants (which even the otherwise silent players in the AD&D DMG play example are apparently doing) is communicating about the shared imagined space and is therefore Exploration, and it can even be said to be adding to the shared imagined space, but I wouldn't call it creating. Others will disagree; that's why "creating" is such a tricky verb to try to pin a definition on, leading me to try out the perhaps marginally less tricky "introducing the unexpected" as an alternative. Another description of the same "it" (which is the missing "it" in Sim but is not unique to Sim) is that "it" is the use of Exploration as bandwidth for self-expression.

I stress, I'm trying to stay true to the Big Model's meaning of Exploration, but the implications I'm reading into it  contradict GNS/Agenda theory. To wit: I'm proposing it's the "it" rather than Exploration itself that requires a Creative Agenda; that Exploration can still occur without the "it," and that therefore Exploration (and role playing) can occur without a Creative Agenda. A different interpretation that would not lead to contradiction of the current model would be: Exploration cannot exist at all without "it," so that whether it's the Exploration or the "it" that requires a Creative Agenda is a meaningless question, and all Exploration has a Creative Agenda.

- Walt

*However, introducing noise, however unexpected, isn't creating either, so that definition is at least incomplete. Instead of "introducing the unexpected," we might try "introducing the unexpected, thoughtfully" or "introducing stuff that's different from what another individual would have introduced in the same circumstances." From the last definition it would follow that if the contents and evolution of the shared imagined space aren't contingent on who the participants are, it's zilchplay.
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Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #14 on: February 15, 2004, 11:09:29 AM »

Quote from: Chris
As Walt mentioned, in Actual Play we get a lot of "I want my players to be more proactive."  If I understand correctly, one classic version of this would here be phrased, "I want my players to stop playing zilchplay so much."  The advice offered will amount to:

How to get the players to express a CA more rapidly (or at all);
How to get the players to speed through necessary zilchplay;
Or both.

In other words, to take the 1979 DMG example, which is pretty much all zilchplay, the question (if you want your players to be proactive) is how to get them to run through that stuff really fast -- sort of handwave it or otherwise get a move on -- so that CA can happen.


Whether speeding through zilchplay will help depends on what you think is going to happen after "that stuff" is finished. In the DMG example, it's pretty clear that "that stuff" is what play is and will remain about. The first few paragraphs do cover some preliminaries like establishing standard marching orders and so forth, but it goes on for several pages of actual dungeon crawling, with no indication that the overall methods of play will ever change (e.g. that the other players will ever get to talk, or that a "detect" roll will ever fail, forcing the DM to either improvise a way to allow the next passageway to be found anyway or abort the crawl).

Similarly, if players are saying "tell us what to do next," then telling them what to do next faster isn't going to help.

However, if play is only occasionally bogging down in rote procedures (shopping is often cited in complaints, for instance), then speeding it up makes sense. Not by telling players to do it faster, though, but by giving them ways to do it faster or avoid doing it all together, getting rid of rewards for doing it painstakingly (such as cost reductions for equipment using a "bargaining" skill). That's part of what scene framing techniques accomplish.

Quote
Thus zilchplay isn't a bad thing as such, for the same reason that reading a novel is hardly a bad thing, but when it comes to dominate play time it tends to provoke, "Why can't my players be more proactive?"

Have I got that more or less right?


Yes, in cases where the GM wants constructive input into the SIS from the players. The other side of the same coin, players wanting to be more proactive than the GM allows them to be, is railroading, which of course is also dysfunctional and at least equally common.

- Walt
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