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Author Topic: Inadvertant prima donna-ism?  (Read 4122 times)
Callan S.
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« on: May 29, 2009, 04:06:51 PM »

I was thinking about another thread and how to say that it seemed like prima donna-ism. I can't remember how I made the leap, but I was thinking how the players actions were all dismissed as being gamist stuff and a refusal to see any sort of address of premise/"roleplay".

And I thought, but what if you didn't dismiss it, and rather think they want gamism and try to go for it? A genuine effort to embrace it? But it's kind of the same result, in practical terms, isn't it? Whether you dismiss it as gamism, or you embrace the gamism, in either case if they were actually trying to address premise, it's the same practical result of prima donna-ism.

I was thinking in terms of my own history - start out with some games with some moral issues and they appear to step on up. Embrace the idea of stepping on up in latter games and - things aren't as good? Perhaps because I'm the only one writing story, while I've set up challenges for them?

Though I will say, it just seemed gamist in an 'appease all parties, avoid having to make a difficult moral choice = win' way. Like once I was talking about play and gave an example of finding medical supplies and presenting the choice of selling them for cash (when your poor and vulnerable) or taking them to a sickly village. And my friend and mainstay player, comes up with selling them to the village. He actually seemed really pleased with his answer. Okay, great move! Smart move - but it really avoids the hard choice presented. Maybe the hard choice is lame in its construction and has plot holes, but it's still avoiding it. It reminds me of when I reported a PBP game I ran and a character had a choice of shoving harshly through a crowd to get to a shady figure seen spotting them, or letting him slip away. He tried to pick up people carefully with his enhanced strength then putting them down again, to get through without disrupting. Again, appease all parties. And I said he couldn't, he'd have to make a choice, and that got me an angry post from a poster here, even, that I have to let that happen, etc etc. But to be honest, I've seen harder moral questions on the pokemon multiple choice personality test, and this doesn't even determine what sort of poke..ahem, what sort of character the PC is.

So, can you be a prima donna without intending to (and honestly shooting for gamism), because players appear to step on up to moral dilemma, rather than make a hard choice and address it? I'm thinking yeah, though I'd be one (assuming I have missread them all this time) due to circumstance rather than intentionally dismissing their address. And part of me still says it's a lame avoidance address - it's like in gamism and someone wont step up to a certain challenge, that's their choice, but further daring them and even some light teasing is valid (not too much - if its clear they aren't gunna do it, that's it. It's only worth it if they are still atleast partly uncertain about their choice). What sort of daring and teasing is there, culturally, for nar, if they're deciding to not address it? 'Cause it needed some! Yeah yeah, I can hear the horror over any amount of pressure being applied, no matter how small. But weve all been through the wars and been deprotagonised - that doesn't mean we don't need some daring and gentle teasing applied to us every so often!
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JoyWriter
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Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2009, 05:09:19 PM »

Heinz Von Forrester said "all questions that are in principle undecidable we can decide" which is basically the idea that when there is no logical path to a "right answer", then all you have left is moral choice. I'm not sure I agree with the principle at full strength, but it sounds similar to what you are describing here: You wanted to set up a no win situation, where apparently absolute values are tested against each other, and there is no logical path to a solution, just a choice between values. Now he tried to find a way through, to say mu to the problem, take the third way or any other other expression for twisting the situation away from the dichotomy you tried to present in it.

Now if your not careful, you're just asking, "which would you rather __ or __?" through the rather transparent means of a game situation. The problem is just that your asking the question in a twisted up way, and you should just ask him streight. There's a friend of mine who loves to ask questions like "which would you rather, supply or demand, if you had to have one?", and if you want to ask questions like that just do it!

It seems to me that those moral conundrum situations, there is a challenge you "step on up" to of finding the action that is "least bad". If after agonising for hours you choose to give your life to save your friend, but you could have saved both of you by some simple solution like "turning off the death machine" then the drama of the act is changed. It's either a comedy or tragedy of ignorance, depending on whether the act is rendered meaningless before or after it is done.

In a way, your friend is teaching you how to avoid making those kinds of mistakes, by defying your "traps", and perhaps you could learn from them and make the traps more subtle, make them address the premise more deeply: In the example with the crowd, how about saying he can pick the people out of the way, but it will take longer, and so the man will likely be gone. Or he will have to do something else like causing property damage grabbing onto the walls in order not to inconvenience people! In the other example, what if the people spend all their effort and money on survival and have no money to buy your drugs? Well even then I can find a decision procedure for that, but you can harden the situation more and more as you explain it, adding in more and more issues that impinge on their perfect solution and make it not so perfect, a hard choice of it's own, but more subtle than the first choice.

Why should you let him defy your dichotomy, and then try to rebuild it in more robust form? Because you are basically saying "there is no hope for peace between these two sides", without proving it, which is a psychologically dangerous thing to encourage. False dichotomies cause so much conflict and even pain in and out of games (mainly out!) that finding people who can see through them and resolve them is something to be applauded not teased! Trying to make peace and compromise between differing standards and ideas is one the skills that the world needs most today, the ability to integrate different forms of understanding to find widely acceptable solutions.

So if you reinforce the problem in the shared fiction, responding to his solutions rather than just vetoing them, you are stretching and testing that ability to dissolve these problems, maybe you will be able to reach a point where it is just supply vs demand and he'll have to make some weird choice like that, but every step on the way, this person has been learning that awesome skill.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2009, 12:39:33 PM »

Hi,

The conflict is not actually external. It's internal - it's refering to when one passion conflicts with another and you have to choose one passion over another. Fiddling around with the outside details, picking holes in the narration, so as to appease all parties is simply avoiding having to choose one passion over another, which is the point of the question. Maybe the question has massive plot holes (the question in the matrix certainly did), but fuzting around in the plot holes just avoids the question about which passion comes first.

Being able to perceive, frame and judge ones own passions, is a skill in itself as well. And a skill the world needs a damn lot more of!!

I'll call this naratavism for now, though maybe that's not the correct forge term. Anyway, if someones going to keep dodging the question, then fiddling around with the description and changing the details wont solve that - they just keep avoiding addressing the question of which passion comes first? It's like gutless gamism. This is gutless nar. Though hell, I've enjoyed standing over a pile of bodies in the splinter cell computer game - unconcious bodies, from one single gas grenade! So I was both bad ass and morally clean as a whistle (well, I'm sure being gassed is unpleasant, but given they would have killed me I let that drop off the moral radar, hehe)!!! I know it's fun to avoid the question. But if your gunna do so, embrace the gamism of it - because your doing fuck all in terms of nar! And I tried to bring up gamist situations as a GM, since I thought everyone was leaping that way - and things didn't go as well. There was no gamist embrace, it seems. Across two groups, as well.

But hell, I kept seeing gutless nar as a movement toward gamism. And gutless or not, if I'm the only one writing out dramatic character choices (ie, so that shit happens rather than I dunno, all NPCs sit on the ground, rocking back and forth?), while only providing them gamist opportunity to express themselves, then in practical terms I'm a prima donna. Fantastic - if only we'd only caught on fire or something as well, just for some icing on the cake!
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2009, 06:01:59 PM »

Yeah I get that, what I was referring to is when you have two ideals, whether in the same person or in two people, and you can take those ideals in and look at the situation and see how to find compromise between them. So the external conflict can become an internal conflict, and so some of the same techniques can be applied.

Now what I've been trying to suggest is that although they don't take either of the original two options, they are still producing an option. So you can still make it "hard choice nar" by fleshing out that choice they actually made. Instead of just saying no, you can dive into that specific form of challenge that they are responding to.

When you tried to give them "gamist" challenges, what kind of challenge did you make? Because someone who tried to avoid his character hurting a crowd of people is likely not going to be fired up by the idea of standing on the backs of his defeated foes, you know? :) Avoiding the question in this way is it's own specific type of challenge, and if they are into that, then tightening the thumbscrews on them is pretty much the only way to fulfil that "step on up" criteria. On the other hand, if they start complaining, then maybe that activity is more a means to an end, and they are actually trying to preserve a character concept that cannot cope with incompatibility between those two aims, like in the thread on right to dream at lumpley.

If it's the latter, then you are at an impasse as far as I can see, but if it's the former, then digging into their choice and making it a hard choice in itself is a route to getting some of the juicy stuff you're after.

To put it another way, don't assume that their intention and it's effect on you are identical. Now this is probably obvious, but what for you is the central element of their activity may be a tangential or circumstantial one for them, they may be dodging your first question because they'd prefer to turn it into a different question or for a number of different reasons, and just because they avoided the question in this form doesn't mean they will do it again if you present the choice a different way, or adjust it as I suggested before.

Now there are those people who will just try to wheedle forever, just like those who argue for any small advantage in many combat games, but you should be able to separate them from those interested in reframing the situation by the way they approach the information you give them: Is each new level of moral difficulty approached with thought and enthusiasm or increasing uncomfortableness verging on panic? Probably the latter person is not so suited to the way you are playing, and would probably rather limiting where the hard choices can go, at least on this front.

There are also those people who become increasingly erratic, chucking out lots of "ok well how about" that ignores parts of what you have already established and lead to opposite results to each other. I'm not really sure what these kinds of people are up to, although I've come across them, unless it's just some sort of free play/tease people thing. I suspect these people would those closest to being "gutless", in that they are not taking it seriously, although in a different mood that lightness can be great fun!

But as an example of the most workable type of question avoiders, in Dogs sometimes I've heard that players "solve the town", where they resolve all the issues and bring it to peace with everyone getting mostly what they want. The reaction to that, apart from being impressed at their ingenuity, is to give them another harder town, using what you learned about how they solved this one. This could reintroduce the themes of the previous town, but in a newer and more intractable form. For the sake of variety and suspension of disbelief it is generally also made different from the last one in important ways, which as you can imagine leads to the potential for them to use those details to still avoid addressing your theme directly, and so on forever, but even then they are pretty much saying "those things you say are opposed are actually extremes of the same thing, and they form a compromise rather than a choice". Now that's an approach to a set of premises that is derived through play, which has a lot more depth than many multiple choice checklists!


I can totally understand you getting annoyed that you're the only one "bringing the drama", but you can use their solutions as raw materials for further drama, so you're not there totally on your own. And if no-one is still taking you up on your hard choices maybe you just like your games more confrontational that they do.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2009, 03:06:04 PM »

I think your racing ahead a bit, JoyWriter? Really I'm just bringing up the idea of gutless nar triggering inadvertant prima donna-ism. I'm not even sure if it applies to the groups I've been in/am in (though I have a gut feeling it does, enough to bring up the idea here). What to do after it's pretty much confirmed? Well, who knows - that's another thread, I think. In this thread I'm throwing out the idea for public examination, to check on it's plausiblity with peers. I think it's quite possible - and as a side note, designing for gamism during such circumstances essentially never pays off.
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2009, 03:57:12 AM »

I'm totally rushing ahead!

You suggested that noble intentions can lead to dysfunctional behaviour, which seems a reasonable statement with a lot of juice behind it, so I decided to jump streight into the juice.

At the risk of confusing things, my effort is similar (but not identical) to the very thing I have been discussing, diving past the "point" of the situation revealed into the other "points" it can have.

I've suggested a different sort of "gamist" approach that seems to mesh quite nicely with your narrative objectives. Whether it can be designed for, hmm, not sure, but I wouldn't deny it's possibility. I suspect that if you can formalise an approach you can design for it.

So we can just say, "good people can do bad things" and thread over, happily ever after, or we could look at how to match that good intention with patterns of behaviour that adequately represent it.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2009, 12:44:07 PM »

Well, I think before all that and outside social contract even, is deciding whether to attempt to play with people, indeed, even friends, who end up playing this way. To me it seems to decide to play will require compromise towards the qualities I described above...no amount of tricks or getting into the narration will get around that, unless your going in with a no compromise attitude but expecting them to compromise to you. I think pondering that comes first. Particularly because I think I've done most/all of the compromising, if it comes down to it. Might be wrong on that. But atleast in my case it's looking at alot of compromise towards something that's...well, gutless. I think it'd only work out if there's some compromise from them in terms not finding 'clever ideas' and instead deciding which passion comes first (and to be honest, I've only really found the wording to describe that here - so maybe that will help). But I can't decide for them/anyone if they will compromise. In a way, talking about all the techniques and ideas about narration, is wasted on me. Thanks anway, JoyWriter.
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