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Author Topic: Trollbabe: a seven-yr-old GMs  (Read 6907 times)
droog
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Posts: 268


« on: January 30, 2009, 01:09:00 PM »

I've written before about playing TB with my daughter. We have played a few times since, and something happened that I'd like to record.

Jemima started to ask me about colour tweaks. She has recently become a bit of an anime fan (moving on from Studio Ghibli), and she said that she would like the game to be more like Japanese anime.

My reply was cagey. I was a bit caught between some sort of setting integrity and the idea of collaboration. My eventual reply was classic RP culture: i.e. I suggested that she should run her own game. She had actually asked me a few questions about running a game, so she went with the idea quite readily. I was curious to see what she would do.

The first thing she did was to make clear her expectations for heavy Japanese colour. She wanted me to make up a chr with a Japanese name "and cute, like a Japanese anime character." To that end she intervened heavily in the chrgen process, and pretty much made up my chr herself. At first I was actually a bit frustrated, but then I relaxed and went with it.

The, er, adventure, was more of the same. She had two main techniques--present me with a situation in which there was absolutely no choice, and whine about it when I made the wrong choice. Again, momentary frustration gave way to amusement as she railroaded me through some mermaid flick. I experienced participationist play to the full. "I guess I'll swallow the potion, then."

Now, it's clear that she is actually breaking the rules of TB. I'm treating this as a learning thing, and my intention is to teach her gradually how to do it properly. What I find interesting is that her behaviour clearly mirrors a widespread phenomenon in the RP world. She hardly realises what it is that I do differently when I GM.
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AKA Jeff Zahari
Arturo G.
Member

Posts: 333


« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2009, 02:19:18 PM »

Hi,

Interesting report. Do you have the feeling that she is trying to "play" the kind of adventure she originally wanted you to run?
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droog
Member

Posts: 268


« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2009, 03:40:55 PM »

I think you would have to break that down a bit. I think that the desired colour is one thing. It's pretty trivial to push that colour over into anime territory, and my own issues with that are simply my own issues. I have residual and atavistic leanings towards the integrity of a given setting, and I'm rather fond of TB's Nordic flavour.

Then there's situation. It would also be quite simple for me to present situations that echoed more closely her source material (though then I'd have to watch it...). I'm studying what she presents as closely as I study anybody I play with.

However--what she simply does not present is choice. There was literally no time that I was free to choose my chr's actions. I was reduced to rolling the dice when she told me I could, and she even intervened a few times in that when the results didn't turn out as she wanted. She's playing me like a puppet.

I postulate that if I offered an analog to that that she would also become highly frustrated, unless I could read her well enough to align what I offered with what she wanted to do. Sound familiar?
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AKA Jeff Zahari
Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2009, 06:11:10 PM »

Hi Jeff,

She doesn't seem to be interested in finding out whats going on in your mind without any influence/bias from her (fair enough, she's only little).

But (perhaps walking on thin ice here) I'm kind of thinking what you focused on was not what was going on in her mind, but that you did not get a choice/were played like a puppet. Is it similar to what she did? That it was the choice that mattered to you, and not what's going on in her mind? That's a hard question - please don't kill me!

In terms of widespread phenomina in the RP world, there often seems to be a focus on "Game X is cool" rather than "Game X lets me learn about my friends and associates thoughts and feelings and that is cool". Particularly when someone does something that 'spoils' the game for others, they are often blamed for running/playing the game badly, when really this is a reflection of whats in the core of their mind. Who they genuinely are. And yet they get socially slapped for 'spoiling the game'. I often try to say, in stumbling words, these games should be designed so the GM/player can't make choice X, if it's so dreadful to see someone choose X. But there's always this dread focus on it being the player/GM's fault, as if them having an ego is an error. And that the GM/player should change for the sake of the book, rather than changing book rules (to remove option X, if it's so terrible) for the sake of the player remaining his or her damned self. The focus on changing people to fit the book...it's almost religous! I remember a woman giving an account on story games, who denied but then accepted she railroaded when some player bugged her. I said, that's good to know, now you can write rules which remove that railroading power...but no, she insisted she had to become a better person or something. As if the rules shouldn't change, she should! As if it's not human to be bugged by stuff and get slightly irritable! She should change those things over a stupid book! Gah!

Ok, I ranted - there was some good stuff there. Wash off the rest with some warm, soapy water... :)
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droog
Member

Posts: 268


« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2009, 08:58:34 PM »

My ice is thick and solid, Callan, so don't sweat it.

This particular game, as it happens, has a lot to do with me finding out what's going on in my daughter's head. It's more to do with that than it is to do with playing a game, as it were.

On the other hand, it's undeniably an RPG, and I'm reporting on it as such here. When I tell my wife about it I focus on the parenting aspect.

I'd say that the rules of TB are actually pretty solid on this. Jemima hasn't read them all, though, and the parts that guide the GM on creating adventures are essentially invisible to her. Yes, it's her fault, but only in the highly abstract sense (i.e. her fault is that she's a child and can't cope with extended technical text).
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AKA Jeff Zahari
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2009, 03:16:54 AM »

What you have here seems pretty natural to me, actually. Most seven year olds I've played with have been solidly in a make-believe stage of play anyway, so it's perfectly natural for them to play a roleplaying game in the same way they play when they play with dolls or action figures. And that play, on the other hand, is quite clearly basic exploration that is foremost concerned with getting the fiction to stay together - there is little room for other concerns. This is why children's play and negotiation of play looks like it does: they're trying hard to preserve fictional integrity, which can be difficult if you have other people in the game messing it up. And when it comes down to it, a child can easily be entertained by the basic exploration: it's challenging enough for them. Sort of developmentally enforced simulationism, one might say.

It's interesting to play rpgs with young children, as they're capable of listening to you tell a story and they're capable of telling a story themselves, but interaction is still largely over their heads. The way I'm trying to solve this sort of thing in my whole-family rpg Eleanor's Dream is to enforce decision points in the rules as multiple-choice situations. That removes a lot of the uncertainty about who's driving the fiction and who's not.
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Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2009, 10:49:30 AM »

I'm not Arturo, but I think I ken what he's getting at.

What it seems like is that maybe she's running you through the adventure she wants to experience herself. She presents "choices" to you, but to her mind, there's only one obvious clear choice. If you were running this anime mermaid tale and she were the player, these are the choices she'd have made herself.

So it's by and large wish-fulfillment. I don't think (though I haven't any clue about this one way or the other) that she doesn't enjoy the game you're running. She just wants to live this story more, and because she can't make you present the choices she wants to make as a player (because that's not how being a player works) she's using the power inherent in the GM position to present them to you. She just doesn't perceive that there's any other interesting, viable, effective option than the one she would choose. I don't think she probably has it all pre-planned in her head. She's making it up as she goes along, presenting the choice, with the best option already in her mind as she presents it, then she goes from there.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
droog
Member

Posts: 268


« Reply #7 on: February 01, 2009, 01:20:02 PM »

I think she does have it more or less preplanned. She has, each time and to the best of my knowledge, followed the plot and characters of one of her short films. Once she actually launched into a Harry Potter beginning, realised she couldn't sustain it, and asked if it was okay to start again. She sees only one option because that was how the film went.

Eero, I think your assessment is correct from her angle; i.e. she mainly concerned with reproducing her source material. But we definitely produced interactive narrativist play when I GMed, simply by following the rules and procedures.


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AKA Jeff Zahari
Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: February 01, 2009, 03:36:55 PM »

But why do you follow the rules, Jeff? I'm guessing its because you don't just want to follow them for their own sake, but because they are a means to an end of examining characters your daughter develops (which to be honest, is also learning about her, through her characters, I would say). That desire comes first - following rules is just following that desire, by using tools that meet it. Or am I way off? Or even just wording it badly?

Taking it I'm not way off, she doesn't have this same desire, so she definately isn't looking around for any rules that meet such a desire, let alone actually putting the effort into learning them*.

I'm an example of that, atleast in a gamist sense. I have alot of trouble reading rules that aren't about getting toward some sort of win - without being able to frame an individual rule into the context of winning, it all becomes a hodge poge. That's because my initial desire is about some level of competition (though I have nar leanings, just not as developed). That initial desire is vital.

What's REALLY interesting is how you note she can do interactive nar with you, but not the other way around. This is partly why I question the big model in terms of where that big 'creative agenda' arrow starts. Given the contrast of when she GM'ed against when you GM'ed, when you GM'ed that narrativist arrow clearly started soley with you, outside of social contract. Of course it then traveled on into social contract and all the rest - I'm only trying to give evidence of it starting even earlier than currently mapped in common knowledge.

And ANOTHER thing that seems really interesting to me is that you have given evidence of how she can enjoy nar (she enjoyed the games of TB with you as GM, right?) but not be able to do it herself. That's really interesting if you map it to the teen and even adult gaming levels - how many gamers are capable of enjoying nar, but can't actually run it? They associate game X with great gaming. But they lack the desire to explore character themselves, even though they can enjoy it when someone who does have that character examination desire runs a game (exactly like in your own examples). I'm even thinking of various threads of questions for a particular nar system, where people just seem to try really, really hard to 'get' the rules, but their only real desire is to play these rules, rather than use the rules as only a means to an end of character examination/moral examination.


* If you wanted to prompt thought on the matter, have you asked her if she finds other peoples made up characters interesting? For example, Harry Potter was made up by some other person(a stranger to her, even). Daddy is another person  - what sort of characters would Daddy make up (someone who's special to her)? (I'm not phrasing that too intimately, am I?)
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Arturo G.
Member

Posts: 333


« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2009, 01:19:35 AM »

There are very nice points arising here.

I mainly agree with Eero.
Wolfen, I don't think she is not enjoying the original game that droog was GM'ing for her. Choices and fair consequences are surely appealing her. But she also wants to reproduce other types of fiction she is watching in media.
When she tries to GM the game she is probably not presenting real choices because she is still playing, not GM'ing. She is reproducing and experimenting the story as if she would be playing, exploring the fiction. But at the same time making her father a participant of her story/game, which is nice.

I don't have any idea of how difficult or easy is to show/teach children how to build on other ideas in a structured way (like the game rules). But I'm really interested on hearing about how it works for droog.
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droog
Member

Posts: 268


« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2009, 10:55:41 AM »

Callan: It's a very good question. Why do I want to follow the rules? In fact, it's a question that has been exercising me for quite some time.

It's not simply as a way of discovering my daughter. I have many ways of doing that. It's not just to tell a story together, because we can do that without rules (though she tends to push her ideas over mine).

When I was a kid, my brother and I shared a room. Before we dropped off to sleep we would play what was essentially a sim RPG. We would make up characters drawn from what ever we were currently reading, and we would effectively GM for each other. Nothing ever happened in those games, but we had a lot of fun chewing the scenery and fleshing out our chrs.
 
When I discovered RPGs, I recognised our old games, but with a more explicit system. It seemed to me then that there was a lot of fun arising from greater structure.

I fully agree with your point about 'the game' taking priority over 'the people'. I don't derive much fun out of playing with strangers, precisely because I don't particularly care about their thoughts and feelings (or because their thoughts and feelings are repellent).

So: I suppose my playing an RPG with my daughter is an attempt to show her an activity with which I have had great experiences. I considered it carefully for years, and looked at all the games I have before settling on TB. I did realise from the start that it was also a way of teaching and learning.

The question remains, and it is essentially the same as the Hard Questions. Why this activity, among many others?
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AKA Jeff Zahari
Paul T
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Posts: 383


« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2009, 10:44:30 AM »

I actually have a suspicion that the whole "narrate a story (or bits of a story) while leaving certain characters within the story free will" is a very unnatural and difficult thing to do. Not difficult like quantum mechanics, but difficult that we have to develop little tricks and procedures to be able to do it. How do you know it's going to fit together if you allow someone else to come along and "spoil it"? What if you were building up to one thing, and that person is thinking of another?

That's why collaborative storytelling is difficult for people to do--or, at least, difficult to do if you're looking for a coherent, quality product or result.

That's why teams of writers have more difficulty creating stories than a single author.

That's why we have the Forge and all these funky games--they are tricks to let us do this thing together. We need to suppress certain natural instincts and urges (even simple ones like. "Ooh! I have a cool idea. How about this happens, and then this, and you do that, and then everything works out?").

When I think back to my early experiences playing RPGs as a kid, I'm pretty sure that all the gaming that went on in an attempt to create "story" was of the heavily railroaded type. There's no natural way to create emergent story together available to us--what we are doing now, with Story Now or Nar games or whatever, is a trick, one step removed from "normal storytelling", that we've developed.

I've played a few times with total non-gamers with no RPG experience, and whenever they are given a chance to GM or frame a scene or anything similar, they always forget to leave the characters involved a chance to act based on free will. Even when reminded, they have difficulty, until they gain some experience observing how another person does it.

That's been my experience, anyway. Can anyone confirm or deny this hunch of mine?

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Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2009, 12:59:39 PM »

Hi Paul,

I think perhaps more, were not used to carving a place for our free will in what we instruct others to do. If you tell a person to frame a scene, then they frame a scene - there's nothing in that wording that tells them to leave in some choices for you. They are perfectly within the wording to just frame a scene that happens to or even deliberately chops out any choice. Where the real problem is, perhaps, is wanting free choice, but not telling them how to give you that.

I think perhaps were so used to our free will being respected, we don't think about how our own instructions can actually directly contradict our own free will. So it seems like the other person is in the wrong, even though in the way we instructed them and they followed it very, very accurately. It's like one of those old comedy routines, where the guy says not to let him out (or something like that), no matter how much he begs - then something goes wrong and he has to get out, but the person on the outside wont let him. The person on the outside isn't being bad or ignoring free will.

So instead, what might be unnatural to people is to plan for their own free will. Were all too used to having free will without thinking about how to implement it into our own futures.
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2009, 09:12:23 AM »

I wonder if this is a good time to put in my first GMing rule of thumb:

Ask people questions, that are answered by some feature of their character.

Now this isn't perfect, as it still doesn't necessarally give freedom to the player, but it at least makes events dependant on the character they have chosen. (Not much help for you!) The next stage is making questions that are answered by some features of the players personality, but that's like an advanced version that sometimes comes after.

I've played quite a few games with little kids, and there is a certain type who love to boss you about! You can still shift the story around if you start suggesting ideas that fit with what they are doing, and open up new avenues for things they like. (In the purest case, more bossing!)

I'm not sure how much of a bosser Jemima is, but perhaps you could encourage her to see how things could turn out differently by suggesting actions from other stories/films that fit with the situation she is saying about, in other words mesh narratives she is familiar with into a branching structure, so she can see how they inter-relate. So in other words your fitting suggestions in because they are heading towards scenes she likes, while teaching her about alternative consistent histories.

Another way to look at it is trying to know what she likes better than she does, so that she sees that your ideas have the potential to be even better than hers, and so looks forward more to giving people freedom.
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